Sunday, July 15, 2012

Sunday Sidebar: Meet Alexander Bruce

Good morning everyone, and welcome to this week’s Sunday Sidebar. This week I had a great discussion with Alexander Bruce, developer of Antichamber. This is a game that has whipped up plenty of people in the games industry into a frenzy with its use of non-euclidean puzzles and a whacked-out visual style. If you’re a fan of games that try something new, Antichamber might just be your new best friend. Read on to find out more.
alexander bruce 200x300 Sunday Sidebar: Meet Alexander Bruce
Meet Alexander Bruce, Australian and creator of Antichamber.
Hi there, Alex. Go ahead and introduce yourself to readers who might not know you.
Sure. I’m Alexander Bruce, and I’m responsible for all of the design, coding, business and creative direction ofAntichamber. For the first few years of development I was the only person working on the game, but as the quality kept rising I ended up bringing on board a couple of other people to help out in areas that I didn’t have as much experience with.
Robin Arnott now does the sound design and Siddhartha Barnhoorn is the composer. I also have a friend helping out with some modeling, and my brother does a bunch of illustration for the game.
Was there a decision behind publishing the game with your personal name attached to it, rather than something like ‘Non-Euclidean Ltd’?
I think it’s pretty lame to try and pretend that you’re a whole company when you’re really just a guy sitting at a desk in his bedroom. Maybe that made sense back in the days of Epic Megagames when all you really had was companies, but I think one of the strengths of where we are today is that there’s a much greater focus on the individual creators themselves.
As a developer, I’m way more interested in the personal stories behind the development of these games than just imagining them as being these things that occasionally pop out of a black box once in a while. Antichamber is way too personal for a company to have created it and there’s a whole lot of me in there, so I don’t know why I’d try to hide that.
Why is it ‘Antichamber’ and not ‘Antechamber’? Is it wordplay, or no relation?
That’s a good question… and still a secret for now.
How did you get into game design, and when? Is your background more in programming, or storytelling?
I only started making games once I got to university. I did a Computer Science degree and worked in the industry as a programmer, but had to teach myself game design. I used to tell people that I wasn’t a level designer at all, yet Antichamber is more about level design than anything else.
How does it feel to be an independent developer right now?
I don’t think things are really that much different today than they ever have been. Yeah, the internet exists and sharing content is easier, but that also brings in a whole lot more competition with other developers as a result. You still need good ideas and great execution if you want to stand out in that.
People who are driven to create things are going to do it no matter what their circumstances are. Eric Chahi, Jordan Mechner and Tim Sweeney were all doing this stuff twenty years ago. I’m sure that under different circumstances I wouldn’t have made the same game as I’ve created now, but I’d have still been trying to make my mark some other way.
How did you wind up working with composer Siddhartha Barnhoorn?
I was introduced to Sid by my sound designer Robin. We made a very conscious decision to make the sound design more of a focus than the music in this game. Both are still important, but the sound design came first.
Because the visuals are so minimal, having rich lifelike soundscapes was a really nice contrast, and the combination of both lets players fill in a lot of the details about the world in their mind. They also help with navigation as the world keeps changing. The music, however, was used to change the tone of the game as the player progresses through it.
It’s all so compelling. Can you reveal what you’re currently working on with the game?
Unfortunately, no. Not at this stage. No-one wants to know how something ends before they’ve even started it!
“I didn’t want this to be a game that was kind of like something else, but not really… I wanted to go all in.”
What drove you to create Antichamber? Both visually, and in terms of gameplay?
I decided that if I was going to make games, I didn’t want to make something that people had seen before. There are enough other people out there who are driven to do that that I thought I’d take the opportunity to explore in a completely different direction and see what happened. I’ve always worked like this, in whatever I was making.
Antichamber is as different as I could make it on every level, from the high-level concept to the low-level mechanics, to the art direction and sound design. I didn’t want this to be a game that was kind of like something else, but not really… I wanted to go all in. I knew going into it that that was either going to absolutely work or absolutely fail, and the only way to know which way it was going to go was to dive in and see what happened.
You’ve mentioned before that you went into this game with little to no coding knowledge. How did that work out? Are you now well-versed in code-fu?
Ah, I know enough of everything to get by. I always feel like all of the knowledge and experience I’ve gained is only useful for creating Antichamber, but I know that that’s not true at all. I’m just so focused on it right now that I lose sight of how much I really know about things.
Beyond Windows and OSX, is there any possibility of Antichamber making it to any consoles?
Certainly not until the game has launched on PC first. I’m really not making any plans for what’s happening after this game is launched, because it’s a pretty big unknown that we’re dealing with here. I’ve had good pre-release success, but whether or not that translates into sales we’ll just have to wait and see.
Can we still hold out hope for a 2012 release?
I’d like to think so! I’m still not giving a set date, though.
Finally, what is your prized geek possession? Is there anything you’re still holding onto from way back when?
You know… I don’t actually own that much stuff. I don’t tend to buy things unless I need them most of the time, and I’m not really much of a collector, either.
Nothing wrong with a spartan outlook. Thanks again for the opportunity to speak with you, Alex!
Thanks to you!

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