SpaceChem & TIS-100 Creator Announces SHENZEN I/O

A proposal: puzzles games focused on assembling or programming – or both – should be called Zachlikes. Following the atom-assembling SpecChem, production line ’em up Infinifactory, and the computer-programming TIS-100, Zach Barth and his Zachtronics have announced a new Zachlike. SHENZHEN I/O [official site] will combine assembling and programming to build circuits from components and then write code for them. It’s due to hit Steam Early Access in October and, for now, you can check it out in this wee announcement trailer:

SHENZHEN I/O will have players building circuits – Zachtronics mention microcontrollers, memory, logic gates, and LCD screens, and I’m sure there’s plenty more – then programming them to complete tasks. Because the potential to flub programming alone wasn’t challenge enough. Like TIS-100, it uses an assembly programming language and yes, you will definitely want to consult the manual. It’ll have a sandbox mode too, to build whatever you please.

Watching videos of Zachlikes leaves me both impressed and overwhelmed. That’s cool, that is. That’s really cool. SHENZHEN I/O looks ace. And yet… I’ve realised I make that plumber-sucking-air-through-teeth performative ‘This Is Going To Be A Big Job’ noise as my brain slowly realises the magnitude of the task and tries to convince me I don’t want to learn assembly and scrape its memory for high school circuitry lessons. Joke’s on you, brain – we’re going for it, and there’s no overtime pay on this job.

SHENZHEN I/O is due to hit Steam Early Access on October 6th at a price of $14.99. The Zachronics site is also selling a limited edition containing a printed copy of the manual and other feelies.

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  1. Rond says:

    Zach ’em up

  2. GameCat says:

    I think that if someone want to do something like that for fun, isn’t just better to buy some Arduino or RaspberryPi and program some real stuff?

    • Alice O'Connor says:

      If you want to make something physical, you know what it is you want to make, you know what you’ll need to make it, and you can afford all that, maybe. If you want to solve puzzles and be gently directed as you learn something semi-make-believe, maybe not.

    • LogicalDash says:

      Zachtronics’ previous games suggest that the technology will be A Bit Odd in this one. I’m rooting for ternary RAM and puzzle objectives that vary with the current activity on the game’s forums.

    • Slow Dog says:

      I’m a professional C# programmer, have an arduino – controlled LED illumination for a skateboard, a Raspberry Pi controlled walking robot, and I still play Zach’s games. The games are self-contained, and have solutions that are reachable in a few minutes (or hours), while still being satisfying. Whereas all the others require considerable time and self – directed learning to get anywhere.

    • scaresnake says:

      Zachlikes distillate and concentrate the fun things on developing electronics/programming/engineering.
      Zachlikes are truly interdisciplinary masterpieces.

      I am an professional engineer, by the way.
      Gems, truly, some of the best things ever made.

    • dgtljunglist says:

      When you play a programming video game, you get to spend all your time solving fun, challenging puzzles and thinking up cleverer ways to perform a task. Real world programming isn’t like that. You spend most of your time chasing down weird corner cases in someone else’s library you downloaded that you’re using, and it turns out that the workaround you find on page 6 of some last-ditch Google query doesn’t make any fucking sense but it works anyway. Hardware (like an Arduino) is even better. You bang your head against a wall for a full day before finally figuring out that your switching bench power supply isn’t actually putting out 5 volts so all your sensors and shit aren’t reading consistently. So — yeah. I’ll take the pretend version if I want to have fun.

  3. C0llic says:

    I really like Zach’s games, although I’ve never actually got to the end of one. They make you feel so smart until you hit the inevitable brick wall. Great stuff :D

  4. wcq says:

    Just bought Infinifactory this week that game’s a right bastard: you’ll just be walking about or doing something useful, minding your own business, when your subconscious outputs the schematic for an optimized layout for a factory. Which you have to test right away, lest you forget.


    • GeorgeP says:

      Got this one and love it! Just create a passable atrocity for the first run, and optimise later for cycles / area.

      • MajorLag says:

        It was always great to come back to an early level when you’re stuck on a later one, look over your previous work and say “What idiot built this thing?”, then redesign it to be 10x as fast and use half the parts.

  5. Alberto says:

    Some bastard gave me TIS-100 as present and I loved it and I’m unable to get past the tutorial. But when the things click together and the code actually works the feeling is like nothing in other games.

    I’ll try it, eventually, and I’ll love it and I’ll hit a logic wall and I’ll feel miserable.

    • Premium User Badge

      Lars Westergren says:

      Become a programmer. Then you can be miserable all the time and live for those brief moments when things click,the code just works, and you feel like Neo who just mastered the Matrix.

      • Premium User Badge

        Jekadu says:

        You can be double miserable if you play the game as a programmer. Each puzzle will make you doubt yourself twice.

      • PaulV says:

        One day I hope Zachtronics makes a game like this based on functional programming. I can’t stand assembler, it’s so much typing for so little pay-off, and you can’t abstract for shit.

        • Just Endless says:

          If Zachtronics is listening, I also want this!

          Actually, this game here and a functional game and TIS-100 would each launch me down one path of CS that my university didn’t cover (I took a real mathy approach)

          • KDR_11k says:

            A lot of the fun in these games is dealing with constraints and optimization, in real programming you have very few constraints, rarely need to optimize and it’s mostly about making your code readable and pretty. System architecture and stuff, also.

            Basically if you’re feeling clever about your code there’s a good chance it’s unmaintainable.

          • Just Endless says:


            yeppers. but i really doubt that i’ll ever be doing assembly coding, so the guided tour of coding as puzzles is really the optimal approach (and if it’s really neat, possibly a prompt to get going on x86 or what have you) as it strips all the awful wrangling out of the question

  6. Gothnak says:

    I think i pretty much did this at Uni in 1992… I think the most difficult thing about making a digital multimeter was closing the bloody case due to me using far too long wires and generally not being very neat.

  7. tranchera says:

    I used to consider myself a relatively smart person, but then this guy started making games. What a bastard.

  8. burth says:

    I love Zachlikes both as a genre and as a name for that genre. When this leaves early access it’s a definite buy for me.

  9. shocked says:

    Two more games from him and someone creates Skynet by accident.

  10. TauPhraim says:

    I love programming, I love puzzle games, and I think these Zachlikes games are very well polished. Yet I cannot bring myself to enjoy them for long: it seems every single time, the difficulty is provided mostly by space constraints, which might be the kind of challenges that were interesting in programming in the 60s, but not today :)

    • phlebas says:

      I found that a lot more in Spacechem than in TIS-100 (though I agree a bit more space in the nodes would have made that less frustrating without making it any less enjoyable)

  11. preshrunk_cyberpunk says:

    Just take my money Zachtronics. Again.

  12. Premium User Badge

    bonuswavepilot says:

    Hurrah a new Zach-em-up! I’m not letting myself install Infinifactory until I have finished either Spacechem or TIS-100, but it is good to know there’ll be another waiting for me.

    Nobody does open-ended puzzles quite like Zachtronics.

  13. jgf1123 says:

    I’m getting more traumatic flashbacks to university electronics lab courses.

  14. GrumpyCatFace says:

    Thank you for this. As someone who was completely unaware of these games, and starting to despair for intelligence in the genre, this was like a blast of fresh air. I’m purchasing all of these as soon as possible. Caution be damned!!

  15. Hobbes says:


  16. MadTinkerer says:

    Well it took 32 years, but it looks like we’re finally getting Robot Odyssey 2.

    Hallelujah! :D

  17. invitro says:

    I’ve never bought an Early Access game, but I think this will be the first. I’m not even as big of a Zachtronics fan as you guys are… TIS-100 is the one I worship, SpaceChem and Infinifactory are just OK for me. But zounds if this doesn’t look like a dream. I may even splurge for the Ltd.Ed. with all that beautiful manual stuff (I download, print and read old computer manuals for fun nighttime reading).

    A non-game recommendation: the book “The Elements of Computing Systems: Building a Modern Computer from First Principles” by Noam Nisan & Shimon Schocken. It’s what it says, but you do the computer building with a text editor, and use their programs to check your work. I think it may be one of the best learning books ever made. (I’ve worked my way through about a third of the book.) Check it out at

  18. Tiax says:

    I’ve never been able to finish a game made by Zach, but I religiously bought every game he released thus far and enjoyed every single one of them.

    I already bought SpaceChem twice so I could get the nifty postcard periodic table from the KS and I’ve just bought the limited edition of Shenzen. Can’t wait to feel dumb again (while enjoying every second of it!).

  19. li says:

    It looks a lot like Kohctpyktop, one of Zach’s early game I believe, and an excellent and extremely tough one.

  20. starpoint says:


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