I was able to discuss with the Czech artist Jakub Dvorský while writing my book on Indie Games. He created his first Point & Click video game alone. He later founded his indie game studio, Amanita Design. It produces fabulous games such as Samorost, Machinarium, Botanicula, CHUCHEL, Pilgrims.
Founded in 2003, Amanita Design was a “one-person studio” at first. It became a company of a dozen people. It is famous for its surreal hand-crafted visuals and light-hearted humor.
From student to managing an indie game studio
Is it challenging to manage people when you’re used to working alone?
Jakub Dvorský: Indeed, I started alone, but that’s a long time ago, and since then, the studio is growing slowly but steadily.
I began to collaborate with a couple of friends, and then a few new people came in, etc.
Currently, we are about 25 people, but we still operate basically like a bunch of friends. We have several small teams that are almost entirely independent and self-reliant.
We just help each other, share ideas, know-how, and experiences.
What is the biggest mistake you’ve made as a manager? What have you learned from managing people for a few years?
Jakub Dvorský: I’ve certainly made a lot of mistakes, and it’s hard to assess which are the most painful.
I’m a hothead, so not always the best when communicating with my colleagues.
Especially troublesome is sometimes solving problems remotely with texting – it creates a lot of misunderstandings. It’s easy to insult somebody accidentally, etc.
Nowadays I prefer meeting my colleagues regularly or even better working with them at the same place in our office. It’s just faster, more efficient, and also much more enjoyable.
Is the studio producing other stuff beside games to no rely solely on video games?
Jakub Dvorský: Actually, we only make games now and want to keep it that way in the future.
What changed, however, is that we make several games simultaneously.
Amanita currently serves as a sort of creative hub for talented people with a similar artistic vision, and I hope this model proves sustainable in the long-term.
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Are you still using the technology of your first game, or have you been developing your game engine?
Jakub Dvorský: It was Flash actually, and we are still using that software, at least for some of our games. But it evolved a lot since the old times.
We also use our own custom-made engine for Machinarium and Unity for a couple of upcoming games.
Our games are not based on technology, so Unity seems to be quite perfect for our needs, but yeah, it’s not easy to adapt.
Especially making complex hand-made animations is tricky in Unity.
For one of our upcoming games, we still use Flash as an animation tool and convert it to Unity with our own tools.
The first game has hand-drawn visual assets. What kind of software do you use today?
Jakub Dvorský: For final graphics, we use mostly Adobe Photoshop. For designing and concept arts it’s mostly pencil and paper 🙂
Game visual identity and music
How important is it to have a genuine visual identity?
Jakub Dvorský: Visual style and strong atmosphere are essential for us.
We develop a brand-new art style that evolves from the previous projects for each new game, but it’s always unique.
Our general visual style is heavily influenced by the tradition of Eastern European animated movies and illustrations.
How much have the music and sound design evolved from the first Samorost?
Jakub Dvorský: The audio is equally important for us as the visuals because together, it creates the atmosphere and the feeling, but it also helps us with the narration and other aspects of the game.
We always set a bit different approach for each game, so it fits the overall tone the best.
Samorost 3 is extremely hi-fi, from background atmospheres and little sound effects to more dramatic music pieces.
We’ve spent a lot of time and energy to make everything sound perfect, almost like in big-budget movies.
On the other hand, the audio in games like Botanicula or CHUCHEL is more punk, unpolished, and funny because it fits the game better.
Music is often the last thing you put in a game. Is this the case with Amanita Design?
Jakub Dvorský: It’s not indeed. We always work with a musician and sound designer since the very beginning of the development.
They can still influence the game and impact not only its audio but also game-design, story, or anything else.
Do you focus more on the sounds useful for gameplay or ambient music for the world’s atmosphere?
Jakub Dvorský: I think both categories are essential, and it’s tricky to make it sounds right.
You want to make a rich world full of life (sounds), but you don’t want to disturb players from the necessary actions, and you don’t want to create too much unpleasant noise.
So, it’s always about finding the right balance.
To see it, we discussed everything internally a lot, changed so many things so often, and tested the audio on various speakers, from cheap plastic trash and mobile phones to professional studio speakers.
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Delivering new games in the indie scene
Is it more challenging to make a new game after a success or a setback? How the pressure affects your work?
Jakub Dvorský: I believe we don’t feel too much under pressure because it’s not our primary goal to make the most money.
We always make what we think, making artistically, and focus on making it the best possible.
Of course, we try to outdo ourselves in every way, which makes sense for a specific project, but I think we take it fairly easy.
It’s important not to take it too seriously because after all it’s just fun, and if we would be too stressed out, I’m sure the players would feel it in the game as well.
How has the indie scene changed since your debut in the video game market?
Jakub Dvorský: A lot. It’s a thousand times bigger, the competition is huge, and the quality level is still going up fast.
There are great experimental and artistic projects but also lots of commercial crap, stolen ideas, and copycats.
It’s exciting and scary at the same time.
Is it difficult for Amanita Design to stay visible since there is so much video game?
Jakub Dvorský: Yes, it’s tough and one of the biggest problems of any indie game or studio.
Marketing is more important than ever, and the ways to promote your game efficiently are continually changing.
Media and the indie scene
Machinarium had received media exposure thanks to IGF. Was it essential for the sales of the game?
Jakub Dvorský: IGF definitely helped. It’s a great recognition that makes any game much more visible directly to enthusiastic players but even more importantly to gaming media, publishers, platform holders, and other developers.
Do you think that video game press helps you to sell games or to make your games visible?
Jakub Dvorský: Yes, the press helped us probably quite a lot in the past, but the situation is different nowadays.
Firstly, it’s harder to convince the media to pay attention to your non-blockbuster game, and secondly, news has a lesser impact than it used to have.
How do Amanita Design manage the reviews of journalists, bloggers, YouTubers?
Jakub Dvorský: Getting reviews has become much more difficult.
There are so many big games to cover that it’s quite rare to see an indie game get reviewed on some of the biggest gaming sites.
It’s essential to stay in touch with people who care about your games, keep them updated, and develop a positive relationship.
Mass press release distribution just doesn’t work anymore.
What kind of relationship do you have with your consumers/players?
Jakub Dvorský: One of the coolest things about our games is that anyone can enjoy them.
It doesn’t matter if you’re 5, 15, 40 or 60 years old. We receive e-mails from parents playing with their kids, seniors as well as school kids.
It doesn’t even matter if you’re a PC gamer or a casual mobile games player. As long as you’re open to visually striking games with puzzles, there’s a good chance you’re going to like our games.
We’ve also got some of the nicest fans in the games industry. The community has been incredibly polite and supportive. We’re trying our best to maintain this relationship.
Some games have a free demo on Amanita Design official website.
Read more about Game developers in Indie Games.