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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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