Spacechem Revisited is a follow-up to the successful… oh, wait. My apologies. I’m revisiting Spacechem as when I wrote about it last in ye olde Pagoda I had only played through the first two or so worlds out of nine. That was good for letting people know that it existed, less good for being able to give anything beyond a general intro to the game. Let’s try and fix that.
Despite the name Spacechem is less about chemistry and more about programming. It is your duty to craft programming loops (or more specifically, two complimentary loops) that takes one or more inputs and transforms them into one or more specific outputs. Your initial tools for doing so are limited to grabbing and dropping atoms/molecules, breaking or creating bonds and rotating them (also the ever valuable sync tool which allows you to effectively pause one loop while the other completes a given process). As you proceed you gain the ability to fuse different atoms together into a single new one, add sensors that act like a railroad switch or flip-flops that can be used to alternate which path your program runs along. That final one becomes quite the doozy. In addition the game quickly proceeds to advance from single screen puzzles to ones where you are managing a series of plants each running their own interconnected processes; this complicates things in both ways one would anticipate and ways they would not (the latter would include the piping linking these various plants together).
Fortunately you need virtually no chemistry knowledge to play the game. You basically need to know how many bonds an atom can form and the atomic numbers when fusing various atoms together, both of which are given to you. What you do need is the ability to refine your designs as I am convinced that no matter how gifted one is at coming up with an initial concept in the majority of cases there will be flaws that prevent it from functioning as envisioned. Perhaps it doesn’t quite fit, perhaps it hits a wall or another molecule, perhaps you mentally missed a step, perhaps it will work for one cycle but not the ten-plus that are required. Perhaps when dealing with multiple plants the speeds of them are different enough to throw things into chaos. All I know is that there will be a “perhaps” lurking somewhere.
Now refinement can take a few different forms. The way most go is to strive for increased efficiency, and in doing this most of the problems will be solved. The game in fact encourages revisiting previously solved puzzles and refining them in such a way as each time you complete a puzzle your solution is graphed alongside everyone elses, an attempt to inspire or shame you to do better. The other form, the one that I embraced, is to say to hell with that and get the original notion working even if it results in madness such as this.
(I know, I’ve posted that screencap before. It’s still the scariest one I have!)
Don’t you pretend like that image makes any sense, I made it and I can’t even follow it. The strength of the game is that it gives you the freedom to take either route or any in between. It is an absurdly challenging game but while many of its ilk would tease you with the infinite possibilities of a blank screen before leaving only a few narrow paths to success once one reaches the latter stages, Spacechem will generally let your insane, absurd, inefficient monstrosities still pump out a passable solution up to and including the final stage as long as you can manage to make it hold together just long enough. That is what elevates it to that higher level of puzzle game and makes it an experience at least worth investigating. And hey, it comes with a very substantial demo that has more than enough content included to let one know if it is something they might be interested in.