Being a mycologist it doesn’t surprise me that whenever I try to start a conversation around poisonous & hallucinogenic mushrooms most people tend to think I’m a freak at first, but that’s until they start hearing about all the wonderful things and experiences you could live when mixing the right amount of type A and type B of Amanita.
With an unknown number of species, new scientific discoveries being made every day (oh look! some German scientists just created a pancreas cancer cure from Amanita Phalloide’s poison!), and an increasing level of culinary interest by top Michelin chefs it doesn’t surprise us that Jakub Dvorsky named his studio after the always eye-catching agaric. He’s a closet mycologist too after all, and while his CV reflects some animation & design background, he surely knows how to differentiate an Ocreata from a Pseudoporphyria with closed eyes.
Funnily enough Mr Jakub declined all mushroom freakery in our recent conversation about Botanicula…. so I asked him about one another organic creature (five to be more precise), product of a well-calibrated and planned spore reproduction process: Botanicula.
Starting with an easy one…. Your games always have friendly and pleasant atmospheres, very welcoming for casual gamers and newcomers. Will we ever see a dark, twisted, anguishing world coming out of Amanita?
Jakub Dvorsky: Well, there are a few darker places in our previous games but the darkest and scariest place is definitely in our new game Botanicula. It’s a paradox because the majority of that game is very bright, colorful and cheerful. However I’d love to create something really dark and experimental in the future, maybe a game with black metal soundtrack – that would be brilliant:)
about Amanita Design…
aqnb: And even if gaming is Amanita’s dna, it isn’t your only passion. We’ve seen you guys creating and participating in a long list of side-projects. What today is mainly perceived as a gaming studio… would you want it to become a digital arts or concept studio?
JD: We don’t care about labels but yes, games are the most interesting media for us. Games are still vastly unexplored terrain and it’s very exciting not only to design and create our own games but also to observe the whole scene (especially indie games) growing and widening. The medium is still very young and juvenile but it’s evolving quickly and I think we can expect some game changing or redefining game any day now.
aqnb: A Webby award, an IGF award in 2009… and another IGF audio earlier last month… not to mention all those other tons of nominations. Is there a prize, recognition you’re dreaming of? Now that Amanita D. is moving from “indie” to “mainstream” are you expecting much more attention… and pressure?
JD: Firstly I don’t think we are moving from indie to the mainstream scene, definitely not. The mainstream scene means commercial for me and we are not doing our games primarily for money. We don’t try to make our games appealing for the masses, we just make it how we feel it’s right. As for the awards, we are of course very happy when we receive an award and it also helps to promote the game but at the same time it’s nothing fundamental for us. More important is maybe the direct feedback from players who like or dislike our games. Also we feel some pressure coming from the attention and expectation but again, we don’t care too much because we do the best we can anyway.
Botanicula is your second game released on several mobile platforms (iOS, Android…). How did Machinarium influence you for multi-platform gaming development?
JD: Ideally we’d like to release every our game on all platforms, but it’s difficult of course. It took us more than 3 months to convert Machinarium to iPad, about 6 months to Android (it’s almost ready) and more than one and half year to bring the game to PS3 (coming soon). It’s expensive and difficult process to release a game outside of PC/Mac but it’d definitely worth it if the game is successful. Machinarium did great when it was released for PC and Mac initially so we decided to make the ports.
aqnb: Will we see Botanicula also on the PSNetwork… and maybe finally on the Xbox Live / Marketplace?
JD: We want to bring Botanicula to Windows, Mac and Linux computers, then to tablets (iPad and Android) and then we’ll see. Honestly I don’t think we will port it to any console because the process is extremely difficult and tiring but who knows.
aqnb: In Botanicula the player guides a group of 5 creatures through the ins and outs of their home (a tree) trying to save its last seed. The half-botanic half-microbiological world they live in is the radical opposite to the dark, rusty & steamy Machinarium. Botanicula is not only a breeding ground for all sorts of lifeforms and creatures to interact with, but one of the most luminous games we’ve come across lately. Did you guys develop a phobia towards the grayscale after Machinarium?
JD: No no, we don’t have any phobias here:) The different style is caused by the different designer. The author of Botanicula is our animator Jára Plachý and this simple, bright and very funny style is his typical brand.
aqnb: You’ve repeatedly described Botanicula as more of a “fun and exploration” game, you want people to play “with”. Throughout the game, the player encounters one trillion creatures and can interact with pretty much every one of them, all of these adding a much richer environment for the player to explore. But in terms of development… how much harder was for you to recreate this “living world all around”?
JD: The playfulness is a general direction which we want to go also in our future projects. We believe it’s important to create a world where is pleasant to be, not a world which is just a background for the game. So there’s a lot of hidden places, creatures, animations and things which are not important for the main gameplay but are essential in creating a place which feels really alive.
aqnb: You’ve also mentioned that you’d like not only to keep improving Amanita’s point & click adventure style but to experiment with new game mechanics… which of these “changes” can we appreciate in Botanicula, Samorost 3 or upcoming AD games?
JD: There’s nothing extremely innovative in Botanicula, we are just trying make our games more funny, playful and relaxing, step by step. I hope Samorost3 will be even further in that direction but it’s still a long way of so we’ll see.
aqnb: A big part of the Botanicula artwork comes from the hands of Amanita’s youngest member: Jaromír Plachý. When and how did you decide to give him full freedom to develop this project on his own?
JD: Jára is extremely talented and diligent so it’s a pleasure to work with him. He came with the initial idea some time after Machinarium was finished. He wanted to create short and simple game based on his animations so he started animating and experimenting with the art style and showing it to me on occasions when we went to drink beer together. After some time it became obvious that there’s big potential for beautiful game so I suggested to take it more seriously. Then we found the new programmer to work full time on the game and Jára brought his friends from the band DVA to create music and sound effects.
aqnb: Botanicula is all about team-play rather than a single solve-it-all character. But we’re missing more independence and personality from each of these creatures. Is multiple character management something you’ve considered introducing in your p&c adventures?
JD: That’s an interesting idea but it was impossible to make the game even bigger or more complex than it is now with such a small team. Also I’m not sure it would be beneficial for the game itself. It’s not meant to be too challenging or complicated game, rather relaxing joyful experience which works just fine in this linear world.
about you and the team…
aqnb: What’s is it to be considered one of the most important and influencing gaming developers in the world?
JD: Really? I don’t feel like that so that’s not my problem:)
aqnb: You took a trip to the Himalaya a while ago… any other dreamalike places on earth you feel the need to visit and that could inspire you?
JD: There’s so many places I’d love to visit. The most tempting is probably any rain forest, Amazonia or similar place where’s enormous biodiversity. Unfortunately it’s also one of the less comfortable places. I’m not big fan of mosquitos or extreme humid and hot weather.
aqnb: What do you guys play when not creating? Can you name the puzzliest game you’ve ever played and you got stuck with at some point?
JD: I played a few fantastic games lately which I’d like to recommend to everyone, even non gamers: Limbo, Sword & Sworcery, Portal2, Desktop Dungeons and Journey. Not sure which game I played is the puzzliest but Desktop Dungeons is pretty hard and that’s why I like it so much.
aqnb: From the moment you started Samorost as your end-of studies project you’ve always worked & proposed alternative, parallel, exotic worlds. Is reality not appealing enough for you?
JD: Reality is appealing enough – that’s why all our games are inspired by reality:) Mostly by nature to be exact. Sadly wild nature is less and less present in our world and it seems people don’t care.
and back to Amanita…
aqnb: Your soundtrack (recent IGF award winner) and audio effects by DVA surely constitute a pleasure and maybe a resource for biologists. We all know how important, engaging and enriching a good list of tracks can be; and because we guess you didn’t have enough money to pay for the Budapest Symphony Orchestra… how did you guys ended up with DVA?
JD: Actually maybe we could afford to pay for the Budapest Symphony Orchestra (btw. we would prefer Prague orchestra) but it won’t be the right music for our game. Music from DVA is absolutely ideal fro Botanicula. It’s simple, weird, cheerful and full of humor – it’s similar to the rest of the game. DVA is Bára and Honza Kratochvíl and they know Jára for some time already. He asked them a few years ago to compose the music for his short animation he created and later they asked him to create animated music video for their new song. So it’s already proven collaboration and they are also very nice and amusing people.
aqnb: Being independent is crucial for Amanita Design. Machinarium’s success has allowed you to finance current and future projects but..wouldn’t a big publisher allow you to create or develop a game on a completely different level?
JD: We are not interested in making high budget game because it means it has to be also commercially successful game and it means there’s always pressure from the publisher. The publisher wouldn’t want to risk anything so we wouldn’t be allowed to experiment or create anything too weird or ugly etc. And even if we wouldn’t want to create anything weird, ugly and experimental, the commercial pressure itself would maybe hurt the game. It’s also very difficult to keep quality and cohesiveness of any project when you work with bigger team so we are just happy in smaller team producing humble indie games.
aqnb: And final one! Where do you think likes the equilibrium between a fun point & click game and a boring one? Between an unthinkably complicated story and a “too easy” one? Is there a magic recipe?
JD: There isn’t any magical recipe. I know stupid-simple but great games (e.g. Sissy’s Magical Ponycorn Adventure) as well as extremely difficult and complex games which are also fantastic and at the same time many of both kinds which are terrible.
Thanks a lot Jakub!