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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 6 of 7 Next

Enemy encounters similarly were intended to be much less forgiving than they are in the final game. TCR implemented a system attached to a reworked version of the enemy AI. This system made use of a death counter already available in HPL2 to carry out different consequence sequences when players were "killed" by enemies. Rather than being killed and respawned at an arbitrary spawn point, players would be captured and respawned in a waste disposal area, or a specimen storage cage or similar area, separate to the main level. Players would then have to escape the area by solving a puzzle in order to return to the main area of the level in question. One such area can still be found in the final version of the game, located near the end of the Bilge level in which players must throw debris at a ladder in order to knock it down and climb out of the waste disposal pit. Furthermore, enemies would not disappear from the level. Each time the player was captured, enemies would either become slightly easier to avoid, or (if players were captured a lot by the same enemy) eventually despawn.

This approach to enemy encounters was felt to provide a good balance of challenge and tension whilst not becoming overly frustrating for players unable to get past particular enemies. However due to the lack of grey-boxing and of scheduling, along with difficulties in making changes to the AI system itself, the issues encountered during the implementation of these encounters could not be satisfactorily fixed before the game was handed over to FG. The result was FG reverting enemy encounters back to a state resembling much closer the behavior of The Dark Descent with enemies despawning if they successfully kill a player. This dramatically reduced both the difficulty of these encounters and the anxiety and fear that should have accompanied them. This is reflected in the critique of a both critics and players and is an area of the game that is far from the originally intended design.

While disagreements between the two companies caused a number of the game's difficulty issues, the designs of some of the game's puzzles themselves were simply not complex enough from the outset. Once again, some of the game's puzzle scenarios suffered from being simplified in order to meet FG's requests. However, TCR similarly failed in some instances to make full use of the potential of the game's setting. Much of the player's interaction with the machine is reduced to button presses, lever pulls and valve turns. Partially, this was a limitation of the HPL2 engine in not being designed to support large, complex set-pieces; however this could have been worked around more effectively had time been allowed. The Tunnels scenario in which players move chemicals around using vacuum tubes requires some more thought on the part of the player, although even this was simplified from its original design and was not used in any other areas of the game. Ultimately, the tasks that players carry out in the game are not to the level that TCR aimed for, both in terms of challenge and novelty, and this has been one of the main areas of criticism from players and critics alike.

This waste disposal pit in the Bilge level is the only remaining respawn area left over from the initial death handling system.

4. Separating Gameplay Types

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. Analyzing the game in light of the player responses online, this is clearly one aspect of the game in which TCR failed. The encounter in the game's fourth level, Alley, highlights this division between the two types of gameplay in the game, and sets up an expectation that players then carry forward into the rest of the game. In Alley, players are tasked with filling a fuel can with fuel in order to move a truck that is blocking their path. While filling the can, the player comes close to being attacked by an enemy Wretch, but the Wretch is unable to break through the nearby door to reach the player. This scenario has suggested that players will not be attacked whilst completing "puzzle" objectives, and thus eliminates the tension from future puzzle scenarios.

The above scenario was originally not a problem, as later in the game in Tunnels, players would be constantly hunted by enemies whilst attempting to complete other objectives, as was the case in a number of other scenarios, such as the previously mentioned Bilge sequence. Thus, these early encounters served to set up a false expectation of safety while solving puzzles that would eventually be subverted. However, as these later scenarios were changed, simplified or removed entirely, this early encounter now serves to set up an expectation that is then never challenged or subverted throughout the rest of the game.

The capabilities of the HPL2 engine and the existing AI system also contributed to the telegraphing of different gameplay sections. Having enemies stalking the player through tight, claustrophobic corridors and rooms filled with various debris and other obstacles was impossible within the limitations of the AI system, meaning enemy encounters had to be moved out into larger rooms and wider corridors. This resulted in players being able to identify likely areas where enemies may be lurking simply based on the level architecture, and this again detracts from the game's ability to instill fear and anxiety in the player.

Once again, early prototyping of all of the game's systems in a range of grey-boxed areas would have highlighted these limitations, and the game design would have been able to incorporate those limitations from the outset rather than reacting to them later on.

5. Public Relations and Marketing

While this is in the "What Went Wrong" section, early marketing by FG in the form of an Alternate Reality Game (ARG) served to generate a lot of interest both amongst the established Amnesia fan base as well as across a selection of other websites and discussion forums. However, from this early success later media releases were too few and too far apart given the extended development time and delayed release.

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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!