Carceri is a “chaotic Art-toy” from a former Metroid Prime 4 dev, inspired by Piranesi


Carceri is a fizzy and kaleidoscopic, first-person “chaotic Art-toy” in which you explore/hallucinate an island resort that’s also a concentration camp (“carceri” is Italian for prison) for sentient computer programs. Out sometime in May, it’s the work of James Beech, who describes himself as “an on-again, off-again AAA veteran” with credits on Metroid Prime 4, Remnant: From the Ashes, and Crysis 3. The environments take hefty influence from Carceri d’invenzione, a series of prints created in the 18th century by Giovanni Battista Piranesi, whose name has become a byword for impossible spaces.

All-in-all, it’s not so much a new videogame as a terrible trap devised to waylay and enrapture hipster middle-aged news editors who have to write about ChatGPT now and then. But who knows, it may also appeal if you’re keen on strange worlds in which curiosity and experimentation take precedence over massacring the wildlife.

I don’t get much of a Metroid vibe from Carceri, but those hazy angular landscapes do look like they’d make decent Psychonauts levels. There’s also a bit of Umurangi Generation in there – you have a magic camera that doubles as a way of messing around with the graphics settings. Other attractions include a philosophy forum, a gallery, a rock concert, a giant open-air chess-set, and the illicit thrill of “jumping around where you don’t belong”. Here’s a trailer.

Watch on YouTube

Carceri is a follow-up of sorts to IndieCade 2016 finalist Ultraworld Exodus, but you don’t need to have played the latter to enjoy it, as Beech comments in the announcement materials. Regarding the Piranesi influence, which is sure to spawn a thousand Critical Distance op-eds, he notes that “as a Level Designer by trade, that’s exactly our job: create impossible worlds. So, to my eyes, Piranesi’s prisons are akin to the origin of Level Design.”

You can find out more on the Steam page, which includes an extended disclosure about the game’s usage of generative AI tools to create artworks inside the world, as per Valve’s recently introduced requirement that developers be more transparent on this front. The irony here is that the in-game artworks in Carceri are represented as the handiwork of in-game sentient AI characters. All in all, I score this AI disclosure Inception out of 10. It’d have been a Synecdoche, New York out of 10, but I don’t like the font in the trailer.

Carceri’s story portrays a world made by programs, for programs. While ALL the writing, music, and 3D art in this game was created by a single human being, there is an Art Gallery in-game that contains 50 images, 17 of which have been generated by AI, (that are all clearly marked as such). These are fictionally portrayed as art works created by the characters (programs) of this world.

No names of modern, living artists were used to generate these images. The prompts were words such as: Hudson River school, old masters, Delacroix, robots, abstract geometry, landscape. From there, I photo-shopped all images so that none are 100% unaltered from the generation process.

Acknowledging generative imagery’s existence is important to the world-building and meta-narrative of Carceri, so this was the fairest way I could think to include a small dose of these works, which are divisive by their very nature.

If you’re on an artgaming bender right now, there’s also Art Game, S***ty F**king Art Game, For Pretentious T**ts and Let’s Play: Let’s Play: Ancient Greek Punishment: Art Edition Edition. If you’d rather play around in a videogame gaol, errm, well – Ghost Of A Tale is a great one, I reckon.


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