Antichamber is an abstract puzzle game developed by Alexander Bruce and released and early 2013. The player must explore a stark 3D environment that is populated with colored lights that paint the walls and floors along with faint animal sounds that build upon the unreal ambiance of the world. Currently Antichamber is released on Windows, Linux, and Mac OS X.
The game tasks the player with one simple goal: get to the exit. How to achieve this and why are left completely ambiguous to the player, but the game makes efforts to teach the player how its world works by introducing simple puzzles that require the player to use the rules and physics demonstrated to him or her. Additionally, after or before completing a puzzle, the player can find short philosophical pieces of text that relate to the previous or coming challenges. While finding the exit (and what lies beyond) is the only concrete goal the game introduces, the central theme of the game prompts the user to reflect on the nature of learning, progress, and the journey they take as they move through the world.
The game begins without introduction, dropping the player in the central hub “antechamber.” The walls of the room contain the controls and options, a map, and a list of placards that have been found by the player. Behind the fourth wall, which is made of glass, sits a short hallway with three doors with one clearly marked as “EXIT.” The controls are fairly standard for a computer game: w,a,s,d to move, space to jump, shift to walk, and the mouse for interacting and using the manipulator device (received later). The player can adjust options from this room, read old placards, and teleport to different location through the map.
The world of Antichamber does not follow an easily traceable linear path. In fact, many sections of the world seem to jump from area to area that would be impossible in a logical 3D environment. This feature of the over world frequently appears in individual rooms as well as a part of solving puzzles. One such area is a circular hallway that seemingly loops in on itself forever but eventually returns the player to an early location. Other rooms will have multiple entrances that, depending on which entrance the player uses, will deposit them into one of several areas that seem to all occupy the same space. Other features of the world include jump pads, disappearing floors, and cube-disintegrating force fields.
Antichamber's world layout frequently teases upcoming areas by allowing the player to look through glass walls and force fields and puzzles that are currently impossible to surpass. Due to the nonlinear progression of the game, it is possible for a player to complete Antichamber without discovering all locations or completing all puzzles. This can mean that the player can entirely avoid certain game mechanics involving the manipulation device if he or she is an exceptional problem solver.
Cubes and the Manipulator
Cubes are colored obstacles that exist around the world that can either hinder or assist the player. At first cubes will be present only as a feature of the world but become a puzzle solving asset with the a cube manipulation gun. This unnamed device comes into the player's possession after completing a few introductory puzzles. The device allows the player to place cubes with the left mouse button and retrieve cubes with the right mouse button.
As the player progresses the gun gains abilities and changes colors to reflect its current level of progress: blue, green, yellow, red, and black. The blue gun allows the player to pick up cubes as ammunition and to place them back down in a new location. This proves helpful for tasks such as jamming doors open and building stairs. The green gun lets the player click-and-drag to draw lines of cubes. In addition, forming a complete 2D shape with cubes will cause the shape to fill in, thus creating more cubes. The yellow gun gives the ability to force a cube to move to a new location without picking it up. The cube will quickly walk up walls and fly across open spaces to get to its new location (or at least as close as possible). Cubes that are touching each other will move together like a large amorphous blob. The red gun lets the player “suck up” cubes that are touching each other. Similarly, the red gun can deposit cubes in a large diamond shape that quickly spreads out from the central cube. This is useful for filling in (and clearing out) gaps that are otherwise unreachable by the player. The black gun's purpose does not play a role in puzzle solving, but its use is revealed later in the game.
Early game puzzles primarily focus on teaching the player how Antichamber works. Rather than explaining the rules of the world, the player is left to fend for themselves and must discovered the illogical nature of the geometry in the world. Generally this involves leaving the player alone until they stumble across a peculiarity of Antichamber wherein they will find a black placard with an image and text that relates to the discovery. The short piece of text usually embodies philosophical concepts that are experienced in daily life. One such placard shows a picture of two men standing atop a mountain whom gaze up at the moon above. The text reads "No matter how high you climb, there's always more to achieve.” The relevance of this quote comes after the player slowly ascends a tall shaft only to discover another shaft they must once again climb. Through out the game the player will be asked to combine the lessons taught by previous puzzles so that their knowledge is tested. This usually means using combinations of the different colors of the manipulation device as well as understanding how to successfully navigate the unorthodox obstacles and layout of Antichamber.
Antichamber is unlike other serious or educational games, being that it is entirely abstract with no central plot or a theme that is tied to real world historical events. The game also neglects to define a path or a line of progression for the player. Antichamber's educational potential arises from its hands-off approach to teaching the player. The challenges presented by Antichamber can be discovered in just about any order, so it is entirely possible that the player makes their time in the game much more difficult than need be by attempting tasks that are extremely difficult or even impossible until the player has progressed further in the game. This can mean the player lacks the proper equipment to complete a puzzle or the player has not properly learned a lesson about how the world of Antichamber functions. One such early concept requires the player to avoid looking at a door otherwise it will close, thus forcing the player to walk backwards through it. Should this simple puzzle never be solved then later puzzles requiring the comprehension of this mechanic will become exponentially more confusing when paired with other nuances of the game world.
Antichamber embodies the concepts of learning, doing, and perfecting. It requires the player to make observations about the world and to apply these observations to come to conclusions (to in turn solve puzzles). This type of scientific thinking emulates the kind of critical thinking and reasoning skills utilized in fields such as physics, chemistry, and computer science. At any time the player may return to the central map room that maintains a list of the completed challenges along with short quips to help remind the player what was learned when the challenge was completed. This room acts almost like a scientific journal that can be accessed whenever the player needs a gentle reminder of the lessons learned.