If "Amanita Design" isn't yet a household name, the name of the game they're most renowned for is fast becoming one. It's Samorost, the little online Flash game that has no dialogue, no inventory, and no plot to speak of. What it has instead is its own unique style, a foolproof interface, some deviously clever puzzles, and enough charm to win over even the most jaded of gamers. Oh... and it's free. If you've not yet experienced it personally, do yourself a favour and see for yourself.
Recently, the Czech developer has released Samorost 2, which offers more of the same addictive gameplay, but with an option to unlock a second chapter for a small purchase price. With the sequel ready to renew the Amanita buzz (pun fully intended, but don't ask me to explain it), Adventure Gamers was pleased to spend some time talking with Samorost creator Jakub Dvorsky.
Thanks for taking the time to speak with us, Jakub. To start us off… who is Amanita Design? Can you tell us a little bit about yourselves? How did you get started, and what projects have you been involved in?
I studied at The Academy of Arts, Architecture and Design in Prague in the department of Graphics Design and Visual Communication. There I also met my colleague Vaclav Blin, who was the best animator at the studio. In 2003, after my studies, I established Amanita Design studio and started working as a freelancer. I worked on several commissions (Rocketman for Nikelab, The Quest For The Rest for The Polyphonic Spree, etc.), and at the beginning of this year I invited Vaclav to work with me on Samorost 2, which is now finished. I also invited Tomas Dvorak (Pif) to make sounds and another Tomas Dvorak (Floex) to make music for this project.
"Amanita" means "toadstool" in Latin -- this mushroom is very nice visually and also hallucinogenic.
The game (and now its sequel) that you're best known for is Samorost, which you created as your thesis work in school. What made you decide to design a game?
I grew up on computer games (on my Atari 800XE), so I wanted to make my own game also.
We know your thesis was embraced publicly. How was it received academically?
Not very well, to tell you the truth. I received a 'B' for it. The committee didn't understand too well why I created a computer game in the department where animated film was traditional.
Games are the under-appreciated art form, aren't they? That relates to a very timely topic in the games industry: are games art? Or can they be? What is your opinion on that?
Definitely a game can be art. I think the time of "art games" will come, because in my opinion the game medium brings a whole new universe of possibilities for artists.
So... Samorost. That's an interesting title, which I understand refers to a peculiar piece of wood. Can you elaborate on the name, and why you chose it for your game?
"Samorost" in Czech means a root or piece of wood which resembles a creature; but it is also a term for a person who doesn't care about the rest of the world. I think it's a nice Czech word which has various meanings.
The visual style of your games is very distinctive. Do you have any particular artistic influences that inspired you?
I don't know. I don't think I have any in particular, as I'm influenced by many artists, from prehistoric art to contemporary.
What about gaming influences. Are you a gamer? What games have you played that might have helped shape your own design?
I used to be gamer. I like games like Day of the Tentacle, Gobliins, Discworld, Little Big Adventure, Neverhood, Myst, and others. I also used to like strategy (Civilization, Dune, Settlers) and RPG (Dungeon Master, Dungeon Keeper) games.
But you don't do much gaming anymore?
The main reason why I'm not playing anymore is that I spend all day working on the computer and my eyes get tired, so when I have some free time I would rather go out for a walk or see some friends.
Why a point & click puzzle/adventure game? This certainly defies popular thinking in today's gaming culture.
Maybe that's why. These games are something between an animated story and a regular game, so it's close to me, but I would also like to try another genre.
Is there a background story that you've imagined for the character in Samorost? Do he and his dog have names?
Yes, I have imagined a lot of little stories about the gnome and his dog. They don't have names; we call them gnome and dog.
The game has become a cult favourite at Adventure Gamers, where "Samorost Day" is (unofficially) celebrated on the forums on the 18th of each month (we admit that's a little fanatical, but we are fans, after all). Have you been surprised by the public reaction to the game?
Yes, I was very surprised. When I released Samorost, I thought that maybe a few hundred people would see it. I don't have statistics, because Samorost was (and still is) hosted on many servers, but it has been seen by millons of people.
I understand it brought you some critical acclaim, as well.
It was quite well accepted by art reviewers and curators, and it was in many exhibitions beside contemporary art, which I don't understand at all. I don't consider myself as an artist. But I'm glad for it.
The Quest for the Rest features the music of symphonic pop band The Polyphonic Spree. How did that combination come about?
The Polyphonic Spree saw Samorost and wanted something similar, so they contacted me to create a little game promoting their new album.
The Quest for the Rest
You've also done a short game called Rocketman VC for Nike. Where did that promotion appear, and what kind of feedback did you get?
It was featured on Nikelab.com, but not for very long, as they change their content quite often. I got very little feedback on that.
Do you think that Flash games are an untapped (or at least underused) vehicle for Internet product promotion?
Definitely. I think Flash games attract a lot of people, so it's good for promotions.
Why Flash? What makes it so appealing to work with?
Because it's a great animation tool and you can also add sounds, music and interaction to it, all in one program whether you are making a website or a game. Besides, it's not complicated to use it.
Having made some games independently, and other games in partnership with others, which type of work do you prefer? Are there advantages and disadvantages to both?
To work independently is definitely better, because you haven't got any requirements and deadlines. On the other side, for commissions you will get some money immediately after you have finished it.
It's hard to argue with that benefit. Speaking of which, you've recently released Samorost 2, and unlike your earlier games, you've made it shareware. What prompted that decision?
We were working on Samorost 2 for almost one year as a full time job, so now we really need to earn some money from it, or we'll die of hunger. It's impossible for us to work on a project like this as a part time job; it's too much work.
Well, we're certainly supportive of the game, and are glad to help spread the word to prevent your starvation. Any chance of releasing the earlier games as downloads?
I don't think so.
Have you considered making a full length game at some point?
Yes, I have thought about it, but it would require a lot of money and a much bigger team. We will see.
So what's next for Amanita Design?
I have no idea yet. That will depend on the success of Samorost 2. Right now I have a lot of work with support for the game. So I'm responding to emails and answering some questions all day.
We really appreciate you taking the time to answer ours. Any last thoughts you'd like to share with the many fans of your games?
Happy Samorost Day!