We humans are a strange bunch. Take the horror film genre for example, we watch them to actively try and scare ourselves just for that momentary adrenaline rush. Horror video games are on another level, where you must physically control the protagonist. In a film, if you don’t want to watch the main character go round the corner to where you know the bad guy/ monster/ alien/ flickering light bulb is waiting, you can simply shut your eyes and wait until it’s all over. In a game, you have to walk round the corner and face what’s there, and this physical attachment to the world is ultimately what makes it so terrifying. Amnesia: The Dark Descent was the epitome of modern horror games, combining a chilling atmosphere with an incredibly dark and well-told story to become a favourite amongst horror fans looking for something a bit different than gory monster design in their games. And later this year, there will be a new one.
Amnesia: A Machine for Pigs will be the indirect sequel to that original game, set sixty years after the events of the first game, in the same universe. The events, however, are unrelated to The Dark Descent. Amnesia: A Machine for Pigs begins on New Year’s Day in 1899, and retells the story of wealthy industrial tycoon Oswald Mandus. On an expedition to Mexico, a disastrous event takes place, causing Mandus to lose several months of his life to illness. In his feverish dreams he repeatedly sees a dark machine. Upon awakening, he is determined to piece together the pieces of what has happened during the past few months, but soon after, he hears the roar of an engine and an unknown machine jumps into life.
For the new game, Frictional Games have teamed up with The Chinese Room, developers of story driven indie game Dear Esther. The Chinese Room’s involvement was teased over several weeks on Frictional’s website using three blurry images which hyperlinked to Google Maps. One linked to China, one linked to Boreray, the Hebridean island which Dear Esther was set on, and the final to a restaurant in Seattle called ‘The Chinese Room’. The riddle became unexpectedly popular (to the point where Frictional’s Jens Nilsson had to post on the developer’s official forums asking people to stop contacting the restaurant). After piecing together bits of the puzzle, much like what Mandus will be doing in the new game, fans were eventually led to a message saying “A machine for pigs coming fall two thousand twelve”.
Now that the game has been officially announced, excitement about a new game from Frictional has never been greater. The hype surrounding Amnesia: A Machine for Pigs must be putting a lot of pressure on the developer to deliver, but they do promise an exciting experience for fans and newcomers alike. Details are scarce right now, but Thomas Grip, a designer on the game says it will remain a first person horror game, despite elements from the original game having been ripped out, and that the gameplay has changed enough to keep things fresh for veterans.
The recently released trailer does nothing but create tension and atmosphere, and in typical Amnesia fashion, exact details are constantly obscured from the player. It shows varying environments, each one thoroughly rooted in Victoriana, from a study room to abandoned warehouses to cavernous churches, all the classic horror tropes are here. The trailer then cuts to what we assume to be a first person view of Mandus, breathing heavily and hiding from something which sounds less than peaceful. The squealing suggests that this could be the eponymous pig... which seems to be wielding a weapon of some sort, but anything is possible in the Amnesia universe.
Building a better game
In April, Frictional posted a blog on their website entitled ‘10 Ways to Evolve Horror Games’. I think it’s safe to assume we will be seeing some of their ideas for Amnesia: A Machine for Pigs, ranging from a relatable setting and character to having an open world and human interaction. They note that simulating a sentient human being is a hard problem when simple solutions such as dialog trees cause the whole experience to come across as stiff and prefabricated, citing Ico as a good example of human interaction in video games. I can’t see the new Amnesia having the player lead a girl away from pig monsters, but interaction with other humans of some kind is not out of the picture. Frictional also talk about having no ‘enemies’ and a lack of combat as a way to evolve the genre. The first game certainly focused on avoidance rather than assault, and I’m sure we can expect much the same from the new one.
Amnesia: A Machine for Pigs is due to come out later this year, most likely in time for Halloween. The original game has always been high on my list of ‘games I should’ve played but never got round to’ (read: too scared to), but writing this preview has sent it straight to the top so I can catch up in time to play the next one. I’m looking forward to finding out the reason behind the game’s odd title. There is a line taken straight from the script which says “This world is a machine fit only for pigs. Fit for the slaughtering of pigs.” Sounds lovely, I can’t wait.