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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 7 of 7

This was very much a problem of balance from TCR's perspective. On the one hand, the creation of additional trailers or the release of other teaser media would have maintained interest and maintained the good will of patient fans. On the other hand, the creation of such media requires time, and with no dedicated marketing staff, this time would have been drawn from the core development team, thus causing further delays in the development and release of the actual game. Furthermore, releasing more media risked giving away too much of the game and thus spoiling the eventual enjoyment of it for players.

The initial trailer was purposely created for the sole purpose of being a trailer, and did not contain events intended to be present in the final game (although the area shown in the trailer exists, the events in the trailer to do not occur in the game). This was intended to get across the essence of the gameplay without spoiling an encounter in the final game. However this did not have the desired effect, with a number of players voicing their annoyance that this event was not in the final game. The second trailer similarly was intended to demonstrate the type of gameplay present in the game without using a specific scenario in the final game. It was felt that this trailer was representative of the encounters present in the game, however perhaps this was misjudged given the negative responses of a number of players.

The lack of dedicated marketing staff was certainly a problem for TCR, and it is likely that a more consistent drip-feed of media throughout development would have been a better strategy in keeping interest higher. However the reality of a small development team is that the game itself must come first, and further delays on an already doubled development time were deemed not acceptable in return for outputting more media.

The early release of a review copy to YouTube personality Pewdiepie was an unexpected decision by FG made without TCR's knowledge, and demonstrates the difference in aims for the game between the two companies. Pigs was intended from the outset to provide a different approach to gameplay than that offered by The Dark Descent and this style was far less conducive to the Let's Play audience, requiring direct engagement with the game itself in order to get the most back from the experience.

It was expected that Pigs would likely appeal to a smaller number of players seeking a deeper level of narrative engagement, rather than the likely wider appeal of The Dark Descent's more action-heavy gameplay. Thus, this marketing decision was a poor match for the game it was intended to market, as was demonstrated by the responses of the core Amnesia fan base, many of which were as confused by the decision as TCR were. Fortunately many players chose to avoid watching the early footage so as to avoid spoiling the game before they had bought it. However this marketing decision remains an odd decision by FG given the highly successful start to the marketing campaign through a more cryptic, cerebral channel in the form of the ARG.


Following in the footsteps of a game as widely recognized and respected as The Dark Descent was never going to be an easy task, and whatever game TCR produced it was evident that they could not please everyone.

The game that they created successfully carries with it their passion for storytelling, for environment and for atmosphere and through this the game has proven to be successful and well received by a large number of critics and players. The mechanical core of the game unfortunately failed to resemble a well-oiled machine, in spite of the best efforts of the development team. While Pigs may be a more forgiving game than TCR had intended, it is entirely possible that a more punishing version would have been poorly received by the very players that have enjoyed the version that was eventually released. In streamlining many of the mechanical elements of the game, the narrative was able to shine all the more brightly and instigate lots of heated and thought-provoking discussion amongst the player community.

Would the game have been better off removed from the branding of Amnesia and the inherent gameplay expectations that come with that name? This is a question that has been raised in a number of articles following its release. There is no way of answering that question with any degree of certainty. Indeed, as has been discussed in an interview with TCR's Dan Pinchbeck and Jessica Curry in The Guardian, many reviews stated that the removal of the word "Amnesia" from the title would have elevated the game's score. The expectation attached to a word, or to a franchise, is so powerful as to detract from the enjoyment of an experience that does not "fit" that franchise -- regardless in some cases of the individual merits of a particular game. This is apparent even in cases, such as Amnesia, where the prior "franchise" only consists of a single title.

This is very much conjecture of course, as there is no way of knowing how the game may have been received in its original format of We are the Pig. The game that was released has proven divisive but predominantly successful, and has clearly been well received by a great many players. Moreover, the game has generated a great amount of lively and passionate discussion that demonstrates how invested players are able to get in the game. What more can a developer really ask for than that?

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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!