Person B: “Which one?”
Person A: “SpaceChem”
Person B: “Nah, what is it though? Sounds Awesome!”
Person A: “It’s a Chemistry based puzzle game”
Person B: “Ummmm…”
This is probably a fair representation of a few conversations that have taken place in recent months. Admittedly it doesn’t sound too thrilling unless you like puzzle games and chemistry (which I happen to). But I think this game has something to offer to everyone. It basically involves a visual representation of a flowchart in which actions like bonding or synching particles are put together to create a manufacturing process for a compound or molecule. It’s quite difficult to explain but timing and thinking outside the box is crucial.
|One of the simpler levels!|
Amazingly for a game like this, the storyline is superb. It’s well-written, engaging and humorous. The tutorial is fantastic too guiding you through the game mechanics without ever feeling like you’re in a tutorial. It’s a rare game In that when you finish or solve a level you get the same feeling as when you complete a difficult room in Portal. It has a great soundtrack that fits the style of the game superbly. The graphics are perfect as well, very slick and effective whilst also original. I spoke to the lead designer on SpaceChem - Zach Barth.
Bob: When did you start developing games?
Zach: I’ve made “games” for almost as long as I can remember, although it really picked up in college when I learned enough about programming and game design to make games that weren’t absolutely terrible.
Bob: How did you get the idea for a Chemistry-based puzzle game?
Zach: The Codex of Alchemical Engineering was a relatively successful game for me, so when it ran its course I thought about making a successor game. One of the challenges when developing the Codex was inventing the alchemical rules and compounds, so making a game based on chemistry seemed like it would solve this problem. I’m not a huge fan of making derivative works, though, so I shelved the idea and made a game about integrated circuits instead.
After visiting Gas Works Park in Seattle it struck me that I could combine the atomic construction mechanics of the Codex with some sort of chemical pipeline construction metaphor resembling the structures found at Gas Works Park and the idea for SpaceChem was born.
Bob: Have you got much of a background yourself with chemistry?
Zach: Barely! I’ve taken a few courses between high school and college, but chemistry was never a strong subject for me. In many ways the chemistry of SpaceChem is what I always wished chemistry was like –logical, with fairly simple rules!
Bob: How well do you think it works as an education tool?
Zach: I’ve talked to a few teachers who used or were planning to use SpaceChem in their classrooms, although it was more often for teaching programming than teaching chemistry. Although it may not match up perfectly with any existing curriculum, I think that SpaceChem is a great metaphor for many programming and chemistry concepts and provides excellent practice for true problem solving that problem sets cannot.
I have a quote from a teacher who was using the Codex in an afterschool club that I think really sums up the value of games like SpaceChem and the Codex in an educational setting:
“However, it did do one thing immediately that I really appreciated. It got them to start trying to solve puzzles. Even students that in my physics classes have completely balked at venturing an answer to anything that they haven't been directly taught were saying "this is fun" as they were trying things that didn't necessarily work.”
Bob: Did you get many responses from people saying "A chemistry game won't sell"?
Zach: Only after we started selling it! I made the mistake of testing the game with people who all thought that chemistry was a completely legitimate theme for a game. It wasn’t until we shipped the game that we realized people mistook it for educational and refused to have anything to do with it.
Bob: How many people worked on the game?
Zach: Seven people!
Design & Production: Zach BarthProgramming: Collin Arnold
Anti-programming : Keith Holman
Visuals: Ryan Sumo
Music: Evan Le Ny
Sound: Ken Bowen
Narrative: Hillary Field
Bob: Are you pleased with the reaction after joining the last Humble Bundle?
Zach: Yes – it’s gone quite well! There are now a ridiculous number of people playing SpaceChem, which I think is the best measure of success for a game.
Bob: Have you got any plans to release more DLC?
Zach: At this time, no.