Graphical interface to programming - Chapter One: Spacechem
Here is my effort of reviewing this strange game. Effort used in sense that I need to restrain myself and consider this as a videogame not a process document for my work.
Interesting fact about the creator of this game is. The fact that Zachtronics Industries is the creator of precessor to Minecraft with it's Infiniminer game. Zachtronics have since that done bunch Flash games based on different logic puzzle based on different science themes, just as in Spacechem here.
Spacechem in princible is a logic based puzzle game based on fake science. Gameplay in many forms has similarities to real life programming. For example there is not one correct solution. In fact there are number of solutions. The catch is to have as simple solution as possible. As with real life programming, the more experienced you are the more streamlined the resolution(code) is. In Spacechem this is measured with amount of functions and length of the cycles needed for the puzzle. This is rated against global leaderboard of some sort. Showing your results against other results. Other non game like aspect is the fact that there is no way of failing. Other than not being able create proper flow(solution). Player can start and stop the execution at any time and if something goes wrong the process will stop and you can easily fix it and try different solutions. Another similarity to coding is that only parts of the solution can be run while getting to the solution.
Game screen is split into four sections. The two left sections are for the input and the two right sections for the output. Different scenarios define how the output will need to look like. This is done for example top input having a single chemical element (C) and the lower input having different chemical element (H). The output must be a combination of these must be in C=H format. Elements are joined with a double boundary = which comes from polarizing the element by running it through ++ signs. This might sound rather technical but it is mostly fake science. Only some elements follow a real life element letter. Later on the game multiple reactors where such combination joins are done are used on higher level to create way more complex elements.
Graphically game is very plain two dimensional design flows. Microsoft Visio comes to mind actually. The more graphical part on the high level showing the simplistic scenery with reactors and pipelines. The game has a story as well which is displayed in various text pages. Story following a story of fictional company named Spacechem and its struggle against other companies. I found myself liking the simplistic look and at times the process flow will look very chaotic and complex. Which for an outsider will look anything but a videogame, And player really smart of course. Game also features a full set of original music which at times is catchy. Game can be rather long and one might end up hearing the songs often.
I really like this game but this not for everyone. It requires lot of logical thinking and interest for such trouble shooting approach. According to the developer there will be a free update with more puzzles later this year (2011). Not that there is lack of playability here thanks to the aspect that one can return to the scenarios and tune these further with more knowledge.
This is one weird game. At times it reminds me of my job which not necessary always an nice thing. Couple of changes would have made this even better. The ability to save one process state would have been nice. As well as addition of Steam achievements.