The unexpected joy of building in Antichamber

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Editor's Note from Stephanie Carmichael:
Dan fills us in on his experience with Alexander Bruce's first-person puzzle-platformer Antichamber, which has won a number of awards for subverting normal game design.

It all comes down to placing blocks. While many of the puzzles in Antichamber demand attention to detail and very specific ordering, the psychological-exploration game also leaves room for something I didn’t expect: inventing solutions. Some areas were unlocked not just by following a formula but with me creating my own key.

After solving the initial set of puzzles in the game, the first gun becomes available. This is where the game changes from simple navigation to the application of my imagination. Because the guns can pick and place blocks anywhere, passages required me to use them to stop or unlock doors. Positioning was important as the primary resource, the blocks themselves, were at first in short supply. Drawing with them was my main form of interaction, both as a mechanic and as an aesthetic response to the game.

The Green Gun

Above: The green gun

When I acquired the next gun, I received more blocks to draw with in the world. I began to paint the walls, writing my name or creating simple pictures. I drew arrows on the walls and marked where I had been as I walked from one passage to another. Each time I escaped back to the titular antechamber, my art would disappear. But each time, I would make it anew.

Then came the puzzles that challenged me to design my own solution. Instead of needing to make exact placement, I could freely carve my path using whatever patterns I wanted. A bridge could be linear, sure, but I could also make stairs that circled upward or led to different paths. Given a blank canvas, my own imagination was my guide to making my way. An abyss wasn’t an impasse but a chance to create something unique. Structures that carried me across an expanse could be different each time.

A smile in Antichamber

Above: A smile in Antichamber

This was something I did not expect to find. I came looking for another Portal, a game where I would learn variations on a central mechanic and be restricted on where I could move and go. Here, in Antichamber, I could draw my way through doors. I could paint the walls in my efforts to find a route. I might have to face a new puzzle that demanded strict movements, but I could also loop blocks along the walls and scrawl out, on the world itself, a new solution before I tried it in a confined space.

It was very simple mechanic and, as I came to realize, the most important one: placing blocks was the only way forward. Doors were opened by filling holes. Walkways were created by layering blocks. The ability to draw might be a bonus, but it was also the way to progress, too. The game wanted me to experiment — to learn through playing — in order to see different ways the blocks could interact with each other. It would teach me the basics, but I needed to form the connections myself.

Everything in Antichamber builds on itself. The puzzles mutate and grow as one technique leads to another. The passages may loop around, and dead ends may abound, but it all leads to one place. Even the placement of blocks compounded on themselves as my illustrations filled the world and I made my way to the end.

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