Antichamber: A Review

Antichamber

 

“You are in a twisty maze of passages, all alike.”

This is a (somewhat) well-known description of a non-linear maze in Colossal Cave. Going one way and then doubling back did not always mean that you ended up in the same room. These types of mazes were common and commonly annoying in early text adventures, the rooms randomly connected. Antichamber is a game that takes this idea and mashes it with M. C. Escher inspired geometry and perspective to create an unforgettable puzzle game. The world does not necessarily adhere to any physical rules of the world we know and inhabit and withing the first few minutes of the game, everything you thought you knew about videogame logic is thrown out the window. Stairwells go up and up and yet the next floor is the same one where you started ascending. Corridors and doors appear and disappear depending on the angle you are looking at them. The world changes when viewed through different colour lenses or objects. Disorienting at first, but ultimately satisfying, half the puzzles are about navigating a world free from physics. The puzzles are about observation, experimentation, and thinking in ways that we are not used to when playing videogames.

The other half comprises of different coloured blocks that you can manipulate with your block gun. For example, one colour creates blocks you can step on, another creates or removes walls. The player uses these coloured blocks to solve puzzles in a myriad of ways. Antichamber is that kind of game that throws you in and asks you to figure it out yourself. Despite this, the game does a good job of teaching players the logic needed to solve the puzzles as long as they are willing to experiment.

As you go through the game you come across these small panels with a simple drawing and a quip about life that could have come from a fortune cookie. These “lessons” are collected on a mural at your hub, a room from where you manage the game. Together these form a sort of tapestry that describes life. I rolled my eyes at some of them. They provide hints at what comes ahead, and a few were wisdoms too easily forgotten as we live our lives. Interestingly, in earlier versions of the game, these messages were apparently negative instead of the positive ones in the final release. This changed as Alexander Bruce, the creator, was working on the game. From the Gamechurch interview:

“This doesn’t really fit with the rest of the game, which is about positive reinforcement to overcome challenges. I can’t not have this message here because its important that I say something about it, but I don’t want to lie. I don’t want to say a positive message that I don’t believe.” I guess because I care so much about the game and am learning so much about myself outside of that, I can just change my beliefs and write a positive message in the game. Then I can just change my beliefs in the real world moving forward as well,” and that just makes you a more humble positive person.

This makes sense when you listen to Alexander recount his experience of the game’s development at his GDC talk on it. It took him 7 years to make this game and he poured every ounce of life he had into it. At the end of the talk, when asked what he wanted to do next, he said (paraphrased) “that it won’t be making a videogame. If I feel like that I don’t want to do that shit again”. The drive that made Antichamber successful came partially from Alexander’s fear of never completing the game and wasting time and him thinking of and implementing ways to create a game that will stand out from the crowd while still staying true to what he wanted to make. Indie developer burnout is a very common thing but I felt that the approach Alexander took was lateral, this thinking outside of the box and taking opportunities in cycles of intense drive, reflection, and learning. In this context, Antichamber is a personal work. It challenges players to break their rules, to grasp opportunities, and to partake in the cycle of observe, reflect, learn.

antichamber lesson

Comparing Antichamber to Portal is common but also doesn’t give Antichamber credit. Portal is a puzzle game centred around a gimmick and an admittedly unforgettable antagonist, but Antichamber is a puzzle game that challenges our world view. It might be just the world view of how videogames should work but the process of going through it and discovering how it works is more rewarding and more natural. Often puzzle games just give you tools and then challenge you in how to use them. Antichamber makes you challenge yourself. It encourages a type of thinking that is beneficial outside the scope of the videogame. This is something most games just can not do.

 

Antichamber teaches us how to break our perspective on things we think we know, things we think we are experts at. Introspection is important. Perception is important. Antichamber is about challenging these things and hopefully after you finish the game, you will learn a little more about how you see the world around you.

 

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