Wherein I randomly begin ranting about alchemy stories

Hey there.

You may have noticed that I did not post anything last Sunday. Nor did I post a make-up entry on Wednesday. And true enough, neither of those things happened.

I just want you to know, I’m fine and nothing is wrong. Except that I don’t have the slightest inkling of inspiration to write anything. So yeah, I guess that’s kinda something wrong. But not really, you know?

I mean, I supposedly write for fun — I’m certainly not aiming to get paid for this nonsense. But I don’t know, maybe if I had something like expectations and a real deadline, I’d be able to force myself to come up with something. But yeah, sorry, I’ve got nothing.

By the way, does anyone know what a video game script looks like? Is it something like a play, with gameplay references instead of stage directions? The reason I ask, I keep getting ideas for stories that (I think) would be better served by linking it to gameplay. (Or I’ve been playing so many games, I’ve started seeing everything in reference to them, but never mind.)

Case in point, I’ve been playing a game on Switch that just came out called Alchemist Simulator — by the by, I’d suggest giving the game a miss. It has some interesting ideas, but the implementation is pretty weak. Well, maybe it was better on PC, but the Switch port is pretty rough going.

Anyway, the game started me thinking about being an alchemist, professionally, and then began to snowball a bit as I imagined an old alchemist who had created some ultimate item, only to blow up his own lab to keep his creation away from the people in charge of the country or whatever. Then the story would move forward a couple decades or so, and focus on a gloomy young man in a school for alchemy…

…Ok, the story has a lot of influence from Mana Khemia, fine. (Incidentally, Mana Khemia is a great game from the PS2 era, and while I’d love to suggest you play it, good luck finding it these days. There was a PSP port as well, which was awful. Apropos of nothing, I guess.) The point is, alchemy is great fun to play around with, but not nearly as fun to simply read about.

…That might be an exaggeration. Still, it’s a lot of fun to drop a lot of fantasy ingredients into a magic pot and make things, rather than reading about someone else dropping ingredients in pot, etc. You can’t experiment, yourself, with a text. Does that make sense? Unless it’s a Choose Your Own Adventure book…which is basically a paper based visual novel, right? Without the visuals? Anyway, that’s why I like alchemy games, especially the Atelier series by Gust. And why I think a story about alchemists should be told in the medium of video games.

…Where was I going with this? I don’t even know. Thanks for reading my random pseudo-apology, and here’s to hoping for more focused content in the future. Cheers! 😛

About Some Games That I’ve Been Playing

Look, it’s been a slow week. I don’t have any good inspiration for the…whatever it is…that I’m sort of writing, and I haven’t played any games that I want to talk about much. But ok, I have been playing games on three different systems, so let’s just have a quick rundown and call it a day.

First of all, the Nintendo Switch. I have a lot of…well, basically shovelware, for the Switch. This is because they have lots of sales, all the time, on games that are already low budget and not very expensive. Well, I also own a number of more mainstream titles, like Mario Odyssey and Zelda BOTW, but Switch is definitely my platform of choice for cheap games I might not try otherwise.

That said, the main game I’ve been playing this week is Digimon: Cyber Sleuth, which I finally picked up (for some reason, it goes on sale fairly often). And gotta say, I’ve been enjoying the game so far. I can’t really avoid comparing it to Pokemon, so here’s my take: I like it better than Pokemon.

Full disclosure: I haven’t played a Pokemon game since White & Black, so that’s the comparison here. I doubt that’s a fair comparison, but hey.

Anyway, I like how you can see exactly what you need to do to evolve your Digimon, and battles are fairly easy so far. I haven’t gotten that far, in my usual “avoid the critical path” fashion, but since I have more fun unlocking new Digimon evolutions than fighting anyway, it has worked out just fine. Oh, and in classic Digimon fashion, the story is slightly ludicrous but still interesting.

Other than that and on the cheaper, less mainstream side, I’ve been playing a puzzle(?) game called Gradiently. The object is to make an organized color gradient grid by moving individual tiles of color around. That’s it; that’s the whole game. Simple, but it really demonstrates how difficult it is to recognize certain shifts in color — I have trouble with certain shades of blue, for instance. Well, but I do recommend it; as a cheap and simple puzzle game, it’s good for occupying your eyes while thinking about other things.

Well, it does have a bit of an annoyance factor for me. You see, while you can move tiles around on the touchscreen (in fact, this is the best way to play the game) you are required to have a controller attached. Annoying, since my Switch has periodic trouble connecting to the right-side attached controller. I know there are Switch games that don’t require a connected controller, so I’m wondering why the devs for Gradiently didn’t disable that requirement… Well, whatever.

Moving on to the Playstation 4, I threw in Dark Souls Remastered to play once again. Gotta say, while I might consider Bloodborne and Dark Souls 3 to be subjectively better games, DSR is the one I’m most comfortable with. Not sure why that is, really. Anyway, I happened to watch someone play DSR for the first time, with my son watching along and asking me what I would do in certain situations; and that kinda raised my interest in throwing it in for a little while again.

And because I am comfortable with the game, I picked the Master Key as my starting bonus, which lets me completely break natural progression. With that in mind, I arbitrarily decided that I was going to skip the first boss, the Taurus Demon. In fact, I might make Quelag my first boss, just for amusement. It’s absolutely not a serious playthrough, I don’t intend to stick with it, but I do like the early parts of the game.

Setting aside DSR, the only other game I played on PS4 this week was The Long Dark. Briefly played; I still can’t get a handle on that game. Thus far, I’ve walked off a cliff once, starved to death once, and frozen to death once. I was told by a tutorial pop up that I could use rocks to stun rabbits; and this is true. But two things: one, hitting a rabbit with a rock is, in fact, quite hard; and two, the little rodents don’t stay stunned. I managed to hit two of the little jerks; both of them ran off before I could pick them up. Damn rabbits.

Finally, I have my still pretty new PC, and if I haven’t yet mentioned how much I love having a machine that can actually run games fairly decently, let me mention that now. I play a grab bag of different games, depending on my mood and whether I’ve got a video or podcast running on my second screen. But the main game I’ve been playing for the last week or so has been Dawn of Man, a god game — a top-down type of simulation game, that is — where you guide an early village from the Stone Age (well, Paleolithic to be exact) up until the Iron Age. It’s one of those games like Banished, where it is more about making big decisions and macromanagement rather than trying to control every facet of your little peoples’ existence.

I like it a lot, but there are a few technical quirks that irritate me about it. For instance, the game window minimizes itself if I click on anything on the other screen, while the game itself continues to play without pausing. A bit annoying, because it’s exactly the kind of game I like to play while also watching videos, and if I leave the game to fix something in the video player, the game minimizes. It’s just an annoyance, yes, but I don’t understand the reason for it, which makes it even more annoying. But whatever, it’s a good game.

Other than that, I decided to restart CrossCode, which just had a new DLC come out. I’m not going to pick up the DLC (at least, not until I actually beat the game) but it seemed like a good moment to start afresh. It’s a really, really fun and engaging game, and I love the gameplay and music. It’s an RPG, though, so it really caters to that “ignore the critical path” behavior that I mentioned earlier; and I think that part of the reason I never actually finish games like this is that there are so many sidetracks I can use to slow down my progress, until something else takes my attention for a bit.

Well, that’s all I’ve got. Not really much in depth or strong opinions, but that’s what I’ve been up too. I’ll try to have a more engaging topic for next time. Take care!

The Sealed God Meets the Champion

A/N: I mean. It’s shorter than I thought, but got it done somehow. Still not sure what this story is going to be called, or if I’ll even continue it further, but first part is here.

There were many implications to the sudden appearance of a human in the space where the Sealed God was “sealed”; but the most urgent consequence would be the almost immediate death of said human. This so-called space was, after all, something like a concept created by the Sealed God itself to store its own consciousness, and not an actual physical space, which could hold actual physical bodies. In other words, once the inertia (for lack of a better term, the Sealed God approximated one from human usage) of the human’s arrival was spent, they would instantly dissolve into something that was almost nothing.

Naturally, the Sealed God could simply let this happen — the life or death of a single human, while interesting, was not in itself a cause for concern — but in much the same way that the rising of one end of a seesaw implied that some force had been imparted to the other end, the arrival of a human next to the Sealed God implied that some other events had occurred somewhere else, events that would likely be quite cataclysmic. In the worst case, the world of Tykku might itself be in danger of complete destruction.

Again, the Sealed God wasn’t obligated in any way to protect Tykku — indeed, it could be said that the mere presence of the Sealed God indicated that Tykku could and should be destroyed at any moment. Whatever its will, destruction was in the nature of the universal force of which it was a fragment. Regardless, upon the sudden and unexpected arrival of the human, the Sealed God immediately began to make localized changes, both to the space and to the human, in order to let him survive for at least a little longer. Meanwhile and at the same time, it began to contemplate the possibilities that might have delivered a human to this place, and what the consequences would eventually become.

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Nothing today

Meant to do some writing today. Didn’t.

I started a continuation of the story I started a couple weeks ago — the weird one about the sorta evil god — but it’s not ready. Tell you what, I’ll aim to post it on Wednesday again. Gotta get something done.

About Call Of The Sea

This one pretty much came out of nowhere. Well, not completely out of nowhere, I guess — I had been intrigued by the premise of the game when it came out, back in December. I didn’t buy it at the time (I have an unofficial policy of never buying a game at launch (or at full price)) but since I remained interested in it, and it was slightly on sale, I decided to pick it up this past Thursday. I installed it, completed it in about 5 hours over two days, and decided that I had a few things I wanted to say about it.

For once, I’m not going to focus on the plot either. Don’t get me wrong, I think the devs handled the story very well, but it isn’t that unique. It’s another Cthulhu Mythos game — although they don’t call it one, the Lovecraft references are extremely blatant: I caught references to C. Dexter Ward, a record by Erich Zahn, and an actual picture of Father Dagon, just to name a few. It is missing a few hallmarks of the genre, notably the elements of personal horror, but it suits the arc of the story just fine.

The gameplay is a typical “walking simulator”: explore around, examine everything that causes an icon to pop up, and solve a few light puzzles. And when I say “light” puzzles, I mean extremely simple puzzles which are mostly there to keep you from literally sprinting through the game. As long as you examine everything, all the pieces you need will be given to you — the devs aren’t trying to trick you, so the answers are pretty straightforward.

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The Sealed God Contemplates

A/N: I said I’d write something random for today — well, it doesn’t get much more random than this.

The Sealed God of Tykku was, to begin with, not a God. It might be comparable to a God, on a certain level; but it — they? — could also be compared to a pantheon of Gods instead. Or perhaps not. The Gods love each other, hate each other, feud and conflict; the Sealed God, no matter how many sides of itself — themselves? — were displayed, in the end they all arose from a singular sentience.

As for the origin of that sentience, that was somewhat unfathomable. The Gods, for instance, arose from the desires of humankind; but the Sealed God — rather, the intelligence that in a certain place and time, was known as the Sealed God — arose as a consequence of the universe itself. A reaction caused, not by humankind or the Gods, but by everything. The universe is bound by inviolable rules, not all of which are easily understood; but as a consequence of these rules, the sentience that became the Sealed God must exist, or so it seemed.

It, or perhaps they, were curious about their own existence; but despite a nearly endless time contemplating the matter, they had never really reached a satisfying conclusion. They were not the only sentient universal force, nor were they the most complex in nature, but they were probably the most curious in intellect. Sadly, it was difficult for one universal force to even communicate with another, so it had never been able to freely exchange information and ideas with its — relatives? Peers? Their own kind? Mortal language has difficulty describing the relationship between forces, even sentient ones, with anything other than numbers.

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About nothing

So I managed to get through almost the entire week without realizing that I had become extremely depressed, and that’s why I didn’t want to do anything. I haven’t played any games, I’ve basically been reading web novels all week. There’s some other stuff, but I don’t need to go into that here, but the upshot is, there is no article this week.

To make up for it, I’ll post something on Wednesday. Probably just a story fragment, but we’ll see what I come up with. 🤔

About The Messenger

The topic of today’s article feels a bit serendipitous, honestly. Going into this week, I had no idea what I was going to write about today, and I was feeling like I was starting to pressure myself into reviewing games again, instead of talking about my reactions to them. Not that reviewing games is wrong, but it wasn’t the direction I initially wanted for this series. It’s strangely hard to stop making recommendations, though…

I had considered a few possibilities for today’s topic, though to give you some idea of my lack of interest, I can’t even remember which titles I was thinking about now. I even gave some thought to dropping the video game angle for the week entirely, and write an article on how I could calculate whether January 1st, 1900, fell on the same day of the week as January 1st, 2000; and possibly even do some speculation about how having a week of six days might be better than a seven day week.

Yes, I truly, honestly considered doing a long-form article about the calendar. Count your blessings, then, that I happened to watch a certain stream on YouTube by one of my favorite…content providers? Is that what we are calling people on YouTube these days? Anyway, the game they were playing was The Messenger, and not only is it a game that I have actually played all the way through, as I watched, I remembered how much fun I had playing it. So I pulled out my Switch, booted up The Messenger, and lo and behold, I had a lot of fun. Yay!

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About Disco Elysium

I am finding more and more that as I get older, my capacity for long-form RPGs has become very limited. Which is a pity, because in theory I still quite enjoy them; I just find them exhausting to actually play. Yeah, that pretty much sums up Disco Elysium for me: I like just about everything about it, and I don’t want to actually play it. Really makes me feel ambivalent about the whole experience.

Let’s see, where to begin? I find the story of Disco Elysium uncomfortable at times, but that is very much by design. The game starts with the main character waking up after attempting to literally drink himself to death. Amusingly, you can attempt to not wake up — reminds me a bit of the intro to Tides of Numenera, except I wasn’t actually able to make the MC die before the game actually began. Regardless, the MC remembers absolutely nothing about the world around him or himself — he can’t even remember his own name, home, or occupation. A little investigation by the player will quickly reveal that he is a police detective — sort of, there is some ambiguity as to whether the police actually have legal backing and jurisdiction — and he is in this town he doesn’t remember investigating the lynching of a man who might be important, but he doesn’t remember why. And his badge and gun are missing. And the one thing he can remember is that he has an ex-wife, which might be the reason he tried to drink himself to death last night.

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About Zachtronics

Even as I write this, it occurs to me that I don’t actually know much about the development company called Zachtronics itself. A quick look at their website tells me that, one, they are a branch of Alliance Media Holdings (which I know absolutely nothing about and am not sure I’ve even ever heard of before), and two, “all Zachtronics games are free for public schools and school-like non-profit organizations.” Which is really cool. So now I know two actual facts about Zachtronics, and so do you.

What I do know for certain is that I absolutely adore the games made by Zachtronics (henceforth to be abbreviated as Zac). All of them. Including the weird ones. Which is also all of them, in one way or another. Not that the games themselves are all that similar, in setting, tone, or gameplay; but at the same time, it’s really easy to grasp that they were all made by the same group. Mostly.

Anyway, when I think about Zac games, I tend to divide them into two arbitrary categories. –And then I remember that they have a few games that don’t fall into either of those categories, and have to quickly make a third category for them. Therefore, in my mind, Zac makes three types of games: visual/spatial puzzle games, programming puzzle games, and outliers.

As those categories are probably a bit unclear, let me explain. Setting aside the outliers, most Zac games involve taking an input of some kind, manipulating it in various ways, and outputting the correct solution. By specifying “visual/spatial,” I mean games in which you manipulate an “object” of some sort, where you can see it move around, and combine and separate from other objects. “Programming,” on the other hand, is about manipulating numbers (and occasionally strings of text) using a fictional(?) programming language to achieve various results. Finally, the outliers don’t have anything to do with these metrics, literally lying outside what I think of as a typical(?) Zac title.

With that in mind, I’d like to run through the various Zachtronics games, in chronological order, and give my thoughts and impressions.

Spacechem (2011)

This is the first Zachtronics game I ever played, and despite how later titles improved upon it in almost every way, it somehow remains the iconic Zac game in my mind. It is a visual/spatial puzzle game, wherein you use elemental atoms (such as hydrogen, oxygen, carbon etc.) to create specific molecules. You do this using elemental “reactors” which physically rearrange the atoms with the aid of two “waldos” capable of picking up and rotating atoms and molecules along routes that you, the player, determine. If your instructions cause two atoms to collide, production will halt; so the challenge is to build reactors that will smoothly and consistently produce the molecules you need.

So, the puzzles start simple enough, but they quickly become more challenging, especially once you need to start using multiple reactors to make your products. But honestly, I don’t think the game would have caught my attention nearly as firmly if it weren’t for its setting. You see, Spacechem is set — wait for it — in space!

Sorry, couldn’t resist.

But yeah, Spacechem is set in a future where humanity has expanded into space, and taken its bureaucracy with it. I don’t remember all the details of the setting at this late date, but I do remember that you are working for a company that specializes in synthetic products (including some extremely suspicious artificial fish cakes), and you go from planet to planet creating and optimizing production of various molecular products. But all is not well; rumors of deaths and unusual incidents abound, and you witness strange behavior among your fellow employees…

Sadly, I never finished the game — I’m telling you, the puzzles get tough, ok? It is still one of my favorite games of all time, though, based on the unique puzzle mechanics and the great background story. Zac games often like to combine the banality of working life with the creeping undertone of existential dread, and this game is definitely the progenitor of the tone.

In retrospect, the game has some definite weaknesses compared to some of its later siblings. Most noticeably, the later games will come to lean harder on a programming point of view, and allow you to “step” through a solution to get a feel for how things are shaping up. In Spacechem (and Infinifactory, incidentally) you have to basically make a complete solution for the machine, before you can run it and make sure things are proceeding properly. Well, I suppose that isn’t completely true, you can deliberately make a half complete solution and let it hang or error out; but I’ve got to say, the ability to move step-by-step through a solution and make sure you haven’t missed something is invaluable.

Oh, and unlike any other non-outlier Zac game, Spacechem has boss fights. Seriously. I admit, they are thematically appropriate, but they don’t really feel right from a mechanics standpoint. Which is probably why they never came back, right? Right.

Ironclad Tactics (2013)

Ironclad Tactics is an outlier in the Zac catalogue. In fact, it is such an outlier, when I was compiling the list of Zac games I nearly completely overlooked it. I didn’t really remember what it was about, or how it played, either — which is why I quickly reinstalled it for a short refresher course. Now, about three weeks later — no, I’m kidding, I played for less than an hour. Not because I wasn’t interested, mind, I just got kicked off my computer for a bit right after starting…well, let’s set that aside.

So, Ironclad Tactics is…some strange combination of deck-building game, board game, and real-time strategy game. As for the deck-building elements, it seems to me that it came out at a time when we were seeing a lot of deck-building games, so they may have been following a trend there… But, I might be misremembering, it’s been a long time. Anyway, it’s a bit of an odd choice of mechanics, since on one hand you are trying to play strategically but you can’t always count on what cards you will draw.

Anyway, I don’t really want to delve much into the mechanics because the story is much more interesting. Set in an alternate past, the American Civil War has been set off slightly early due to the development of coal-powered robots known as Ironclads. The story follows a smart but lazy engineer as he gets involved in the battle to control the nation, along with a supporting cast of colorful characters. Literally colorful, in fact; the story is told comic book style, with panels of wonderful hand drawn art and a punchy storyline. In my opinion, the story is worth the price of admission alone, even if the gameplay seems a bit clumsy at times.

Infinifactory (2015)

So, in Infinifactory, you play as a person who has been kidnapped by aliens. To build factory lines for them. Why? Hard to say. The aliens don’t seem to have much in the way of empathy or understanding, so maybe they’re just bad at building things? But then where did they get the tech to travel interstellar distances, all to kidnap humans to build the tech that allows them to travel interstellar distances? The story, for the most part, is told from the point of view of recordings left on corpses of people who died on the factory floors — macabre non-survivor logs, I suppose you can call them — but no one human actually has anything other than guesses to offer.

As for the gameplay, it’s a block-based puzzler where you build lines out of conveyors and other various parts, to assemble and disassemble input blocks into various forms. A typical visual/spatial Zac game, except that instead of a 2D playspace, you are actually designing objects to move in 3 dimensions. It gets tough, and a bit tiring, surprisingly fast; but watching an complicated assembly line you created at work is still a wonderful feeling.

TIS-100 (2015)

TIS-100 is the first of the Zac programming puzzle games. It is extremely minimalist, with very limited graphics and minimal sound work. And the puzzles are literally programming challenges: you have a strange, old computer of unknown origin called the TIS-100 (we are treated to the boot-up sequence every time we start the game) made up of interconnected nodes. Puzzles (which represent “corrupted” segments of code) are solved by taking input data, passing them through the TIS-100 system of nodes and transforming them appropriately before passing them to an output. Simple in concept, difficult in practice, especially considering that the TIS-100 has a very limited assembly code you need to use to work with it.

The thing I like about TIS-100, and also the later Zac programming games, is that they actually created a printable manual for the system, which tells you the (limited) syntax you can use, and some other details about the system. It’s only 14 pages, and I like it as both a prop establishing tone, and a usable manual in itself.

Surprising for such a minimalist game, it actually has a story in it, as well. You received the TIS-100 after the death of your uncle Randy, who picked it up at a swap meet years ago. There are notes left from Randy in the manual, and on the TIS-100 itself; and as you progress through the corrupted segments, the notes he left behind become stranger and stranger… Because as I said, it wouldn’t be a Zac game without that slight sense of existential dread.

Shenzhen I/O (2016)

In a way, Shenzhen I/O is something like the full version of TIS-100 — or more like, TIS-100 was the prototype of Shenzhen. Like TIS-100, it is a programming game with a unique coding language to learn; but there are prettier graphics, nice music, and a fuller, fleshed-out story.

Speaking of the story, it is set in near-future (2026, apparently) China. You are an embedded systems engineer — or you want to be, but your home country doesn’t really do embedded systems anymore. So in order to pursue your career, you’ve decided to take a job in Shenzhen, China, working for the company Longteng Electronics. I admit, the game doesn’t have that existential dread of previous Zac games, but despite only interacting with the world in emails and assignments, the game really hits the “fish out of water” feel of living and working in a place you don’t really quite fit into, yet.

As for the gameplay, similar to TIS-100, you are given various tasks to accomplish via programming, with the added complication that the code needs to go on circuits that you place on the board, which then have to be connected with input/output nodes and each other. This adds a visual/spatial element to the experience, although it is clearly a programming game. My favorite part is, again, the printable manual, which is not only significantly bigger than TIS-100’s, but is also designed to be placed in a standard 3-ring binder. I like it a lot, it really puts me in the mood to do some programming.

Incidentally, I’m actually extremely bad at programming (in fact, I have an anecdote about Shenzhen I/O that more or less demonstrates it, but that’s nearly an article in itself); so the fact that I love these programming games so much is a bit strange. I do love them, though.

Opus Magnum (2017)

Absolutely my favorite Zac game. The visual/spatial puzzle game has a concept similar to Spacechem, wherein you take molecules, disassemble them, and then reassemble them into new forms. But Opus Magnum not only lets you assemble your own tools on the board, allowing you to work on many different pieces at once, but it also incorporates a programming-style interface for commanding your machine, allowing for step-by-step testing of your designs.

The story and setting are among my favorites as well. Unlike the majority of Zac games, Opus Magnum is set in a pure fantasy setting, in a great city where large feudal houses are supported by institutionalized alchemy. The story follows a promising young alchemist who joins a declining House, with the intention of revitalizing its prospects; but things don’t go as well as he had hoped.

Opus Magnum is the only Zac game that I have completed (for the most part; there are some bonus levels that I never finished) and I truly believe the excellent story is what kept me going. It is presented extremely well, too: before each puzzle, you can click through a conversation of the two main leads and others, explaining why the product of the puzzle is needed and how it fits into the story; and after you complete the puzzle, another conversation detailing the result is unlocked. The increasing stakes of the story is matched by the increasing challenge of the puzzles due to the main character’s change of circumstances, and it all comes together beautifully. I highly recommend this game.

Exapunks (2018)

The third of the Zac programming games, Exapunks is also probably the easiest — not easy, mind you, but the game provides a very visual way of rendering otherwise pure programming puzzles, so you can literally see where mistakes are being made. The systems in the game run EXAs, which are graphically represented as little robots that you program to travel through networks, create and modify files, and then delete themselves to leave no trace — because, y’know, you aren’t actually supposed to be inside those networks.

Exapunks is set in an alternate 1997, where a strange “phage” is causing some people’s bodies to turn into random piles of computer parts. Yes, you read that correctly: people turn into computers. Not functional computers, mind you, just mostly random assortments of parts. You play as a hacker who has contracted this phage (ah, there’s that undertone of existential dread again), and in order to afford the expensive medicine available on the black market for your condition, you have to carry out a series of hacks for a mysterious client… Oh, and occasionally you need to hack your own body to make it keep running. As one does.

The story of Exapunks has a slight feeling of a visual novel, where you can make occasional choices that produce a different response from the NPCs — nothing big, just dialogue changes, but enough to bring across the feeling of shaping your character a bit. You can once again print out a physical manual for programming EXAs just like TIS-100 and Shenzhen I/O; although in this case, the manual comes in the form of unofficial ‘zines, with other articles inserted for flavor as well. Including an interesting short story.

Eliza (2019)

Eliza is a visual novel. I don’t own Eliza. I can’t tell you much about Eliza. Honestly, I’m not a huge fan of visual novels in general, though I do appreciate the art form. I’ll probably check Eliza out sometime in the future, though, as I have great confidence in Zac’s ability to tell a good story.


MOLEK-SYNTEZ is somewhat strangely minimalist. It’s a visual/spatial puzzle game about creating molecules, again, but it has a very different set of controls from Spacechem or Opus Magnum. You basically place base molecules in a small space and bombard them with lasers that move them around, add or remove hydrogen atoms to manipulate bonds, and create drug molecules. The graphics and sound are very minimal, and the puzzles are tough. There is a story, but I’m not really sure about the details. You are in some kind of drug production facility, and someone has stolen a batch of formaldehyde? The story is told in occasional messages after completing a puzzle, which don’t really manage to explain much, but do manage to be rather creepy.

It is on the cheaper side for a Zac game. So there’s that.

Möbius Front ’83 (2020)

The most recent Zac game, Möbius Front ’83 is set once again in near past America. Only this time, America is being invaded…by America. Specifically, from a different dimension’s America. Seems legit, right?

This is another outlier game, being a strategic tactics game. Unfortunately, I don’t know how it plays yet; despite being available on Steam and Itch.io, it is still listed as “Coming soon” on my usual platform, GOG.com. This isn’t unprecedented, by the way; Opus Magnum almost wasn’t released on GOG at all, for unclear reasons. A bit disappointing, though.

So, yeah. That was way harder than I thought it was going to be. Zachtronics games are great, though, I recommend all of them. Well, I don’t recommend the ones I haven’t played, but I am still cautiously optimistic about them. If you are going to choose just one, I think Opus Magnum is the best realized on almost every level.

Speaking of just choosing one, I think I’m going to just choose one game to talk about in the future. And on that note, next week…hmm. Well, my friend gave me Disco Elysium for Christmas, why don’t I sink a few hours into that? The art style is quite distinctive, if nothing else…