Everything Amanita Design creates has a humble quietness to it. It’s hard to tell if this is intentional or a consequence of style, but it does resonate through all of their releases, which include acclaimed point-and-click and interactive titles like Botanicula, Samorost (1-3) and, of course, Machinarium. Beyond video games, this distinct style can be noticed throughout the duration of Jan Sv?rák’s 2010 film, Kuky se vrací, the technical and visual effects of which were created with Anamita Design’s help.
Keeping true to their quiet nature, Amanita Design has recently released a low-key “definitive” update to 2009’s Machinarium: the charming point-and-click game that brought them worldwide attention nearly 8 years ago. This update moves Machinarium from Flash to a custom DirectX engine, making it a more polished experience. With all the time that has passed and the update serving as an excuse, I sat to reflect on the impression this game has had on me since the very first time I played it.
As I replayed the game, it wasn’t long into it that I started to realize what draws me is the loneliness which, in another way, makes itself very welcoming throughout the experience. There is an overlying and all-encompassing loneliness to the atmosphere of most Amanita Design games. While loneliness is often a word with negative connotations, in Machinarium, it’s more closely related to the idea of solitude and individuality.
The idea of the lone protagonist with all odds against them is certainly not new in the world of video games where this basic premise is almost always present, neither is the genre of point-and-click. However, the simple story in Machinarium exists for the sake of context and as an element in order to build the game’s atmosphere. The real story of the game is the experience of being in this strange, amazing world while helping little Josef the Robot conquer his bullies and reach his lady. Machinarium doesn’t set out to make any profound statements about life or play out a deeply involved narrative— but instead, it implores the player to simply sit down and enjoy a nice, mellow, and sweet experience.
The art design of the game is unique and striking while the characters and their animations are designed to be personable, in addition to the awe-inspiring landscapes and set pieces that present a sense of daunting scale. Witnessing Machinarium’s hand-drawn art seems idiosyncratically private, like being allowed to view the pages of someone’s personal sketchbook. This unfolding world reminds one of reading an illustrated storybook in the beam of a flashlight, hidden inside a blanket fort.
Complimenting the art style is the game’s score sounds both distant and familiar but also pleasant and gut-wrenchingly sad. In the first few moments of the game, the score, as it swells in, is immediately comfortably rested within your brain. It feels like something bigger than yourself exists in this landscape yet, at the same time, it’s like a tune made for your own private listening. It’s something like a mixtape made by a friend or lover specifically for you to enjoy by yourself, with the songs and the order in which they play deliberately considered.
In addition to the score, the world is itself is a melody of sound effects. In diegetic fashion, Josef at times dances to or interacts with music being playing by characters in the game as it lends itself to becoming part of the overall score. Whether it’s the childish garbled dialogue of the robotic citizens or the mechanical whirring and clanking of all the different doodads and thingies, everything sounds perfectly in place.
Everything in Machinarium comes together neatly, successfully creating an imaginary past and future for this world as we are left walking through it in the present. The world becomes naturally existing, something believable, like a location that exists on a map. Even though we see a very small portion of the city, there is a presence of a much larger machine looms over us throughout our time there. Despite this, our concern is not the big picture. Sure, there might be more to this mechanically haunting city, but Josef has his own individual story; his microcosm. Much like a real city, his big adventure is a small piece of an overwhelmingly large yet unsolvable puzzle –a puzzle that serves to enhance the individual’s solitary experience.