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Zach-like, the book about Zachlikes by Zach Barth, creator of the genre, is now free albeit notably less papery now. Zachtronics’s previously Kickstarter-exclusive book was a collection of design documents from the creator of Spacechem, Opus Magnum, Infinifactory and many more, showing just how he engineers his puzzles. Now anyone can read a digital version for free, and it comes bundled with a pile of his early browser games, unreleased prototypes, and even a card game if you’ve got printer ink to burn. Grab it free on Steam. I feel smarter just having it on my PC.
I reckon most of the RPS Treehouse gang love us some Zachlikes, since well before Alice Prime coined the term in 2016 in reference to Shenzhen I/O. Puzzlemeister Zach Barth likes the term too, as he’s borrowed it for the title of his book. Currently crowdfunding on Kickstarter (500% funded in one day), Zach-Like shows the workings and the processes behind his practical puzzlers. There’s design docs for his major games, sketches and documents for some that never got made and some early design exercises. There’s even some pen-and-paper brainteasers in there, because we’re gluttons for punishment.
It s pretty obvious that the excellent Exapunks is a game about hacking. Specifically, it s a game about programming viruses and sending them into networked systems to monkey around with data, set in a great alternative 90s Wired cyberworld of PC cases flashed with black and red decals and zines set in Apple Garamond.
For its makers, though, Exapunks is a game about limitations. Its format is the result of hard decisions about how much space you get to write your code in, how much freedom you get to solve its puzzles, and how it s presented on your screen. And even now, creative director Zach Barth isn t totally sure he and his team got it right. (more…)
A proposal: puzzles games focused on assembling or programming – or both – should be called Zachlikes. Following the atom-assembling SpecChem, production line ’em up Infinifactory, and the computer-programming TIS-100, Zach Barth and his Zachtronics have announced a new Zachlike. SHENZHEN I/O [official site] will combine assembling and programming to build circuits from components and then write code for them. It’s due to hit Steam Early Access in October and, for now, you can check it out in this wee announcement trailer:
Every week we ask you to rank a series or just reminisce about PC games in a not-very-scientific survey. Look for the survey link in our Twitter and Facebook feeds each week, and the results every Friday. Previously, we ranked the Mass Effect and Call of Duty series.
You guys really love hard games, or at least, you love whichever game you remember as the hardest. In my latest survey, I asked respondents to rank the hardest game they've played on a scale of 1-10. Over 40% scored their most challenging experience a 10, and 70% scored it an 8 or higher.
You also love a lot of different hard games, and have different ideas about what makes a game 'hard.' Among 2,660 respondents, the top game cited as the hardest they've ever played was only mentioned 385 times—around 14% of the total. (Actually, one person wrote in SEGA Bass Fishing 1,006 times, but I've cut that from the results, along with several variations of "your mom.")
Click the icon in the upper right to enlarge.
Unsurprisingly, Dark Souls got the most mentions, with 14% saying it was the hardest game they've ever played. It was followed by Dark Souls 2, which took in about 5% of the results. From there, though, the results are immediately diverse, with shooters, platformers, puzzle games, strategy games, and MOBAs all bunched together. When I cut out jokes, console games, games with specific caveats, and those that received only one or two mentions, I was still left with over 70 games. (Here's my curated list of the top 77.)
The top 10, naturally, are the most popular hard games—and games that are arguably best known for being hard—so the results actually get more interesting the deeper into the list I go. At number 11, for instance, you'll find I Wanna Be The Boshy, a fan game based on number six, I Wanna Be The Guy, an intentionally difficult tribute to early platformers.
Further down (and I'm skipping around a bit), we find StarCraft II, STALKER, Insurgency, Alien Isolation, Kerbal Space Program, the Touhou series, VVVVVV, Volgarr the Viking, SpaceChem, Dustforce, Commandos: Behind Enemy Lines, and, of course, Bad Rats, a notoriously awful game which has accrued a positive rating on Steam, because ironic Steam reviews are all the rage.
VVVVVV, Volgarr the Viking, Dustforce, and SpaceChem all come recommended (I don't think I ever made it past Vogarr's first stage, though). I did expect to see a few more puzzle games. One game no one mentioned, I presume because it's newer and a bit more niche, is TIS-100. It's made by the creators of SpaceChem and Infinifactory, and might be one of the most challenging puzzle games I've played (though it's presumably easier for experienced programmers, and anyone who paid more attention in school than I did). Print out the manual if you can.
Click the icon in the upper-right to enlarge.
All of the games I mentioned up there can easily be described as 'hard,' if for different reasons. Against skilled opponents, CS:GO, Dota 2, League of Legends, and StarCraft 2 are very hard, and they're complex. Dwarf Fortress and Kerbal Space Program require a lot of learning. Super Hexagon, and the bullet-hell games and platformers, require precision control.
But plenty of games which aren't known for being hard can be very hard. The Witcher 2, for instance, came in at 19, in part due to its permadeath mode and first boss. Those damn RC missions from GTA: San Andreas also came up. Civilization V on Diety difficulty, too.
In the survey, I asked which difficulty setting (based on four generic settings) the takers were most likely to choose when starting a new game. The distribution is about as I expected: almost no one takes the easy route, the most people (39.8%) leave it on the normal difficulty, and slightly fewer choose the hard (28.7%) or the hardest modes (26%).
When asked to tell us the worst thing they've done to express frustration with a game, plenty said that they don't react physically—they curse, uninstall the game, go outside, or do other healthy-sounding things. "[I] stopped playing for few months to get over my anger and hopefully renew my interest," said King_Matt. A calm and wise king is Matt. We can all learn from the great King_Matt.
And apparently, a lot of us need to. The word "broke" came up 222 times and "smash" was included in over 100 responses. Banana peels came up an awful lot, too. Here are a few examples:
I chucked my keyboard at my brick wall. It dragged the desktop with it. It corrupted my hard drive, broke my keyboard and most functions on the case didn't work properly. - Abernath
Thrown a banana peel out the window. But I picked it up later. - Kenu
I once got so frustrated while just trying to get fuel up to my ship [in Kerbal Space Program] that was trying to get to Mun that I decided to fly all my rockets into Kerbol (the sun). I spent about 5 hours just designing the booster/fuel ships to help get my whole fleet there and give them the last push into its blinding embrace. Once every single one was burned to ash, and all the crew with it, I deleted the save and went to bed. It was only after I woke up that I realized what I had done. To say the least, I cried. - Nerd__Guy
Threw my lamp out the window. It was a damn good lamp too. - Anonymous
Literally ripped out a chunk of hair in frustration once. - Nate Dogg
I actually broke my grandfather's trackball mouse while playing when I was a kid on his PC. I had to buy him a new mouse from Walmart. - Brain
Threw more money at it. This is a recurring theme with me in multiplayer games. - Ryan Daniels
In my grandest fit of frustration, I suppressed my volatile feelings with the warm, cheesy comfort of Hot Pockets. A lot of them. It turns out one man can eat a lot of Hot Pockets. They come out a lot faster than they go in. - Chudbunkis
Threw a banana peel at the screen. - As7iX
Broke a finger. - Dodie
I predicted that Dark Souls would be the most popular game in the survey, so I added an extra question. I asked everyone, regardless of which game they put down as the hardest, to agree or disagree with the statement "Dark Souls isn't even that hard, ugh." I think we can all agree that I chose an extremely unscientific way to phrase the question, but we definitely can't all agree on whether or not Dark Souls is hard.