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Zachtronics book Zach-Like shows how the puzzle sausage gets made

I reckon most of the RPS Treehouse gang love us some Zachlikes, since well before Alice Prime coined the term in 2016 in reference to Shenzhen I/O. Puzzlemeister Zach Barth likes the term too, as he’s borrowed it for the title of his book. Currently crowdfunding on Kickstarter (500% funded in one day), Zach-Like shows the workings and the processes behind his practical puzzlers. There’s design docs for his major games, sketches and documents for some that never got made and some early design exercises. There’s even some pen-and-paper brainteasers in there, because we’re gluttons for punishment.

There’s no doubt that Zach Barth is a very clever man. One of his earlier, experimental games – Infiniminer – was one of the key inspirations for a little something called Minecraft. I recall first stumbling on his work via browser portal Kongregate and playing The Codex Of Alchemical Engineering, and have bought everything he’s produced since. The more recent Opus Magnum is a spiritual successor and the game I’d recommend anyone start out with – it’s lovely to look at, has simple systems and puzzles that ramp up in difficulty at a gentle pace. It should be interesting to see how its systems were hashed out on paper long before a single line of code was written.

Zach says that the book doesn’t contain much in the way of narrative history or game design theory, and instead focuses on records of the actual design and production process. “It’s probably 90% pictures and 10% text”, so expect lots of elaborate diagrams. A very lot – it’s nearly 400 pages. Even in paperback, that’s a lot to wade through, and it does jack up the price for international postage by a significant degree. While the book is only $20, you’re looking at a total cost of $60 (roughly £45) to get the book to the UK. The book is complete and ready to print, so there’s little chance of disaster between now and when the books are planned to ship in June this year.

The Zach-Like Kickstarter is extraordinarily well funded after just one day. $20 (plus a boatload more for international shipping) gets you a paperback copy of the book when it’s done. There’s no word on how much of the royalties need to be paid to Alice, although I reckon that hyphen in the title may allow Zach to wriggle out of that – he’s a clever one.

I also highly recommend watching Mark Brown’s video on Zachlikes (and similar ‘problem solving’ games) over on his channel Game Maker’s Toolkit. While not the only person designing games like this, Zachtronics is easily the most prolific developer in the genre.

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Dominic Tarason

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