Why taking a bath is the secret to solving puzzles in Antichamber
“I couldn’t compete with big-budget games, so I had to create something that was out there, that people haven’t seen before, and I can do that really well,” Antichamber creator Alexander Bruce told me back in 2011. “All the psychological stuff is what’s interesting to play. Since it’s so different there is a joy in exploring. Like kids climbing a tree, just to see what’s up there.”
The game was originally called Hazard and, although most of the aesthetics and ideas behind the puzzles seemed to be in place, it’s taken years of work to get the game to the point of release.
Antichamber is a first-person puzzle game that is in no way afraid to mess with your mind and expectations. We’ve previewed the game, and we’ve interviewed Bruce about the rather amazing ways he’s pushed for the game’s creation, but it’s time to dig into the final product. The game is out now, you should buy it and play it, and here are a few tips to get you started.
Don’t be afraid to fail
You can’t die in the game, and you can hit the escape key at any time to return to the first room and take a look at the map of puzzles. From there you can warp to any of the locations you’ve uncovered. This makes it easy to move around the game’s world and experiment, look around, and try new things.
I’ve often found new areas and solutions by failing at my first attempt to solve a puzzle, or by doing something crazy in frustration. There are no rules of space that you can count on in the game, as so many of the things we take for granted in reality have been messed with or perverted. You may not return to the same place if you back-track. The sign telling you to do something may lead you astray. It’s not a matter of winning or losing, but experimentation.
I’m still playing the game, and have yet to finish it, simply because it’s much more of a “lean back” experience, instead of the “lean forward” feeling you get from action titles or first-person shooters. You’ll want to make yourself a cup of coffee and enjoy the topsy-turvy rules of the game’s world. It’s fun to just run around and see what you can do.
Don’t be afraid to take a bath
Kim Swift, the designer of Quantum Conundrum, described the act of “thrashing.” This is the behavior exhibited by players who have stopped actively trying to solve a problem. “You can tell they’re not really processing things anymore, there is a certain level of frustration we can see in their face,” she explained.. “They’re not trying to find a solution, they’re just hoping that if they bumble around they’ll see something they haven’t really seen before, but they’re not taking the game in and processing it.”
It’s very easy to begin the act of thrashing in Antichamber. The game presents you with puzzles that require you to think and move in novel ways, and it’s easy to try a few obvious solutions, get frustrated, and then begin to repeat the same behaviors over and over.
The best thing to do once you get stuck in that rut is to walk away, grab something to eat, or sleep on it. Antichamber rewards a methodical approach, and it’s nearly impossible to simply grind through the game. Puzzles that had me nearly throwing my mouse at the screen were simple with a few hours of distance, or after my brain had passively chewed on the possible solutions while I slept.
Sometimes the best way to figure something out is to take a step back, walk away, and come back with a fresh set of eyes. Allow Saul from one of my favorite movies to explain what I mean.
Don’t be afraid to feel stupid
It’s funny to see how talented game designers deal with people playing their games. Bruce would watch people play Antichamber and question their actions and ask about their thought processes as they play. He would take notes. Jonathan Blow left the room when I played The Witness so I would feel comfortable.
Kim Swift, during one press event, stood back a few feet and kept a close eye on what everyone was doing, without interrupting. It was a relief to finally get a chance to play the game without its creator looking over my shoulder. I felt like I could feel stupid privately.
Reviewers were lucky in that we were able to play the game before there were guides written, before you could Google for an answer to a puzzle. Bruce said he would give people hints if they got stuck, and I compared notes with a few other writers, but I played, and I continue to play, by myself as much as possible. I wanted every breakthrough to feel earned. For the love of all that is holy, stay away from spoilers, people discussing the game, or threads on forums that give away how to solve any of the puzzles or what surprises exist in the game.
The solution to the very first puzzle is delightful, and it only gets more devious from there. Don’t cheat yourself: Take a breath, spend some time, and work through the game by yourself. The sense of accomplishment is worth the effort.
Antichamber is $15 until February 6, and is available now on the PC.