Feature: Thechineseroom have some big shoes to fill with their upcoming follow-up to an indie horror classic, but they’re confident. Here’s how they’re making AMNESIA: A MACHINE FOR PIGS even scarier than its terrifying predecessor.
Confession time: I’m rubbish at horror. I find the experience of being afraid to be a hugely unpleasant one. But I love dark, mysterious storytelling and disturbing imagery. So when something like Amnesia: The Dark Descent comes along, I’m torn. What I tend to do is play in short bursts. I can just about manage 20 minutes of sustained suspense before deciding that’s enough for now and going off to have a little sit down.
I wasn’t the only person who found Amnesia to be a tremendously frightening experience, though. Widely regarded as one of the scariest games ever made, Frictional Games’ indie gem invited you into the bowels of its darkness-entrenched castle, and presented to you a very different sort of adventure game: one whose puzzles were intermingled with terrifying chase sequences and nail-biting stealth, as you strove to avoid the castle’s mysterious monsters against whom you were completely defenceless.
Making a game scarier than Amnesia sounds like an impossible task, but that’s what thechineseroom have set out to do. Fresh from their work on the unusual Dear Esther, they’ve arrived at Amnesia as huge fans of the original, and these new developers are determined to outdo Frictional at their own game.
The name itself makes a big statement. It gives them license to push the boundaries: when you call your game Amnesia: A Machine for Pigs, you’re setting up something quite grizzly.
“When I first started writing the concept, it was called We Are The Pig,” says creative director Dan Pinchbeck. ”It got moved over to A Machine for Pigs, but there was always that thing of a title that makes people go, ‘what is that about?’.”
The new setting helps, too. Taking place 60 years after the original game, A Machine for Pigs drags us kicking and screaming away from The Dark Descent’s claustrophobic castle, and into an unnerving steampunk Victoriana that plays on some of the more sinister real-world happenings of late 1800s Britain.
“It was just such a crazy time,” says Pinchbeck, “so dark and bleak. People were doing, in the name of progressing science, the most obscenely crazy stuff. There was a trade of indigenous people from developing parts of the world in body parts, and people had Papua New Guinean skull ashtrays and stuff like this. So I think, between that and the name, it’s just open season in terms of what we can do, how far we can push this.”
From the start, the plan has been to outdo The Dark Descent – a game that, while Pinchbeck loved, he felt frustrated by when it “held back” on occasion. “In a couple of places Frictional pulled up a bit short,” says Pinchbeck. “And I thought, no, you can really really push this.”
One of the main ways thechineseroom hope to do this is through the story – both in its content and its presentation. “What you’re hearing, what you’re seeing and what you’re finding out about is really disturbing,” Pinchbeck says. But it’s also going to be a story told primarily through the environment, only utilising voice acting where absolutely necessary.