Amanita Design Interview: 4 Games in the Works Including Disturbing “Not for Kids” Horror
Over the past 15 years, Czech studio Amanita Design has quietly made a name for itself as one of the most unique and fiercely independent developers in the industry. The company got its start making lavishly illustrated browser games, but eventually broke out with the wonderful full-fledged adventure game Machinarium. Since then, they’ve produced a series of critically acclaimed charmers, including Botanicula, Chuchel, and Pilgrims, and they’re not slowing down. Amanita has been steadily adding new teams and currently has multiple projects in the works.
Earlier this month at the Reboot Develop Red conference in Banff, Alberta, I sat down with Amanita Design founder Jakub Dvorský to discuss his creative process and influences, how his company is growing, Amanita’s upcoming psychedelic horror game, and more…
Before we get started, I just wanted to say I’m a big fan of Amanita Design’s work. My wife and I like to play through the games together.
That's the best, when the whole family's playing together. Local multiplayer.
Your games are always set in such unique worlds. How do you go about creating them?
Well, it really depends on the game, because every game we make, there's only one author. One lead designer who came up with the idea for the project. My games are the Samorost games, Machinarium, and Pilgrims. Jaromír Plachý did Botanicula and Chuchel. We also now have new teams on board, which are working on other games.
How would you say your games differ from the ones from other Amanita designers?
Again, every game reflects the main author somehow. So, for me, I combine things which I like. So, in the case of Machinarium, I love science fiction and robots, but also old abandoned buildings and rotten rusted machines and that kind of stuff, where nature is taking back human creations. This contrast interests me. Similar story for Samorost -- I like go out to forests, observe little details, and take pictures of rotten pieces of wood and weird mushrooms and stuff. So, my games always come from one of my passions.
Do you ever have to battle it out to decide whose ideas are going to be made into games?
We don't battle. It's a natural process. Some people are natural-born designers. Some are, say, animators, who may not have ambitions to come up with their own project, but they love to collaborate. Because our teams are always small, we function like a group of friends. We're all in it together. The game is not just the creation of one person. It's just one person who comes up with the idea for the game, and then the whole team makes the little decisions together. Our teams are all four to six people, so it's very small. There's no management or anything like that, no producers, just the creators.
Aside from the stuff you already mentioned, what other things are you influenced by? Books? Movies?
Of course! Movies of Czech or Eastern European filmmakers and animators are a huge inspiration. A lot of artists and books. I love fairy tales. It's always been a passion, but now I've got two kids and I'm reading them fairy tales every night, and it's great.
It’s great to rediscover your favorite stories when you have a kid of your own.
Totally. I'm probably enjoying them more than the kids.
Amanita doesn’t tend do a lot of sequels, with even your biggest hits like Machinarium not getting follow ups. Why is that? Are sequels a possibility at all?
It could happen in the future. We do what we want to do in the moment. We don't decide based on potential commercial success or any other criteria other than heart, really. It sounds stupid, but it's true. We definitely have to create new IPs, that's the best. To create new worlds.
Amanita’s worlds are all very unique, but for most of your history the actual mechanics of your games remained fairly similar – point ‘n’ click. That seems to be changing a bit with games like Pilgrims and the upcoming Creaks. Is it your intention to continue moving beyond point ‘n’ click?
Don't expect a big revolution, but we try to evolve out approach to the genre of adventure and puzzle games. We don't really care about the rules of specific genres, we just do what we think is right for the game. Recently, we’ve tried to move toward more accessible or approachable games -- like, Pilgrims is very easy to control, even with just one thumb if you're playing on a phone, and every thing you do, every item you use, does something. You at least get a funny animation even if you don't progress. Older adventure games, the game design was...quite lame. The designer would create some very complicated solution and you'd have to unravel what they were thinking. So, we've been trying to make our games more accessible and intuitive.
But Creaks looks to be going in almost the opposite direction. You directly control the character on screen, there are enemies to deal with, and it looks like it might have some tough puzzles.
Yes. Creaks is a bit different. It's more a puzzle game, there's not much adventure. It's quite obvious how to control it, but you have to think hard to come up with the solution.
Creaks isn’t one of your games, is it?
No, it's a new team.
Because it kind of seems to be in your style.
The guy who's doing Creaks, Radim Jurda, he's not trying to mimic my style. We grew up around similar things and are trying to continue the tradition of Czech animation and art.
Well, even though it’s not your baby, could you tell us a little more about Creaks?
Like I said, it's a puzzle-based game, but also with a lot of exploration. You're controlling a quite ordinary boy who's in his room studying and all of a sudden a little hidden door appears in the wall. He goes to explore it and finds out there's another huge house under his house. So, he explores the house from the top to the bottom, meeting its strange bird-like inhabitants and some dangerous creatures. It's a linear game, you're just going from one location to another, solving puzzles and revealing the story, which is very serial. I don't want to speak much about the story, because it's a mystery. It's 2D, it's hand-drawn, lots of animation, lots of sounds.
The music and sound design is definitely one of the most striking things about the trailer.
We always try to build a really strong, believable atmosphere. We particularly invested in the sounds -- all those creaks. That's why it's called Creaks! The music will be made by a British band, Hidden Orchestra, so that's a very nice collaboration. They're not used to making soundtracks for games, but the composer has a very strong artistic vision.
When can expect to play Creaks?
It should be out in the spring [of 2020]. Not sure exactly, but in the first half of next year.
You mentioned you have some new teams on board. How many games are you working on now?
Four! What can you tell us about these games?
We've only announced Creaks so far, but another one is being done by Chuchel and Botanicula maker Jaromír Plachý, but this time it's a psychedelic horror game.
Okay, wow, that should be interesting.
Yes...it is interesting. It's not good for kids. It's his cartoon style, but it's very dark. Very weird and disturbing. Nobody else on the team understands what's going on in [Jaromír's] head, but he's free to do whatever he thinks is best. It is unlike anything else out there, for sure. Probably not everybody will like it, but it's completely unique.
How many people are working at Amanita now?
It's around 20 people altogether.
And how many people did you have back in, say, the Machinarium days?
Back then, it was just one team of six people.
As the company expands, how will you make sure that unique Amanita character is retained?
First, it was never our intention to grow the company. It just happened organically and nobody's decided to stop it. For instance, Jaromír Plachý started as just an animator on Machinarium, but then he realized he might also be a game designer. He was developing other projects on his own and showed one to me, and I said, "Hey, this looks great, let's make a proper game out of it." So, we established a new team for him that he used to create Botanicula. Creaks has been in development for seven years. I met the designer many years ago, he wanted my opinion on his work and projects, and we consulted over the years and finally we agreed that he should join us and we built another team for him.
Do you kind of see yourself as a mentor for these new teams and designers?
The rest of Amanita just tries to help [the new teams] as best they can, because most of the new people don't have much experience with game design. I'm helping a lot with that. You're seeing that Amanita feel passed on through that maybe. But otherwise, all the teams are quite self-made and independent. We work like four studios, not one bigger one.
Indies within a larger indie collective.
Exactly. Of course, all the financial stuff and marketing and stuff, that's all shared. So, the creators don't have to deal with that stuff.
Well, I’m excited for all the new Amanita stuff coming. Good luck on everything you’re working on!
I hope you'll like it all!
Thanks for chatting.
New to Amanita Design’s games? I highly recommend you check out Machinarium, Botanicula, and Chuchel, all of which are available on PC, mobile platforms, and, in the case of Machinarium, the Nintendo Switch. As mentioned, Amanita’s latest game, Creaks should arrive on PC, Xbox One, PS4, and Switch sometime in the first half of 2020.