Edge|November 2021
How a Czech art-school project became an eight-year labour of love
Ewan Wilson

Format iOS, PC, PS4, Switch, Xbox One

Developer/publisher Amanita Design

Origin Czech Republic

Release 2020

One thing you’re pretty much guaranteed when playing a game from Amanita Design is an abundance of artistry. The Czech studio has spent the past 18 years straddling the divide between videogame design and traditional art techniques. And Creaks is no exception. It’s a puzzle platformer about things that go bump in the night – or simply when the lights flicker off and on. However, what really stands out is the way its ornate world is brought to life with a combination of oil painting and puppetry.

That’s no surprise, perhaps, given how the project began. “The concept and basic design came from my diploma work at the Academy Of Arts, Architecture And Design in Prague,” lead designer and artist Radim Jurda tells us. “A lot of Amanita’s games originate from this same animation studio.” Samorost, the studio’s first release, was the diploma project of founder Jakub Dvorský, while Botanicula was created by fellow alumnus Jaromír Plachý.

There aren’t many art schools in the Czech Republic, Creaks co-creator Jan Chlup explains, meaning that many projects are naturally interconnected thanks to students working with each other, as well as creators sharing a lot of interests and inspiration. The history of Czech animation and renowned animators such as Jirí Barta and Jan Švankmajer loom large over almost all of Amanita Design’s projects. Amanita’s input would come later, though.

“With Creaks, I started with the theme,” Jurda explains. “I was interested in the visualisation of our imagination, and fascinated with this idea of interpreting visual things in the wrong way. There could be a silhouette in a dark room that looks like a monster, but when you turn the light on, you realise it’s just a harmless piece of furniture – just a coat stand with some clothes on it. This idea seemed visually potent, and also had great potential in terms of game mechanics.”

For much of Creaks’ development time, the game went by a very different name: Blik. The Czech word for ‘blink’, it refers to the role light plays in the game, where ambiguous furniture shaped enemies can move in the dark, becoming stationary under the harsh truth of a beam of light. When the world blinks, the toothy furniture hiding in the shadows becomes temporarily animated. Jurda is quick to point out that the working name had to be Blik specifically, rather than its English counterpart, because of the latter’s proximity to ‘blinkat’, which in Czech means ‘to vomit’.

“We considered hundreds of names,” Jurda says. “Pareidolia was one of them. This refers to the tendency to see living things in unliving objects or patterns. This was essentially the principle we used with our monsters. But we also had a huge document of hundreds of name ideas, some really strange ones like Wild Wild Nest and Hassle In The Karl The Cruel Kiwi Castle. In the end, we liked Creaks the best. When I hear that word, I imagine myself in a dark corridor, listening to strange noises, my imagination running riot.”

Shortly after he came up with the initial concept, Jurda was joined by Chlup, a friend and visual artist. Together they created the first prototype. “We created this huge, detailed storyboard, which was a great tool in terms of guiding us, and I have to say we managed to stick to it pretty closely,” Jurda says. A not-inconsiderable feat, given that Creaks was in development for eight long years.

Jurda remembers the first half as the most difficult period. “We were going slower than expected, and I was honestly a bit worried if we’d even make it.” Chlup agrees: “There were definitely some difficult moments when it seemed as though the end was nowhere to be seen. You saw what you’d done, compared it with the storyboard, and got the feeling that it was impossible. It was only as we got a lot closer to the end that we started to see the light at the end of the tunnel.” Jurda says the game’s announcement, in 2018, was a big relief. “Even though the hardest part was actually still ahead of us, I was suddenly a lot calmer.”

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