An emotional Alexander Bruce took the stage on Tuesday morning at GDC 2014, to speak during his panel titled ANTICHAMBER: An overnight success, seven years in the making. Bruce had given a similar speech in years prior, but following the release of his recent success, Antichamber, it was interesting to see how his perception of work had changed over the last year.
Bruce opened with the question “What makes me different?” Drawn on his power point presentation were words such as ideas, experience, awards, press, and connections, and in the middle lay the word luck. “Luck is something I don’t control, so I factor it out of all of my business decisions,” Bruce proclaimed.
He continued with a synopsis on how he got involved in the games industry, starting with his education at University in his home of Melbourne Australia in 2005. “I wasn’t the best at ‘X’, but I soon realized that I was very good at being different. So I turned that into a strategic decision.” It was at that point when Bruce realized that he would need to stand out at University to get into the industry, and then necessary to stand out at University to get hired overseas.
In 2006 he began working the first game of his own, Dynamic Geometry, which was really more of an Unreal Tournament 2004 mod. The following year he continued with Recursive Space, also using UT 2004’s modding tools, with the thought in mind of “What would Asteroids look like in 3D?”
That same year, he was hired to work on an Unreal Engine 3 game; a natural transition considering his previous experience with their modding tools. After going through months of crunch and having the game scrapped, Bruce came to the realization that he was becoming unsatisfied with local industry and needed to surmise a path to compete with these kinds of practices.
When 2011 rolled around, Bruce gave up the idea of porting his game to consoles. His thought was that a worse experience on a console wouldn’t benefit anyone, and it wasn’t worth the risk that consoles require up front. Additionally, he asserted “I don’t even own a PS3 or Xbox! Why would I make something for a market that I don’t understand?”
During E3 2011, Bruce reminisced his experience with showcasing his game. When he noticed that gamers would only play Antichamber for five minutes, he knew something was wrong. “If I can’t hold the attention of players at an event when there are only a handful of games, how could I possibly expect to earn their attention when I’m in a crowded digital marketplace?” His consistent improvements to the game also came with a price.
As 2011 came to a close, expectations began to rise, and depression began to set in. Things would only get worse as he entered 2012. You could sense a quiver in his voice, as Bruce took a moment to gather his thoughts, placing his hands on his lips and gently lowering his head before continuing his next few sentences.
His anxiety and frustration would soon subside, however. When the film Indie Game: The Movie was released, a sense of relief washed over him, as Bruce witnessed other people struggle and become as emotional as he was when developing projects. “I soon became jealous of other successful games, and I tried desperately to finish my own.”
Friends and colleagues urged him to slow his pace, warning that racing through the game development process, which could better be described as a marathon, would be devastating to not only his game, but also his health. As things drew to a close, he decided against his original plan of releasing Antichamber in November of 2013, and instead opted to release in January of 2013.
In the end, Antichamber would go on to sell more than 100k copies in the first two weeks on Steam, where he also “exponentially recouped development costs“. Most importantly though, he found the answer to his question: What makes him different? In his own words, it was “Nothing. Nothing at all.”