playing, video games

Blocks, Passages, and Non-Euclidean Geometry (Antichamber)

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I’d like to think I learned from playing it in the past. Back in 2010, I played the mod that would later become Antichamber back when it required me to buy a copy of Unreal Tournament to even play it. At the time, I was frustrated at the puzzles, my lack of progress, and ultimately gave up. There was little reason to keep playing a mod if it was, eventually, to become a commercial product.

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I wish I hadn’t stopped. This time around, I managed to actually finish the game, something I’ve found is somewhat rare, after spending most of a weekend making steady progress at it. I managed to remember some solutions, discovered new ones, and found my way through the labyrinth. I saw the ending finally.

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That is what the game became to me too: information management. While many parts of its world are non-Euclidean in nature, turning around in place can move you without you actually navigating at all, the puzzles all build on each other. Moving blocks to open a door becomes the basis for a mutation on a similar puzzle later. Fundamentally, the game becomes learning and then applying that knowledge.

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However, the learning itself can be painful. It’s what stopping many people from getting to the end. Many answers are not obvious and some parts are not actually connected to finishing the game. As even one door points out, it is “Under Construction”. There are dead ends. Escape, back to the titular antechamber, is often the only valid solution.

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This also becomes the very problem in even talking or writing about the game. Giving away some details can disclose a solution. Taking screenshots, if the person is not careful, can reveal how to get to that point or show too much in the background. Even video, as I have included here, contains spoilers, even if I tried to mitigate what I exposed.

After finishing the game, I think I like the earlier title better. It used to be labeled Hazard: The Journey of Life and, after coming to the end, I think that is much more evocative of what is going on in Antichamber. Experience teaches us. We learn from what we read, have seen, and do ourselves. We start with nothing and gather tools.

In time, mastery allows us to move freely between where we start and our next goal. Navigation becomes easy over time. Obstacles, thought impossible at first, are nothing more than stepping stones for where we are going next. When the end comes, as it will with time, we must leave what we know and go into the unknown.

(I have tried to isolate the spoilers in this video, but forgot about how the game reviews all of the messages you have seen so far when you start it. That is what all of those flashes mean. I have also stopped it just short of moving through one of the unique ways this game handles navigation between colored corridors.)