Lab It Up: SpaceChem Adds Sandbox Mode

Make something so complex that looking at it makes me weep bitter tears.

A new update to SpaceChem has arrived, adding a sandbox mode to the brain-challenging indie wonderpuzzler. I haven’t tried it yet because I can feel a vein beginning to throb in my temple as soon as I think about the possibilities. There is a competition to find the best creation and this quote to introduce it doesn’t help matters:

I suspect that some people will be building molecular computers, but that certainly doesn’t mean that’s the only thing we’re looking for.

So, they’ll be building molecular computers, will they? If I load this up there’s a very real chance that it’s the last anyone will hear from me until I’m found with my entire face clenched into four square inches of pure concentration as new elements spew catastrophically from my motherboard.

More details on the competition here. If you haven’t played SpaceChem yet, here is why you should consider it. There is also a demo and the price has now permanently dropped to £6.99/$9.99.

Until January, SpaceChem is also available on a free license to schools. I wonder how many column inches that piece of gaming news will generate?

There’s no real need for me to explain why having SpaceChem in schools is a lovely idea. Here’s part of the announcement:

While not a replacement for traditional instruction in the areas of computer programming and chemistry, SpaceChem can be used as: a reward that keeps students thinking; an opportunity to practice problem solving skills; an application for statistics using students’ scores, with in-game histograms; a cross-curricular reinforcement tool; or a way to get students excited about computer programming and chemistry.


  1. Jams O'Donnell says:

    Ha ha ha, no.

    SpaceChem and my brain are not compatible. I was having fun with it until the third world, but then my brain threw up a white flag.

  2. Chris D says:

    A cynic might say this is a cheap publicity stunt to remind everyone about SpaceChem around the time people are thinking about putting best of 2011 lists together.

    To which I would reply, “Shut up you cynic and put SpaceChem on your damn list!”

    • Dozer says:

      Yep. It came out in early January. Quinns (bless his iron) rhapsodised about it so I bought it and got stuck on the levels with the fixed factory layouts. I remember the time well. Definitely deserves to be on the 2011 Best Of list. For me it is the winning contender for “Best game released in 2011 that runs well on PC from 2005”

    • Targaff says:

      And cynic would be wrong, anyhow – basically someone said “can we have a sandbox mode” and Zach said sure, why not.

  3. michal.lewtak says:

    False. The little space the reactors have doesn’t allow for complex systems. If, however, they were to give us infinite space to put as many reactors as we want, people would come up with the wildest stuff like in-game monitors that use molecules as colored pixels and are used to play Crysis using interactive controls.

  4. MiniMatt says:

    I wonder how many column inches that piece of gaming news will generate?

    Not half as many as it deserves in my rarely humble opinion. Which makes me feel uncharacteristically warm and fuzzy inside, thinking this to be genuine “doing good stuff” rather than calculated PR stunt. And it definitely excercises brains.

    Portal, Fate of the World, Spacechem – games to both educate and entertain, who’d have thunk it. The fact they send Fox News and the Daily Mail into apoplectic fits as well is just the icing on the cake.

  5. Dana says:

    I love puzzle games, I love Spacechem, but Im too dumb for it.

  6. Carra says:

    It’s a brilliant game and as a programmer, it can see it’s influenced by multithreaded programming. Good chance to be in my top games of the year.

    The only problem I have with it is that it gets incredibly hard. I should go back to continue world 3…

  7. youthful cynic says:

    I love this game but it stopped working on my pc when I installed the beta drivers for bf3 beta…is this punishment?

  8. Lambchops says:

    I’ll once again point out that SpaeChem is useful in an educational tool in encouraging logical thinking and problem solving skills but isn’t so hot on chemistry beyone naming simple molecules and very basic valence theory.

    That said one of the games of the year and one of the all time best puzzle games. I had to stop myself playing it when I started getting to the more complex puzzles later on. I’m pretty sure I could figure them out but it was eating way too much of my time! One of these days I’ll go back to it and my quest to be at least slightly better than average in every scenario.

    Buy it if you haven’t already, it’s truly compelling and I’m wiling to bet there’s some smart people out there who will build ludicrous things in sandbox mode.

    • InternetBatman says:

      I don’t have a source, but the developer did say that the game is about programming, not chemistry.

    • Lambchops says:

      Oh yeah it most definitely is, just think it bears repeating. At the very least if it makes one person think that sticking some molecules together for fun and profit might be a good thing to do then I’ve got no issue with the chemical impossibilities!

  9. InternetBatman says:

    Spacechem is really fun for a while. It’s about programming / logic circuits and can get really complex. On the later levels though I have exactly the same problems I have with programming. It gets too fiddley. You can figure out the right algorithm and then have another fifteen minutes to solve the damn thing while everything goes in place.

  10. Premium User Badge

    Hodge says:

    Man! I bought this when it came out and I still haven’t played it. Should redress that, really.

  11. li says:

    I would’ve been an ecstatic child if my computer initiation lessons had involved this game.. (Logo did the trick anyway, but is more… austere?)

    I proposed an article or poll about the greatest minds of indie gaming a few days ago, having in mind Pixel, commenting an article about CS+. Imho, Zach is definitely a candidate for the list (to support the candidacy, I will refer to Kohctpyktop which I recommend to any SpaceChem lover who doesn’t know yet.)

  12. Radiant says:

    Space chem is A LOT of fun and is a hell of a lot easier to grasp then what it’s premise suggests [at it’s core you are designing factory lines, it could have been constructing and outputting toys instead of chemicals].

    The only thing that turned me off the game is the meta game with the foundries.

    For me the joy of the game was about building the most efficient factory line.
    Having to mess around with my super efficient builds, turning them into not so super efficient builds, just to re-time the output correctly to match up with something I haven’t even built yet really pissed me off.

    • li says:

      But planning your semi-finished is nice, isn’t it? And the idea of auto-looping foundry (I made ugly solutions there btw) opens terrific perspectives too..

    • WombatDeath says:

      I entirely agree with Radiant – brilliant core game, but having to fuck about with my nice efficient systems to make them slower grated on me. Unless of course I’m an idiot (which is certainly possible, and indeed quite probably within the context of this game) and I’m missing an important mechanic.

    • Josh W says:

      I haven’t got to that bit yet, but it sounds like what you need is a buffer, ie a hillariously long squiggled pipe.

      Or just set up the machine so that it will pause when it cannot vent any more chemicals, and just shake your fist at the next part of the production line holding things up, just like a real engineer!

      On the other hand, maybe you have to get it to send different chemicals in a certain order and timing down the same pipe, in which case I can’t see any other option.

  13. Laneford says:

    As a secondary school teacher, I am really looking forward to giving this to my Year 9s and watching some HEADS EXPLODE.

    Its payback time, students.

    (they’ll probably be better than me anyway)

  14. Lord Custard Smingleigh says:

    SPACECHEM SPACECHEM SPACECHEM goes my daily cry. Someone will hear me and buy it. One day I might hear another cry of SPACECHEM as I bellow into the night and I will know I have touched the life of another human.

  15. tungstenHead says:

    I’d reached the third world before I got distracted by other games. I went back to it a couple months ago and ground up to the sixth world (I think) and then got distracted again. It’s the most exhausting game I’ve ever played. Every puzzle can be solved with enough time, but I always felt like I was putting some heavy brainwork into it. A fantastic puzzle game.

    A sandbox mode sounds like it could be an insane amount of fun. I don’t think nylon fits in the reactors, but maybe some sugar molecules or gasoline or … anything! A lot of fun to be had.

  16. Treebard says:

    I’ll throw another “SpaceChem is one of the best things to happen in gaming this year” onto the pile. I can’t praise it enough.

  17. jonfitt says:

    I will buy it for iPad if they can implement cloud saves. I just can’t bring myself to re-do all of the levels I’ve done before to get to the ones I’m stuck on currently. I already played several twice if you count the demo.

  18. gmcleod says:

    A lot of people are saying they got stuck on world 3.. I’m personally stuck on the second or third last world. So 8ish.

    Every time I got stuck the game would keep me up late at night, endlessly trying to fix errors until I gave up. Usually I’d figure it out the next day while working/driving/sleeping and take less than half an hour to use the solution when I got back to the game.

    So that’s the sort of game it is. A game in which I can become so immersed that it manages to stay in my mind for days, working ever onward towards a solution.

    Second last world is my limit. From there on I accept that I am not smart enough to solve the puzzles, and I just want to use other people’s solutions to see how the story ends.

    • Josh W says:

      People should give hints rather than solutions, so you can see what you’re missing out on. That way you’d still mostly get to solve it, just with the really weird bits sorted out for you.