Amanita Design, independent Czech games developer

Samorost 1, photo:

Amanita Design is a Brno-based, award-winning game development studio whose creations have become a huge hit on the internet. Their games combine elements of the technical world with nature in a way not seen before. Their signature game, Samorost, takes you to a universe composed of rusty parts of old, derelict machines and mossy, gnarled stumps of rotting wood. In this edition of the Arts, we meet the studio’s founder Jakub Dvorský.

When I first came across Amanita Design and their successful game, Samorost, I was totally captured by the following puzzle. The hero of the game sets out on a rescue mission to save his dog that was abducted by aliens. He eventually lands on the alien planet but alas: the entrance to the underground is guarded by a sleeping robot who’s snoring away. Now, how do you wake him to open the gate? You look around and see a snail fixing some sort of piping with a hammer. What you need to do is get into its shack, boil a drink from the poppy heads growing nearby, have him drink it and wait until he falls asleep and drops the hammer. You then take the hammer and bang the snoring robot on the head. He wakes up, opens his chest, and pushes a button in his bowels that opens the gate. One level of the game solved!

The man behind Amanita Design is the designer Jakub Dovrský, a graduate of the Academy of Arts, Design and Architecture in Prague.

“I get a lot of inspiration from sci-fi books and old movies and animated films by authors like Jan Švankmajer, Karel Zeman and others. Also, a lot of inspiration comes from old computer games, adventure games. But I’m most inspired by nature itself, from forests, rotten wood as well as old machinery, and all these rusty things that I really like, old cars and stuff like that.”

“I grew up with computer games, so that’s why I really like creating them. I’m from an artistic family, so it probably runs in my blood, I started drawing when I was a small kid. Later, I went to study animated film at the Academy of Arts in Prague, and as my thesis I created a simple flash game called Samorost which is how I got to computer games. I wanted to have a graphic design studio from early on. But after the success of Samorost, I realized that it was possible to make a living just from creating computer games, which was my dream. And it still works!”

The Samorost game became an overnight success. Its name is difficult to translate – in Czech, a samorost is a piece of wood, perhaps a tree root that has an interesting shape and usually resembles either a face, or some sort of an object. Jakub Dvorský takes pictures of interesting things he finds on his outings in the city and beyond.

“I like being in the outdoors, and I have my camera with me at all times, and when I like something, I take a picture of it. I like old industrial compounds and scrap yards and of course the forest. It’s very interesting when you find some man-made object somewhere in the forest that has been there for a very long time, and has become part of the environment. I like this process of man-made things dissolving in the nature.”

“I like older things, even man-made objects, which are becoming part of nature by the process of decay. For instance, rust on metal things feels like moss on wood. And I like the details in each old object. New things are boring.”

Amanita Design work got internationally recognized, and the BBC asked the designers to make a simple learning game for schoolchildren that would also be funny. The result was Questionaut which last year landed a British Academy of Film and Television Art Award nomination.

“Questionaut is a simple and short educational game for children between seven and eleven years of age. It was commissioned by the BBC, they wanted us to create something educational and yet funny, so we ended up with a little surreal adventure game in which you need to solve some puzzles, sometimes very weird. Than you answer many questions that were supplied by the BBC and that are related to school subjects. The BBC put it on their website and I think that it’s used in British schools.”

Jakub Dvorský and his team are now working on their first full game which is to be released later this year. It’s called Machinarium, and it’s about robots.

“The story of Machinarium is about a little rusty robot who was unjustly thrown on a scrap yard outside the city. In the game, he comes back to the city and has to face some bad guys from the Black Cap Brotherhood, and save the city from exploding. In the end, he also has to rescue his robot girlfriend. The story is a sort of a cliché but that’s not that important because it’s a funny game and it’s mostly about the puzzles. They are much more logical this time than in Samorost and our other games. We are focusing now mostly on creating a great game play and great puzzles in the game.”

Although the game is in the making, it has already won an award for its graphic design.

”We have two awards from the Independent Games Festival in San Francisco which is the biggest event of its kind, and these two awards are the most important for us. One of them is for Samorost 2 which won the best web game category in 2007, and the other is for Machinarium, which is not finished yet but it already won this year’s award for excellence in visual art.”