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MIGS: Day 1, 10:15am: Machinarium makes claymation look efficient

by Jim McGinley on 12/02/09 07:36:00 pm   Expert Blogs   Featured Blogs

The following blog post, unless otherwise noted, was written by a member of Gamasutra’s community.
The thoughts and opinions expressed are those of the writer and not Gamasutra or its parent company.

 
MIGS took place Nov. 16 - 17, 2009.
Jim McGinley gives you the outside scoop.
Previous Entries - 7:40am , 8:30am


Day 1 - 10:15am
Machinarium - Hand Made Projects
Jakub Dvorský


Machinarium: Nobody said it was easy, no one ever said it would be this hard.

A 7 person team worked full time for 3 years to create Machinarium.
After seeing this presentation, I'm surprised it didn't take longer.
Team includes a full time sound guy (professional industry term for employee dedicated to audio).
Team includes two Tomas Dvorak's (professional names if you live in the Czech Republic).
Amanita Design doesn't just make games,
they've created music videos, and are working on feature films.
All of them have movie production backgrounds.
I fear the raised bar.

Jakub described Machinarium as a "2D point-and-click adventure game".
I've been guilty myself of hyping my own games, but this was a bit much.
Jakub casually mentioned the game's revolutionary design:
"You can only interact with items you can reach".
Simple. Elegant. Wish I had thought of it.
It almost makes me want to play a 2D point-and-click adventure game.

They decided the game would be "much funnier without dialog and boring conversation".
Characters converse instead via voice bubbles playing old-school animated scenes.

   Note: It was later revealed later that the speaking animations were
   frame-by-frame animations created using bitmaps from Photoshop.
   No tweening, no vectors, everything done by hand. Over 1 hour of animation.
   "small details make the most difference... more personable and more believable"
   "different style of animation in speech bubbles provides a richer experience."


Given the positive audience response ("haha", "awwww"), it was worth the effort.

Game features a 2-tier hint system.
   Tier-1 displays a little picture that doesn't help a lot.
   Tier-2 displays the complete solution as a beautiful, intricate comic book page.

Tier2 must be unlocked by beating a mini-game.
"if you're going to cheat, you're forced to play this game
 which gets really REALLY irritating after a few times.
 Forces player to think about the puzzles."
"wanted game to be really challenging, even for hardcore players."


Machninarium: Does your game have a hidden graphic novel?

Team Structure
Vision - 1 Leader (Jakub) - maintains the vision while taking into consideration other opinions
     + Design (Story, Characters, World)
     + Graphics (Art Style, Animations)
     + Audio (Music, Sounds)

"Design, Graphics and Audio are NOT separate."
"Surprised how many developers don't get that. They're MERGED."
i.e. Audio influences the design, design influences graphics, etc.
i.e. Depressing world design + funny animation = subtle contrast
Most modern games don't get this.
"A lot of games look simiilar to me, and feel plastic."

Jakub keeps a sketchbook with him at all times.
It's full of drawings (in ink no less) and hundreds of small game ideas
(locations, puzzles, character designs).
"builds the world inside your head"
"clear vision of what I wanted to do"

Showed initial sketches for robot hero created SEVEN years ago.
Robotic cubes in contrast to Netherlands vertical something.
His sketches are my masterpieces, and he's not even the artist.

Machinarium's design documents were ink sketches (touched up in Photoshop).
Unlike regular design documents, the team looked at them.
Proof? They resembled the final levels.

Wanted art style to be different from Samorost.
Wanted "hand drawn personal robots contrasting with metallic rusting robot world".
The first hand drawn concept inspired them.
Lead artist initially produced some amazing, extremely percise pencils...
but TOO percise. They wanted him to relax his style, but he just couldn't do it.
Solution: Artist drew EVERYTHING with his left hand. "It worked."


Machinarium: Artists do it with their left hand.


sounds from next door: muffled heavy metal followed by "old time rock n' roll"


Imagine a fresh stack of printer paper.
Now fill each page with ink drawings.
That's what the artist produced for the game.
It looked large, heavy and ominous.
Stack were scanned, layered and coloured using Photoshop.
Colours changed many times to get the feeling of the level "just right".
They use a strange, awesome palette - "it's all about sepia".
Textures are added to increase interest in detail.
Just a dash of parallax scrolling "very old school, very simple, very effective".


sounds from next door: Deep Purple's Highway Star - someone's playing Rock Band


Slide showed a great looking level.
Lovingly hand drawn, insanely detailed, atmospheric.
Next slide showed the same level with a different hand drawn background.
Team felt the new background was much better
(my eyes felt both looked great - damn my eyes).
Every level experienced this insane degree of fine tuning.

Jakub collects textures as a hobby.
"very beautiful, you can find so many nice things in walls.
 yesterday, I took pictures in Montreal...
 rusty metal plates... chipped and moldy walls."
He needs a picture of my Grade 4 Corduroy's.


sounds from next door: Cheap Trick's "Hello There" - they've upgraded to Rock Band 2


Character creation went through MANY iterations to arrive at robot.
He started life as a worn out teddy bear.
Sketches showed evolution and tangents including a pink robot holding an umbrella,
and a robot in a wheelchair.

Unlike Samorost, they couldn't use Flash vector art for the characters.
In Machinarium, the characters are so large they would
noticeably clash with the background bitmaps.
"The contrast would suck".
As a result, everything's done with hand animated bitmaps.



Machninarium: If there was an easy way, we couldn't use it.

Sound guy "felt old synthesizers fit the robotic world".
Also used analog sounds and live instruments (xylophone and japanese flute).
The music and sound he created affected the art.
Programmed own sound effects. Didn't use ANY sound libaries.
Slide showed a dense, complicated control panel for creating sound effects
"I don't understand this." (laughter).
Sound guy also did ALL the voices.

"okay... i think that's almost everything from the process of creation"
Will the hype ever stop!?



Q & A


How much did game change?

World and concept are the same,
but it's a very different than what I thought of 3 years ago.
Thought it was a 1 year project. Think extra effort paid off.


How did you keep your original art style and vision?

I'm the leader, I kept the vision the while time.
Original artist wasn't all that passionate so after 1 year we let him go.
Staying working on 1 project the whole time was the hardest part.


How did you fund the project?

Our own savings, earnings from Samorost 2, and commission from BBC.
We worked for free. Some team members had side jobs.


Would you do a game without dialog again?

I'm a really bad writer. It's hard to tell a story without dialog, but it's our way.
More accessible for everybody i.e. children can't read.
Plus, when I was growing up (in the Czech Republic),
it was really difficult to read english point & click adventure games.
Dreamed of adventure games without any language.


Did you know the levels before you did them?

He knew what the city looked like.
He had the history of the city and the whole world,
much of which did not make it into the game.


Would you keep a small team again?

Whole team is based on friendship - the team are my good friends.
Keep team as small as possible, with large teams it's really hard to keep the passion.
With our team, the game is like our child.



Final Thoughts

Jakub ended the presentation by showing this video.
Thanks for reminding me again how outclassed I am.


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