Zachtronics' Zach Barth might not be the most well-known video game developer, but he's certainly been influential. Though known lately for his work on SpaceChem and Ironclad Tactics, his 2009 game Infiniminer was the inspiration for Markus Persson's legendary game Minecraft.
However, Barth's career stretches back further than that. From hardware hacking in Ruckingenur II, to building logic gates from pure silicon in KOHCTPYKTOP, to writing Lua code to run a factory in Manufactoid, Barth's made a name for himself developing difficult puzzle games—"games for engineers," as he once put it.
He announced Infinifactory a few days ago, giving only a few details—a sandbox puzzle game, combining the block-based world of Infiniminer with the factory management of SpaceChem and Manufactoid. I've always been a fan of Barth's games, so when Infinifactory was announced, I knew I had to know more. I sat down with Zach (in front of our computers, since we were using email) to talk about his latest game.
How would you describe your previous games to people who have never played them?
ZACH: We've made a lot of different games in the past few years, but we're probably best known for our puzzle games, like SpaceChem. They're different from other puzzle games because they're very open-ended, and are more about building a solution to a problem than reassembling some puzzle designer's intended solution. We call them "design-based" or "sandbox" puzzle games for this reason.
Can you tell us a bit more about the gameplay of Infinifactory?
ZACH: The premise of Infinifactory is simple: build factories to assemble products for your alien overlords! You're provided with access to resources and a specification of what your factory needs to produce, but how you build the factory and how it works is entirely up to you. As was the case with SpaceChem, it's so open-ended that you have a lot of leeway to optimize your factories to be faster or smaller—or both, if you're particularly clever!
What platforms are you targeting?
ZACH: We're launching an early access version of the game later this year on Steam with support for Windows only, but will be adding support for OS X and Linux shortly thereafter. I think the game would make a lot of sense as a console title as well, but we don't have anything lined up at the moment.
Are you working with anyone else on the game?
ZACH: Absolutely! The core team is seven people, with a few talented freelancers helping out as well.
What technology is being used for Infinifactory?
ZACH: Unlike our previous titles, Infinifactory is built using Unity instead of a custom engine, which should make it even easier to port the game to new platforms. Everything else, including our next-generation block engine, was built from scratch.
Do you feel like Infinifactory is a continuation of the Infinifranchise, in more than just name?
ZACH: The "Infinifranchise" started out, and this is a very long time ago we're talking about, as a series of games about creating the game's content as you played. This was where the "block game" mechanics originally came from: a way to create buildings on the fly in Infinifrag. Those early games were very primitive, but with Infinifactory I took the block mechanics from Infinifrag and turned it into something that was, by comparison, much more playable.
Infinifactory is absolutely a continuation of the Infinifranchise (at least as much as Infiniminer was), but it also merges it with our "games for engineers" puzzle games. It's a very important game to me for that reason: it's like a culmination of every game I've ever made!
You compare Infinifactory to SpaceChem on the site. Do you think the game is leaning towards being more like SpaceChem or Infiniminer, or is it something completely new?
ZACH: When building the metagame for Infinifactory we essentially used everything good from SpaceChem as our starting point. We've brought back discrete puzzles, histograms, upload to YouTube, custom puzzles, and sandbox construction. However, we've also improved some things along the way, like organizing the puzzles so that you're less likely to get stuck and making sure that puzzles with novel mechanics are properly explained (something that made SpaceChem's boss puzzles particularly unfriendly).
When it comes to the actual gameplay, though, it's a totally different kind of game. The puzzle mechanics are very different, being descended from Manufactoid, and are much more spatial and physical than SpaceChem was. There's also the fact that it's 3D and first-person, which adds to the puzzle mechanics and allows us to do exciting things to tell a story with immersion, level construction, and audio logs. It's been very interesting to work on something that's both so familiar and so new for us at the same time.
What games—other than SpaceChem and Infiniminer—have you drawn inspiration from in designing Infinifactory?
ZACH: I came up with the idea for Infinifactory about six months after wrapping up Infiniminer; it basically consisted of recreating Manufactoid (one of my earlier puzzle games) in 3D using the "block game" mechanics that were solidified in Infiniminer. Although the idea has evolved a lot since then, the two games still share quite a few ideas and mechanics. Thankfully, unlike Manufactoid, Infinifactory will not require you to open up a text editor and write Lua code!
Have you ever wanted to develop any of your older games further?
ZACH: I actually get quite a few requests for us to revisit Ruckingenur, something I'd do if it wasn't so utterly niche and difficult to develop. We spent a while thinking about what Ruckingenur III would be, but I think we're just going to end up rolling a lot of the key ideas into our next game (after Infinifactory).
You made a name for yourself as someone who made "games for engineers." Do you feel that you've toned down this element in your more recent games, or is Infinifactory going to amp-up the difficulty level?
ZACH: Looking back, I've tended to alternate between making puzzle games (SpaceChem, The Codex of Alchemical Engineering, KOHCTPYKTOP) and non-puzzle games (Infiniminer, Ironclad Tactics). Infinifactory represents a bit of a new direction that I find exciting: exploring new genres while doubling down on our signature style of "engineering gameplay," without necessarily making them obscenely difficult.
Infinifactory comes out later this year on Steam Early Access. You can find out more at Zachtronics' website zachtronics.com.