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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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