2021-04-04 Puzzling Sandbox
It has been a minute, but I finally got back around to spending some time with Opus Magnum while waiting for my ride to Easter Fiesta, which is to say we celebrated the holiday by eating at a Mexican restaurant with my parents.
Free of Cat Poop
Between work and dinner I did some sandbox puzzling. The wonderful thing about a "sandbox" puzzle game is that there is no single solution. You are free to be as optimal or Rube Goldberg as you wish. The only goal is to successfully complete the challenge at hand. In the case of Opus Magnum that will consist of using various mechanisms to manipulate alchemical elements that look very much like marbles in order to achieve some desired final configuration and then dropping your creation into a target slot.
These manipulations are a series of relatively simple actions that, taken together, form a visually pleasing orchestra of synchronized movements; a ballet of mathematical precision. It is all quite lovely.
There is no time limit, no punishment for starting over and over again from scratch or just leaving pieces scattered all over the place to return to and tinker again and again. There are likewise no limits that I have found to the working area or budget. You may waste as much gold, space and time as you like to do anything you can imagine given the parts available for your mechanism.
In addition to the game play, there is a story that accompanies your alchemical adventure and provides a backdrop to your creations. We're doing a heist, you'll need rope! I'll produce an infinite rope device, obviously the sanest solution! The characters are fun and interesting enough that getting to continue the story is rewarding. Sure, I'm a gamer so I was going to do that anyway, but the "What happens next?" feeling is pretty strong. Like reading a good book (and this is all reading, no voiceover), when you must take a break to perform some necessary task the return to the text is that much sweeter. Maybe the writing isn't even very good and I've been tricked into thinking so by this mechanism, but I don't believe that is actually the case. Zachtronics may not win any Pulitzer prizes but I am quite enjoying the unfolding tale.
Yo dawg, I herd U liek games so I Put Games in Ur Games
The other thing about Zachtronics games is that there are games in their games. This is evidently a hallmark of their products, but each of their games I have played has another game within them. In Opus Magnum, that is Sigmar's Garden.
Sigmar's Garden is a puzzle game inside a puzzle game, but this one is of the non-sandbox, variety. There may not be only one way to win, but there are certainly fewer possible paths to victory than "anything you can imagine". The object is to clear the board. It is a simple matching game but, as with everything Zachtronics, there is more to it than that.
Each "marble" in Sigmar's Garden is unlocked by being exposed on 3 contiguous sides. Spaces beyond the edge count as empty for this purpose. Marbles ("Alchemical elements!" the protagonist would shout) may only be removed by matching them with the appropriate element: fire with fire, air with air, and so on. In the case of the four primary elements of nature, they may also be paired with a base salt of which four will be present in each game. Salts pair only with the four base elements, so that one will need to match them eventually to clear the board. Careful not to be left with two salts at the end!
Beyond the four basic elements are Mort and Vitae, or Death and Life. These only pair with their opposite and nothing else.
The metals, the marbles on the right side of the bottom tray, are a bit different. The leftmost of them is quicksilver--you start with five. Beginning with lead, the dark grey metal, you must match the metals with quicksilver in order from lead into gold by progressing through tin, iron, copper, and silver. Gold, evidently the ultimate metal, pairs with nothing and may be removed alone, the only marble for which this is true. Gold also always occupies the central space. As there is a visual effect upon success that accompanies the removal of the final marble, saving gold for last makes for pleasing symmetry.
This is undoubtedly intentional.
From my screenshot, you may see I have won 82 times. Without getting into the potentially embarrassing number of times I have failed, let me say that a story accompanies this sub-game, as well, rewarding continued play even in the face of frustration. It acts as a break from both the main story line (though it features the same characters) and the main game play if you get stuck on a puzzle. Some might find the concept of "Stuck on a puzzle? Try a different puzzle!" to be a turn-off but for people who really like puzzles, that's not the case at all.
There are story breaks at target points in the "Win X Times to Proceed" flavor. Can you guess how many games I need to win to proceed? Did I mention they seem to get more difficult over time?
The Obligatory Screenshot Gallery
Another feature of at least some (I haven't yet played them all) of Zach's games is the ability to capture a GIF of your solution. This, to me, is one of the best features of any video game (or group of games, in this case) ever.
It's fine to be able to record live streams and superimpose your greenscreened face in the corner so the audience can see all of your Wacky Reactions™ to all of the Unexpected Content® you are definitely experiencing for the First Time™©®. However, for this genre specifically, the endlessly looping animation of a (hard 'g') GIF is absolutely perfect. It's the kind of thing where, once you have experienced it, you realize that everything in life should be this eloquent and amazing.
Zachtronics is absolutely one of my favorite developers of all time. There are a lot of reasons for this, but the built-in "victory selfie" is, to quote the Doctor, "Fantastic!"
Here are a few of my favorites. I'm not saying my solutions are best, just that they all (eventually) worked and scored relatively well in the histograms. One of mine (and I'm not sure which) was larger and more expensive than many others' attempts but accomplished the task far less cycles than average. I call that a win.
This one, and the next, are some of my absolute favorites due to the symmetry. Fire + Salt = Zoom! This may have been one of the first puzzles requiring multistep bonding.
Mist of Incapacitation
The two-part solution for a chemical attack performed by mixing two agents requiring the production of both ingredients simultaneously and in equal amounts. Again, the symmetry thrills me.
Precision Machine Oil
This ends up taking up some extra space due to the need to extract the triplet from between two actuators in my design. Any collisions of atoms with one another or mechanisms is strictly forbidden.
My favorite part of this is the final step when the three arms on the right side move simultaneously. It makes the arm placing the lead and depositing the solution appear to be connected because of the timing and inverse movements. Love it!
No comments on the storyline requirements, but the process of production here gave me a kick. It's a pretty simple construction, really, but working out how to bond the two water molecules around iron taught me to appreciate the rotation function.
This one looks like it's going to be way more complex at first. It may have been the first time I broke a bond, as in this may have been the teaching mission for that function. In any case, this turned out to be way easier than it first seemed.
As the owner of a water softener, I have to admit that wrapping water in salt as being the method of purification tickles me. Other than that, this entire mission was like, "Hey, remember rotation?"