A few days ago I received my copy of Zach-Like: A Game Design History. For all intents and purposes it is a book covering more than 10 years of game development at Zachtronics. I use the term ‘intents and purposes’ advisably because it mostly contains sketches of the games Zach Barth and his studio has worked on.
I purchased my copy because I find the topic fascinating. Zachtronics has kept me entertained for a number of years now and their success has caused me to work part-time as a game developer, besides my more mundane job of creating facial recognition models that allow secretive organizations such as Google, Uber and the DMV to conquer the world – but I digress.
Pre-history of Zachtronics
Frankly I wanted to get a glimpse of what Zach Barth has been doing to get his games published. From the first 20 pages it becomes obvious there is plenty of pre-history to Zachtronics. Zach has been making games since high school and so I find it apt to say gamification is in his blood. Zach-Like deals with each of his subsequent games in chronological order. There are sketches on games such as Infiniminer, SpaceChem. Ironclad Tactics, TIS-100 and Exapunks.
However, there are also an equal number of chapters on games that were never published. Games such The Second Golden Age. In fact, the ambitious have games have a higher degree of failing in development. Zach provides plenty of notes next to his sketches to get a better understanding of the fortunes of Zachtronics, and they should act as a warning to any potential game develop who is willing to sink money into their project.
As noted there is plenty of accompanying text, but it are the sketches that make up the bulk of the book. It is fascinating to see how they match closely to the final project. Zach has found a way to transfer his thoughts onto paper and into a game world. I looked through Zach-Like to find some clues as to what their next project might be. It could Project Typhoon, the submarine game that never was, or another iteration of the programming games started with TIS-100. Secretly I am also hoping for a Kickstarter project around project Gibson, a Z80 based computer in kit form.
Getting your own copy of Zach-Like
Obtaining your own copy of Zach-Like can be hard. The Kickstarter project has been completed and the book was only intended for backers. However, I managed to get a copy directly from Zach Barth by emailing him. He has tweeted on several occasions to alert those who might be interested in a copy from his surplus batch. Zach-Like does not come with an ISBN number, it is entirely self-published. However on Kickstarter there was an option to purchase several copies at once, so maybe one can be gotten from some sort of specialty store / website.
If you are interested in programming games in general, games such as Exapunks, Pony Island and Human Resource Machine then read my article: Programming Games: What are they? Are they any fun?