At a waste deposit a rusty flying garbage truck is dropping off another batch of trash from ‘Machinarium’, i.e. a nearby industrial metropolis set in steam-punk decorations. Along with a pile of garbage the protagonist – a small, cute robot Josef (Bender from Futurama, the most charismatic robot ever, has definitely been chosen as Josef’s prototype) finds himself in waste dumps kicked out of his hometown. And he gets there being taken to pieces, furthermore, against his will. With a little help from a junk rat he retrieves his arms and legs and makes his way to Machinarium, where, as you might guess, he wasn’t wanted too much. Machinarium is not just a city, but it’s a whole world full of robotic mechanisms. Not a single animate being can be seen thereabout and nevertheless everything here is surprisingly lively and humanized: strict security guards robots are keeping watch around the clock, a lady robot in a pink blouse has lost her robotic dog, a vacuum cleaning robot is keeping urban utilities tidy, an elderly prisoner robot is dreaming of a homemade cigarette (probably, his last), a robocat is dozing on the roof, robot birds are resting on the wires, even the junk rat (ironically a.k.a. the prison rat) is mechanical.
Several years ago a small recently established Czech independent studio Amanita Design led by a talented designer Jakub Dvorsky caused a sensation in a whole game industry with ‘Samorost’ (and its sequel) – an amusing surrealistic quest telling about a snag flying in the space, which appeared to be the best use of Flash technology in a sphere of interactive art. ‘Machinarium’ by Amanita is not just another designed with love indie hit; it’s a real flash blockbuster, not just a game for half an hour like the Samorost series, but a true entertainment for a whole evening causing plenty of positive emotions. Playing this game is a lot like watching a very nice cartoon, nope, even two very nice cartoons one after another. Machinarium is a triumph of an outstanding game design, a retro universe full of complicated mechanical constructions, ladders, gratings and lampposts, stripped pipes, faucets and leverages. During the course of the game one can even see an antique playing machine with a Space Invaders-type game.
Machinarium is also unusual due to the fact that it has no dialogues at all: almost all its characters during the adventure don’t speak a word – they’re not mute, they’re just robots and therefore they have a tacit understanding with each other (but if necessary they can even sing like in Clockwise Operetta, for example). That’s why Machinarium is one of the games where you can’t help paying your attention to the music score. It’s not less remarkable here than the entire production. Delightful music by Tomas Dvorak (a.k.a. Floex) seems to add a third dimension to this 2D quest. It’s not just magical and nonbothering, volumetric and sophisticated, it’s deep and multi-layered. With each new listen it offers new sound discoveries. Every track here is an insanely beautiful story, a little unique world. It’s a natural symbiosis of acoustic and synthetic instruments, of analogue and digital sound, IDM rhythms and chillout effects, emotional piano motives, eastern tones and melancholy. It’s a horizon line where melody and abstraction merge together.
The opening track of the album is a rhythmic driving composition entitled The Bottom, which sounds in the third scene of the game when Josef is entering the technical room in the outskirts of Machinarium. Post-apocalyptic ambient accompanying the previous two scenes in the waste dumps hasn’t been included in the album, because in these tracks there are some elements of sound design from the game made by quite another Tomas, who is a namesake sound designer of Amanita Design and is often confused with the composer and vice versa. In The Bottom light metallic knocks are mixed with melodical gongs, abstract keyboard sounds and ornate electro patterns with an ethnic flavour. According to the plot Josef is thrown into a prison (surrealistic ambient The Prison is in the middle of the OST) but the album has its original drama that’s why after The Bottom you’ll hear an airy-fairy The Sea, which is an atmospheric piece symbolizing a first walk around the city after escaping from the prison. Like many other tracks The Sea is unusually charming due to its ingenious interlacing of hypnotic percussion.
Humorous Clockwise Operetta in which the robot is singing through a speech synthesizer with piano and clarinet accompaniment (ticking clock sounding in the background is a reference to ‘A Clockwork orange’ movie) illustrates another bright feature of the soundtrack, i.e. an unusual concentration of various particular sounds and its harmonious combination. Thus in an intricate composition (though every track from Machinarium can be characterized by this word) entitled Nanorobot Tune robots are singing hip-hop by Mister Maloy’s voice (in fact it’s not his but very much alike), in an 8-bit Gameboy Tune and in a downtempo-sequence Mr. Handagote (as well as in The Bottom which is a hallmark of the album) typewriter printing sounds appear again and again. As for the retro romance The Glasshouse With Butterfly it includes noises of the Roland SH-1 analog synthesizer.
The Machinarium soundtrack is an extraordinary work, it has just appeared but it has already become classics. It’s like Peter McConnell’s music from the best games by LucasArts, like Terry Taylor’s immortal projects for The Neverhood and Skullmonkeys, like sound illustrations by Daniel Pemberton for Little Big Planet. The distinctive feature of Machinarium is not just in the fact that with all the variety of music sub-genres these tracks never disharmonize but also in providing a full immersion in the game world – you start to believe irrevocably in a musical world created by Dvorak as a part of a graphic universe of Dvorsky.
In one of his interviews Jakub Dvorsky thinking of what he’d do if he had to earn for his family after a war came to a conclusion that he would go work for Ubisoft if he had no other alternatives and wasn’t able to preserve independence. In fact it would be really awesome if Amanita Design could merge with Ubisoft or any other big studio and create a large-scale game. Another great option is to try to go beyond the limits of quest games and flash technology using its own resources. Working only in the indie games industry, maybe, is not that boring as it seems but is hardly possible in the long run. It’s not even about 3 long years of expecting the release for the 3 hours of pure enjoyment as in Machinarium’s case. The question is - what will the future look like? I wonder whether Jacob’s team will have enough energy, passion and patience for yet another piece of art in the genre, which is already dead. Will Amanita Design slide into self-copying or not? Is Dvorsky able to make a real game after the series of successful flash quests? With such a monumental work as Machinarium it would be pretty difficult not to make a false step and that’s intriguing. May the Force be with him!