Machinarium — A Pipe-Filled Dreamscape amidst a Moody Soundtrack

A puzzle game where you play as this robot guy

Y’know how it’s like when you have one of those days that you’re incredibly bored, so you scour Wikipedia for games from the past, hoping to find something worth playing that you might’ve skipped on after all these years? Well, I’m having one too many of these days recently, and in one of my recent discoveries, I found out about Machinarium. I mean, I knew that this game existed when it came out, but it wasn’t until yesterday that I took the time to play it. But it wasn’t just boredom that led me to play it, but also the fact that the dialogue is, in fact, speech bubbles with drawings instead of actual speech.

I’m surprised I only ever played this game just now! I was told it was an indie sweetheart, and the game’s aesthetics also show it. I still don’t think I got to the meat of the story, but it’s a point-and-click adventure game where you play as this robot that can stretch its torso. As for the plot, not much is happening at the beginning of the story. The robot enters a city of some kind and has recurring daydreams of itself and another robot friend. I’m still at the beginning, so I don’t have a clear picture of what the hell is going on.

But it’s a pretty big deal in the indie scene, and I can see why. In addition to the art style, soundtrack, and whatnot, the “language” in the game caught my attention the most. Instead of speech bubbles, you have bubbles with drawings in them. This is how the characters communicate… and except for maybe the options menu, there is no speech or written text in the game whatsoever, as all ideas are conveyed visually, not audibly.

“Talking with pictures” is just a different kind of sign language.

I should probably exemplify how conversations unfold in the game while keeping spoilers to a minimum: in one section of the game, the robot comes across a woman (who is also a robot) with an umbrella, and he asks her for the umbrella by showing a drawing of an umbrella, and she responds by showing an image of a dog (also a robot). It is very understandable from the context that the woman wants a trade, so she’s willing to give the umbrella to the robot in exchange for a dog.

From this example alone, you can understand that there is no room for complicated dialogue, as all you need to understand is not what pronounced noises they make with their mouth but what they convey with their intentions. Of course, this is only coming from someone who hasn’t made it past the first half of the game. But I don’t have to because the fundamentals are supposed to reveal at the beginning, and this game does just that.

But what if they wanted to convey more intricate speech? Let’s say they wanted to talk about the recent referendum discussing the issue of illegal immigrants that the senator proposed? Or maybe they wanted to talk about the lecture they heard in law school? Suddenly, talking with only images just isn’t enough because you’re going to a whole series of images if you’re studying to become an attorney… that or just regular speech. But regular speech isn’t special, so nobody wants that, so we’ll stick with the images. As for how to talk about politics: I don’t have an answer for that… yet.

Picture bubbles are good enough for me.

As the headline clearly states, I prefer the technique of the picture bubbles, where ideas are conveyed by cute drawings instead of the usual English alphabet. In that regard, the game is special, and it needs to stay that way.

However, if one were to insist on finding some kind of solution to this seemingly unproblematic problem, I would say to simply use the regular text present in virtually every game out there. While this does help to convey ideas more clearly, because it’s in written form, it takes away from the uniqueness of this game.

So basically, I don’t use that solution, and I don’t recommend it to you either because it’s not really a solution if the problem isn’t really there. So yes, stick with the picture bubbles because those are great.

Did you play this game when it came out?

Because I only ever started playing it now, and I think it’s been something like 10 years since this came out, so I guess you could say I found a convenient time to play it (as in, years after it was relevant). But forget me because I assume you played this game in 2009 (it turns out it was 12 years), or at least somewhere around that time. Anyways, do tell me what you thought about the technique of picture bubbles… or maybe just want to say something general about the game that I didn’t take into consideration. Either is applicable or maybe something I didn’t mention — you can also do that.

In conclusion…

Machinarium is a cute game that you’d probably want to check out if you’re into adventure games, or maybe you just like indie games. The soundtrack is nice and can be quite trippy if you’re in the mood for it too. My point is if you have some free time, maybe you should give it a try.

Picture bubbles are great, and I don’t usually see these kinds of things in games, so it’s a nice element. They should keep it as a signature of the series and do more with it, and in no way change this because, frankly, it’s not a problem.

In any case, I’m still at the beginning of the game. So if you’ll excuse me, I have to make further progress in the game.

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Jeffrey McGee

Jeffrey McGee

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