Antichamber, a first-person psychological puzzler by Australian independent developer Alexander Bruce, will release on Steam on Jan. 31 after four years in full-time development.
The Escher-inspired exploration game that throws hundreds of topsy-turvy, mind-bending puzzles at the player has already won numerous accolades including the 2012 Independent Games Festival award for Technical Excellence, the Freeplay 2011 award for Best Game and Best Design, was the winner of PAX10 in 2011 and was a finalist at IndieCade and DICE.
Speaking to Polygon, Bruce says Antichamber took as long as it did to develop because he didn't want to follow established game design conventions, which meant for much of the game's development he was learning as he was creating.
"There's no roadmap for how to effectively create a game like Antichamber," Bruce says. "It was just a long process of experimenting, failing and experimenting again, over and over until it eventually worked.
"Get them wrong and they feel broken. But if you manage to get them just right, no one knows exactly why they work."
"The same could be said of games like SpyParty or Braid. Get them wrong and they feel broken. But if you manage to get them just right, no one knows exactly why they work. People only see the end result, not all of the tiny details and minor refinements that went into making them feel just right."
Development on Antichamber began almost four years ago when Bruce was in his final year of university. Back then, the project was called Hazard. An early version of the game was entered into the Sense of Wonder Night competition at the Tokyo Game Show in 2009 where it was exhibited as part of the showcase. The game has since undergone a complete transformation with Bruce spending the past four years painstakingly crafting every level and puzzle. He says the more he worked on the game the better he became at design and programming, and the better he became the more he was aware of the mistakes he'd been making. It became a cycle of learning and fixing and learning and improving. Add to that the game's complicated theme (Bruce says Antichamber is a game "about how people think,") and it's no wonder the game has spent so much time in development.
"Creating a game about how people think proved to be extremely difficult!" Bruce says of his psychological puzzler. "I think about the world in a certain way, so I would build the game assuming that others would think like that too, but every time I showed the game off at conventions I'd realize how wrong many of my assumptions were. Then I'd have to go back and remodel parts of the game based on how people actually interacted with it."
Bruce says much of the game's development process required him to analyze how people played Antichamber and discover the thought process of the player. He would then have to find a way to integrate it into the way the game world was structured without throwing everyone else off.
Bruce has spent the past four years carefully crafting Antichamber, guiding it from its bare-bones infancy as Hazard to the puzzle-packed, brain-teasing exploration game it is today. In a few weeks, he will relinquish control of the game for the first time since development began.
"Once the game is released, it doesn't matter what I intended or what I wanted to happen. I can't control any of that," he says. "The best thing that I could do was to put a lot of myself in the game and let people see that for themselves when they play it. What people think and how they respond is out of my hands by this stage."
Antichamber will release on Jan. 31 on Windows PC via Steam. A price is yet to be announced.