Hey there, Reddit!

I'm Zach Barth, the creative director of the game studio called Zachtronics. Over the past seven years I've worked on a bunch of interesting indie games, like:

  • Infiniminer, the game that started the "block game" genre without making any money whatsoever.
  • SpaceChem, a programming game about fake chemistry that somehow made enough money to fund a game studio.
  • Ironclad Tactics, a card-based tactics game that nearly bankrupted us.
  • Infinifactory, a snazzy 3D factory-building game that plays like a version of SpaceChem that wasn't made by an asshole.
  • TIS-100, an absolutely inexplicable game about assembly language programming that includes a 14-page manual instead of a tutorial.
  • MetaboSIM, HabiTactics, and FAKTR, three educational games for tablets, two of which involve pooping as a game mechanic.

We just released Infinifactory, which was previously in Early Access and is now available on Steam! That's merely the occasion, though... it's time to ask me ANYTHING!

PROOF: https://twitter.com/zachtronics/status/616299830931906560

EDIT: It's been 10 hours, so we're probably done here. Thanks for all the great questions! I'll leave you with one final story, which I don't think I've ever told before:

Toward the end of my career at Microsoft I worked briefly on a team inside Microsoft Game Studios making games for Windows Phone 7. I was a programmer, but everyone on the team knew I wanted to be a game designer (especially considering I had designed and launched SpaceChem by that point). There was a meeting scheduled inside MGS to talk about plans to bring Minecraft to Xbox 360, and our creative director (who also worked with the XBLA team) thought it'd be a good idea to bring me along, since I had made Infiniminer and that might be relevant. So there I am, sitting in a conference room, completely outranked by MGS executives wondering who the fuck I am and why I was there. Story of my life.

Actually, that's kind of a depressing story, so I'll leave you with a better one. That same creative director found me another game designer in MGS to act as a mentor and help me figure out if and how I could shift to a more design-focused role at Microsoft. We go out to lunch for our first "mentorship session" and his is advice to me is, I shit you not, to quit Microsoft, find a crappy game design job, and then come back to Microsoft after a few years. I guess I sort of took his advice, except I started a game studio instead of joining a crappy one and then never went back to Microsoft.

Comments: 201 • Responses: 65  • Date: 

newobj22 karma

Hi Zach! My favorite Zachtronics game is TIS-100.

When did Zachtronics become a full time job for you? Can you shed a little light on the history and growth of the company? Was Ironclad ultimately successful?

krispykrem39 karma

When we released SpaceChem, I told my wife that if it made $100K I'd quit my job as a developer at Microsoft and start running Zachtronics full-time. When we reached that point I didn't feel comfortable leaving, as a game that took a year to make and only made $100K wouldn't actually be enough to sustain a small company. So, we bumped the target up to $300K.

About six months after launch, after we had gotten on Steam, we blew past that target. The idea of starting a game studio seemed like a viable idea, so we (Keith and myself) took the plunge and did it. We got a tiny, closet-sized office with no windows, shipped some updates and a DLC pack for SpaceChem, and then started working on our next game: Miniatures.

What? You've never heard of Miniatures before? That's because it sucked, and we stopped working on it after a few months of it going no where.

We ended up making Ironclad Tactics, which started off much more like The Bureau of Steam Engineering but gradually traded steam engineering for card mechanics until it became the game it is today. During the two years we worked on Ironclad Tactics we scaled up to 7 full-time employees, partially for Ironclad Tactics but also because we had started making educational games for a company called Amplify.

In the process of scaling up, our burn rate increased from under $100K/year to almost $500K/year. We had figured that since Ironclad Tactics was far more playable than SpaceChem it would do better, but after release we learned that this was not the case; Ironclad Tactics went on to make about 1/3 as much as SpaceChem, far less than what was required to sustain our burn rate for the development of another title. In all honesty, had we not been also making educational games for Amplify we probably would have gone out of business.

After wrapping up work on Ironclad Tactics, its add-on campaigns, and the educational games for Amplify, we downsized pretty dramatically and started working on a game that we could make cheaply and reliably: Infinifactory! I feel that I'm a fairly versatile game designer, able to make a passable game in almost any genre, but engineering puzzle games are absolutely my wheelhouse. That, combined with the strong fanbase from our previous puzzle games, gave us the confidence that Infinifactory would do well enough to be worth pursuing. And, for the most part, we were right!

yoat7 karma

Engineering puzzle games seem to be almost exclusively your own wheelhouse. Do you have any recommendations to non-Zachtronics engineering games you admire?

krispykrem15 karma

Manufactoria is a classic non-Zachtronics engineering game. It looks like a game about robots, but it's really about Turing machines!

FalseTautology1 karma

You list your fav game as TIS-100, could you answer a quick question: is the game completable in its current state (ie, does it have an ending where the story or whatever resolves) or should I wait until it is out of EA to pick it up?

krispykrem12 karma

We don't release games on Early Access unless you could reasonably consider them "completable". TIS-100 is no exception; the main campaign of TIS-100 has been finished since it was first released, with the exception of a few improvements we made after launch. In a few weeks we're going to be adding a new campaign with user-created puzzles that doubles the amount of content available in-game.

GltyBystndr16 karma

I love all your games, and at this point, I'll buy whatever you make next without even reading the title. On to the questions:

  • What are your favorite levels from Spacechem, Infinifactory, and TIS-100?
  • Same question but community made levels
  • Do you have any plans for what's next for Zachtronics after TIS-100?

krispykrem35 karma

I have to admit that I can't recall a single user-created level for any of my games, but the only reason I can even remember any of my own levels is because I've spent such a ridiculous amount of time on each of them.

Okay, I'm going through the games right now trying to pick out my favorites and this is very difficult! I love all my children in different ways.

  • SpaceChem: "Like a Boss", the puzzle where you have to make methane (CH4) from single C and H atoms, is probably the quintessential SpaceChem puzzle for me. I really like all the polymer puzzles (e.g. polyethylene), though, as they're interesting without being overly difficult.
  • Infinifactory: I think the puzzle I feel most clever about designing is "Furnished Studio Apartment", because it's your cell! It's so dark!
  • TIS-100: None of them. Why did I make this game?

I have no idea what Zachtronics is going to do next.

Your loyalty has been noted.

Tuskbull19 karma

Hah, I feel similarly about TIS-100, with a "why am I playing this? " feeling. Is this even really a game? How close to actual work can you make a game before it isn't a game? That said, to be clear, I bought it day one and am still working through it, so it must be fun, right?

krispykrem22 karma

Just keep telling yourself that.

Tuskbull18 karma

What would be hilarious is if you add Steam trading cards to TIS-100. What would they even be, the assembly instructions?

krispykrem22 karma

Oh man, if it didn't require such an insane amount of art assets I would totally do that. I don't know if I feel like making five TIS-100 backgrounds, though...

verbiagecola14 karma

One of my favorite design aspects of SpaceChem is when it makes the leap from building individual assemblers to the larger puzzles where the nodes must work together. Was that leap to a higher level of thinking part of the design originally, or did it emerge over time?

krispykrem11 karma

It was a core part of the design from the very beginning, drawing directly from the game's inspiration. If anything, I probably pushed the game toward more single-reactor puzzles as we developed it, as they were easier to design and more fun in many ways.

odomobo13 karma

Hi Zach, I have a few questions:

  1. Can you explain the popularity spike of TIS-100? Some prominent figures were playing it within a few days of its release.

  2. Why aren't there more developers making programming/engineering games? It seems like a (mostly) untapped market.

  3. Where do you see the direction of the company going in the near future?

  4. What do you like to do in your free time?

krispykrem18 karma

  1. Honestly, I don't think I can. I developed most of TIS-100 myself, and almost stopped working on it multiple times because it just didn't seem like it was "fun enough". For some reason it just seemed to capture the attention of lots of people, possibly because of but not limited to the game's 14-page manual.
  2. I don't know whether or not it's an untapped market, but it's definitely a niche one. If you asked a developer who wasn't making games for this audience why they weren't making programming games, I think they'd just laugh at the question. Why would you start?!
  3. Now that Infinifactory is "released" for the PC we've switched our attention to finishing up TIS-100 and possibly some console-related work for Infinifactory.
  4. Make games, unfortunately. Where do you think TIS-100 came from?

fauxmosexual12 karma

You created a game which directly inspired Minecraft, the breakout indie hit. I don't think it's an exaggeration to say that without your work, Minecraft would never have happened and Notch wouldn't be a literal billionaire right now. Do you have any regrets or resentment about missing that boat? Have you have any kind of relationship with Notch?

krispykrem17 karma

I don't think I missed any metaphorical nautical vessels because I never would have made a game about tree punching and crafting systems; I lacked the genre awareness of games like Wurm Online that Notch had.

Amusingly enough, I've never actually met Notch before! We've interacted on Twitter a little since the sale to Microsoft, but that's basically the limit (he was a big Infinifactory fan). I invited him to the Infiniminer party at GDC a year ago, but since we deliberately scheduled it opposite the Minecraft party he understandably couldn't make it.

sapthedog12 karma

Every puzzle in your game is incredibly clever. How do you make puzzles?

krispykrem32 karma

My standard approach is to design something that looks interesting to solve, often drawing from the game world for inspiration (like manufacturing things the aliens would need in Infinifactory). This, combined with the set of emergent tools we give the player, creates the incredibly open-ended puzzles that our games are famous (infamous?) for.

It has a fun side effect, which is that I've created puzzles that I've never solved in almost every game I've worked on. This includes the last level of SpaceChem and the entire last set of puzzles in Infinifactory. How do we know that they're solvable? That's what metrics are for!

hepcecob3 karma

When you say the last level of SpaceChem, do you mean the expansion?

krispykrem7 karma

No, the final battle of the main campaign. I think it's called "End of the Line".

Kalamar3 karma

What do you mean by "that's what metrics are for"?

Given the time I spent on some levels of Spacechem, I always wondered how the design process went, and how you made sure there was a way to solve them (especially when you say that you've never solved some of them... how could you make sure there was a way to go past them before making them available, then?)

krispykrem4 karma

You're exactly right - we don't. We release them, and then if people can solve them it means they're solvable!

vzq11 karma

What are the odds of seeing a new ruckingenur installment? Do you accept bribes? ;)

krispykrem12 karma

Ruckingenur is one of those games that I'd love to revisit but probably never will because it's just so niche! It's also an extremely difficult game to make content for, as each puzzle needs to be a fully designed system.

We do accept bribes, but only if the bribe is large enough to fully fund the development of the game.

tehkellz10 karma

I love TIS-100. I spend WAY too much time on it, and convincing my coworkers to stop optimizing the first two rows of puzzles so we can compete on the more complex ones.

  • Is TIS-100 doing worse, on-par or better than your expectations for it when you released it?
  • Do you think you will give it much more attention or will it remain the small little oddity it is with just some added community puzzles?
  • Where do I send all my awesome ideas on new puzzle types, new node types and other features? :)

krispykrem12 karma


  • TIS-100 is doing MUCH better than I expected. I thought we were going to sell a few hundred copies, max? I think it's sold more copies than Infinifactory by now (although that's not surprising with how much lower the price point is).
  • The new bonus campaign (which should be out in a few weeks) is going to be just as solid as the main campaign, with 25 polished puzzle and a kick-ass story to accompany it. I'm not sure how much more we'll do with it after that, though.
  • Send me an email at [email protected] and we'll chat about them!

HodgeWithAxe8 karma

Are there any community puzzles that you wish you'd came up with for the main campaign?

krispykrem16 karma

Generally speaking, no.

If you compare the puzzles we ship in our games with the ones created by our users, there's definitely a difference: not in quality, but in what the puzzles focus on. When I make puzzles I try to create open-ended problems that are interesting to solve for any approach you'd like to take. User-created puzzles tend to focus on specific mechanics or approaches, and are more like "riddles".

That said, we definitely still see them as valuable additions to our games. We wouldn't keep shipping level editors if we didn't feel that way!

poyepolomi7 karma

Hi Zach! I really liked Infinifactory, it felt like your most ambitious game yet in its scope and its presentation. But TIS-100 on the other hand looks like a smaller project. Do you have plans for even more ambitious games in the future, or will you stick to smaller games?

krispykrem9 karma

It's a bit of a non-answer, but we actually don't have any concrete plans for the future at this time. I think there's definitely merit to small projects like TIS-100, though; it took substantially less work to create than Infinifactory, yet still managed to do quite well.

ebeard7 karma

What's the next evolution going to be in the factory/programming game genre? Or what would you like it to be?

krispykrem8 karma

Obviously I don't really know the answer to this question, but my bet would be on something more compelling and by someone else. Being at the "epicenter" of a new genre tends to blind you to the possibilities of where it could go.

rseasmith6 karma

Hi Zach! Huge fan of all your games. I think the main reason that I love them so much is that they're all based on reality in some way, but not strictly enough that it detracts from the actual game play. SpaceChem has you start with real-life chemicals to produce other real-life products but the intermediate steps and methods are completely impossible.

I guess my question is how do you decide what aspects of reality to keep and what to throw away in order to make the game enjoyable?

krispykrem6 karma

I spend a lot of time learning about engineering topics, both for work and fun. As an engineer I'm fascinated by these sorts of things, but inevitably I come across aspects that are too difficult for me to understand, either because of some sort of innate complexity or because they were poorly designed. This doesn't make me try harder, though... it makes me indignant! I shouldn't have to learn this crap!

Maybe years of feeling that way has given me a good sense for what needs to stay and what needs to go?

arnulfus6 karma

I loved Ruckingenur and KOHCTPYKTOP. Do you have any plans of expanding into those kind of puzzle/technical games on a larger scale?

krispykrem5 karma

Unlikely. I almost made a sequel to KOHCTPYKTOP about a year ago but stopped when I realized that I could instead direct that effort toward designing a new game that could be much better.

welhtataum6 karma

Thank you for creating SpaceChem and the inspiration of Minecraft, which are the 2 best video games in my opinion. Your other games are amazing as well.

Did you at any point consider not including boss levels in SpaceChem? It seems to me that some players don't like them. Personally, I do find them interesting as they require a slightly different approach.

I saw that at one point you considered including a money management mechanic in SpaceChem. What were your reasons for rejecting it?

What is your favourite molecule?

What are some of your favourite games that are not made by you?

krispykrem13 karma

BOSS LEVELS: We didn't realize that the boss levels in SpaceChem were... questionable... until quite a while after release. By that point it was too late to really do anything about them, but the experience definitely made us careful about including similar kinds of experiences in later games.

ECONOMY: Early in the development of SpaceChem I had made it so that every puzzle had multiple products that could be produced, allowing you to make a variable amount of profit on each puzzle, which then would give you a score of PASS or MASTER. We canned this feature early on because it was incredibly confusing.

FAVORITE MOLECULE: Acetic acid (CH3COOH), because it's an interesting shape and the formula is fun to say.

FAVORITE GAMES: Going by hours played, TF2, Red Orchestra, and Planetside. Not puzzle games, amusingly!

junkmail222 karma

I also really loved the bosses. I was actually kind of sad not to see anything like them in infinifactory.

krispykrem3 karma

How far did you get?

patrickthomson1 karma

variable amount of profit on each puzzle

Have you checked out Big Pharma?. It scratches some of the zach itch (although the engineering itself is much too simple) but it adds a layer of economics.

krispykrem6 karma

Not yet, but I've been meaning to. I've always wanted to know how to make a "Zach-game" that plays more like a... real video game?

AlanZucconi6 karma

Being an independent developer myself, I know how hard it is to get a game noticed. Even if it is awesome (and most likely, it isn't), people must know it in order to buy it. I've been very happy to see how Zachtronics has grown more and more popular, and the successes you've made starting as an independent developer are really outstanding.

As a developer, what have been the most successful marketing strategies you have applied to reach out for your audience and to grew interest in your games? What, instead, didn't work? Are you following a model which is replicable, or you have been lucky enough with Spacechem and it gave you enough momentum to keep going?

I'm putting my face in everything I do, believing people wants to connect more with the developer then the game. It seems you're following a strategy which is different from many other developers. And I'm wondering if perhaps more indies should follow your example.

krispykrem14 karma

I don't think any of our games are going to make more money than SpaceChem did, and I think the reason for that is just because the market was easier to crack then than any point before or after. We do the obvious stuff like Twitter and mailing lists, but I think TIS-100 only "took off" because the right people noticed it and told their friends and subscribers about it.

In short... I have no idea what I'm doing. Good luck?

DrMage6 karma

For Infinifactory, are there any mechanics or blocks that got cut due to the difficulty implementing them or them just not being fun?

krispykrem16 karma

Oh god, there are so many!

  • The three hardest puzzles from each planet
  • Omnivators (replaced by the lifter)
  • Ladders (replaced with a jetpack)
  • Metal casting
  • Liquids, pumps, and pipes
  • Von Neumann replicators
  • Autonomous robots
  • Destructible terrain (mining)
  • Co-op puzzle solving
  • First-person shooter combat (?!)

I'm wary of listing these because, without context, they all sound amazing! The problem was that they didn't make for interesting challenges, which is essential for a game like Infinifactory.

Here's a terrible screenshot from about a year ago. If you look at the back-left you'll see an omnivator on its track. We almost called the game Omnivator, but then we cut them!

Kalamar5 karma

I spent countless hours on SpaceChem (well, that's a partial lie, Steam is counting them for me), bought Infinifactoy (unfortunately no time so far to even launch it). Thank you for those games.

From what I've read, Infinifactory is much easier than SpaceChem. Was this intended? Do you think you could consider making a SpaceChem 2 or another DLC campaign? Is Infinifactory in a completely final state or will it get updates/additional content (besides the occasional bug fixes)?

krispykrem12 karma

Infinifactory was designed to be the same "kind of fun" as SpaceChem while being far more accessible and inviting so that we could expand our audience. Anyone who said that Infinifactory is too easy probably hasn't played the campaign we added during Early Access, though, because those levels get difficult!

As I've said elsewhere, I don't think we'd ever make a direct sequel to one of our older games. Even die-hard SpaceChem fan could be better served by a fresh take.

Infinifactory is pretty close to a "final state"; I don't see us adding any new content packs, and there aren't many bugs left to fix.

FuriousCoder745 karma

What's your top advice to game developers or studios just starting out? If you could have done one thing differently, what would that be?

krispykrem9 karma

The advice we were typically given was to make a game that's fun and then market the crap out of it. This is terrible advice, because those two things aren't actually a good predictor of success! They're merely requirements.

There are tons of games available now that are both fun and marketed, but that isn't what makes a game go big. You need to make a game that is IRRESISTIBLE, because that's going to be what makes someone buy your game instead of someone else's. Why did Besiege do so well? Because it's an irresistible premise, from the gameplay to the graphics to the little men running around on fire.

More practical advice: keep your studio small and strong! Here's a Gamasutra article with a lot of good ideas on the topic. Adding more team members doesn't always make your team stronger, as people are the biggest expense of a game studio and management is difficult.

Nisk_5 karma

How do you pronounce Kohctpyktop?

krispykrem10 karma

My favorite thing about KOHCTPYKTOP is listening to people try to pronounce the name. Koch-tip-ka-top?

FYI: It's Russian, except that I replaced all the Cyrillic characters with visually similar Latin characters, which makes it difficult to search for unless you already new that.

G_Wen5 karma

Hi Zach! Do you follow the yearly Spacechem tournaments? Are there any plans to revist the Spacechem universe?

krispykrem3 karma

I don't know if I've ever really "followed" one of the tournaments, but I think it's awesome that they're a thing! Especially so many years after the game's release.

Any kind of in-universe sequel to SpaceChem is highly unlikely. I'm not sure what else we'd do in that universe!

Lusankya1 karma

Wild fan theory:

SpaceChem is what happens to humanity after Infinifactory, once the resistance cracks skip drive tech and makes it home.

TIS-100 is from the perspective of the niece/nephew of the Infinifactory player character.

krispykrem4 karma

There's a SpaceChem toy hanging from the rear-view mirror of the truck at the beginning of Infinifactory. Clearly, this must mean that the player's character is a huge fan of SpaceChem, which explains why they're so good at building factories!

coderanger4 karma

Infinarena 2. Good idea or best idea?

krispykrem6 karma

Oh god, Infiniarena. Did you ever play that? That was YEARS ago!

mobedigg4 karma

Hi Zach! Like your games since Bureau of Steam Engineering

What tools and languages do you use for programming?

And congrats on creating your own studio.

krispykrem4 karma

Everything since SpaceChem has been written in C#. Infinifactory and TIS-100 use Unity, which is a quirky but compelling tool.

TripleLasers4 karma

What happened with Ironclad Tactics that caused you to almost go bankrupt? Was it the game itself that was the problem or marketing issues? (I thought it was pretty good)

krispykrem8 karma

Looking back, we had unreasonable expectations of how well the game would do; we thought it would make as much money as SpaceChem, but it ended up making roughly 1/3 as much. I think the two main reasons for this are:

  • If you look at Ironclad Tactics, it doesn't blow your mind. It's pretty, and might even look like something you want to play, but there's nothing about it that would make someone scream "ZOMG I WANT THAT GAME!" and pull out their wallet. It turns out you need those kind of people if you want to have a successful game.
  • SpaceChem was released at a time when there was very little competition in the indie game space, yet distributors (like Steam) were allotting a serious amount of advertising just to indie games. If we were to release SpaceChem today I think it'd do about half as well, tops.

FungalCactus3 karma

I loved Spacechem after playing the demo and I've enjoyed my time with Infinifactory and TIS-100 so far. I never did play Ironclad Tactics, but have you considered doing other non-programming games?

Maybe a dumb question, but are there any games you would recommend for learning programming (other than yours)? I'm quite a novice.

krispykrem6 karma

For someone who makes "programming games" I'm actually quite skeptical of games that try to teach programming. If you want to learn to program, you should just go write some code! It's fun and will teach you precisely the skill you're trying to learn, because it is the skill you're trying to learn.

jaegr3 karma

any plans for a mobile version?

krispykrem5 karma

Unlikely. I've never been very impressed with first-person gameplay on tablets or phones. It'd probably drain the battery like crazy, too.

Axios20153 karma

Hi! Congratulations for Infinifactory! Best puzzle game I ever played.

Any plan for Infinifactory expansions? Another game based on conveyor belts, welder... maybe a factory with daily routine, special events like: resupply a star fleet within 24h....

krispykrem4 karma

I don't think we're likely to follow up with an Infinifactory 2, even if Infinifactory ended up being incredibly successful. It's just not our style! This is why we've nearly doubled the amount of content in Infinifactory since launching to Early Access in January; there was a lot of design space to explore, so we wanted to make sure we did!

ChesterDesmond3 karma

I read Amplify may be discontinuing its tablet program. Is there any chance MetaboSIM, HabiTactics, and FAKTR will be made available in the Google Play store? Or even better, how about Windows versions on Steam?

Thank you for your games -- any Zachtronics release is an instant buy!

krispykrem3 karma

Where'd you read that? I'd love to take a peek.

Amplify owns all of the games we created for them, so where and how they're released is 100% up to them. I'd say you could email them and let them know you'd like to see them released, but both we and they know it would take much more than a few customers to make that worth the effort.

ChesterDesmond1 karma

Indeed - perhaps I'll email Amplify anyway. Here's a link to the news article.

Thanks again for all the great games! I'm looking forward to anything you release in the years to come.

krispykrem1 karma

Ah, yes... the same reason we don't make hardware! They've got some really great games on the software side of things, and I don't just mean the ones that we made.

Lucretiel3 karma

Zach! I went to the same school as you! After Alchemical Engineering became one of my favorite games ever, and shortly thereafter when I recognized Minecraft as being based on Infiniminer, I remember being very sad that I had started school just after you graduated. Prof. Destafano remembered you when I asked about you.

Anyway, I ended up dropping out of the game design program in favor of plain CS. My question would be- how much of an influence was the GSAS program on your success today? And in what ways?

krispykrem3 karma

I actually wasn't in the GSAS (games and simulation arts and sciences) program; instead, I got a degree in computer science and computer engineering. And, in all honesty, that probably had a bigger influence than any of the games classes I took, as it's absolutely my love of computers that has inspired most of my games.

Even if they didn't directly influence what I'm doing today, the games classes I took were a lot of fun! The professors were extremely encouraging (which is a difficult thing to say about college professors) and let me build some ridiculous things, like a spaceship simulator and a pre-Kinect motion game.

AlanZucconi3 karma

Hey Zach! Since TIS-100 has been released I've been wondering if there was a connection with Infinifactory. Given that it's a smaller game, I've grown accustomed to the idea that, somehow, it must be a spin-off. I came up with my very questionable conspiracy theory. Am I going crazy, or is there a connection? :D

krispykrem6 karma

You are absolutely going crazy, but going crazy is kind of a theme of TIS-100 so it's understandable. The next big update to TIS-100 should clear up some of the story stuff a little!

ObviousQuark3 karma

What software did you use to design TIS-100? Did you use a game making program as a helpful frame, or did you program it yourselves?

krispykrem2 karma

It's written from scratch using Unity.

etotheipi12 karma

Beating Spacechem is one of my proudest achievement in gaming. It is definitely one of my favorite games. I can't wait to try Infinifactory.

Could you tell us a bit about how the process of designing the first few levels of Spacechem went? If I recall, the intro YouTube video wasn't there and was added later. The first few levels tell you where to place each instructions, which is bit off-putting, but it's hard to think of a better alternative.

krispykrem4 karma

The first tutorial puzzle in SpaceChem, the one where you have to build the solution it tells you to build, is probably the worst tutorial I've ever designed:

  • It completely fails to explain the goal of the game, taking input and making outputs. This is why we added the YouTube video; we had already created it as a trailer, and it happened to explain something we had difficulty explaining in-game.
  • It involves huge amounts of text, which no one is going to read. Okay, some people will read it, but that's not much better than no one.
  • It involves a huge amount of boilerplate: 8 instructions, placed in precisely the right order, or it won't work at all. This is a hard thing to fix, though, and is just something you have to keep in mind while designing the game.

Maybe it's not right to single out just that puzzle; anything remotely resembling a tutorial in SpaceChem was pretty awful. I'm amazed that the game did so well despite it!

One thing we've learned, although it's not something I'd count on, is that if your game is compelling enough people will learn how to play it regardless of how bad your in-game instruction is. I played Terraria for the first time a few months ago and had to have my friend explain pretty much everything in it to me. Didn't stop us from playing the shit out of it, though.

etotheipi11 karma

Thanks for the response. I'm glad that my poor opinion on Spacechem's tutorial is now justified :)

I'm in the middle of designing a tutorial for a game. We've probably spent hundreds of hours on the first level, and I'm still not satisfied at all. Maybe you are right that if the game itself is compelling enough, then the tutorial can be little bad, but I still want to get it right.

krispykrem1 karma

Send me an email ([email protected]) if you want to chat about it. We've learned a lot since SpaceChem!

bojanger2 karma

I'm just wondering about any conflicts between your game development and your assigned projects at Microsoft.

Are there any processes you had to go through?

krispykrem5 karma

I'm not sure if it's changed since I was there, but they had a pretty great moonlighting policy. I didn't use any Microsoft resources and did it all on my own time, so there was no conflict to worry about!

MmmSunflowerButter2 karma

I could definitely see my kids getting into these games! What's the youngest age you might recommend for playing Infinifactory? I see it's rated for Teens on the Steam store. Mild language aside - think the puzzles would be too challenging for a 10 year old?

krispykrem2 karma

I wouldn't keep them from the game because you're worried it'll be too difficult; there are plenty of adults that find the game to be too difficult, so clearly age is not a good discriminator!

The game is littered with dead bodies and sad audio logs, though, which is where the T rating comes from. Maybe a good candidate for a game to play together?

dkilmer2 karma

A few questions:

  1. On the podcast, why do you sound disappointed when people say they don't use a game engine?
  2. Who do you have lined up for future podcasts?
  3. Do you play puzzle games yourself?
  4. If so, what sorts of puzzle games appeal to you most?

krispykrem2 karma


  • Hah, I didn't realize that I come across sounding disappointed! There's certainly nothing wrong with writing your own game engine, but I'd definitely never recommend it to anyone looking to make a game. Although Unity is far from perfect, it saves us from having to a lot of redundant work, especially with getting our games to run on different platforms. Unless you're making a game with strange technical requirements (like the massive number of dynamic models in Infinifactory) you're almost certainly better using something like Unity.
  • No one, currently. Maybe I should fix that.
  • I do not! I haven't been playing many games lately, but when I do they tend to be team-based FPS games like TF2, RO2, or Planetside.

yoat2 karma

Your histogram games are mind-expanding, fun, and the most challenging games I've ever played. I have questions regarding difficulty.

What's the hardest (puzzle) game you've ever played (that you didn't create)?

What is the hardest puzzle (and/or overall game) amongst your games?

If you hadn't created them, do you think you think you'd be one of the best (by histogram scores) at these puzzle games?

I really love the work you're doing. Keep it up!

krispykrem4 karma


  • I actually don't play a lot of puzzle games. Portal and Portal 2 were both pretty approachable, so maybe World of Goo? Definitely didn't beat that one.
  • I've heard that the last puzzle in SpaceChem is quite difficult, but I wouldn't know because I never solved it!
  • I did create them and I know for a fact that I'm no where close to being one of the best. The things people build... they're ridiculous!

SilverProductions2 karma

Really looking forward to trying infinifactory when I have the money to buy it because of the nerd cubed lets play. So my question is: what do you think of YouTube lets plays and how people make money by playing your game?

krispykrem3 karma

I was very surprised by the rise of YouTube in the "games journalism" space; it certainly wasn't a thing with SpaceChem, and was really only getting started when Ironclad Tactics was released. I think it's neat, even if our games don't work particularly well in that format (I'm looking at you, TIS-100).

Unlike some people in the games industry (I guess?) I completely fail to understand why monetizing YouTube videos with footage from our games shouldn't be allowed. We're selling the experience of playing our game, not watching it!

bigalphillips2 karma

How much do you get emotionally tied up in the success/failure of your games? I'm sure it's a stressful endeavour in general but hearing that TIS-100 may have out-sold Infinifactory when the latter looks like it was a lot more work seems like it would be kind of disheartening.

(loved both)

krispykrem3 karma

It's important to keep in mind that more copies != more money. It'd take a LOT more copies of TIS-100 to truly outsell Infinifactory, something I don't think is going to happen.

Regardless, the answer to your question is absolutely "too much", something I only realized about a year ago. Since then I've tried to detach, which has definitely improved my overall happiness.

wyattman8542 karma

Just bought Infinifactory and I must say, it's incredible! Always been a fan of puzzle games that really make you dig deep into the recesses of your brain for the solution, so this is right up my alley!

My question is, do you plan to release any expansions or DLC for it? ;)

krispykrem2 karma

It's unlikely. The second campaign is basically one giant free DLC pack, and explores a lot of the ideas we didn't have room for in the main campaign.

Dachannien2 karma

Hi, Zach,

I loved SpaceChem, so I ponied up for Infinifactory yesterday and did not regret my decision :) However, I have one question for you:

Why is there no upward-facing Welder block??!

Thanks again for another great game and for doing this AMA!

krispykrem3 karma

I don't know if I have a satisfying answer to why there's no upward-facing welder.

  • Maybe it's because the overlords don't want you damaging their expensive welders by letting dirty product blocks sit on top of their business-ends.
  • Maybe it's because the game's notion of rotation is limited to a single axis, which means that the upward- and downward-facing versions of blocks need to be their own block types and we didn't want to overwhelm users with choices.
  • Maybe it's because having small asymmetric limitations pushes players to be more creative with their solutions.

leighzaru1 karma

I have a confession. I originally downloaded a torrent of SpaceChem and played it for days.

Then I went on Steam and bought it (because I enjoyed it), and played it for more days. (I've bought all games since without even watching trailers, mainly payback for the enjoyment I got from SpaceChem - I have to say Ironclad just wasn't for me though)

What I really want to know is; when can we expect a waldo control board for the TIS-100?

krispykrem0 karma

I wonder if we could sell add-on "control boards" for TIS-100 as DLC...

Just kidding!

leighzaru1 karma

Do you actually own (and wear) a hat just like the one in your twitter avatar?

krispykrem2 karma

I do, actually. I made it a long time ago for a LAN party, and it inadvertently became our logo. I'm really not a fan of our company branding, as it implies the company is just me when in reality it has involved many people over the past few years, but we never came up with anything good enough to replace it.

Hellmark1 karma

Your story about quitting and coming back is something I've heard quite a bit in regards to IT. It seems strange that is how you're supposed to advance in CS/IT, to keep switching companies. Why do you think tech related jobs seem to have that mentality, when most other industries attempt to stress advancement within a single company?

krispykrem1 karma

My experience was very Microsoft-specific; they have "paths" allowing entry-level programmers and product managers to enter and rise within the company, but they require so few game designers that they only hire experienced ones, which means they had to gain their experience outside of the company. I wanted to switch from a role with a "path" to a role without a "path", so I had to find my "path" somewhere else.

jjdavis6991 karma

Hey Zach! I got TIS-100 not too long ago, it's my first Zachtronics game, and I plan to get more! My 2 questions are:

Will workshop integration ever be added to TIS-100?

What's your favorite video game?

krispykrem1 karma

  1. Probably not? Between the level editor (out now) and the curated user-puzzle campaign (coming soon) I think we'll have most of the benefits of a full Workshop integration, without the hassle of integrating and with the added bonus of curation.
  2. I don't have an all-time favorite video game, but I do have a first: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Duke_Nukem_(video_game)

combatdave1 karma

Hey Zach, I'm super late to this party but hoping that you might see this and answer anyway.

I've followed an incredibly similar path to you - I'm a programmer with game design aspirations - even down to the "making a game which is then turned into something wildly popular by someone else" thing.

Anyway, I'm wanting to ask about the process you go through when designing a game such as SpaceChem or TIS-100. I'm currently playing with an idea which would work in a similar-ish manner to both those games, albeit that the process would be done step-by-step rather than preplanned then executed. Do you have any advice you have on how you decided on the particular set instructions/node types in TIS-100, and the elements/operators/etc in SpaceChem?


krispykrem3 karma

The instruction set in TIS-100 was designed to be:

  • simple (limited number of instructions),
  • complete (pseudo Turing-completeness), and
  • aesthetically inconvenient (old CPUs were weird).

It also had to push players to create interesting parallel solutions, which is why the nodes are so stingy when it comes to memory yet so good at connecting to their neighbors. Finally, we made sure to strip out the unnecessary complexities of the game's domain: anything related to bits and binary. That's a great way to lose non-programmers, and contrary to what you may think our audience is not 100% programmers.

SpaceChem was a lot longer ago, so I don't remember every reason behind why it is the way it is, but I know that both the sync and flip-flop instructions came about because the game just felt like it needed something like that. Maybe the most important thing to realize is that every puzzle game I've designed started with designing the task that must be done, and then designing an intriguing toolset to accomplish that task. The TIS-100 instruction set wasn't the first thing we designed, it was the last.

123STAR0 karma

Hey Zach, what engine do you use? Do you use Unity?

krispykrem1 karma

For Infinifactory and TIS-100, yes. SpaceChem and Ironclad Tactics used a custom C# engine.

yoat0 karma

Congratulations on Infinifactory leaving Early Access! I read in this Gamasutra article that TIS-100 was a concept from a project that never took off: The Second Golden Age.

In light of your recent/continued success are you considering a revival of The Second Golden Age project?

Would you be willing to share any more insights on TSGA with us?

krispykrem2 karma

It's unlikely. A lot of my desire to make that game comes from wanting to make something that looks like an old-school adventure game, but that doesn't mean that it makes any kind of business sense. It's easy to confuse games you want to make with games that people want to play.

McPhage0 karma

One thing about your games is that they tend to be really difficult. Which can be good! And can be bad. Have you ever considered adding difficulty levels to your games, maybe with relaxed starting conditions, or relaxing the goal? That way people could still get a feel for the puzzles, and keep playing, and come back to them at a higher difficulty as they improve. Usually with your games I play until I get stuck at a point, and then... there's nothing else I can do. (Although TIS-100 seems better about that, at least).

Also: if there's ever a chance, I'd love more Codex of Alchemical Engineering. It's my favorite of your games.

Also Also: if there's a way, you should make the pencil & paper version of SpaceChem more available—it was really, really good.

krispykrem1 karma

I'm not convinced that decreasing the difficulty like you say wouldn't destroy what makes the game compelling. I'm pretty stubborn, though, so I'm probably wrong.

When we designed Infinifactory we set out to make something that was fun in the same was as SpaceChem but without being so intrinsically difficult. I think we succeeded. The general lack of spatial constraints and the simplicity of conveyor belts helps.

The great thing about games like SpaceChem and Infinifactory is that even if a puzzle is "too easy", players can dig in and optimize the crap out of it and make it more challenging for themselves. Unfortunately, this requires an inherent complexity for the game, because it only works when "easy" solutions are easy because they're crude, not simple.

I still have like 1000 paper SpaceChem booklets available. Hopefully we'll get rid of some at PAX this year!

turbov210 karma

Just got this last night, and I'm hooked. Five levels down, a universe to go! Cannot wait to try more of your games. Thank you for being so bloody wonderful.

My question: Is there a TIS-200 game planned? :-)

krispykrem2 karma

No, but I'm sure it's inevitable in some cosmic sense.

talktechtrends28800 karma

Hi Zach: I am a young website writer of talktechtrends.wordpress.com. Had some questions, that I hope to publish in interview format on the site: 1) Why are educational games so important to you? 2) What code do you use to make these games 3) Game you are most proud of? 4) Have you heard of The Silent Age by House on Fire. If so, what do you think of it?

Thanks! Would love it if you could make a shout-out about my site on Facebook or Twitter.

krispykrem1 karma

  1. I used to think that educational games were a promising area of exploration, but now I'm less sure. Many of the things that make games compelling, like extrinsic rewards and artificial progression, are not what create and inspire life-long learners.
  2. C#, and recently Unity.
  3. That's a tough question to answer, but probably Infinifactory? It's such a rich and engaging game, and has great art, music, story, and gameplay.
  4. I have not.

ThexJwubbz-1 karma

What's your favorite color?

krispykrem2 karma

LONG ANSWER: I don't believe I have one. When choosing a color, it's important to think about what you're trying to convey. Consider the use of color in TIS-100, which is monochrome except for its occasional use of bright red to indicate FAILURE and MYSTERY and create a slightly hostile environment.


saladloverrr-1 karma

What's your favourite salad?

krispykrem1 karma

Now that is a difficult question. One of the best perks of working at Zachtronics is that we have free salad every day, which means we see a lot of variety. I think it'd be a tie between taco salad and antipasto salad, with sliced salami and provolone.

TheZombiepope-2 karma

Can I have a code for the game?

krispykrem6 karma

Yup, you can get one right here.


eflemingo17-2 karma

If you had five minutes to create the world's most disgusting burrito and everything in the world was at your disposal, how would you create the burrito?

krispykrem6 karma

Let's focus on the film, people.