Chemically Altered: SpaceChem

Ah, so the red and the blue lines represent... oh wait no I've no clue.

Putting the puzzling into puzzle games is SpaceChem. I’ve just watched the indie game’s trailer, and I’ve absolutely no idea what on Earth it’s all about. However, KB who kindly emailed me about it says it does make sense to him. So much so he’s able to conclude: “It looks like you actually design circuits or something to accomplish a task, such as combining molecules, I think.” Crystal clarity! You can watch the trailer below, for what looks like a genuinely intriguing game, by a developer with the best name I’ve seen in ages: Zachtronics Industries.

Right, so, here’s how the game is described by its own site:

“Zachtronics Industries is back with an ambitious new design-based puzzle game. Take on the role of a Reactor Engineer working for SpaceChem, the leading chemical synthesizer for frontier colonies. Construct elaborate factories to transform raw materials into valuable chemical products! Streamline your designs to meet production quotas and survive encounters with the sinister threats that plague SpaceChem.”

So with that explained, we can all enjoy the trailer:

More information is promised soon, but this does look really rather interesting. And he’s called his company Zachtronic Industries!


  1. CMaster says:

    That looks awesome.
    Also fucking hard.

  2. TCoZ says:

    Looks like another insane game from this guy. Can he do anything wrong?

  3. qeloqoo says:

    Looks like sim of some Large Hadron Collider to me…

  4. JohnS says:

    I think it’s more fun to design robots…

    link to

    • CMaster says:

      Wow. that game is also awesome.
      Also hard.
      took a while, but I figured out “ends with 2 blues”. Now wrestling with “ends with same as start”.

    • Stuart Walton says:

      This certainly ramps up in difficulty. Had to sit down thinking for 10 minutes before coming up with a solution to Androids!

      Even then I was wrong, but I was tinking in the right direction and eventually hit on a solution that was quite elegant and delightfully recursive.

    • RagingLion says:

      Ah, you beat me to it. Yes this also reminded me strongly of Manufactoria which is effectively programming in disguise through combining a few simple elements. My house collectively spent 10s of hours going through that together and individually. It dominated our lounge talk for a few good weeks. It’s lovely to come up with elegant solutions and then have someone having taken a completely different approach as well.

    • CMaster says:

      Agreed that it reminded me of programming (or more accuratley, just building a computer from basic building blocks) quite a bit. Especially when it started teaching me about binary.

    • Mana_Garmr says:

      And now I’ve remembered there are still 2 levels in Manufactoria I never did come up with a solution for. There goes the rest of my day.

    • jt says:

      call me crazy but is this more or less a game of pushdown automatons (or is that linear bounded automatons, i get confused)?

      if so, this could be great a good teaching tool

    • PleasingFungus says:

      Haha! Thanks, you guys. I’m glad you like the game.

      @jt: It’s actually a more obscure variant called a queue machine. (And someone’s added a link to Manufactoria at the bottom of that page since the last time I looked at it. Heh.) I’ve had more than a few people suggest it be used for education… something of that sort may happen yet.

    • Tacroy says:

      … when I first played that game it definitely didn’t pop up things about “THE MALEVOLENCE ENGINE”… It definitely adds some atmosphere to the game.

      But that’s to be expected when you’re simulating a relatively capable programming language in something as retarded as Flash.

  5. Stuart Walton says:

    Wow, looks like it would be a great educational introduction to chemistry. Reminds me of the indie game where you had to build logic circuits, from a set pool of bits, to guide a robot through a level.

    Love this sort of stuff. Being able to see the chemicals move through the system and bind with each other is so much more instructional than reading a book or even combining them in real life.

  6. mlaskus says:

    Wow, this looks great.

  7. vanarbulax says:

    Alkanes! Alkanes! They’re driving me insane! All single bonded carbons joined together in a chain…

  8. Eagle0600 says:

    This is the same guy who made Infiniminer, and ultimately inspired Minecraft. You should check out more of their stuff.

    • disperse says:

      Beat me to it. Yep, I knew the name sounded familiar and confirmed their relationship with Infiniminer on their website. Notch should be sending this guy BIG CHECKS.

  9. westyfield says:

    So it’s Chemical Engineering Manager, then?

    • CMaster says:

      Chemical Engineering Tycoon.
      On Mars.

      With machines that physcially move the atoms to the right place in molecules.

  10. Patrick says:

    He also has the excellent “Codex of Alchemical Engineering” which was featured here last year sometime.

    • Biscuitry says:

      The game actually looks very similar to Codex of Alchemical Engineering, if my impression of the video is anything like accurate.

  11. Moth Bones says:

    I want a game that’s like this, but refers to geology and earth sciences. Controlling tectonic forces and so forth. Over to you, brainy devs.

  12. Premium User Badge

    Hodge says:


  13. Jim9137 says:

    Why is this game so appealing

    even though it is pretty colors pixelated into abstract shapes

    with logic that bends the will of those who try to overcome

    where is the preorder?

    • PoLLeNSKi says:

      I thought at first glance you’d written a haiku but you hadn’t so I made it into one:

      Game is appealing:
      Pretty colours, abstract shapes,
      Will-bending logic

  14. zachanima says:

    Ever since I first learned about the periodic table of the elements, I have wanted to play a game that uses the real proper elements.

    After all the use of unobtainium, adamantite and the likes (which I realise is a genuine reference to a hard surface) in so ridiculously many games, it is refreshing to finally see a game using some of the fucking humongous amount of elements we already have at our, uh, creative disposal.

    My, this game looks fun in just the right tweak-this-puzzle-to-win way.

    And it looks lovely.

    • CMaster says:

      Or you could be like Iron Man 2, which gets elements, molecules and fundamental particles all confused into one big thing.

    • Sassenach says:

      As far as bastardised science in fiction goes, basic chemisty has nothing on genetics.

  15. Spork says:

    Niiice. I wonder if I’d be able to put playing this this on my ChEng CV? It’d probably look better than EVE anyway.

    OT, but when the Hivemind finally fix the login system I’ll be sending them cake.

    • Spork says:

      That was @CMaster. Make it a crate of cakes if reply and edit are fixed at the same time.

  16. Dominic White says:

    Zachtronics specialize in ‘games for engineers’. Serious, grown-up, mind-pounding puzzle games that you really need to be awake, aware and genuinely intelligent to complete.

    Also, he was the creator of Infiniminer, the game (which sadly never made it much beyond early phases) that inspired Minecraft – without Zach, there would be no Notch.

  17. ShowMeTheMonkey says:

    Ok, I’m in my 4th year of Chemistry and I have no idea what I just saw was…..

  18. zachanima says:

    Come to think of it (due to Spork’s comment below), EVE uses proper elements to a degree.

    But I’m already playing that, big time.

  19. zachanima says:

    There would definitely be a Notch (Wurm Online, anyone?), but probably not a Minecraft as we know it, no.

    • Dominic White says:

      Well, the Notch we know as a multi-millionaire indie titan wouldn’t exist. He’d just be Another Dude, were it not for the rise and fall of Infiniminer. If I remember right, Zach gave up development on it after people started cheating constantly on the online servers, and he didn’t want to do any cheat protection.

    • PleasingFungus says:

      Either way, Infiniminer would never have become Minecraft. Notch mixed in a big pinch of Dwarf Fortress when he made Minecraft (it was originally intended to be an isometric Dwarf Fortress, more or less), whereas Zach was more aiming for an FPS-CTF thing. Plus, Zach’s development style usually follow a form something like ‘release game; do one or two bug-fix updates; vanish as quickly as you come’. When the cheater-wave came, I imagine he was already looking for an excuse to get started on his next game…

      …this is nothing against the guy; I love his stuff, he makes great games. He’s just not really interested in the public-iteration design style that made Minecraft.

  20. PleasingFungus says:

    Excellent! I love Zachtronics Industries games; they’re always pretty innovative in both mechanics and setting. You won’t see anyone else making games about steampunk robots in the Civil War, or electrical engineers in an alternate history where Russia won the Cold War, for example. I hope it comes out soon!

  21. Lambchops says:

    NB: This game has absolutely zero relation to real chemical synthesis Certainly of the organic kind. Needs more curly arrows.

    An organic chemist’s disclaimer aside I will be checking this out as I do tend to love my puzzle games.

  22. amishmonster says:

    Space Illuminati! Those guys ruin everything.

  23. Ryan says:

    Might be a bit faux pas to comment on a game you worked on, but since I did most of the art for this game I’m pretty excited about it getting some good (if rather befuddled) press!

  24. Cronstintein says:

    Just tried out that robot assembly line game, pretty mind bending. Still can’t figure out the android one, grrr.

    link to

    A little programing background goes a long way on this one as the logic of loops and flow chart mentality are very useful.

  25. Flatfingers says:


    This appears remarkably close to the “refining” part of a large MMORPG I’ve been designing for years.

    The notion is that players would be able to apply increasingly more effective processes for recovering highly purified metals from various asteroidal ores. Along with mechanical processes (such as grinding and heating) I even went so far as to encode a number of real-world electrical/chemical-based refining processes into the gameplay model: the Oxide Leaching and Solvent Extraction-Electrowinning (SX-EW) process for extracting copper from copper oxides; the Deville and Bayer processes for extracting alumina from bauxite ore; the Hall-Héroult process for turning alumina into aluminum (or aluminium if you like); and so on.

    (All that probably sounds very boring, but it’s fascinating to me in that, like programming, there’s a real satisfaction in devising an elegant set of process steps for converting a certain set of inputs into a specific set of outputs. Definitely not to everyone’s taste, but a tiresome world it would be if everyone liked the same things.)

    I hadn’t yet worked out the specific mechanics of how players would define these processes in my game, but SpaceChem looks like a wonderfully detailed version of what I half-imagined.

    Best of luck to the developer, and I’m looking forward to seeing this one go live!

  26. Richeh says:

    “Right, what if we had a game, right, and it looked like the screens off of Star Trek?”

    I’m not being flippant. It’s a genius idea.

  27. TheBeefiest says:

    This game is out now!! and its only 25% off for the next few hours go get it quick!

    It is a very good puzzle game, I do have an engineering degree, but i know very little about chemistry, yet the game is still quite intuitive to pick up. It starts to get hard very quick too, very challenging, and very rewarding!

    • Lambchops says:

      Cheers for pointing this out Beefiest (I knew looking in the right hand latest comments window would prove useful one day!).

      Tried the demo and it looks to be a very good puzzle game. I’m definitely getting it at the reuced price.

      Oh and word of warning: this game might improve you logic and spatial awareness but I doubt it would help you much with chemistry beyond learning simple bond valencies and appreciating isomerism. This isn’t intended as criticism of the game at all, just be aware that it is using chemistry as a premise, not actually teaching it (I guess the same would go for engineering as well, which I know next to nothing about!).

    • Lambchops says:

      Apologies for double post – I got a bunch of weird stuff about blacklists (presumably there to stop those pesky spammers and thought my comment hadn’t posted. Please delete.

  28. Bennus says:

    [wrong comment thread]