Community Zachtronics and friends | Perplexing Programming Puzzles

Exzyleph

Dark Eroge Lord
Oct 9, 2018
878
1,313
93
Zachtronics and friends | Perplexing Programming Puzzles

This is a thread for all things Zachlike; chat about the games you are playing, the puzzles you are struggling with, the games you are looking forward to, and that incredible solution that finally put you at the top of the leaderboards.

So what are Zachlikes? Zachlikes are a genre of open-ended puzzle games popularized by Zach Barth of Zachtronics Industries. Such games employ simple, combinable components that lets the player design solutions to puzzles that have no fixed solutions. In contrast to games like The Incredible Machine, that involve the construction of one-off Rube Goldberg-like machines, Zachlikes typically require that 'machines' built by the player can be run repeatedly.

Zachlikes often feature various performance metrics, such as the runtime and the number of components used by a solution, and typically allows the player to compare themselves across (global) leaderboards. Solving a given puzzle is therefore only the first step, and chasing performance goals is typically a large part of the experience.

Though often involving aspects of programming, most of Zachlike games do not feature actual code (exceptions being games like TIS-100, and SHENZHEN I/O), and are therefore easily approachable without prior programming experience.


Upcoming titles
Neon Nuddles - Cyberpunk Kitchen Automation by Vivid Helix

To be released on Steam (Windows, and Linux).

「You are in charge of a futuristic kitchen operating in a
mysterious cyberpunk world. Automate your robot chefs to
cook recipes in perfectly elegant loops to create well oiled
machines that churn out dish after dish. It's a zach-like!」​

Available titles
Monster Logic by Blorp Company, released 2020

Available on Steam (Windows, Linux, and OSX).

「Enter the world of "Monster Logic", the monstrous
programming game! In this hand-drawn puzzle game, you'll
have to use each monsters unique ability to progress through
the 40+ levels and the multiple biomes!」​
MOLEK-SYNTEZ by Zachtronics, released 2019

Available Steam (Windows)
and Itch.io (Windows).​

「ZACH-LIKE is a book of behind-the-scenes design documents
from Zachtronics. The digital version of ZACH-LIKE contains
the full contents of the book, a bunch of terrible games
that Zach made before SpaceChem], and some prototypes and
early builds of Zachtronics games, both released and... not.」​
OCTOPTICOM by UP DEVELOPMENT LTD., released 2018

Available Steam (Windows, and Linux)
and Itch.io (Windows, and Linux).​

「OCTOPTICOM is an open-ended puzzle programming game about
designing and optimizing optical computing devices. Use
lasers, mirrors, filters and other components to read,
transform and write sequences of colored squares.」​
7 Billion Humans by Tomorrow Corporation, released 2018

Available Steam (Windows, Linux, and OSX)
and Nintendo Switch.​

「Automate swarms of office workers to solve puzzles inside
your very own parallel computer made of people.... a
thrilling followup to the award winning Human Resource
Machine. Now with more humans!」​
EXAPUNKS by Zachtronics, released 2018

Available Steam (Windows, Linux, and OSX)
and Itch (Windows, Linux, and OSX).​

「The year is 1997. You used to be a hacker, but now you have
the phage. You made a deal: one hack, one dose. There’s
nothing left to lose… except your life.」​
Prime Mover by 4Bit Games, released 2018

Available on Steam (Windows).

「Prime Mover is an open-ended puzzle game about designing
circuit boards. Work your way from transistor to processor,
uncover the story of the Byte of Burden!」​
while True: learn() by Luden.io, released 2018

Available on Steam (Windows, Linux, and OSX).

「while True: learn() - is a simulator of a machine learning
specialist who uses visual programming to make his living.
Make money as a machine learning developer. Learn how
machine learning works.」​
Opus Magnum by Zachtronics, released 2017

Available Steam (Windows, Linux, and OSX)
and Itch.io (Windows, Linux, and OSX).​

「Master the intricate, physical machinery of the
transmutation engine - the alchemical engineer's most
advanced tool - and use it to create vital remedies,
precious gemstones, deadly weapons, and more.」​
Silicon Zeroes by PleasingFungus, released 2017

Available on Steam (Windows, Linux, and OSX).

「Build hardware. Solve puzzles. From the creator of
Manufactoria, a new open-ended puzzle game set in Silicon
Valley's first startup.」​
SHENZHEN I/O by Zachtronics, released 2016

Available Steam (Windows, Linux, and OSX)
GOG (Windows, Linux, and OSX),​
and Itch.io (Windows, Linux, and OSX).​

「BUILD CIRCUITS. WRITE CODE. RTFM.」​
Human Resource Machine by Tomorrow Corporation, released 2015

Available steam (Windows, Linux, and OSX)
GOG (Windows, Linux, and OSX),​
Google Play (Android 4.1+),​
and App Store (iOS 8.0+).​

「Program little office workers to solve puzzles. Be a good
employee! The machines are coming... for your job.」​
TIS-100 by Zachtronics, released 2015

Available Steam (Windows, Linux, and OSX)
GOG (Windows, Linux, and OSX),​
Itch.io (Windows, Linux, and OSX),​
and App Store (iOS 6.0+).​

「TIS-100 is an open-ended programming game in which you
rewrite corrupted code segments to repair the TIS-100 and
unlock its secrets. It's the assembly language programming
game you never asked for!」​
Infinifactory by Zachtronics, released 2015

Available Steam (Windows, Linux, and OSX)
GOG (Windows, Linux, and OSX),​
Itch.io (Windows, Linux, and OSX),​
and Playstation Store (PS4).​

「Infinifactory is a sandbox puzzle game by Zachtronics, the
creators of SpaceChem and Infiniminer. Build factories that
assemble products for your alien overlords, and try not to
die in the process.」​
Great Permutator by Ripatti Software, released 2013

Available on Steam (Windows, Linux, and OSX).

「Great Permutator is a puzzle. Hard and tricky. One in which
you will have to build a complex system of conveyors and
various devices so that the colored boxes can travel across
the factory and arrive at right places and in right order.
If you are into clever engineering puzzles, this game is for
you.」​
SpaceChem by Zachtronics, released 2011

Available Steam (Windows, Linux, and OSX)
GOG (Windows, and Linux),​
Itch.io (Windows, Linux, and OSX),​
and Google Play (Android 3.1+).​

「Zachtronics Industries is back with an ambitious new design-
based puzzle game. Take on the role of a Reactor Engineer
working for SpaceChem, the leading chemical synthesizer for
frontier colonies. Construct elaborate factories to
transform raw materials into valuable chemical products!」​


Even more stuff

FAQ
  • What game should I play first?
    • Opus Magnus, Infinifactory, and SpaceChem are all good entry-points to this genre, with Infinifactory and Opus Magnus being the easiest to get into. Human Resource Machine is able to ease the player into pure programming puzzles, and if you already have experience with real programming languages, then TIS-100 is simple to get started with, though it will quickly test your abilities.
  • How do I create a GIF of my solution?
    • ScreenToGif is an easy-to-use program for saving screencaptures as gifs. The resulting file can be optimized using ezgif.com or gifsicle (with the --careful option to prevent graphical issues with larger gifs).
 
Last edited:

Durante

I <3 Pixels
Oct 21, 2018
2,948
13,781
113
Awesome thread!

This is a genre I have to be extremely careful with since I can get very obsessive about these games.

I have just one thing to add
  • What game should I play first?
    • Opus Magnus, Infinifactory, and SpaceChem are all good entry-points to this genre, with Infinifactory and Opus Magnus being the easiest to get into. Human Resource Machine is able to ease the player into pure programming puzzles, and if you already have experience with real programming languages, then TIS-100 is simple to get started with, though it will quickly test your abilities.
And EXAPUNKS is the coolest.

EXA

PUNKS
 
OP
Exzyleph

Exzyleph

Dark Eroge Lord
Oct 9, 2018
878
1,313
93
Awesome thread!

This is a genre I have to be extremely careful with since I can get very obsessive about these games.

I have just one thing to add

And EXAPUNKS is the coolest.

EXA

PUNKS
Thank you!

Shenzhen I/O is probably my personal favorite, but for various reasons I never put much time into EXAPUNKS, so I cannot really compare the two. But I own the collectors edition, so it's about time that I get to work.


Must resist pressing install.
It's your own damn fault for tempting me! :D

Infinifactory is my fav. The gifs alone are mesmerising.

Both of your GIFs are really nice. Opus Magnum is also great for the simple, looping constructs:
 
  • Like
Reactions: lashman

bobnowhere

Careful Icarus
Sep 20, 2018
1,479
3,719
113
Thank you!

Shenzhen I/O is probably my personal favorite, but for various reasons I never put much time into EXAPUNKS, so I cannot really compare the two. But I own the collectors edition, so it's about time that I get to work.



It's your own damn fault for tempting me! :D



Both of your GIFs are really nice. Opus Magnum is also great for the simple, looping constructs:
I won't post the rest, but there are 4 more in my steam account.

Steam Community :: bobnowhere :: Artwork
 
  • Like
Reactions: Exzyleph
OP
Exzyleph

Exzyleph

Dark Eroge Lord
Oct 9, 2018
878
1,313
93
The book and game collection by Zachtronics is now available on Steam:

ZACH-LIKE is a book of behind-the-scenes design documents from Zachtronics.

The digital version of ZACH-LIKE contains the full contents of the book (in two different PDF layouts), a bunch of terrible games that Zach made before SpaceChem, and some prototypes and early builds of Zachtronics games, both released and... not.

  • Read ZACH-LIKE in its entirety, either in tablet-friendly portrait mode or widescreen-friendly "simulated book" mode!
  • Experiment with omnivators, liquids, robots, and more in an early build of Infinifactory with hideous placeholder art!
  • Play an early version of Opus Magnum where arms stack recursively, and the weird solitaire tactics minigame that was cut from it.
  • Explore the lost undersea world of Project Typhoon, the submarine-based sandbox game we stopped making a few months into development.
  • Grab three friends and four keyboards and conquer the network in Hack the Planet, a game Zach made specifically for a party at his house.
  • Enjoy* the entire back catalogue of pre-SpaceChem Zachtronics games, from Gregor Mendel's Pro Botanist to the infamous Infiniminer.
*Any enjoyment other than ironic is not guaranteed.
 
Last edited:

JCB

Too old for forums
Oct 10, 2018
5,170
15,231
113
It's really awesome that the developer added his book/games collection for free. ❤

It's really great that this developer is still maintaining a positive relation with his potential customers.
I'm much more likely to buy a game from a developer that does something like this.
 
OP
Exzyleph

Exzyleph

Dark Eroge Lord
Oct 9, 2018
878
1,313
93
Zachtronics just sent out the following press release:


All Zachtronics games are now free for schools!
Today we're announcing a new program called Zachademics, where all Zachtronics games are now free for public schools and school-like non-profit organizations. The full details and rules are available on our website:


If you know a teacher who might be interested in using Zachtronics games with their students, please share this link or email with them. It only takes one quick email to get access to the full library of Zachtronics games for use in your classroom or computer lab.​
This is a really nice initiative, as (IMO) even their more abstract games do a really good job of teaching a lot of programming related concepts in a very approachable manner.
 
OP
Exzyleph

Exzyleph

Dark Eroge Lord
Oct 9, 2018
878
1,313
93
Folks from the unofficial Zachtronics discord are trying to get 'Zach-like' promoted to a real tag on Steam:
tinbonk said:
Me and a few guys from the Zachtronics discord are trying to make Zach-like a legit tag on Steam. Since tags are user defined, if enough people do it then it will become a real tag.

I think these games are unique enough that a tag is justified, and it would be a big help for newcomers to the genre to find similar titles if they can just click a tag on Steam and have them all pop up.

If you guys would like to help it would be greatly appreciated. We're tagging with "Zach-like", rather than zachlike, to keep it consistent with Steam's Rogue-like and Souls-like tags (and also because that's how Zach spelled it in his book).
I think it is a pretty neat initiative and I would encourage fans to tag any relevant games if you agree. You can always start with games in the OP if you want to help but don't know where to start. The original post can be found here.
 
  • Like
Reactions: lashman and JCB
OP
Exzyleph

Exzyleph

Dark Eroge Lord
Oct 9, 2018
878
1,313
93
Zachtronics is doing another printing of their book ZACH-LIKE:

It is also available as a free download on Steam, but a physical copy would be nice 💸
 
  • Like
Reactions: JCB
OP
Exzyleph

Exzyleph

Dark Eroge Lord
Oct 9, 2018
878
1,313
93
So Zachtronics just released a new game straight out of nowhere:

It seems like a combination of the simplicity of TIS-100, the pseudo-chemical elements of Spacechem, and the piano like programming of Opus Magnum. There is also some very minimalist story-telling, that happens between puzzles, but it is too early for me to tell where that is going,

 

toxicitizen

Wake the fuck up, Samurai
Oct 24, 2018
1,051
2,609
113
Oh man, this makes me so happy. I still haven't bought that VN they released a few months ago because it's honestly not really what I wanted from them but I didn't expect to get a proper Zach-like so soon after!
 

d00d3n

Junior Member
Jan 26, 2019
233
390
63
It has been fun to experiment with the operators to learn them, but some of the other basic game mechanics could have been explained a bit better. For example, the first couple of levels teach you that binding/unbinding is a simple matter of adding or subtracting hydrogen, but that strategy starts to lead to unpredictable results a couple of levels into the game.
 
OP
Exzyleph

Exzyleph

Dark Eroge Lord
Oct 9, 2018
878
1,313
93
It has been fun to experiment with the operators to learn them, but some of the other basic game mechanics could have been explained a bit better. For example, the first couple of levels teach you that binding/unbinding is a simple matter of adding or subtracting hydrogen, but that strategy starts to lead to unpredictable results a couple of levels into the game.
The game just got an update that might fix some of the unpredictability (along with a bunch of other changes):
  • Changed bond-breaking priority so that rotating your solution will less frequently change its behavior. This will probably break any solutions you have that relied on ambiguous bonding or unbonding resolving in a particular way.
  • Changed the trash and output instructions so that they happen after the movement and hydrogen manipulation instructions. This fixes some simulation oddities ("disappearing" hydrogen) and hopefully adds a little more optimization depth. This will also probably break some solutions.
UPDATE: Gameplay changes, bug fixes
 

Durante

I <3 Pixels
Oct 21, 2018
2,948
13,781
113

This one is needlessly expensive, but it's pretty fast and I really liked building the "Precision Machine Oil" mechanism with a lot of "pistons".

Edit:
Made another for the same level, I'm pretty sure this one is optimal in terms of cost:
 
Last edited:

Durante

I <3 Pixels
Oct 21, 2018
2,948
13,781
113
This was my first successful run of my first solution to this particular puzzle:


That's really satisfying since I know that Gotchaye, Exzyleph and Cyan are all really good at these games ;)
 
  • Like
Reactions: lashman and JCB
OP
Exzyleph

Exzyleph

Dark Eroge Lord
Oct 9, 2018
878
1,313
93
This was my first successful run of my first solution to this particular puzzle:


That's really satisfying since I know that Gotchaye, Exzyleph and Cyan are all really good at these games ;)
I hate when you do that :face-with-stuck-out-tongue-and-tightly-closed-eyes:
Now I gotta boot up the game and beat my head against your solution :D



Behold my glorious and no doubt short-lived victory!
 
Last edited:

Durante

I <3 Pixels
Oct 21, 2018
2,948
13,781
113
Nice job!

I actually managed to do what I set out to do when I started the game -- complete the main campaign without spending inordinate amounts of time tweaking solutions.

I was surprised when I finished the final level just now and my initial version was actually quite ahead, cycle-wise, compared to everyone on my friend list.

Here is is:
 

d00d3n

Junior Member
Jan 26, 2019
233
390
63
I got into Zachtronics games with TIS-100, so I missed the release period for Infinifactory, but I have now spent the weekend catching up.

What a great game! It is probably my favorite "manufacture shapes" type game of the bunch. The 3d perspective really helps to improve the level design variety compared with the other similar Zachtronics games imo. I do miss some of the quality of life improvements that later games introduced, such as as easier editing and management of solutions, and more informative tutorials (for example, input rate was not explained, and its controls were hidden behind weird key combinations for me, but the concept is absolutely essential to achieve good cycle counts).
 

Parsnip

Riskbreaker
Sep 11, 2018
2,184
4,706
113
Finland
I need to grab Opus Magnum at some point.

I should also get back into Infinifactory, I played it a bit back in early access but decided to wait for the release, and then haven't actually touched it.
 

Snakethesniper

Time Traveler
Jan 11, 2019
854
1,495
93
Didn't know that Ironclad Tactics is a zachtronics game, is not even in the list in the OP!
How is it? I see mostly positive reviews
 
OP
Exzyleph

Exzyleph

Dark Eroge Lord
Oct 9, 2018
878
1,313
93
Didn't know that Ironclad Tactics is a zachtronics game, is not even in the list in the OP!
How is it? I see mostly positive reviews
The reason why Ironclad Tactics isn't in the OP is that it isn't a puzzle game.
It's a card-based strategy game, and this OT is for the kind of open-ended puzzle games that Zachtronics is mostly known for.

As it turns out, it is also the only Zachtronics game that I do not own.
I should grab it while it's on sale.
 
  • Like
Reactions: d00d3n
OP
Exzyleph

Exzyleph

Dark Eroge Lord
Oct 9, 2018
878
1,313
93
So Monster Logic just launched, and to be honest I am feeling a bit disappointed after playing a few levels.


The art itself is nice, and is what first caught my attention, but everything else feels very unpolished:
  • The opening tutorial immediately left me feeling confused, which is not a good sign when it was just meant to explain input/output. The problem is that the tutorial stage/text introduces 5 characters: There are the actual input and output tiles (the blue and white monsters), which you will focusing on most of the time; the "jar monster", that represents the queue of upcoming inputs; the "delivery taking" monster, that represents the queue of items ready to be delivered; and finally, there's the tutorial bat, asking to be fed. My immediate impression was that the input-queue character, the output-queue character, the (in particular) tutorial bat felt superfluous, and simply obfuscated the mechanics of the game, since they aren't active characters. Why is that bat not the output tile or the cursor, if the goal is to feed it?
  • Input and expected output is hidden by default, and inputs appear to be presented in the order in which the jar monster would grab them. That ends up being top to bottom, right to left, which is a bit inconvenient to read. Additional, while I think the intention is to show stacked jars of inputs, ready to be grabbed, the jars are just kind floating there, which meant that it took me a while to get that this was the idea. It would have been readable if the jars were placed to the right of the jar monster, which would mean reading inputs top-to-bottom, left-to-right, a much more natural feeling order. The output queue is a first-in-last-out kind of deal, with new items added to the left. It didn't seem to have any relation to the corresponding character.
  • The ui feels janky, with delete only working sometimes: You drag a tile onto the "trash bin", which animates in response to your cursor hovering over it, but releasing the tile frequently did nothing. My best guess is that the actual area where you could drop something was much smaller than the icon itself, but I didn't experiment enough to say for sure.
  • The ui also feels inconsistent, with the "reset level" button inexplicably working in a different way than every other button. Unlike every other button, you have to click and hold the reset button, something that isn't immediately obvious. It took me a while to realize that the button wasn't just broken.
  • The music so far is a repetitive bass-loop that got annoying almost immediately.
  • While I do like the art, it unfortunately does not seem like readability was high on the list of priorities when it was drawn, as can be seen from the two most basic of tiles, input and output (in that order):
    I think the trick is that input is looking in the same direction as the jar monster, and output is looking in the same direction as the delivery-taking monster, but 🤷. And looking closer at the game's screenshots does not give me confidence that this is going to get better down the line.

Because of this, I ended up refunding the game. There are other Zach-likes in my backlog that I haven't given the time they deserve.

Edit: Added some more details to my impressions.
 
Last edited:

d00d3n

Junior Member
Jan 26, 2019
233
390
63
Sorry for posting non-news, but this is about the time of the year when zachtronics usually drops the beta version for their new game. Furthermore, last year was a hexagon/shapes year, so if my zachtronics Kremlinology is on point, we should expect a beautiful manual and an interesting text-based programming language to learn for the 2020 release. Any objections to this?
 

d00d3n

Junior Member
Jan 26, 2019
233
390
63
So it is neither a hexagon/shapes year or a text-based programming year? Ironclad Tactics year now a thing? :(
 

Pommes

Hey you! Have a nice day!
Jun 4, 2019
366
731
93
So it is neither a hexagon/shapes year or a text-based programming year? Ironclad Tactics year now a thing? :(
Seems like it. But I can understand that they want to vary the types of games they make.

For those who do not know what we are talking about:
 
  • Like
Reactions: d00d3n and lashman
OP
Exzyleph

Exzyleph

Dark Eroge Lord
Oct 9, 2018
878
1,313
93
Yeah, their wanting to vary their output makes sense:
Their last 5 releases prior to Eliza were all Zachlikes* and they released another Zachlike shortly after Eliza.
That's a lot of Zachlikes.

* Not counting the stand-alone versions of their solitaire games and the book.
 

Durante

I <3 Pixels
Oct 21, 2018
2,948
13,781
113
Yeah, I really can't fault them for wanting to do something different (I'm also not very interested in it though).
 

d00d3n

Junior Member
Jan 26, 2019
233
390
63
I bought a new zachlike which seemed to get good recommendations:

I love these kind of games, but Comet 64 level design is broken. In one of the first levels of the game you are supposed to send double entries from an input list to an output list. The listed elements are years. The solution should have been simple enough, but my attempts failed repeatedly. It is really difficult to debug in this game, but after much effort on my part I was able to figure out that my solution failed due to the integer and floating point registers not being able to handle "null" values from the input list.

However, it does not make sense that "null" values should be included in the input list, the game does not give any hints that "null" values will be included in the presentation of the problem, and the visual preview of input values only shows a couple of years. Additionally, my first input list did not include "null", which made it possible to complete the algorithm in one run. This is outright bad puzzle design in one of the first levels of the game, which does not give the best impression. Add to that silly game design choices like forcing the player to add semicolons after each line, and you have a pretty annoying game on your hands that makes you long for the design magic and quality seal of a new Zachtronics game.