Thursday, August 21, 2014

Antichamber - 6/20 hours

I think I may have been a bit over-dramatic in my last post. After spending a few more hours with the game, I feel (sort of) like I'm getting the hang of it. My own personal tendencies are proving to be a problem, though.

For example, I spent around a half an hour trying to solve a problem that was literally impossible. And I know it was impossible, because when I came back later, with the green gun, it was trivial. At the time, I didn't know there was a green gun, though, so I did what I usually do when I hit a brick wall in a video game (and for whatever reason can't or won't consult a guide), I banged my head against that wall until my brains came out.

In some ways, this is one of my best qualities. There are times in the past when it has served me well. It's practically a necessity in certain advanced platformers (seriously, fuck you Luigi's Purple Coins). Yet here, it sabotaged me. I was certain that the game would not have allowed me to get to a chamber unless it had also already given me the tools necessary to solve the problem. I was convinced the solution had to exist, and that I had simply not yet figured it out.

I don't know why I thought that. I'm not a total naif. I've played Legend of Zelda before. I am familiar with the concept of equipment unlocking previously blocked areas. I just didn't realize I was playing that type of game. I thought Antichamber was more like Portal - a very controlled exercise in psychological manipulation - but it's not like that at all.

Antichamber is like the dark Portal. It is chaotic and messy and at times downright unfair. I've seen multiple entrances to the same chamber and spatially disconnected loops that run differently forward and backward. I'm fairly sure that there have been a couple of times I've solved puzzles the "wrong" way and gotten myself into chambers out of the "intended" sequence. And I put both those words in quotations because I'm guessing that was an entirely expected outcome.

Portal was amazing because it made you feel like  a rat in a maze while actually being a very linear game. Antichamber makes you feel like a rat in a maze by actually making you a rat in a maze. In it's own way, it's just as amazing, but I can't say I "enjoy" it.

There are rewards. Solving the puzzle to get the yellow gun was a victory that felt earned. In general, success in the game feels like real success, and not like you are merely overcoming simulated obstacles. When you advance in the game, it's like you are outwitting the designers themselves, rather than merely progressing on a predetermined sequence of challenges. That's a novel experience, one that I don't think I've had with any other game.

It comes at a price, though. Antichamber has thrown me off balance. Whenever I get stuck, I always face the same dilemma - is it because I'm just not seeing the solution, or is it because I've got the right solution, but bad execution, or is it because I do not yet have the tools to solve the problem? I  find myself flitting from room to room, trying to find angles and approaches I had not yet considered. It's an approach that helps mitigate my frustration, but makes it difficult to keep track of my progress (the game's map is a bit confusing).

I think I'm almost done, though. The game keeps track of the signs you read, and I've got most of the wall filled:

I suspect there's a red gun I've yet to find, and that doing so will let me fill in that bottom row. There's some troubling gaps scattered around the middle, though, and I worry I may have missed something important (it's also entirely possible the game is fucking with me - the hub room may be mostly like a menu, but it is not free of deception).

I think it's fortunate that I'm playing this game for my blog. If I weren't, I'd probably never finish it.

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