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You're at the Heart of A Machine For Pigs

Adam Gauntlett | 2 Jul 2013 20:30
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"We're focused very much on how you shape, sculpt and steer the horror experience," Pinchbeck explains. To thechineseroom, the player experience is absolutely central, and everything else - mechanics and level design included - is subordinate to that. Dear Esther showed thechineseroom how players could have a tremendously important emotional experience, with only a relatively small number of elements to interact with. "Dark Descent has a similar ethos," says Pinchbeck, "It's an incredibly simple game, but it understands psychology, the importance of that emotional journey." Now thechineseroom would use its Dear Esther experience, and death, to terrify in Machine for Pigs.

"There's no reason why we should reward players by giving them stuff"

In other games, you build up power as you go, collecting weapons, upgrades and abilities until you reach the point where your character is the most dangerous thing in the game. In Machine for Pigs, your power is minimal, and never increases. Lack of power was what Pinchbeck found so fascinating about Dark Descent, and he hopes it will make Machine for Pigs stand out. Your only reward for clever play is living another few precious minutes, to see what fresh hell awaits you around the corner. "There's no reason why we should reward players by giving them stuff," Pinchbeck says, not when keeping them on the edge of their seats is what they really want. In a way, he thinks, it's not unlike being back in the arcades, where your measure of success was not how much equipment and abilities you could get. It was how long you could last before the inevitable death scene.

Pinchbeck's hoping fans find Machine for Pigs terrifying on a moment-by moment basis, and horrifying in the longer term; story, he feels, is critical to that. The story, this time out, is all about Oswald Mandus, the rich industrialist and family man in whose shoes you'll be walking. Pinchbeck plays coy; he doesn't want to reveal more than he has to about Mandus, since his story is crucial to the effect Machine for Pigs will have on players. He hopes players will be able to emotionally identify with Mandus, because that's when the horror really starts to sink in.

"He's an older character," Pinchbeck says, "much more influential and powerful, and he has a family." His family will become extremely important; Mandus isn't a loner, like Dark Descent's Daniel, and his relationship with his children will become key to understanding Mandus, and the horror that surrounds him. Your actions have ramifications and will affect other people, which will be critical in creating Machine for Pigs' scares. "I really believe that horror is horrifying because you empathise with the characters," Pinchbeck says, a fact that has all the greater significance when you consider that Pinchbeck, like Mandus, is a father. You may not agree with what Mandus has done, Pinchbeck thinks, but you can understand why he did it.

Now thechineseroom has to relinquish its hold over Machine for Pigs; it's Frictional's baby, and Pinchbeck's team has to get on with other things. Everybody's Gone to the Rapture, thechineseroom's spiritual successor to Dear Esther, needs work, and after that there will be other projects.

Things have changed in academia since Dr. Pinchbeck's day; there are others, like Douglas Wilson of J.S. Joust, who make games to find answers. But Pinchbeck still remembers the frustration he endured with people - theorists who didn't make games - making statements about the things games 'obviously couldn't do.' Now he's the one proving his case, with the games he creates. "It used to be kind of a joke," he says, that he had pinned up over his desk, "'A Game Can't Do This', and you wait five, four, three, two, one, and someone comes along and does it." Dear Esther was the first time thechineseroom came along and did it, and A Machine for Pigs is his latest attempt to show that games can do This, and more than This, by putting the player's experience at the heart of his design philosophy.

If Machine scares the pants off you while it's doing This, so much the better.

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