Infinifactory: Early Access Impressions

Oh my goodness, Infinifactory is difficult.

I’ve been delighted by the recent spate of 3D first-person puzzlers, like Mind: Path To Thalamus, The Talos Principle, Puzzle Dimension, and of course Portal and Portal 2. Infinifactory looks at them and says, “Pah! For babies!” An obvious evolution from the developer’s previous SpaceChem, this is a three dimensional block-arranging puzzler, where you’re tasked with creating factory lines that move blocks about in certain formations.

Oh, look, it’s tough to describe. Have a trailer:

And, as mentioned, good gravy it’s hard. It’s hard for two reasons. Firstly, because it’s a brutally tricky puzzle game, and secondly – at this stage in its alpha – because it’s horribly poorly introduced.

Which is a surprise, after its glorious opening. It opens with you sat in a car, driving down a long road in what looks like the American mid-west, when bright lights flicker about you and all fades away. It’s an alien kidnapping! You wake to find yourself in a series of chambers, forced to complete very basic challenges to progress through rooms. You’re stamped into a special suit, which equips you with the ability to place cubes into the environment. Quickly you’re shown that this can be used to create factory lines that transfer other cubes from one place to t’other.

You’re then seemingly approved for further work in a beautifully timed and very silly sequence featuring some sort of alien overlord, at which point it abandons most of the façade and just becomes a straight puzzle game, challenges selected from a menu screen. And that happy-go-lucky comedy tutorial will have in no way prepared you.

It’s extremely clumsy, leaving out key instructions that aren’t fun to stumble upon for yourself. However, once stumbled upon, the incredibly tricky fun does begin. But wow, it’s tough stuff.

Most other puzzlers would tell you that the blocks that make fizzy lights are there to fuse other blocks together. They’d likely create a puzzle where you were carefully guided to do a very basic version of this fusing. Not Infinifactory. And while less hand-holding is extremely welcome across most gaming, it’s interesting to see the effect of having too little. I’m yet to decide how in favour of it I am. I’m pretty certain some much clearer explanation of what blocks actually are is heavily necessary.

I think this is best reflected in how I respond to the survey at the end of each puzzle. “Was this puzzle too hard?” Yes. “Did you have fun solving this puzzle?” Yes. It’s an odd, seeming contradiction, but sadly there’s not room to give a more nuanced explanation there. Phew, thank goodness I have this website to say it on instead.

A lovely touch is the slight maintenance of the story as you go. Dead bodies can be found on levels, with recorded logs capturing their final moments. Moments that seem to be extremely distressed. I’m not entirely sure what it is that previous captives were so distraught about. Sure, we’ve been captured by aliens, but it’s not like we’re getting probed – we’re being given jetpacks and asked to solve clever puzzles! Jetpacks, for goodness sakes! Were they sobbing about how bloody difficult it is, then yes, I could understand.

I’ve barely got anywhere with the game, but despite the issues, I’ve had a rather good time not getting there. I’ve stared blankly at puzzles, or aimlessly floated around them (thanks, jetpack), muttering to myself. It’s very clear that the brains at Zachtronics are much bigger than my own, and kudos to them for creating a game that isn’t afraid to scare people off. And if you’re a SpaceChem fan, then it’s safe to say you’re going to be diving head-first into this.

17 pounds and 9 pence strikes me as a heck of a lot for an unfinished puzzle game in development, but then I don’t understand you young people and your new-fangled schemes. There’s no doubt that if you’re a brainbox, and enjoy a puzzler that’s more free-form, a bit sandboxy rather than aiming for a perfect solution, then there’s huge appeal here. There’s a nice touch that it’ll compare your solution with your chums’ on Steam, too, which might fire up some competitive edge.

I’m rubbish at it, of this there is no doubt.

39 Comments

  1. Tacroy says:

    FYI whenever a new block is introduced there’s a big ol’ sign on the level visually describing its function, kind of like an alien Ikea pamphlet.

    I think the problem is, those signs are a bit too busy to decipher easily, and they aren’t well introduced so the player doesn’t necessarily know to look at them for guidance

    • KDR_11k says:

      Also the “fizzy light” blocks are called welders, I dunno what he expected them to do.

      • beekay says:

        You don’t find out that they’re Welders until after the level they’re introduced. All you’re told is that this block can be put next to other blocks like it, and some kind of line will connect them.

        • GHudston says:

          The puzzle that introduces them gives you separate blocks, asks you to make a shape of blocks joined together and gives you the only tool you have so far that isn’t a conveyor belt. Even without the “ikea” instructions, I can’t imagine that they’d do anything other than stick blocks together somehow.

          There were one or two teething problems with the early introductory puzzles, mainly with teaching some of the indirect mechanics like how corners in conveyor belts work with objects larger than 1 block, but not once did I find myself confused as to how to use the basic tools I was given. Maybe I play too many puzzle games…

        • KDR_11k says:

          The block selection menu shows the name of each block…

  2. Laurentius says:

    Well, was Spacechem ever easy ? I know that my brain melted on second planet, nevertheless Spacechem is probably one of the best game ever made. I expect great things from this one, especialy this “sandboxy” feel of Spacechem, when i many, many times build this elaborate construction of moving and distilling molecules only to discover that it won’t let me solve the puzzle, like at all, but I look at it and say, yeah I failed at the puzzle but it’s still look and work pretty sweet.

  3. petrucio says:

    This game is genius, and it’s worth every penny. And it’s FAR from an “alpha” stage, as it’s clearly stated in it’s Early Access section:

    “The first available Early Access version corresponds with what we would have considered our “release version” in the past. The main campaign is finished, with more than 30 puzzles and a professionally voice-acted story, and includes a Steam Workshop enabled level editor allowing you to create and share custom puzzles from day one.”

    And I for one thought the tutorial was awesome, and the learning curve is perfect. But it seems your mileage may vary.

  4. Lord Custard Smingleigh says:

    It’s fantastic. I don’t regret buying at all. I’m a little disappointed that the more complicated sections of factory can obscure the workings, I love to watch intricate machines in action, and some of my solutions simply aren’t interesting to look at.

    Oh, and I once had to turn off the computer and speak words both loud and emotional because my factory built the product rotated through 180 degrees and the output requires it to have a particular orientation.

    • Eleven says:

      I did almost exactly the same thing, making a factory that produced the mirror image of the product required. The product was rotationally symmetric as well, so simply rotating it by 180 degrees didn’t help at all. It took only two minutes to fix, but it was closest to a “Lemmings” moment I’ve had in ages.

      I’m all the way through the first three performance reviews, nothing too difficult yet, and I’m loving so far. I’m a bit worried that, like SpaceChem, the solutions just get longer and longer until it feels less like a game and more like real work…

  5. stblr says:

    I’m curious as to what exactly constitutes “unfinished” in this case. I found the very first stage a strangely difficult introductory level–one that introduces multiple inputs/outputs AND three-dimensionality in one swift kick in the lobes–and it’s an odd decision to put block descriptions in the level selection menu AFTER their introductory level. But beyond those minor points, I’ve found the difficulty curve to be mostly smooth and the introduction of new blocks to be handled fairly intuitively. I’m on world 5 and I’ve felt elated, frustrated, and everything in between, but never truly stumped. I can’t say the same about SpacChem. Whether that’s a good or bad thing depends on the individual, I suppose.

    For an Early Access game, it’s very nearly as polished as what I would expect from any fully released title.

  6. Hammers says:

    Heh it’s interesting hearing you bounced off it a bit. I love how quickly it gets past the introductory stuff and into interesting puzzles. The fact that you’re just left to your own devices to figure out what the blocks do adds both to the challenge and to the theme of the game (aliens grab a load of humans and just see who figures stuff out without really caring if they fail).

    I found that the few hints it gives on how the blocks work (the alien signs in the levels and the descriptions of the blocks afterwards) were more than enough to get me going. But I can totally see where you’re coming from and maybe they will add in a few more introductory levels.

    I’m absolutely loving it so far, even though I got pretty stuck just a world or two in. It does exactly what it says on the tin, Spacechem in 3D. It has the same dark humour, fiendish puzzles and even the lovely histograms!

    The one thing that does annoy me is the fact that they’ve gone for the early access label, even though everything works, there’s a full campaign already and even steam workshop support. They even say on their steam page that this would have been a “release version” in the past. Then why not just release it? There’s already more than enough game for £17 in my opinion.

    • wu wei says:

      There’s a great interview with Zach on Gamasutra which touches on this:

      I feel like launching into Early Access is a little bit more honest with how we really work – we were very serious about releasing things that are of a professional quality, but at the same time, we want people to understand that we do a lot of work after release to make the product better.

      So what our plan is, our Early Access is going to be what we would have released if we weren’t doing Early Access. Then we’re going to take a much longer, more deliberate and visible period of responding to player feedback, improving the game, adding more content, and then when everything’s totally locked down, releasing. That’s the plan.

      • Hammers says:

        Fair enough. I guess it makes sense, I just know that there’s a lot of suspicion around Early Access titles at the moment and I worry about it getting lumped in with a lot of the other games which are clearly unfinished and have a seemingly endless development cycle ahead of them, whereas this is a complete game. I’m sure with the good press it’s getting it’ll do fine though.

        • Gruzbad says:

          Ironically, I think that all the terrible early access (ea) releases and growing pains with the system are starting to really help ea become better. Honest developers are aware of how people are starting to feel about ea, and you can see that they are beginning to make efforts to not release the trash that has been a hall-mark of ea so far. More and more ea games are coming out feature rich, and near-complete, with definite release dates. Couple this with Steam’s new ea policy of developers having to be able to complete their games WITH OR WITHOUT ea money, and I feel that ea will start regaining some trust.

          Unfortunately it has required a lot of growing pains, but I think that the future of the ea program is bright.

  7. Matt_W says:

    Infinifactory is a must buy for me, but I think I’ll wait until release. Much as I’m anxious to play it, I want to play a thoroughly polished game and not a beta. In the meantime, I can go back and finish those last couple of levels on SpaceChem.

    • Bronxsta says:

      It’s not a beta. They already did private beta testing. This is literally the 1.0 finished release version with a complete campaign. The Early Access updates will be new mini-campaigns that introduce new mechanics and blocks, and other tweaks

      But for all intents and purposes, the game is finished as of now.

      • Matt_W says:

        I love Zach Barth. SpaceChem is one of my top-5 games. But, when the game asks after every level if it was too hard and fun, that seems to me an acknowledgement that the developer sees room for polish. There have already been improvements to the interface since the initial EA release, and more are indeed planned. Don’t get me wrong; I’m itching to play it, but I think I’ll wait at least a little bit to see how it shakes out during the early days.

  8. Artist says:

    My interest immediatly ended where the trailer stated “obey”. Im out.

  9. jgthespy says:

    I like the lack of hand-holding. I think it’s teaching you to experiment with setups instead of just trying to build the perfect factory in one go. I think my grasp on the mechanics is much stronger than it would have been with a real tutorial because it came from me attempting things and failing. Plus, the levels that introduce new stuff all have very simple solutions so it leaves a lot of room to mess around with your new parts.

    SpaceChem was the last time a game made me this happy and made me feel this clever. It’s ridiculously good and you’d never know it wasn’t finished.

  10. Crafter says:

    Even more than SpaceChem, this looks very reminiscent of the problems I have to solve routinely as a software engineers.
    It makes me wonder what kind of people this is for.
    Personally, I would probably rather contribute to a cool library/project or learn new languages or concept rather than play to this kind of puzzle game.

    • donkeyspaceman says:

      I share your concerns. I work 40 hours a week at my day job, then go home and have to push myself to work on my game development on the side. It’s hard enough to make my brain want to do any heavy lifting on game dev, much less gameplay.

      That said, I’m a longtime fan of Infiniminer, so I’ve been telling myself I’d someday give Zachtronics other works a fair shake. I own SpaceChem on Steam somehow, so I’ll have to try that sometime before biting on this.

    • Premium User Badge

      Panther_Modern says:

      Well, the dev’s tagline did used to be “games for engineers”…

    • Catchcart says:

      I have on occasion enjoyed burying myself in a hobby software development project but that sort of thing takes a lot of commitment to get to the point where the process outputs ‘joy’ or ‘pride’. I don’t always have time or energy for that sort of commitment. While the general sort of interest may be the same, this is a ‘game’. It’s designed to produced – relatively – easy satisfaction.

      Also the visuals: I couldn’t stare in wonder as my podcast client worked to fill up my harddisk, the way I marvelled at my Spacechem creations.

    • bonuswavepilot says:

      Not sure if this will fall into the same niche, but I find with Spacechem that it is a good pastime for the ‘middle ground’. I also do software things for a living (web apps, mostly these days, but also a bits and pieces of other coding tasks), and while Spacechem obviously isn’t as worthwhile as contributing to a project, or developing something of one’s own, the combination of the small-scale nature of the problems, and the fact that there are no pressing deadlines involved means I can focus on the elegance in a way which it is sometimes difficult to do in a real job.

      Being able to mess with a solution for days on end if I want to until it turns just so, or managing to squeeze a solution down into one less reactor is satisfying, but without requiring the motivation of getting something ‘real’ done.

      That said, the itch it scratches is similar enough to proper programming that if I’m honest, it probably does result in me getting less done on my own projects.

    • KDR_11k says:

      I found this kind of cycle based thinking helping a lot when I learned Verilog…

      Also with all the best practices of software engineering I don’t get many chances to do “cool stuff” with my code like crazy optimizations. Good code is boring code.

  11. Gap Gen says:

    John I am suspicious of your integrity, please include a disclaimer, e.g. link to pcgamesn.com

  12. Dominic White says:

    I actually think that the poor tutorial is thematically very clever. You’re literally dropped into the puzzle interface, and your only hints are IKEA-style vague black and white diagrams with little smiling aliens on. You’ve even got a failed candidate there, and their log begins with ‘WHAT DO YOU WANT OF ME!?’.

    It’s essentially emulating the experience of figuring out how to assemble IKEA furniture in reality, only with an evil industrialist alien holding you at gunpoint while you do it. So, a bit like assembling IKEA furniture for my girlfriends mother.

    In all seriousness, the interface is very simple, and I didn’t mind having to put in a little bit of trial and error. It’s definitely more creative and lateral-thinking oriented than Spacechem, that’s for sure.

    • Bronxsta says:

      Yeah, the spatial aspect of having to think about moving things along all axises across multiple heights and orientations…it’s such a grand and awesome evolution of everything that made SpaceChem great. I think it’s already eclipsed SpaceChem for me, and I’m only 6 hours in

    • Premium User Badge

      phuzz says:

      I’ve never quite understood the hatred for flat-pack furniture. I’ve always found the instructions to be straightforward (if I bother reading them), and generally I quite enjoy putting them together, it’s a bit like big Lego.

  13. neckro23 says:

    I like how this game was completely off my radar, but I saw the name and immediately thought “‘Infinifactory’? Must be a Zachtronics game.”

  14. vorador says:

    I remember an RPG that had a minigame where you set up manufacturing lines to create special recipes, and had to figure out how to create the different steps of the item. This looks like it, but much more complex and with much more potential.

  15. BrickedKeyboard says:

    I found it to be pretty easy. Now, I did have a few mishaps : on some later missions, I ended up “painting myself into a corner” a few times. This is where i had a manufacturing step that was working fine, but the output was 1 block too close to a wall in the level and I had to rebuild that whole section of machinery. Or, I didn’t appreciate how there’s no upwards facing welder, making certain structures tricky to put together.

    In any case, the game as a puzzle game is much, much easier than other puzzle games I have played and gotten stuck on. You always know exactly what you start with, exactly what you must end with, and you know all of the tools you have to work with – they are right there in the block menu in limitless quantities. There also are not that many tools, and the main campaign does not require obscure uses of the tools to solve any of the puzzles.

    I think it’s worth every penny of the $25 starting price, and I had a blast. Spacechem is much, much harder.

  16. Gemberkoekje says:

    I love this game. At the same time, i felt the learning curve to be a bit jittery, with some levels harder than I expected at that stage of the game, and then some levels which hit the spot exactly right. I think this can be resolved with some tweaking.

    Also, I want to play this game with Google Cardboard + Trinus Gyre~!

    • Premium User Badge

      Harlander says:

      Trinus Gyre – it may be lower budget than the Oculus Rift, but it passed the savings on to having an even stupider name.

  17. Jayblanc says:

    If everyone is saying that ‘I got stuck at the part the developer left horribly unclear’, but no one agrees as to which parts those are… That’s a sign that the puzzle game is actually somewhat well balanced.