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Thursday, May 2, 2013

Games You Should Be Playing - Antichamber

An Experience Like No Other


[A quick warning to the extremely spoiler-adverse: if you are willing to play this game simply on my word, you probably want to stop here as I include screenshots and descriptions from an in-progress game that will be lightly spoiling things. There are no saves, so I would have to start over and honestly I'm not done with the game yet!]

From the very first screen of the game, you can tell that Antichamber is atypical for a game.


Or rather you could, if there was actually an opening screen. The game immediately drops you in to the world, with only the wall you see above as guidance. This is an impressive analogy for the game itself. It's so simple you really only need confirmation of how to move and look, and the game assumes you will learn the rest on your own. In fact, that's the entire point.



Antichamber never even goes so far as to say, "Find the exit!" It simply, and correctly, assumes that human curiosity will do what it does best, and drive the player to explore the lack of information. I think this is a very brave move that you only see a handful of games do anymore, as it probably does lose some audience. For those willing to stick through some possible frustration the thrill of discovery is there in a way that games with waypoints to your next objective simply can't reproduce.


Turning to your left  in the starting room, called the Antichamber, you will see an initially blank wall. Turning to your right you see a map with all the rooms you've visited, and behind you is the exit taunting you through glass.


When you click on a room in the map, you get a box with the name of the room, and another click smoothly teleports you to the room depicted. In fact, this is the only way to leave the Antichamber. At any point should you get lost or stuck, you simply hit the escape key on your keyboard to instantly teleport you back to the Antichamber, and any new rooms that you have made in to are automatically added to the map, each a new point of entry in to the world.

Oh, and you will get lost and stuck. A lot. But part of the fun of discovery, especially in this type of puzzle game, is the frustration of not quite understanding and then experimenting, stumbling on the key to the riddle. That frustration definitely has an element of danger to your progress in the game, but it only makes the puzzle solution that much more satisfying.

An interesting aspect to this game is that the world itself is the puzzle. Unlike other games in this genre where you solve the puzzle to get to the next room, getting to the next room is the puzzle. The game world seems familiar but you will quickly learn that it simply does not work the same way that our world does, and Antichamber does its best to leverage this disparity to twist your brain in to knots.

Further Down the Rabbit Hole


The way this world works is actually extremely difficult to do justice in text, so I'll need to use some visual aids to help attempt to demonstrate how the game world works.



Here we are in a chamber that appears to be a dead end. Further in the room we see an odd window.





 Going to the other end of the room, we see that the other side of the window doesn't match up with what is in this room.


Moving a bit to the left we find that the window is actually showing some other place and is not just showing the rest of the room.


Going in for a closer look, other than being extremely unnerving, there doesn't seem to be any clues on how to proceed. Let's back away...


And we discover that we've been transported to the room glimpsed through the window. What you don't get out of these pictures is that this was a smooth, seamless transition. From the perspective of the player, nothing changed.

In Summary


 The best way I can describe Antichamber is like walking around in a world of magic tricks. What is so exciting, and why this game is so important to video games as a whole, is that this is an experience that you simply cannot have in any other medium as our world just doesn't work this way.

Almost every game ever made has attempted to recreate our world as a play space, but Antichamber takes a bold step forward by using that familiarity to instead frame a place that's frankly just hard to comprehend as it is so anathema to how things are supposed to work based on the experience of our entire lives.

Mindbending, magical, and equally exhilarating as it is exasperating, Antichamber is a game unlike any other, and one I think everyone should play.
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