Bendy and the Ink Machine: A Game for the Ages

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It was an average day. Henry received a note from his old business partner, inviting Henry back after thirty years to “show him something.” Curious, the retired animator accepted the invite, but when he arrived, things got weird.

Ink running through the walls, beneath the floorboards and in the ceiling of the seemingly abandoned studio. A monstrous version of a children’s cartoon running amok. And of course. . .a mysterious giant machine pumping countless gallons of ink at the center of it all.

Since its inception over a year ago, “Bendy and the Ink Machine” has risen to celebrity status and taken the Internet by storm. Though largely unknown outside the online setting, “Bendy” has spread to every corner of the screen, spawning a massive fanbase complete with fan-made stories, theories, cosplay, voice acting, artwork and so much more.

With “Bendy’s” epic conclusion sure to be out by the time this piece is published, let’s go back to the beginning and reminisce about what made Bendy a popular game and how it has been a part of the latest phase of the video game world.

Overview

“Bendy and the Ink Machine” is an episodic survival horror game created by theMeatly Games and Joey Drew Studios Inc. released on February 10, 2017. As an independent game (shortened to indie game), the setting throws players back in time to an era when animation was just becoming mainstream.

Players take on the role of Henry, a retired animator who has returned to his old workplace of Joey Drew Studios after being invited back by his old business partner, Joey Drew. When Henry arrives, the place appears to be void of life and creepy things are happening all around the man. Trapped in the studio and being pursued by “Bendy,” a demonic-like, deformed being made of ink, Henry must find a way to escape and uncover the mystery of what happened in the time he was gone.

A Look at Early Animation

One of the things that makes “Bendy and the Ink Machine” stand out is the animation of the classic 1920s and 30s black-and-white cartoon motif. But what is animation exactly? It is simply the art of making inanimate objects appear to move. The idea of animation is older than most people think. In fact, according to Britannica, the first recorded animator was Pygmalion of Greek and Roman mythology, a sculptor who created a statue of a woman and, falling deeply in love with her, begged the goddess Venus to bring her to life.

Things evolved from there. Early experimenters in the Victorian Era hoped to create conversation pieces and it is here that the persistence of vision was discovered. It was believed that if drawings of stages of action were shown in rapid succession, the human eye would perceive them to actually be moving. Special devices were created as forms of entertainment, such as mathematician William George Horner’s 1834 zoetrope.

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Image of a Zoetrope

According to Britannica, this device was a rotating drum lined with a band of pictures that could be changed. This concept was adapted by French inventor Emile Reynaud in 1876, when he modified the device to be projected for a theatrical audience. This made Reynaud not only animation’s first entrepreneur, but also the first artist to give his characters personality and liveliness with his lovely hand-painted ribbons of celluloid film exuded via a system of mirror to a theatre screen.

Jumping forward a few decades, with various other advancements, with illustrator-turned-animator Winsor McCay, who was made famous by his comic strip “Little Nemo in Slumberland,” which he turned into a hand-colored short film for use during his vaudeville act in 1911, but became what is famously known as “Gertie the Dinosaur” in 1914, changed the art of animation. With McCay’s great craftsmanship, fluid sense of movement and feeling of character, Gertie was presented to an audience as animated creature that seemed to have personality, liveliness and a presence, thus making her the first cartoon star.

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“Gertie the Dinosaur” (1914)

McCay’s work was continued by Pat Sullivan, an Australian-born cartoon artist who resided in a studio in New York. Together with a young talent animator, Otto Messmer, who created the character known as Felix the cat, the two were able to craft characters that were heavily flexible and show a variety of facial expressions. Felix became the standard model for future cartoon characters. This was adopted by the world famous Walt Disney, who had been working on his Laugh-O-Gram Films studio in Kansas City, Missouri. Disney’s first major character, Oswald the Lucky Rabbit, was an appropriation of Felix. Though Disney lost the rights to Oswald after a dispute with his distributor, he modified Oswald’s design and the well-known and beloved Mickey Mouse was born.

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“Steamboat Willie” (1928)

Mickey starred in “Steamboat Willie” in 1928, his third film, which Disney made good use of sound and music. This took the country by storm and the rest is history.

Inspiration for Bendy

For the past couple of years, indie games have grown in popularity. This could be due to bigger gaming corporations making sequels, remakes or games whose concepts and/or gameplay mechanics were released at an inappropriate time, as the taste for genres and types of games change all the time, or the games were too overly complex. The rise in popularity for indie games could be due to their simpler format and because of their well-built lores that have been condensed to a very small environment. I’m talking about games such as Five Nights at Freddy’s, Cuphead, Baldi’s Basics and of course, Bendy and the Ink Machine.

So what was the inspiration for this indie game that took the Internet by storm? In an interview with Con Safos Magazine, Mike Mood, a computer programmer and co-creator of “Bendy,” revealed that his partner, known as theMeatly, wanted to know what it would look like to be in a world sketched like a cartoon. “While putting the environment together, he soon realized it felt creepy and it needed some sort of monster,” Mike Mood told the magazine. Apparently, naming their main cartoon character, Bendy, was an accident. “This is when he created the character Bendy, which wasn’t named Bendy at the time until later on when he made a 3D model of it and a typo while saving it in a 3D modeling program, Blender, saved it as ‘bendy.blend’. Thus, bendy was born.”

Even more interesting, the release of “Bendy” was more of a fun side project than a beta-test. According to Mike Mood, “We were already in the middle of production of another game we really wanted to make, and Bendy was just a quick gamejam session that took approximately 5 days to make. Once we released it for free, it’s almost as if we just tossed away the key and were never going to look back.” Luckily for them, the Internet had other plans. Apparently, fans on the website GameJolt, where “Bendy” was first released on February 10th, 2017, were looking for something new and the same went for YouTubers. With all the opportunities in place, Mike Mood and theMeatly jumped at the chance and turned a small project that had been put out for their own enjoyment into a viral gaming sensation.

The full interview with Mike Mood can be found here:

Ink Demons & the Indie Canadian Game Scene: An Interview with ‘Bendy and the Ink Machine’ Programmer, Mike Mood

Let’s Get Into Bendy Chapters 1 and 2

The game begins with the first chapter, “Moving Pictures,” with a note address to protagonist Henry Stein from his old business partner, Joey Drew. It has been thirty years since Henry apparently left the studio. In the letter, Joey tells Henry to come back as he “has something to show him.” When Henry enters the old studio, he says, “Alright, Joey. I’m here. Let’s see if we can find what you wanted me to see” and proceeds to start exploring.

Upon looking around, the player will notice that the studio seems devoid of life. As he explores, Henry will come across a sinister looking device called the “Ink Machine.” In order to activate it, Henry will need to find six objects: a gear, Bendy doll, Joey Drew’s “The Illusion of Living” book, an ink jar, a record and a wrench. Once in place, Henry will need to restore the ink pressure; with that done, he is free to turn on the Ink Machine. Once he does, however, a living deformed version of Bendy, called “Ink Bendy,” will appear and the area will begin to flood with ink.

Henry can try to escape but will fall some distance through the floor. After draining the lower floor of ink, Henry will find an axe on the wall and clear a path for himself. Upon entering a room with coffins and a Pentagram painted on the floor, Henry will suddenly stop and begin to have visions of Ink Bendy, a wheelchair and the Ink Machine. It is here that Henry will pass out.

The next chapter, “The Old Song,” begins with Henry regaining consciousness and recovering his axe. From here, Henry will wander around the Music Department looking for a new way out. During the search, he will encounter monstrous sludge creatures known as “Searchers,” which appear to attack without reason. Unfortunately, Henry is not alone this time as the former director of the Music Department, Sammy Lawrence, has gone from a normal man to an ink monster and become a devote, fanatical worshipper of “Ink Bendy.” He will knock Henry out, tie him up and proceed to offer him as a sacrifice to the ink demon.

Sammy Lawrence will recognize Henry briefly, but will instead offer him up anyway. However, his efforts ultimately back fire as “Ink Bendy” will instead attack and presumably kill him before making its way to find Henry, who escapes captivity and has to ward off “Searchers” and cut a path to freedom. He finds a door, but before he can do anything, “Ink Bendy” will appear and chase him. Henry is able to successfully escape and runs into Boris the Wolf, another character of the “Bendy Show.”

Next Chapters 3 and 4

The third chapter, “Rise and Fall,” begins with Henry awakening in a Safe House, where he has been staying with Boris for an unspecified amount of time. After making Boris some soup, the wolf will give Henry a lever which will open the door to the Safe House, allowing the two to leave. From there, the duo will explore the area looking for a way out. Upon looking around, they encounter another character from the “Bendy Show,” known as Alice Angel, however she is deformed and monstrous like “Ink Bendy,” but speaks. She demands that Henry become her “errand boy” and retrieve various items for her, promising that if he does, she will send him home. She puts Henry in a variety of dangerous situations, such as forcing him to retrieve “ink hearts” so she can “be beautiful again,” as she puts it, while he tries to avoid “The Projectionist,” who use to be the studio’s lead projector, Norman Polk. Another situation involves destroying the Bendy cutouts, which will enrage “Ink Bendy” and force Henry to hide.

Upon completing the tasks, which involved the use of the studio’s elevator, Alice will seemingly fulfill her promise, before laughing wickedly and sending the elevator plummeting. It is here that she reveals she knows Henry and his reason for being at the studio. She also states that she wants Boris for his insides. After a moment, the elevator crashes deep in the studio. Henry briefly awakens to Boris shaking him, with Alice humming and approaching the wolf from behind. She violently snatches Boris away before Henry passes out again.

The fourth chapter, “Colossal Wonders” begins with Henry waking up and searching the areas to rescue Boris. After looking around, Henry will find plans for a Bendy-themed amusement park. He will have to play the park’s games and navigate the area in order to power the Haunted House. Once completed, Henry will broad the ride where Alice Angel will tell him that nobody has sole control of the studio anymore and questions Henry on his real reasons for returning. At the end of the ride, Boris, who has been transformed into a monstrous version by Alice Angel, will attack Henry and attempt to kill him. Henry must place ink blobs into a slot machine and use the weapons given to him to kill Brute Boris. After watching his friend waste away, Alice Angel will attack him, but will be killed by another character before she can do anything. The chapter ends with Henry meeting Allison Angel, another version of Alice Angel and Tom, another, yet tougher, version of Boris.

Chapter 5: The Final Chapter

The ending chapter, “The Last Reel,” starts off with Henry imprisoned by Allison Angel and Boris. Allison is kind to Henry, such as making small talk with him and giving him food, while Tom is cold and does not trust Henry. Allison gives Henry a device which will reveal hidden messages on the wall. Eventually, as time passes, “Ink Bendy” will have found them and Allison and Tom will abandon Henry. Using the device he received, Henry will navigate through the area until he comes to a makeshift village, where he will once again encounter Sammy Lawrence, who has gone completely insane.

Henry is rescued by Allison and Tom and the trio must fight off a horde of ink monsters in order to escape. After falling through floor again, Henry must work his way towards the Film Vault, where he reunites with his friends. Henry explains that they need to go to “Ink Bendy’s” lair, as there is something that they need in there. They make it to an ink lake, but Allison and Tom cannot follow him due to the ink’s ability to absorb them. Henry is on his own as he makes his way to the Throne Room, where he finds the “The End” reel, which will finish Bendy. “Ink Bendy” appears and turns into “Beast Bendy,” who proceeds to chase Henry around. After having “Beast Bendy” destroy parts of the studio, Henry will return to the Throne Room and put the reel in a projector, which will flash colors from Henry’s previous visions and destroy “Beast Bendy.”

The chapter then ends with Henry visiting Joey Drew who laments how he wasted his life on a fruitless pursuit. He then tells Henry to visit the old studio. Once Henry leaves Joey’s home, the scene transitions back to the very beginning of the game, with Henry repeating the line, “Alright, Joey. I’m here. Let’s see if we can find what you wanted me to see.” After the credits role, the scene returns to Joey’s house and a camera slowly zooms in on a portrait of Bendy, Alice and Boris, which has been autographed by Henry and reveals his last name: Stein. Then, a female child voice says, “Tell me another one, Uncle Joey.”

The game ends here.

Bendy’s Ties to the Noir Film Genre

“Bendy and the Ink Machine” has certainly taken the gaming world by storm, as have many indie (short for independent) games in recent years, such as Cuphead, Five Nights at Freddy’s, Undertale and more. Unlike video games of big corporate companies, Bendy and the Ink Machine and its fellow games manage to be simplistic and deep at the same time. The dark atmosphere and the somber mood are reminiscent of the noir style of film. There are several examples of this with the characters as well as the environment itself.

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The first is the protagonist Henry Stein. While noir films typically have anti-hero’s as the main character, Henry can’t quite be placed into this category. He comes across as a more calm, level-headed individual who is at the studio at the behest of his friend, Joey Drew. Henry’s only motivation throughout the game is to find a way to escape, he has no self-serving reason guiding him. He does, however, fit into the “victim of circumstance” archetype, in which he has been put into a dangerous situation merely because he was told to visit the old studio. Though Henry does fight back when he is in danger, he is often placed as the “victim of circumstance” by other characters. According to Archetypes.com, there are five victim “superpowers” that all victims have; they include: “attracting demeaning situations, falling prey to the meanest of the bunch, being last on the to-do list, uncomfortable expressing needs and demanding what is deserved and silently enduring harm from others.”

Henry exhibits all of these qualities throughout the game. He is intentionally thrown into a dangerous situation by Joey Drew, who knew about the morbidity of the studio beforehand (attracting demeaning situations); he is tied up and offered as a sacrifice to “Ink Bendy” by Sammy Lawrence (falling prey to the meanest of the bunch) and made into an “errand boy” by Alice Angel (being last on the to-do list); and he is left behind by Allison Angel and Tom when “Ink Bendy” finds them. The last quality Henry has, “silently enduring harm from others,” is exemplified because he does not panic (the player does that for him) when facing harmful situations. Whether his level-headedness is a quality or a flaw is up for debate, but it may mean that he can keep cool when the going gets tough.

Another noir film archetype is the Femme Fatale, which is personified through Susie Campbell a.k.a “Alice Angel.” According to Archetypes.com, the Femme Fatale is usually “dominating by using their beauty and sexuality to manipulate men for various reasons—financial gain, social conquest or revenge, among them. Sometimes associated with seduction that leads to murder, Femme Fatales turn heads in every room they enter by wearing the most revealing clothes and moving in the most flirtatious ways.” The character “Alice Angel” is one of the primary villains in “Bendy and the Ink Machine,” most notably that of Chapter 3. In the third chapter, players meet the deformed angel and her desire to be “beautiful again” by dissecting the other living cartoon characters and harvesting their insides. “Alice Angel” slightly fits into the role of femme fatale as she has a dress reminiscent of a little black dress and has ink coating her arms that resembles opera gloves. She also has long black hair and a smile that is both charming and frightening at the same time due to her deformed face.

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“Alice Angel” as she appears in the game.

“Alice Angel” is by no means an angel. She fits the Femme Fatale archetype in that she speaks in a smooth, seductive tone but doesn’t hide her sinister intentions. She leaves the mutilated corpses of her victims on display for Henry and Boris see, possibly as a show of dominance or a way of saying, “Hey, look what I can do!” She is also very demanding, forcing Henry to do her bidding by sending him on fetch quests, making him kill other ink monsters and acting as her proxy when mashing the cutouts of Bendy due to her vendetta against the Ink Demon. Above all, she is manipulative, the biggest characteristic that places her in the Femme Fatale archetype. Initially, she promises Henry that she will send him home via the elevator if he does what she asks. However, the moment it seems like she’s fulfilling her end of the deal, she drops the façade and sends the elevator plummeting, demanding that Henry hand over Boris so she can take his insides.

“Alice Angel,” possibly like a majority of the ink creatures, was once human. Many fans have speculated that she is in fact Susie Campbell, a former employee at Joey Drew Studios who worked as a voice actress. Susie had had minor roles in the Bendy Show prior to voicing Alice Angel, everything from “talking chairs to dancing chickens.” Upon getting the role of Alice, Susie feels a connection to the character, “like she’s a part of [Susie].” This would end up being major foreshadowing via Susie’s cassette tapes, as she would eventually be replaced another voice actress, Allison Pendle. It is difficult to initially characterize Susie herself as a Femme Fatale, as she was originally a genuinely good person, but became cold and uncaring due to be replaced and believing that Joey Drew was out to destroy her reputation at the studio.

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Example of the in-game environment.

Lastly, “Bendy and the Ink Machine” fits in with the noir film genre due to its environment because the area generates a vibe belonging to the setting of Wretched Hive. According to TV Tropes.org, “take worst or grimmest and darkest side of society, give them a place where all their sins are given free roam to be expressed, and collect it into a system that can just barely sustain itself,” you get the Wretched Hive. This type of environment is without government or order, overrun with criminals and is possibly a dystopia filled with corruption, incompetence and is obstructive. How does this relate to “Bendy and the Ink Machine?” In almost every chapter, there are ink monsters running around without management, the studio is abandoned, messy and falling apart with ink raining down from every nook and cranny and according to “Alice Angel,” no one is in control of the studio. Everyone (or everything) is only looking out for themselves and their own interests, such as Sammy Lawrence’s attempt to “be set free” from his body by sacrificing Henry to “Ink Bendy” and Allison Angel and Tom leaving Henry to die when “Ink Bendy” shows up at their safe house. There is also the matter of the employees who have been corrupted into ink monsters, wandering around aimlessly without an true objective. The studio has become a place of horror, despair or even a battleground depending on the perspective it is viewed from.

Why is Bendy a Good Game?

While “Bendy” is made with the engine Unity and the characters and environment are put together with a combination of Photoshop, Blender and Studio 3D Max, the gameplay itself is not overly complex. The player is free to explore but the area does have its limitations. Gamers can enjoy open worlds because it gives them the chance to explore the world they’re interacting with, but a more secure and enclosed environment can help the player focus on the story rather than just running around a map.

“Bendy” also employs a great story that ultimately leaves more questions than it answers, but manages to draw gamers in deeper and deeper into its macabre world. Aside from the villains and monsters (and eventually Joey Drew himself) Henry encounters, there are no other human characters that physically appear. All other characters are metaphorically present in the form of cassette tapes (or audio logs) that have been left behind over the course of thirty years. Through these cassette tapes, the player learns more about the story, the characters themselves and sometimes how to solve a puzzle within the game. These cassette tapes can also detail the transformations of characters, most notably that of Susie Campbell a.k.a “Alice Angel.”

Susie was a voice actress at Joey Drew Studios who voiced (you guessed it) Alice Angel. As previously mentioned, Susie felt a connection with the character and was heartbroken when she learned that Allison Pendle, another voice actress, replaced her for the role of Alice. Susie grew very bitter, especially towards Joey Drew whom she believed was badmouthing her behind her back. Eventually, Joey Drew offered Susie an “opportunity” which ended with Susie, in a sense, becoming Alice Angel herself. But it is ultimately her obsession that gets her killed. Taking the player through a character arc via audio recordings as opposed to physically seeing the transformation allows players to speculate about each movement through the process and leave gaps in the story for the player to fill and interpret as they see fit.

These elements might call some players back to an indie game that made its debut back in 2014: Five Nights at Freddy’s.

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Often abbreviated as FNAF, this indie survival horror game made its grand entrance into the gaming community over four years ago, celebrating its birthday on August 8th. Designed by independent American game developer Scott Cawthon, FNAF puts the player in the first-person perspective of security guard, Mike Schmidt, who is working the night shift at Freddy Fazbear’s Pizzeria. With its Chuck E. Cheeses’ vibe, the pizzeria includes four animatronics: Freddy Fazbear, Bonnie the Bunny, Chica the Chicken and Foxy the Pirate. The player’s job is to monitor the security cameras as the animatronics come to life at night and will hunt down and kill the player. To avoid death, the player must continuously check the camera, monitor their limited power supply and close the doors when an animatronic is outside the office. Failing to do these tasks or running out of power results in a jumpscare death screen. Since then, it has spawned five more games and grown through fan-made contributions of cosplay, fan fiction, theories, fan-made games from other franchises like MLP and a multitude of fan art.

So how did a game this simple become so popular? Because of its simplicity! Much like “Bendy,” FNAF had a more original concept and relied more on the stress that the player can experience while trying to survive each night as well as the fact that the player is essentially frozen in place and can only “explore” using the cameras. Not to mention, just like “Bendy,” FNAF also has a deep lore, which involves children having been murdered within the restaurant, suggesting that the animatronics are possessed by their vengeful spirits.

FNAF’s presentation of a place regarded as innocent not only draws players back to their childhood, just as “Bendy” has done with its cartoon motif, but the addition of a chilling backstory as an explanation for the game’s events reminds players that even something meant to be innocent can be frightening depending on how its viewed. It especially rings true with the phrase “if it bleeds, it leads” that people often see in the news. Regardless, even though the world of “Bendy and the Ink Machine” allows players to explore the studio and hide from enemies, whereas “Five Night’s at Freddy’s” forces the player to confront the threat head on, it’s worth noting that both games give players a feeling nostalgia while also a view of how the innocence of childhood can be twisted around into something terrifying.

Does Bendy Have a Future?

Though the game is over, “Bendy” might not be gone just yet. In one of his YouTube videos, one of the developers, theMeatly, stated that he has intentions to create a spin off game for the series. What this entails is not yet known, but gamers can hope to anticipate even more exciting secrets to uncover and maybe even answer some questions that the ending of the game left open. Time will tell if fans learn more about the little Devil Darling or if his secrets will drown in the inky abyss.

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