One of the most fascinating finalists at this year's IndieCade festival was developer Alexander Bruce's unique first-person puzzle game, Antichamber. Formerly known as Hazard: The Journey of Life, Antichamber differs from anything else I've played in a couple of important ways. Its captivating, yet simple visual style uses elegant geometry and bright splashes of color to help keep players focused on its thought-provoking puzzles.
Bruce was happy to chat at length about the game and how it has continued to evolve over time, and talk about how its puzzles and visual style compliment each other to deliver a philosophical and visually-unprecedented experience.
Antichamber utilizes the standard mouse and keyboard setup from first-person shooters, but that's pretty much the only thing "standard" about the game. Players will encounter various pathways and surreal machinations that must be manipulated in a particular way to proceed. Instructional signs mounted on the wall give periodically give players deliciously cryptic clues about the game's systems, but never explain them outright. It's up to the player to figure everything out, and even the solutions to some of the simpler puzzles are rewarding to discover because they often require the player to perceive the game world in a way that bends reality with three-dimensional Escherian level design.
It all works because these 'exercises in altered perception' make complete sense within the game's context, even though the player is learning as they go. "It's a game about curiosity," Bruce told me, "and if people aren't curious, it's not going to be for them." Based on my experience with Antichamber, comparing it to other games is a relatively futile exercise.
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While I won't spoil any of the game's puzzles, Bruce did share a couple of interesting anecdotes about the game from a couple of other festivals that speak well to the kind of brain-twisters that players will face, and the experience the game delivers. Though a single-player game, it seems that Antichamber is also a lot of fun when played with a friend.
"When Garnett [Lee] played it at DICE, he was playing it with Ben Kuchera from ArsTechnica," he said. "And so they also had the experience of watching one person play, and sitting back and being like 'Aha! I'm seeing this thing that he didn't see!' It's fun for [the observer]."
So fun, in fact, that some have even successfully played it as a cooperative experience, though it's not designed that way. Bruce told me a story about a couple of gamers who played Antichamber during another indie festival in Adelaide:
Two guys came up and sat down--one was in control and one was just watching. And they got to a puzzle where one could clearly see the solution, and the other one--who was in control--was going to run straight past it. So the other guy [not controlling the game], goes "No!" and grabs the mouse and points it up at this other thing. The first guy never grabbed the mouse back. And they played for two hours. They took a single-player game, and just split the controls between them. And one person was focused on where he was going--and where he could go--and the other person was focused on what he could see. And they were doing really well at the game. It was really bizarre, but it made sense.
Antichamber is still in active development, and won't be released "until it's done," but we'll keep an eye out for updates and more information about its release as it becomes available.