|Products||TIS-100, SpaceChem, Infinifactory|
|Parent||Alliance Media Holdings|
Zachtronics LLC is an American independent video game development studio, best known for their engineering puzzle games and programming games. Zachtronics was founded by Zach Barth, who serves as its lead designer.
Zachtronics was founded by American video game designer and programmer Zach Barth. Barth started creating games early in life and further developed his programming skills at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute (RPI), where he joined the game development club. Barth studied computer systems engineering and computer science at RPI. He was one of three students leading the interdisciplinary team of the CapAbility Games Research Project, a collaboration of RPI with the Center for Disability Services in Albany, New York. In 2008, the team produced Capable Shopper, a shopping simulation game for players with various degrees of disability.
Barth's initial games were generally free browser games offered on his website. One of these was Infiniminer, the block-building game that inspired Minecraft by Mojang. His earlier, non-commercial, games included twenty that were published on his old website and "five good ones" which he transferred over to the new site. Four of these use Flash to make them cross-platform, in spite of Flash's "terrible" development environment. The other one is based on .NET for greater programming convenience. SpaceChem also used .NET, as Barth considers C# to be "the best language ever invented". For marketing reasons, Barth decided against XNA with its capability to cross-publish to Xbox 360, and switched to OpenGL, which allowed him to target the three operating systems required for inclusion in the Humble Indie Bundle.
After completing The Codex of Alchemical Engineering and getting positive feedback from it, Barth came up with the idea of making commercial games. The first of these was SpaceChem, which he developed the Zachtronics label for. It was also the first game where he took in a number of collaborators to help. SpaceChem was critically praised, which led Barth to continue to develop more games under the Zachtronics label. A few ideas failed to come to light, and with expectations for the studio to make another game, he opted to make Ironclad Tactics, which was more a real-time based card game rather than a puzzle game. Ironclad Tactics did not do as well as SpaceChem, and Barth realized there was more a market for the puzzle games that he had previously developed, and turned back to his Flash-based games. Initially he looked to take The Codex of Alchemical Engineering to make it a full commercial release, but instead ended up producing Infinifactory and later TIS-100.
In 2015, Barth joined Valve to work on SteamVR. He worked there for 10 months before departing. Near the time he started to work at Valve, Barth had been considering shutting down Zachtronics due to stress of running the business alongside the new responsibilities at Valve. Sometime between the release of TIS-100 and Shenzhen I/O, Barth had come into contact with Alliance Media Holdings who offered to buy the studio and to manage the publishing of the games, while allowing Barth retain his creative lead and control.
In June 2019, the studio has published the book Zach-Like that includes design documents and other reference material used by Barth and his team during the development of his games. Zachtronics used Kickstarter to produce physical copies of the book by early 2019, and by June 2019 released title as a free eBook on Steam along with a bundle of Barth's older titles.
Zachtronics launched Zachademics in June 2019, a program to allow educational and non-profit institutions to freely download and use Infinifactory, TIS-100, Shenzhen I/O, Opus Magnum and Exapunks for educational purposes. Zachtronics has previously offered SpaceChem in a similar manner.
Zachtronics' games have generally been focused around engineering puzzle games, designing machines or the equivalent to take input and make output; these are generally part of the broader class of programming games. These games, including SpaceChem, Infinifactory, and Opus Magnum, feature multiple puzzles that are open ended in solution; as long as the player can make the required output, the game considers that puzzle solved and allows the player to access the next puzzle. Atop their solution, the player is shown statistics related to their solution which relate to some efficiency - how fast their solution completed the puzzle, how few parts they used, and the like. These stats are given with histograms from other players, including their friends via the game's storefront, that have also completed that puzzle. This gives a type of competitiveness to the game for players to find ways to optimize their solutions and improve their relative scores. Newer games also feature support for user-created puzzles.
Infiniminer is an open source multi-player block-based sandbox building and digging game, in which the player plays as a miner searching for minerals by carving tunnels through procedurally generated maps and building structures. According to the author Barth, it was based on the earlier games Infinifrag, Team Fortress, and Motherload by XGen Studios.
Barth wrote Infiniminer in his spare time, with the help of a friend, and released it in steps of incremental updates during April–May 2009. It quickly garnered a following on message boards around the Internet.
Infiniminer was originally intended to be played as a team-based competitive game, where the goal is to locate and excavate precious metals, and bring the findings to the surface to earn points for the player's team. However, as the game gained popularity, players gravitated towards the emergent gameplay functionality of building in-world objects, instead of the stated design goal of competition.
Zachtronics discontinued development of the game less than a month after its first release as the result of its source code leak. As Barth had not obfuscated the C# .NET source code of the game, it was decompiled and extracted from the binaries. Hackers modified the code to make mods, but also started making clients that would target vulnerabilities in the game as well as build incompatible game forks that fragmented its user base. Barth, who was making the game for free, then lost interest and dropped the project, as development of the game had become too difficult. The source code of Infiniminer is now available under the MIT License. Building Infiniminer requires Visual Studio 2008 and XNA Game Studio 3.0.
Infiniminer is the game that initially inspired Minecraft (and subsequently FortressCraft, CraftWorld and Ace of Spades). The visuals and mechanics of procedural generation and terrain deformation of Minecraft were drawn from Infiniminer. According to Minecraft developer Markus Persson, after he discovered Infiniminer, he "decided it was the game he wanted to do".
SpaceChem has garnered praise with the gaming community and is currently one of three games on the recommendation page of Team Fortress creator Robin Walker (the others being Hotline Miami and FTL: Faster Than Light), with him declaring it as "Pretty much the greatest game ever made".
In March 2011, Barth stated the possibility of making expansion packs to SpaceChem and adding a free update and editor which would allow users to create their own levels which could then be shared to other users, with the best ones being picked out by Zachtronics to be published and these were released on April 29 as the Shareholders' Update. Barth hinted at the prospect of a sequel and also stated that it would be fantastic to have SpaceChem on a future Humble Bundle. The game was included in the Humble Frozen Synapse Bundle charitable sale in early October 2011. The following year SpaceChem was the featured game on IndieGameStand, a site which features indie games with a pay-what-you-want model with a portion of the proceeds going to charity. Barth chose the Against Malaria Foundation as the charity to which 10% of the proceeds were donated.
- Ironclad Tactics
- Shenzhen I/O
- Opus Magnum
- Mobius Front '83
- Nerts! Online
- Ruckingenur II
- Smith, Quintin (January 20, 2011). "My Chemical Romance: Zach Barth Interview". Rock, Paper, Shotgun.
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- "Zach Barth finds a fine formula with SpaceChem", Featured Indie Dev, Indie pub games.
- "Gaining Independence For People With Disabilities Through Video Games", ScienceDaily, Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, 15 May 2008, retrieved 2011-08-24.
- Original news release, RPI.
- "Reliquary Game Reviews: Infiniminer". Reliquary Game Reviews. 2009-05-29.
- Caldwell, Brendan (November 23, 2017). "Zach of Zachtronics: "I really like making my dumb little games that don't matter"". Rock Paper Shotgun. Retrieved November 24, 2017.
- Wawro, Alex (10 February 2016). "Valve collaborates on new Unity SteamVR support and tools". www.gamasutra.com. Retrieved 8 April 2019.
- Wawro, Alex (17 November 2016). "Zachtronics' Shenzhen I/O is a game for people who code games". www.gamasutra.com. Retrieved 8 April 2019.
- Kidwell, Emma (February 6, 2019). "Exapunks dev creates 400-page behind-the-scenes design book". Gamasutra. Retrieved February 6, 2019.
- Kerr, Chris (June 18, 2019). "Check out Opus Magnum dev Zachtronics' entire game design history for free". Gamasutra. Retrieved June 18, 2019.
- Tarason, Dominic (June 19, 2019). "Zach-Like comes to Steam free with loads of game-like extras". Rock Paper Shotgun. Retrieved June 21, 2019.
- Wawro, Alex (July 3, 2019). "Zachtronics games are now free for public schools and educational nonprofits". Gamasutra. Retrieved July 3, 2019.
- Motherload, XGen studios.
- Murff, James. "Freeware Friday: Infiniminer". Big Download. Retrieved May 15, 2009.
- Zachtronics Industries. "Infiniminer Google Code Project Page".
- Persson, Markus. "Credits due". The Word of Notch. Archived from the original on 10 September 2010. Retrieved May 26, 2009 – via Tumblr.
- Persson, Markus. "The Origins of Minecraft". The Word of Notch. Archived from the original on November 2, 2009. Retrieved December 19, 2021 – via Tumblr.
- Robin Walker (March 4, 2011). "Robin Walker's Steam recommendation page". Valve. Retrieved April 29, 2011.
- Team Fortress Development Team (April 28, 2011). "Mounts and Blades and Hats and Fires and Hats and Swords". Valve.
- SpaceChem Team (April 29, 2011). "Shareholders' Report". Zachtronics Industries.
- Zacny, Rob (2011-10-05). "SpaceChem joins the Humble Frozen Synapse Bundle". PC Gamer. Retrieved 2011-10-05.
- Phillips, Tom (2012-10-03). "Pay-what-you-want indie games site launches, spotlights SpaceChem". Eurogamer. Retrieved 2012-10-06.
- O'Conner, Alice (September 13, 2016). "SpaceChem & TIS-100 Creator Announces SHENZEN I/O". Rock Paper Shotgun. Retrieved September 13, 2016.
- Devore, Jordan (October 19, 2017). "Opus Magnum is the new game from the creator of SpaceChem". Destructoid. Retrieved October 19, 2017.
- Tarason, Dominic (July 18, 2018). "Hack the planet in Exapunks from Opus Magnum & Shenzhen I/O studio Zachtronics". Rock Paper Shotgun. Retrieved July 18, 2018.
- O'Conner, Alice (August 1, 2019). "The next Zachtronics game is Eliza, a visual novel about AI". Rock Paper Shotgun. Retrieved August 1, 2019.
- Pearson, Craig (November 5, 2019). "MOLEK-SYNTEZ is a new Zachtronics game about making drugs in a cold Romanian apartment". Rock Paper Shotgun. Retrieved November 5, 2019.
- Morton, Lauren (October 26, 2020). "Defend America from its evil twin in the next Zachtronics game, Möbius Front '83". Rock Paper Shotgun. Retrieved October 27, 2020.
- Clayton, Natalie (January 7, 2021). "Zachtronics turned a lockdown hobby into a free competitive card game". PC Gamer. Retrieved January 7, 2021.