Antichamber is now the 7th game to be backed by the Indie Fund. I’m committed to releasing a very high quality game, which has taken longer than anticipated, so I needed some additional help to get through to the end and ensure that the game would receive the time and energy it deserved.

In addition, 16 independent studios have banded together to take over a piece of AAA sized land at PAX East, which we somewhat appropriately named the Indie Megabooth. Trailer below!

If you’re at PAX East, come find me at booth 770, where I’ll be with the latest build of the game. I’m also speaking on Friday with some other Megabooth participants, in “Indie Game Development: A Day in the Life – Part 1” and on Saturday with some other IGF games, in “Road to the Independent Games Festival“. Come say hi!

 

Yesterday I found myself on the front page of Penny Arcade. This interview with Ben was done at the GDC, shortly before I decided to draw my thoughts together and then speak about the events in more detail for my GDC Microtalk, the full text of which I’ve posted on my Gamasutra blog.

Earlier that day, I also did a preview with Destructoid. It took a while to get posted, but it’s a really great (non-spoilerish) writeup. Jordan wrote more about the feelings of playing the game, rather than talking about anything within the game itself, which is probably more meaningful in some ways.

I also did a 20 minute video interview with Design3 which has now been posted online. The following is a preview of the interview that they put on YouTube, but if you want to see the full thing, head over to their site.

Once again, the next public showing is PAX East next week, at booth 770. Oh, and if you’re in Austin, you can play the game slightly earlier this weekend at the next Juegos Rancheros meetup. If you’re not, you can still look at this rad poster they made for it:

See some of you at either!

 

It took me 3 years of trying, but I finally won an IGF trophy! I took home the award for Technical Excellence, but if you haven’t seen them yet, go check out the full list of winners. You can also watch the entire ceremony online and see my absolute disbelief at the fact that this actually happened.

The game demoed really well at the IGF Pavilion. For a few links, Rock Paper Shotgun had some more hands on time, the game appeared on NewScientist, I did a fun interview with Anthony Carboni, and this guy really got the game.

I’m currently working more on the game in Austin until PAX East rolls around. If you’re at the show, Antichamber will be playable at booth 770.

I know I don’t post here enough, so for more timely updates, go like Antichamber on Facebook or follow Antichamber on Twitter. For more day by day development updates, follow Me on Twitter instead.

 

Yesterday, I launched a new teaser for Antichamber, and then proceeded to watch it spread around the internet. I’d say the response was pretty great. Here’s a few snippets from around the place.

Kotaku – Antichamber will confuse your brain

Rock Paper Shotgun - Antichamber, your approach to physics is erratic and haphazard

Joystiq – Antichamber is a nightmare to describe on paper

Machinima - “MC Escher-Like MindFuck.” How does that not sound awesome?

BoingBoing – Antichamber already defies description

The Verge – Mind-altering Antichamber

IndieGames - It’s an incredibly stylish and atmospheric first person puzzler

IGN – Where FPS standards go to die

IndieGameMag – Wear a tin foil hat for this one, just in case your brain starts to seep through your skull

Gamespy – It shatters both its own rules and your brittle, brittle synapses

Hookshot – It’s a psychological Portal. Into your own head

I also scored retweets from Notch, Peter Serafinowicz and Cliff Bleszinski, to name a few.

If you’re making your way to GDC next week, come check out the game on the IGF pavilion, where it’s nominated for its second year in a row, this time for Technical Excellence.

Alternatively, if you’re making your way to PAX East in April, you can also get your hands on it then.

 

 

So obviously I’m pretty terrible at updating the blog when I’m inundated with other work (like finishing Antichamber!). Since PAX I was nominated in IndieCade for Best Design, which has already come and gone. I’m currently nominated in the Independent Games Festival again, this time for  Technical Excellence.

If you really want to be up to date with information on the game, follow either @Antichamber on Twitter for game only news, @demruth on Twitter for day by day updates etc. or go Like the Antichamber Facebook page. I really use those things far more regularly, and tend to only write long blog posts when I actually have something to say.

The game will next be exhibited at the Game Developers Conference in San Francisco at the IGF Pavilion. I will also be speaking at the Independent Games Summit there as well. The game will also be playable at PAX East, though there’s not much news about that yet.

 

This morning I woke up to this:

PAX was pretty amazing for me, not just because it was an event I hadn’t been to before or because I was there showing off Antichamber as one of the PAX10, but because it was slowly solidifying that after several years of work, this thing works. Compared to other conferences, where I would walk away going “oh god, there’s so much that I have to change”, I had to say relatively little as people ran around and solved things themselves, some for quite extended periods of time. There’s still a few refinements necessary here and there, and a number of pieces of missing content that remains to be filled in, but I’m slowly working my way towards the end of it now.

As a quick aside, before going to PAX I went to Freeplay in Melbourne, Australia and won these:

More awards are always nice, and these trophies are amazing (and heavy… they’re solid glass).

 

I’m sure everyone has heard stories about people who spent ages working on a game, released it, and then wondered why the sales didn’t come rolling in. The core idea seemed solid, they couldn’t find any more bugs, and friends they’d tested the game on had said it was fun. What went wrong? Maybe the game didn’t sell because of the oil crisis that happened shortly before they launched. Maybe they should have released on Thursday instead of Wednesday. Or maybe, the game had some pretty major issues that they weren’t able to see as a result of being too close to it.

When you’re working on a game 24/7, you’re used to playing in a particular way and will build up a mental map of all of the things that are currently “wrong” with the game. These are likely to be pretty different to what are actually the biggest issues that people have when playing the game for the first time. There are many ways to test against this.

Some people will swear by metrics as a means for making sure this doesn’t happen (which I will argue against another time, when creating games such as mine), and I’ve done a whole lot of testing the waters through competitions and periodically sending new builds to old and new players alike. But one of the most useful things to me has been to continuously show the game off at conferences / conventions, because they’re basically a way to put the game in front of a lot of people in a very short space of time. Conferences are especially good at testing how well the game is able to hold peoples interest, when they’re surrounded by a significant number of other distractions.

Over the weekend, I traveled interstate to a convention called AVCon to show off the latest build of Antichamber. As per usual at these things, the response was very strong, though there are still some areas that need further work. This isn’t perfectionism, this is reality. My intention with this show in particular was to just leave people playing until they’d had enough, mainly so that I could be testing a bunch of later game content, but also to continue testing assumptions and find which areas needed the most attention before I show it off for the PAX10.

When people got up to leave, I’d ask them how long they thought they had been playing for, and their guesses were always way off. People who thought they’d been playing for 20 minutes had actually been there for 50. People who said half an hour were there for more than an hour, etc. In one instance, a person had been playing for 2 hours before I finally kicked them off to let one of the people crowding around play. These are all pretty good signs that things are working well in general.

Needless to say, the priority for what needed the most attention leading up to PAX Prime next month changed a bit, for the better. I’ve known how this happens for quite a long time, because what I thought was “almost finished” prior to E3 last year was actually “quite a while away from being done” after seeing waves of people play it at E3. Every conference I’ve been to has been a way to test for this kind of thing, and though it can delay the release of the game, it means that people are getting something of a much higher quality when the game is finally done. It is especially important for the kind of game that I’m creating, where a few false assumptions can dramatically impact what information people are learning / ignoring in the game, which affects how it feels.

Whilst at this conference, I had quite a number of people picking my brain about various things, some of which related to getting their game on Steam. This is something that has come up before, and my first question has always been the same. How does the quality of your game compare to the average quality of other games on the service? When your response to this question is “yeah it’s not as good I guess”, your first point of call would probably be to go off and resolve that.

Take a serious step back from your work and analyse what other games are doing “right” (as they’re on the service already) that your game is currently missing. If the art clearly looks cheap and dirty, either hire an artist or find a style that looks refined without costing more than you can afford. If your game looks really nice in screenshots, but has wonky controls, go off and work on that.

If you can’t spot any immediately obvious flaws such as these, though, start putting the game in front of people. Not just friends and family, or people who were already interested in the game for one reason or another, but people who have no reason to play your game other than the fact that it is in front of them. Random people who have better things to do with their time, and won’t continue playing for more than a few minutes if there are some pretty major issues with it. Conferences are full of these kinds of people.

Moreso than just putting the game in front of people, though, actually watch them as they play. If your game is being showcased at an event, but you’re not there as it happens, you’re wasting a pretty massive opportunity to understand how people are actually receiving the game. This is why I’ve made the effort to attend almost everything that has had the game on display around the world. It’s expensive, but when the alternative is releasing something that doesn’t actually work as it should, I’d just consider it an investment.

When people are playing Antichamber at an event, I spend more time watching their face than I spend watching the game. I already know how the game works, and an occasional glance at the screen will tell me what the player is looking at. But their face tells me what they’re thinking. This is important, because there’s generally a pretty obvious disconnect between what people say if you’re asking them questions, and how they were responding whilst playing the game.

Doing this can make it easy to work out why players are having trouble with something at one stage in the game, because you were able to see that at another stage, they completely ignored something important. They may have run past it, or briefly looked at what you wanted them to see, but didn’t take the time to actually understand it.

The other important thing to keep in mind at conferences (but also applies to any feedback that you get, even from just sending builds of the game around) is to listen to 100% of feedback and criticism. This isn’t suggesting that it is all relevant or that you should apply it all, and you may end up throwing away 90% of it, but you should only do so after you’ve seriously processed it all and have worked out what people meant underneath what they said. If someone says “this game is great but I was a bit confused about the controls”, don’t just hear “this game is great” and brush off the other comments.

Likewise, if someone asks how your game is going to target 4 year olds, appreciate what they’re asking, process it, and then be content throwing away that question, having at least thought about it seriously. The worst thing you can do is to only listen to comments that line up with your preconceived assumptions, or hear nothing at all. For the record, I already knew the answer to this, but still got a few young children to play Antichamber at AVCon, just to be sure. The game definitely isn’t for young children, for reasons I can clearly identify.

I shouldn’t really have to point out that there are always going to be exceptions to this advice. Yes, some games may genuinely be more difficult to test at a conference / convention. If you’re developing an iOS or Flash game (which I’m not), it may be cheaper to just release the game and update it as you go. But even in those instances, make sure you’re well aware of the specific reasons why a conference may not be worth your time, and are finding other ways of effectively testing against assumptions, rather than just throwing around statements about how “it’s not the right environment”. Technically, conferences are the wrong environment for almost any game, mine included. They’re still incredibly valuable.

The overall point of this post is this: When was the last time you bought a mediocre game and then raved to all of your friends about it? Whether your game costs $1 or $100, constantly putting it in front of people who know nothing about it and being realistic with what the issues are and how to fix them will avoid creating something that no one actually wants. I know this, because I could have released the game over a year and a half ago, and it certainly wouldn’t have been as worthwhile as an experience as it is today.

On that note, come by the PAX10 booth if you’re in Seattle. I’ll be there to show the game off once again, with a significant number of changes since AVCon.

 

The results are in… I’m going to Seattle for PAX Prime! The PAX10 site has now been officially updated, and I’m one of the winners in this years showcase. Of the other selections, I’m personally really happy that Fez, JamestownSnapshot and Splatters (formerly Confetti Carnival) are there. Those are all really great games, made by great people, and anyone who is also going to the show should definitely check them out!

It’s fitting that the PAX10 is the 10th competition I’ve been successful in. I have now entered 10 competitions around the world and have been a finalist or winner in every single one of them. More than anything, this is an amazing accomplishment for me personally.

Back in 2009, I was just some dude who made a game, looking at other successful independent developers and wondering how they were any different to me. Some were older, some had long industry backgrounds, some had more resources than me, but I couldn’t really work out how any of that stuff actually mattered, based on what they had created. All I could realistically see was people who had worked really hard at creating something amazing, who didn’t stop putting themselves out there and trying to aim higher. If I was realistic with myself, and created something that used the experience and resources that I had, I felt like I should have been able to accomplish similar things.

In 2008, I saw The Unfinished Swan for the first time, as a finalist in Sense of Wonder Night, an event held at the Tokyo Game Show to showcase new and interesting games (sidenote: submissions close tomorrow! Go enter!). It was similar to other concepts I was exploring at the time (I was also doing 3D silhouette work, though for vastly different reasons). So in 2009 when the submissions were opened again, I wrote a note on a little piece of paper that said “SENSE OF WONDER NIGHT” and stuck it to my monitor, so that I was looking at it every single day for 3 months.

I worked non-stop during those 3 months, because I had never traveled before and always wanted to go to Japan. I really felt like I had a chance, and worked to the point of making myself physically sick, but ended up being contacted as a finalist. This notification came 5 days before the submissions for Make Something Unreal closed – another competition that I had seen several years earlier when Round 2 was being run. So I entered that as well, expecting nothing. I ended up being one of the Grand Prize Winners. I also entered another competition in Australia, and ended up winning Best Game.

From there, I set out on a mission to enter every single competition that I could, because the price of entry seemed so low compared to the potential value that you would get if you were selected for any of them. My logic was that even if you were selected for just one competition, it instantly made the submissions to any of them worthwhile. As a result of that logic, I would have spent around $600 on entries to competitions so far, and would have received somewhere in the order of $30,000 – $50,000 worth of value out of being selected as finalist / winner in them, all of which was poured straight back into making the game better for the next submission.

I was entering all of these competitions because I treat everything like a game, and I want to win. Sales is the final competition, and everything else is testing the waters for that, telling me where I had to adjust and correct things. For people who play my game upon its eventual release, this all means that they’ll be getting something of very high quality, with the stamp of approval from a wide audience of judges, players, designers and friends.

With regards to yesterdays rename announcement, being selected for the PAX10 also solidified my confidence in renaming the game. Renaming is a pretty huge thing to do, it was very stressful trying to find the “right” name, and you could never be too sure about whether you were making the right choice. But ultimately, I believe that it was the right thing to do, and I’m determined to make it work. This just helps enormously!

And yes… you will find me in my pink suit once again. See you there!

 

In a shocking twist of events that may be a surprise to some and a relief to others…

Hazard is being renamed to Antichamber.

 

I know that this may be coming a little out of left-field this late in development, but it wasn’t a decision that I made lightly, and a whole lot of time and thought went into the new name. Changing the name of something at this stage is like having a kid, and then 2 years later going “actually I don’t like what I called you when you were born. It doesn’t fit. You’re now ‘Jerry’”. But, better to fix it now while the game is still in development than waiting until it’s too late.

Some background…

As was covered in the Joystiq announcement, this game has been the process of constant iteration on a core set of ideas, from an arena combat game, to a single player puzzle game, to a game about exploration and discovery. I chose the name “Hazard” back in the arena combat phase, where the world was, quite literally, full of hazards. Later I added the subtitle to it, to fit more with where the game was heading at the time.

It stayed that way until now because I just got used to saying it, and never really thought any more about what it meant to people. It was just a name to me. I was more concerned with spending my time exploring the game ideas to their fullest potential.

So why change it now?

At DICE and GDC this year after the Indie Games Challenge and IGF nominations, I started getting feedback about the name from a significant enough number of people whom I respect greatly. They were concerned with the fact that I now had this incredibly interesting game that a lot of people would want to play, and they didn’t want people to be overlooking it because of what it was called, particularly because of the subtitle.

I knew exactly why it was an issue for them, as in the past I’ve seen people recommend the game to others, and then have to fight really hard to get people to ignore what it was called (“Journey of life? Sounds pretentious / artsy / etc.”), and experience how it actually played. This is not something that I’d want to happen. Not being interested in something is one thing, being turned off entirely for this reason is another.

Why not just Hazard then? Why change it entirely?

Without the subtitle,  just “Hazard” is not only not descriptive of the game now, it’s anti-descriptive. Though it does mean uncertainty, people more immediately refer to it as danger. People were confused, because nothing in the game was dangerous, and the player could never die. I argued against this point with several people (including getting a rather awesome quote from Jim McGinley, who stated “No one plays Crysis and goes “IS THIS THE CRYSIS!?”), but ultimately conceded that just “Hazard” puts the game in the same light as things like “KillZone”, “BulletStorm”, “Total Annihilation”, etc.  which is not where I want to be.

Pretty unanimously, everyone I spoke to when deciding to change the name was quick to say “yeah Hazard sounds like an FPS. Doesn’t make sense”, regardless of what they thought of any other suggestions. Not only that, but without the subtitle, it’s impossible to find information about the game due to the abundance of websites about safety games, hazards in games, etc.

Apart from both of these issues, there’s also the fact that the game was released in a very early state for Make Something Unreal as an Unreal Tournament 3 mod, and a slice of it on the UDK Showcase in early 2010. Believe it or not, but there are still people who’ve seen the game from competition nominations etc. and believe that the game is still a mod, or that I entered that early showcase version. Neither of these is true, and the game has come a VERY long way since anything was made publically available.

Won’t I lose the branding that I have associated with the old name!?

I’ve spoken with a number of developers about this, and the general consensus was that pre-release, it can seem like everyone knows about your game, when the reality is that most of the people who will end up buying it didn’t even know that it existed before it went on sale. Those who already liked the game will likely not care what the name is, and those who overlooked it for whatever reason can now look at it differently.

Throughout the entirety of its development, the name wasn’t what was drawing most people into the game anyway. In all festivals the game was entered into, judges had to go through and play every game, and weren’t making decisions based off first impressions when seeing the name by itself.

Up until release and after, I was going to continue taking the game to festivals etc. anyway and drumming up more noise about it, so realistically, I just have to work a little bit harder at building awareness post-name change as well.

Does this mean that the theme of the game has changed?

Yes and no. What was made available previously was clearly labelled as a work in progress, and was much more conceptual than the game is now. Ultimately, the final release will be an extension of the same core concepts, but everything has been refined and iterated upon. There’s still a philosophical bent in the game, but it’s the mechanics and the rest of the world that have really come to the forefront of the design these days. The new name offered new places to take the narrative, and everything fell into place nicely once it was changed.

If people liked anything they’ve seen of the game thus far, they will like the final version even more. If they had reservations, rest assured that the game is becoming something very special. The name change is just to get things more in line with what the game has become.

Does this mean the game is ready for release?

No. I still don’t have a release date for the game, and I’m not going to give another estimate until I have something completely solid to work on. Quality matters most, and I’m not a fan of fixing things after the fact that should have been right in the first place. I want this game done more than anyone, because it’s been taking up all of my mental energy for a few years now. But now more than ever is not the time to try to rush to release, when I’m getting very close to having it all just right.

I’m still showing the game off at events throughout the year, so it makes sense to change the name now so that all future information about the game is under the final title.

Is there a new demo or trailers to go with the new name?

There will be new trailers etc. when the time comes. A new demo, however, will not be released until the game is finished.

Do you know which platforms the game will be on?

No, though at this stage, I’m aiming to have it on Steam and at least one console. Finishing the game is difficult enough though, so that’s the main priority.

How can I keep updated about the game under the new name?

Updates will still be posted here when there’s news about the game or other developments to talk about. Other than that, you can still follow me on Twitter, there’s a new Antichamber Facebook Page, and the website is online at http://www.antichamber-game.com.

 

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