Spacechem Researchnet Assignments Meaning

 

[Zach Barth, developer of the cult indie puzzle hit SpaceChem explains what went into creating such a complex, nuanced game -- while still working a day job -- and also what held back the game from finding the audience it might otherwise have found.]

Shortly after releasing TheCodexofAlchemicalEngineering, a Flash game about building machines that create and transform alchemical compounds, I started thinking about a chemistry-themed sequel. Since Codex was already a simplified model of molecular bonding, expanding into chemistry proper would provide more mechanics (such as multiple bonds between atoms) and puzzles (different compounds, from simple ones like water to more complicated ones like benzene). Despite this, making immediate sequels is not in my nature, so I set the idea aside and moved on.

About a year later I visited GasWorksPark in Seattle and was inspired by its derelict chemical processing pipeline.

Thinking back to the idea for a chemistry-inspired Codex sequel, it occurred to me to combine the low-level manipulations of the Codex with a high-level pipeline construction mechanic. The idea for SpaceChem was born!

The idea evolved over the next six months, picking up a cosmic horror story with boss battles in the process.

I started developing the game in my spare time with a coworker from my day job, eventually growing the team to seven people before shipping SpaceChem.


The Codex of Alchemical Engineering
, the predecessor to SpaceChem. Believe it or not, it's actually harder!

What Went Right

1. We Created Open-Ended Puzzles

Although we made a lot of questionable development decisions, the game's open-ended puzzles are unquestionably the biggest thing we did right; without them, SpaceChem would not be SpaceChem!

The standard gameplay "formula" for SpaceChem is to give the player a set of tools (instructions and reactors), a challenge with a clear end condition (create molecules X, Y, and Z), and an empty area in which to create a solution. Because of this, we were able to design almost all of the puzzles without knowing how they might be solved, focusing instead on making sure that each challenge was logically unique and could not be solved by repeating a previous solution.

After playtesting the levels, we reordered them, removed logical "duplicates", and filled "gaps" to create a fairly linear (albeit steep) difficulty curve. In some ways this makes puzzle design easier, as it avoids the chicken-and-egg problems that arise when designing a puzzle and its solution simultaneously.

An exciting side-effect of creating puzzles this way is that they end up being more open-ended and start to resemble the kind of problems that engineers and designers face in real life. Although some players find this intimidating, others find it intensely rewarding and discover a sense of ownership in their solutions not found in other games, quickly propelling SpaceChem into "favorite game" territory.


Superfund? More like super-fun!

2. We Kept Our Risks Low

Although it's not as sexy as full-time independent game development, most of the people who worked on SpaceChem did so in their spare time while holding full-time jobs outside of the games industry. This allowed us to rely almost entirely on profit sharing for compensation.

By working with international contractors to fill our talent gaps and using free tools and software wherever possible, the non-time investments to bring SpaceChem to market were small and low-risk. Although this clearly wouldn't work for "serious" game developers, it allowed us to break into the games industry with a good deal of momentum and no fear of failure!

3. We Picked a Great Platform -- PC!

The PC was the best possible platform for a game like SpaceChem. The barrier to entry is extremely low compared to similarly "open" platforms like the Apple App Store and Xbox Live Indie Games. Almost every person who reads about your game on a computer is capable of buying and playing the game within a few clicks. Leveraging this, we were able to roll out SpaceChem in a few phases:

  1. When SpaceChem launched, it was only available for purchase on the Zachtronics Industries store, a website created solely for the purpose of selling SpaceChem. We chose to build our own store because it let us sell for all three PC platforms (Windows, Mac, and Linux), because it let us keep 100 percent of the revenue (minus PayPal fees), and because we were unable to get on Steam. Despite the fact that our customer base was much smaller than other online stores, the Zachtronics Industries fan base, built on previous free games like the Codex and Infiniminer, quickly embraced SpaceChem and set us off to a strong start.
  2. Before the game had even been released, PC game website Rock, Paper, Shotgun found SpaceChem in the 2011 IGF entry list and wrote a flatteringpost about the game. After launch it posted a review and an interview, drawing additional and much-needed attention to the game, helping to secure additional posts and interviews on other gaming news sites. The lesson here: as an independent game developer with little to no marketing budget, games journalists are your best friends!
  3. Shortly after the word got out about how awesome SpaceChem was, we were able to reconnect with Valve about distribution on Steam. After a bit of work to integrate with the Steam platform for achievements and friend leaderboards, SpaceChem was launched on Steam, giving us access to their tremendous audience, epic seasonal sales, and painless update process. Although we've launched SpaceChem on many distribution channels in the past year, none have been as successful for us as Steam.
  4. Toward the end of 2011, we partnered with the Humble Bundle to include SpaceChem in the Humble Frozen Synapse Bundle, something that was only possible because of our choice to target Windows, Mac, and Linux.

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«‹›13 »

GuavaMoment
Aug 13, 2006

YouTube dude


Infinifactory on steam
Official site
Steam group for goons

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Z6TohFLvoBc

Infinifactory is a sandbox puzzle game, made by Zach Barth of SpaceChem fame. Your job is to assemble and move a stream of inputs into the desired product, via conveyor belts, pushing pistons and things like that. It takes place in a Minecraft-like world where you have the objects you can place in your hotbar. SpaceChem in my opinion was the greatest puzzle game ever, because there was very rarely one clear, superior, intended solution. Everyone will come up with their own different solutions, and Infinifactory is the same way. The varied solutions can be a really fun incentive to get better as your stats are automatically compared against your friends, encouraging you to improve. SpaceChem had a way to automatically upload your solutions to YouTube, and the release version of Infinifactory should have that as well. Edit: Automatic Gif making has been added in a patch!



It's one of those games that simultaneously makes you feel like a moron (the initial 'How the gently caress am I meant to do this!?' phase) and a genius (that Eureka moment when you suddenly realize a beautifully elegant way to make something work). On top of that, it's not just raw puzzling all the time. While it's only told through a handful of audio logs and illustrations, there is a story, and it's a remarkably well-written one at that. It even starts to encroach onto gameplay in some later missions, but I won't spoil anything there. And to top it all off, it has shockingly good music. While you'll be hearing it repeat a lot if you play this game more than a few hours, it somehow just doesn't get old (at least, it hasn't for me), and really helps keep the old brain-pan ticking over. The presentation really helps stop it from feeling monotonous, along with the constantly shifting mission goals.

I literally copy/pasted the above paragraph from the OP of the old SpaceChem thread, but it totally works here too.



History lesson time - Zach Barth made a game called Infiniminer in 2009. It was an open-source, block-based world where you mine for resources, and craft objects, and it was one of, if not the first game of its type. Due to a source code leak and various other issues, Zach abandoned the idea for the game. Some guy named Notch thought the idea might still make a good game, stuff happened, and Notch now lives in a Turbomansion. I'm pretty sure Zach doesn't, so you could always show your appreciation by buying some Zachtronics games!





Now fully released with a cool level editor and steam workshop integration!

GuavaMoment fucked around with this message at Jul 1, 2015 around 04:51

#? Jan 21, 2015 02:07
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#? Mar 13, 2018 21:09
Wild M
Oct 19, 2007

Assignment Complete! REACTION ERROR: Collisions between atoms are not allowed in reaction programs. The reaction will now be stopped.


This game is great! Having more area to work with than SpaceChem means you can do some pretty amazing stuff.

I've been experimenting with the pushers and blockers. Did you know you can attach other blocks to them?



Two connected parts working together. Crazy.
#? Jan 21, 2015 04:03
Glare Seethe
May 15, 2004

Tenochtitlan, looking east.


GuavaMoment posted:

SpaceChem in my opinion was the greatest puzzle game ever, because there was very rarely one clear, superior, intended solution.


I agree with this but will take it one step further and say it's straight up one of the greatest games ever, puzzle or not (in my opinion, clearly). The only thing preventing me from buying Infinifactory right now is that I'm still sitting at a lame 14/20 achievements in SpaceChem and I'd really like to 100% it before I sink into this one, but I also haven't played it in a few months since I'm busy with other games; I go through phases with that game. There's a good chance I'll still buy it just to support Zachtronics, though. I can't believe I only paid $5 for SpaceChem three years ago, the guy deserves more of my money than that.
#? Jan 21, 2015 05:34
MrBlarney
Nov 8, 2009


GuavaMoment posted:

It's one of those games that simultaneously makes you feel like a moron (the initial 'How the gently caress am I meant to do this!?' phase) and a genius (that Eureka moment when you suddenly realize a beautifully elegant way to make something work).


Don't forget that wrap back around to "moron" when you see all your friends' scores that are so much better than yours. Granted, I've only just started playing and two of my Steam friends are GuavaMoment and (2013 Spacechem tournament champion) ecco2, but still. More people need to buy this game and friend me so I can feel even more like an idiot.

Speaking of scores, can I mention how nice it is that there are multiple save slots for puzzles? Now I can keep both my low-cycle and my low-footprint puzzles saved simultaneously.

And don't worry about completing SpaceChem 100% first before diving into Infinifactory. It helps you to some extent to have had SpaceChem experience, but Infinifactory plays quite differently.
#? Jan 21, 2015 07:50
Robhol
Oct 9, 2012


I bought this game yesterday and just finished the puzzle from the first GIF in the OP, and I'm now feeling like an idiot because of how inelegant my solution was in comparison (mine had to discard a third of the blocks for reasons I'm not even sure I understand). Great game though - I'm worried that I'm going to fall into the old SpaceChem routine of waking up in the middle of the night because I've just had a new idea to solve a puzzle I was stuck on.

By the way, in case anyone's put off of buying this game by the "Early Access" label - don't be. It already feels polished enough to be a final product in most ways.
#? Jan 21, 2015 11:21
Jabor
Jul 16, 2010

#1 Loser at SpaceChem

Alright Guava, when's the tournament?

(Holy poo poo a new Zachtronics puzzle game, I am all over this.)
#? Jan 21, 2015 11:30
Orthogonalus
Feb 26, 2008
Right angles ONLY

It's so good.

It's like having taken a selective amnesia pill and getting to experience SpaceChem again for the first time. I'm already looking forward to revisiting my old solutions to laugh at their inefficiency.
#? Jan 21, 2015 11:52
President Ark
May 16, 2010



This looks like a combination of most of Minecraft's techy mods (Thermal Expansion, Buildcraft, Minefactory, etc.) combined with a really old mac shareware game I played called "Factory" which has dropped off the face of the earth.

I love both of those games so this is extremely my poo poo.
#? Jan 21, 2015 13:22
PaletteSwappedNinja
Jun 3, 2008

One Nation, Under God.

Robhol posted:

By the way, in case anyone's put off of buying this game by the "Early Access" label - don't be. It already feels polished enough to be a final product in most ways.


It's literally a release-quality game that they're releasing as early access to mitigate the damage done by reviewers who trash games at launch but never revise their opinions or write followups after big fixes/updates.
#? Jan 21, 2015 13:32
GhostDog
Jul 29, 2003

Always see everything.


SOLD.

I'll also should get back to SpaceChem. I lost my savefile at some point in world 6 or so and never finished it.
#? Jan 21, 2015 13:44
Cephalocidal
Dec 23, 2005



Wild M posted:

This game is great! Having more area to work with than SpaceChem means you can do some pretty amazing stuff.

I've been experimenting with the pushers and blockers. Did you know you can attach other blocks to them?



Two connected parts working together. Crazy.

I've managed to get a track assembly bouncing back and forth on another track assembly while carrying a few moving parts like a 3D printer, but no practical applications for it yet. My solutions are inelegant as gently caress, but I'm loving the game. Also story.
#? Jan 21, 2015 14:39
Wild M
Oct 19, 2007

Assignment Complete! REACTION ERROR: Collisions between atoms are not allowed in reaction programs. The reaction will now be stopped.


Cephalocidal posted:

I've managed to get a track assembly bouncing back and forth on another track assembly while carrying a few moving parts like a 3D printer, but no practical applications for it yet. My solutions are inelegant as gently caress, but I'm loving the game. Also story.


I need to see what you mean by a track assembly on a track assembly. I bet I could figure out something to do with it.

That, and Infinifactory gameplay can make some fantastic gifs.
#? Jan 21, 2015 15:25
Cephalocidal
Dec 23, 2005



Wild M posted:

I need to see what you mean by a track assembly on a track assembly. I bet I could figure out something to do with it.

That, and Infinifactory gameplay can make some fantastic gifs.


Tracks can carry tracks. If you've got the vertical space to work with they can potentially be way more efficient than an array of sensors and pushers. The top surface of a track block doesn't count as a fixing point for anything, actually - they're slippery, so you can build (for example) an overhanging welder side-attached to a platform block that's sitting on top of a track that runs in a loop, passing the welder over a lower track only part of the time.
#? Jan 21, 2015 16:50
Artix
Apr 26, 2010

You think you can keep up? Time to see if you're all talk.


Oh god Spacechem was bad enough now I need to work in three dimensions? I don't know if I can handle this, but I'll be damned if I'm not going to give it a shot. (game owns thus far)
#? Jan 21, 2015 17:39
Veloxyll
May 3, 2011

Fuck you say?!

You don't realise how much you relied upon massive backlogs. Until you don't have them.

THIS GAME
#? Jan 22, 2015 02:07
GuavaMoment
Aug 13, 2006

YouTube dude


Jabor posted:

Alright Guava, when's the tournament?


Well I need to learn to play at a Grandmaster level first. Also for the game to not be early access, meaning it has a fully fleshed out level creator. I am confident one of these things will happen.
#? Jan 22, 2015 03:34
Cephalocidal
Dec 23, 2005



OK, I'm pretty sure my solution to Small Excavator is the most ridiculous thing possible. I really wish uploading solutions was a thing already so other people could gape at my shame.
#? Jan 22, 2015 04:27
Wild M
Oct 19, 2007

Assignment Complete! REACTION ERROR: Collisions between atoms are not allowed in reaction programs. The reaction will now be stopped.


GuavaMoment posted:

Well I need to learn to play at a Grandmaster level first. Also for the game to not be early access, meaning it has a fully fleshed out level creator. I am confident one of these things will happen.


Speaking of Grandmaster-level, did you know you can use single blocks on treadmills as timing circuits? Gotta save those cycles.



Also of course Guava knows, I already told him.
#? Jan 22, 2015 04:57
Sylink
Apr 17, 2004


How complete is this for early access?
#? Jan 22, 2015 14:03
ToxicFrog
Apr 26, 2008



Sylink posted:

How complete is this for early access?


As they say on the store page (and as mentioned earlier in the thread), it's very complete and is basically what they would have considered the release version with previous games. The campaign is fully implemented, in particular. It's marked Early Access because they want to finish a few other features like the level editor and go through a few rounds of community testing and feedback before declaring it Actually Done.

I'm probably not going to get this yet because I'm still stuck on the last planet in Spacechem
#? Jan 22, 2015 16:02
Broken Cog
Dec 28, 2009

MAKE SURE TO EXPLAIN JOKES TO ME BECAUSE I AM AN IDIOT


Sheeeeeesh, this game is difficult, and I'm only on the third area! I just hit the "Small excavator" puzzle, and man, I think I know what to do, but to implement it....
#? Jan 22, 2015 17:29
Cryohazard
Feb 5, 2010


Wild M posted:

Also of course Guava knows, I already told him.


You poo poo.
#? Jan 22, 2015 17:56
Orthogonalus
Feb 26, 2008
Right angles ONLY

Seems like something goes wrong the first time you run a solution after loading one from the menu. Every solution is one cycle faster the first time you run it, but sometimes it can glitch out in different ways. This happens consistently in one of mine:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ob7XPb8Yufg
#? Jan 22, 2015 18:52
FuSchnick
Jun 6, 2001

Scruffy's gonna die the way he lived...

My wallet cannot repel a Zachtronics game of this magnitude.

This looks like the closest thing to a Minecraft-ish Factorio so far. If this concept were expanded to include resources and production chains my head might explode.
#? Jan 22, 2015 20:21
Perestroika
Apr 8, 2010



I pretty much bought this instantly when I realised it's from the maker of SpaceChem. Goddamn, this scratches the itch so good.
#? Jan 22, 2015 20:53
tonberrytoby
Feb 29, 2012

Gently enveloping the target with indiscriminate love.


I haven't learned my lesson and bought this even though I am terrible at all of Zachtronic's games.
#? Jan 22, 2015 21:05
Forer
Jan 18, 2010

"How do I get rid of these nasty roaches?!"

Easy, just burn your house down.


You know, Somehow I knew guavamoment would make this thread.


Also I'm addicted, can we get a friends list (in google calc or something) so I can start the competition with other people and feel inadequate next to the pros?
#? Jan 22, 2015 21:15
Perestroika
Apr 8, 2010



tonberrytoby posted:

I haven't learned my lesson and bought this even though I am terrible at all of Zachtronic's games.


Ahaha, I've made the same mistake a few missions earler, where you're supposed to put those colored blocks into an alternating pattern. Pretty much had to start over from scratch.

But still, getting it right afterwards was completely worth it. This game is basically this blog distilled into its purest form.
#? Jan 22, 2015 21:47
NickPancakes
Oct 27, 2004

Damnit, somebody get me a tissue.

Agree with Forer. Someone make an Infinifactory Goons steam group.
#? Jan 22, 2015 21:54
virtualboyCOLOR
Dec 22, 2004



quote:

INFINIFACTORY - It's basically 3D SpaceChem


Neat!

quote:

in Minecraft


hard pass
#? Jan 22, 2015 22:13
Drone_Fragger
May 9, 2007

VOTE
FOR
PEDRO


Given that Zach basically came up with the idea of minecraft, you'd really be better off calling it "3D SpaceChem in Infiniminer", by the way.
#? Jan 22, 2015 22:14
Ciaphas
Nov 20, 2005

> propitiate the dread god arengee

Pillbug

Oh my god this game looks so completely to be my bag. Though I got completely stopped in SpaceChem by about the... fourth?... planet, and haven't gone back since, so if this game is harder by virtue of an extra dimension, then
#? Jan 22, 2015 22:15
Ciaphas
Nov 20, 2005

> propitiate the dread god arengee

Pillbug

Also I feel like Raymond Scott's "Powerhouse B", a familiar friend to anyone who watched cartoons in the Looney Tunes era, should basically be on infinite loop in this game, from looking at those GIFs

Ciaphas fucked around with this message at Jan 22, 2015 around 22:20

#? Jan 22, 2015 22:18
Robzilla
Jul 28, 2003

READ IT AND WEEP JEWBOY!


Fun Shoe

Ciaphas posted:

Also I feel like Raymond Scott's "Powerhouse B", a familiar friend to anyone who watched cartoons in the Looney Tunes era, should basically be on infinite loop in this game, from looking at those GIFs


Or Breakfast Machine by Danny Elfman.
#? Jan 22, 2015 22:40
GuavaMoment
Aug 13, 2006

YouTube dude


NickPancakes posted:

Agree with Forer. Someone make an Infinifactory Goons steam group.


Sure! http://steamcommunity.com/groups/Infinifactigoons

tonberrytoby posted:

I haven't learned my lesson and bought this even though I am terrible at all of Zachtronic's games.


Ha ha, look at this guy, what an idio-



God.....dammit
#? Jan 23, 2015 00:52
Control Volume
Dec 31, 2008



I stalled out on space chem a good part of the way through but manufactoid was still one of my favorite zachtronics games so i guess what I'm saying is that i have less money now
#? Jan 23, 2015 01:13
Brackhar
Aug 26, 2006

I'll give you a definite maybe.

Bought, played a bit, super good. My only reticence is questioning if I will enjoy the game more if I delay as polish comes in.
#? Jan 23, 2015 01:48
Control Volume
Dec 31, 2008





and just as i figured, optimization is like crack to me.
#? Jan 23, 2015 02:33
Mr. Peepers
Mar 11, 2005

Well, I'm a ghost. I scare people. It's all very important, I assure you.

The music might be pretty good but I prefer to let my factories sing for themselves.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qcDQP4_e7XY
#? Jan 23, 2015 05:26
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#? Mar 13, 2018 21:09
Ciaphas
Nov 20, 2005

> propitiate the dread god arengee

Pillbug

Oh god I was right I spent half an hour on the training ground with vertically welded blocks I am too stupid for this game
#? Jan 23, 2015 05:53

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