Archives in Video Games: Bendy and the Ink Machine
When we think about Disney, I'm sure a few things come to mind: princess movies, immersive theme park experiences, Capitalism incarnate, and pacts with a demonic presence to make ink the literal lifeblood of an animator's creations.
Wait...I might need to rethink the princess movies.
Anyway, Bendy and the Ink Machine is a survival horror game created by Kindly Beast in which the player, Henry Stein, returns to the Joey Drew Studios at the behest of his former friend and business partner Joey Drew only to discover the place overrun with inky monsters, corrupted employees, and the consequences of one man's ambition. Throughout each of the five chapters released from 2017 to 2018, the story behind how Joey Drew Studios descended into inky madness unfolds all while Henry is pursued or aided by his creations made flesh and blood, so to speak.
The game unabashedly takes digs at Disney with the character of Joey Drew acting as a stand-in for Walt right down to the avuncular image and voice. Of course this is a horror game, so everything is heightened and distorted, but if you're aware of the early history of Disney then you can see the kernels of truth that built the story's foundation. Tape recorders found around the studio feature many employees of the animation studio, but there are also tapes of Joey Drew delivering messages that start in the Uncle Joey persona that quickly falls away as his true nature emerges.
Stylistically, the environment is 2D art over 3D modeling that creates an unsettling, almost uncanny valley feel as the player explores the animation studio and its many mysteries. The art itself is based off the 1930s era of animation with the titular Bendy and his friends Buddy Boris and Alice Angel modeled off of characters from Silly Symphonies, Merrie Melodies, and Fleischer Studios. Another, more recent game, Cuphead, used the same era of cartoons for its art style and as an essential component of the game play.
Okay, but what does any of this have to do with the archives? Nothing. I just thought you might enjoy the background information.
The Joey Drew Studios archives first appears in "Chapter 4: Colossal Wonders" as a setting the player must explore in order to progress the story. It's more of an atmospheric place with very little happening except for background noises that try to make you paranoid that a jump scare is about to occur. To move beyond the archives, the player has to find five books sticking out of the shelves and push them in to unlock the path forward.
The archives is comprised of two circular rooms and, according to the Joey Drew Studios Employee Handbook, which is a real thing you can buy, the archives were built to preserve most of the studio's documented work, including audio logs, character references, transcripts, registries of meetings and ideas, and all manner of other historical items. The cartoon reels, however, are kept in the film vault, a separate area the player eventually enters in Chapter Five. Up until this point the player, aka Henry, has encountered multiple tape players with recordings of studio employees recounting interactions with Joey Drew, wondering what the hell is going on in the studio, or tracking their decent into madness. These tapes, then, must have originated in the archives before being distributed around the studio for plot relevance. There's also character model sheets and documents found as well, which means they'd been removed from the archives for research or reference or someone was preparing for a visit from a very specific visitor and wanted to leave a lot of bread crumbs. Or both. Both is always a possibility.
So, the two rooms that make up the archives. One is just a showroom with an elevated statue of Bendy. When Henry enters the room for the first time, however, the statue is surrounded by inky monsters called the Lost Ones with a banner above the statue that says, "HE WILL SET US FREE". Because nothing says "having a normal one" like a pseudo-religious message scrawled above the image of a cartoon character. The second room is the actual archives and consists of a circular reading room in the center surrounded by shelving stacked with books, safes, and ephemera. I'm not exactly sure where the archival processing happens, which leads me to believe that the creators of the game used Archives when they actually meant Library and smashed the two together.
It's worth noting, however, that the direction sign leading up to the archives entered by the player says "Archives J - L", which implies that there are other archives strewn about the studio, not just the one you interact with.
More disappointing is the lack of an archivist's presence in the archives or on the many recording devices found throughout the game. Like I said, very little happens in the archives beyond the player finding errant books to push back into place, but there is a recording in the reading room that features the in-game voice actress for the Alice Angel character. It feels like a missed opportunity to feature the Joey Drew Studio's archivist either lamenting their job or becoming more paranoid about the weird things happening with the ink machine - something that would absolutely affect their position. I just think it's a little unfair that the projectionist gets to become a walking disaster of a monster, the theme park designer merges with his creation, and the composer/lyricist assigns himself the ink-touched prophet but there's no archivist or librarian to be found.
And while technically that's the last we see of the archives in the game proper, there's a secret chapter that becomes available after completing the game that is entirely set in what I can only assume is another archives somewhere in the studio. This isn't connected to any game play, but the chapter is all about the player exploring the archives. This is the game developer's way of presenting alternate art styles and designs for characters and concepts within the game that didn't quite work but they were still proud of and wanted to show off.
It's a well set up exhibit where the player can view each concept and its accompanying placard of information, which is actually closer to the function of an archives than the archives featured in the main game, just with more of a museum flair. The only character that receives no explanation is Alice Angel despite having two models in the exhibit. It's bizarre that Bendy has a dozen different concepts with explanations, Boris has three, even the minion monsters and the ink machine model get some context, but Alice gets none.
Why? This has been occupying precious grey matter for a while, developers, and I demand an explanation! I need context like I need oxygen; it's necessary and essential to my existence.
I patiently await your response.