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Postmortem: The Chinese Room's Amnesia: A Machine for Pigs
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Postmortem: The Chinese Room's Amnesia: A Machine for Pigs

May 23, 2014 Article Start Previous Page 5 of 7 Next

While FG's milestone requests were detrimental, the development also suffered from TCR's lack of detailed project schedule. While the team were fully aware of the major tasks that needed completing at any given time, and were adept at prioritizing appropriately, there was no central documentation that kept track of tasks, internal milestones or game bugs. This led to a lot of additional communication being required in order to discuss tasks that needed completing, as well as some less critical tasks consistently being overlooked. The lack of a centralized bug database meant that the final testing phase before release needed more time as there was no record of outstanding bugs or of those previously identified and fixed.

This combination of no real prototyping phase of development and lack of detailed schedule and documentation can be pointed to as one of the root causes of many of the other smaller problems throughout development.

2. Collaborative Working and Compromising the Creative Vision

There was a level of naivety on both sides of the collaboration between TCR and FG, as neither company had worked in such a collaborative scenario previously. While the creative freedom provided was welcomed, the hands-off approach taken by FG may also have caused some of the apparent misunderstandings and contradictory feedback that TCR received on deliverables. Many areas of the game were reworked two, three, or even more times based on different and often conflicting feedback on deliverables. Some of these reworked areas are much stronger because of this back and forth between TCR and FG, however in some situations it is evident that TCR should have been firmer when defending their initial design decisions.

One of the notable decisions impacted was removing the game's equivalent of The Dark Descent's mementos -- hints located in the journal that assist players in completing tasks. The initial design of Pigs removed these entirely, requiring players to rely on the game environments and diegetic information within them to solve the game's various challenges. TCR felt this made the game more cognitively challenging (something that had been raised in multiple threads on The Dark Descent's discussion forum as a desired consideration in future games), and more rewarding for players. FG were not responsive to this however and thus the final release of Pigs includes frequent additions to the journal of these hints. The differing opinions of TCR and FG on the ability of the player were clearly apparent in this instance, and TCR should in retrospect have been stronger in defending the initial decision to remove the hints.

The lack of consistent communication between TCR and FG also meant that when TCR handed over the final build to FG for the final phase of testing, optimization, and polish before the game's release, some fixes for critical issues were removed and thus didn't make the initial release version. For example, the color grading process carried out by the TCR art team had drastically changed the look and feel of the game's lighting. However, as discovered later, the calibration on the monitor used during the color grading process was corrupted and thus the version initially sent to FG was graphically compromised -- the blue "fog" that was noted by a number of players in the initial days following release. TCR implemented fixes for this mistake resulting in the color grading being as intended.

Side-by-side comparison of fixed color grading and the release color grading.

However, because these changes were not well communicated between the two companies, changes made by FG during the final stages of development resulted in these fixes being reverted and the game shipping with a visual "Class A" bug. The results compared to a fixed build are readily apparent when placed side by side, most notably in the game's earlier levels. While this has been fixed in a later patch, the game should not have been released with the color grading system in this condition.

3. Game Difficulty

The disagreements between TCR and FG regarding how challenging the game should be, both in terms of enemy encounters and in terms of puzzle-solving, resulted in the difficulty of the final game being much too easy. Once again, TCR should have been much firmer in defending the game that they wanted to develop, but they conceded too many alterations that resulted in much of the game's difficulty being suppressed. This impacted a number of scenarios in the game.

The Tunnels level was initially approximately four times the size of the version in the final game, consisting of more labyrinthine networks of corridors and claustrophobic rooms. Players had to retrieve chemical containers and use the vacuum tubes (present in the final game) to send them around the level and eventually back to the centrifuge. However, unlike in the final game, players were consistently hunted in this area by enemies, combining enemy threats with cognitive puzzle solving. The size and complexity of this area were eventually reduced drastically as the initial version did not meet FG's approval. While the intention of the original level was to emulate feelings of confusion, disorientation and of being lost without the frustration of actually being lost, FG felt that even these emulated feelings might result in player frustration.

The Bilge level also contained an additional area that combined puzzle-solving and enemy threats. The cogs required to repair the bilge pump (easily found in the final release of the game) were located at the end of a large, partially flooded room. Players had to navigate this area, avoiding a number of aggressive failed experiments in the water, retrieve the cog pieces and return (now burdened with the extra weight) to the machine. This sequence again did not meet FG's approval and was cut from the game.

Article Start Previous Page 5 of 7 Next

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Dane MacMahon
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I think with sequels you always have to keep in mind the perception of loss and change. Removing things like the sanity meter might make perfect sense for the game you wanted to make, but the consumer, the existing fan, will always feel like he lost something. They will ignore improvements and new gameplay paradigms if they think they were swindled out of something they had in the series previously.

Deus Ex: Invisible War was a decent game with decent review scores but it will always be known as the "horrible sequel to Deus Ex." Sequels are funny things. Taking on a sequel with the intent of changing a lot of what it was and removing features seems like asking for consumer anger.

Arthur Khvorostyanyy
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It is not the problem of sequel. You destroyed the core gameplay and didn't offer any other. If the game would be released without name Amnesia it anyway would be bad game.

James Margaris
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"The issues with the game's difficulty were compounded by the game's design too clearly telegraphing transitions between "enemy" areas and "non-enemy" areas."

Breaking down games into separate pillars that rarely overlap is a huge problem in modern game design. It's extremely common for games to have traversal, combat and puzzle sections that remain fairly distinct throughout the whole game, whereas in old games these things all happen at the same time using common verbs.

Tobias Horak
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"The system was fundamentally flawed as a means of telling the player they should now be scared, and approximately "how much" they should be scared."

A noble goal, however I fear that this shows a misunderstanding of why the sanity mechanic was useful. The sanity mechanic, above all else, generated fear through uncertainty. It forced players to look away, and only catch glimpses of the horrors in the game.

Replacing the original game's mechanic makes sense; a large portion of it was a direct extension of the character's fear of the dark. Doing so by adding some other resource to manage is to miss half of what made sanity so compelling. As the goal is likely to retain the same aesthetic, due to player expectations from a sequel, one should be looking for mechanics that can fulfill the core dynamics*. The original amnesia forced two dynamics onto the player in particular: the struggle of staying in the light for sanity retention (with the drawback of being more easily discovered), and disallowing the player to confront danger.

I feel AAMFP would have had much more success had it incorporated an ever-present something for the players to balance. Something to give the feeling of "I really shouldn't be doing this" that we all had playing the original.

My two cents on the "controversial" topic! ^^

*Paper about mechanics, dynamics and aesthetics:

Kevin Fishburne
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It seems based on the comments here that the fans have a much better understanding of what made the original successful than the developers. If that's generally true, it's something we developers should keep at the forefront when developing a sequel. Perhaps something like exit polls would be useful.

Dane MacMahon
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Browsing fan forums is a good way to distill exactly what made a game loved by it's biggest fans. If you're making an RPG sequel for example and aren't reading what the people at RPG Watch, RPG Codex and similar sites wrote about your first game you probably should be.

Alex Van de Weyer
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There's no doubt fans "think" they have a better understanding. Whether they do or not, or how much they should be pandered to, is a much more complicated subject I think. At one extreme, just delivering what fans think they want is both impossible, and potentially damaging to innovation and artistic intentions.

Dan Felder
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If game design was so easy that a game's fans can normally tell you exactly why a game is successful, to the point that they have a better understanding than the developers, then life would definitely be a lot easier.

I'm all for browsing fan forums, it's great feedback and utterly invaluable, but they're not experienced designers or developers. Their reactions are great to get, but their suggested solutions aren't quite as useful.

Dane MacMahon
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No one said to take fan reaction and plug it right into the code. If you're not listening to them though, I think you're making a mistake. A lot of developers think they know way better what people actually want and then watch their sequels plummet in public opinion.

Scott Lavigne
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You'd have to have something built into whatever distribution platform you're using (which is a big middle finger to DRM-free games, I guess) since most games end up never being finished. I imagine there are plenty of people who enjoy (and would buy the sequel to) many games but do not finish them. Of course, some games can't be finished either, so there's that.

Dan Felder
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It seems my extended comment clarifying things, as well as many other peoples' comments, has been deleted. I don't feel the urge to write another.

David Konkol
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So wait a minute.

At first you talk about one of the great things was the amount of freedom FG gave you, then later in the article, you talk about one of the cons was FG stepping on your creative freedom.

So which is it?

Anthony Stewart
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This article was great!