WHY I LOVE

Hyp­notic ma­chines.

PC GAMER (UK) - - CONTENTS - By Philippa Warr

Mak­ing gifs in OpusMag­num.

It’s the gifs which made me fall in love with Opus Mag­num.

With­out them it’s re­li­ably good Zach Barth fare – an alchemy-themed op­tion from his assem­bly line pro­gram­ming puz­zle oeu­vre where you move dif­fer­ent reagents around a board in or­der to cre­ate com­pounds. With them it’s a puz­zle game which has the ca­pac­ity to take hours of con­cen­trated, messy tin­ker­ing and present it back to you as an el­e­gant, per­fectly loop­ing me­chan­i­cal process.

Here’s how it works. The ac­tual puz­zle-solv­ing el­e­ment of Opus Mag­num tasks you with creat­ing a par­tic­u­lar com­pound as a fin­ished prod­uct. Com­pounds look like 2D mol­e­cules. For ex­am­ple, face pow­der is one hex tile of El­e­men­tal Earth joined by an al­chem­i­cal bond to an ad­join­ing hex tile of Neu­tral Salt.

Get­ting the El­e­men­tal Earth is quite easy be­cause it’s the ba­sic reagent the level starts you off with. Just pick that up us­ing one of the me­chan­i­cal grab­ber arms and move it around. Get­ting the Neu­tral Salt re­quires you to use a grab­ber arm to pick up a bit of El­e­men­tal Earth and pass it over a hex tile called a Glyph of Cal­ci­fi­ca­tion.

Once you’ve done that you need to drop both the Salt and the Earth in the two ad­join­ing empty hexes which make up a tile called the Glyph of Bond­ing. This fuses the bits to­gether to cre­ate the face pow­der. After that you pick up the face pow­der and move it to the prod­uct sec­tion.

The prod­uct sec­tion is a tile in the ex­act shape of the com­pound you’re creat­ing. It acts as a guide so you can see how the el­e­ments need to con­nect, but is also part of the puz­zle as your al­chem­i­cal prod­ucts are only counted if they are placed ex­actly on the prod­uct tiles.

So go­ing from one tile which spits out El­e­men­tal Earth to a bonded pair in a col­lec­tion slot via one trans­mu­ta­tion is a bit of a palaver. My solution used piston arms, a Glyph of Bond­ing, one of Cal­ci­fi­ca­tion and a whole heap of re­trac­tions, ro­ta­tions, grabs and re­leases.

I lost track of the min­utes as I repo­si­tioned tiles, or ran the pro­gram­ming in­struc­tions to check for er­rors. I fre­quently mis­took the ro­ta­tion com­mand for the pivot com­mand. If you do that, the el­e­ment an arm is hold­ing uses the end of the arm as a pivot point, in­stead of ro­tat­ing around the tile the arm ex­tends from. I for­got to use the re­set com­mand at the end of a line and won­dered why it wasn’t pe­ri­od­i­cally re­peat­ing prop­erly.

If the game pack­aged up footage of all the steps I’d taken on my way to a solution it would have been a hor­rific mess. If you watched it you would think less of me, not only as an al­chemist, but as a hu­man be­ing. It would be a Logic Game Crime.

mak­ing records

What the game ac­tu­ally does is run the pro­gram long enough to col­lect a num­ber of prod­ucts, and thus pre­sum­ably check that you have not botched a solution which just about holds to­gether for a sin­gle run. It then takes one loop of this solution and gives you the op­tion to record it as a gif.

The ad­van­tage of these gifs to Zachtron­ics is ob­vi­ous – they form a won­der­fully share­able show­case of the game, tap­ping into the same hyp­notic ap­peal as the real life ma­chin­ery footage over on the me­chan­i­cal gifs sub­red­dit.

But the value for the player is more un­ex­pected. Sure, it acts as a tro­phy; a way of show­ing off an odd or cool con­trap­tion to your friends. But it also per­forms another func­tion. With pro­gram­ming puz­zle games like this, you can bash your head against them for hours on end, mak­ing tiny changes, fix­ing prob­lems and re­vamp­ing en­tire seg­ments. While you work on them they can feel messy, frus­trat­ing, un­wieldy.

Then you fin­ish and you get the gif. It sep­a­rates the pe­riod of strife from the solution. I’ve used the word ‘el­e­gant’ to de­scribe these gifs a few times and I think it helps con­vey how they look in this iso­lated state when you’ve tried to re­fine the sys­tems and have ac­com­plished the ob­jec­tive.

These gifs wash away the stress and frus­tra­tion of the puz­zle and con­vert the solution into some­thing en­joy­able in its own right. The kind of puz­zle-solv­ing Zachtron­ics games of­fer stresses me out. But here the gifs act as a coun­ter­weight. They soothe and they cel­e­brate, min­imis­ing the mem­ory of frus­tra­tion and re­plac­ing it with tri­umph.

These gifs wash away the stress and frus­tra­tion ofthe puz­zle

RIGHT: This neat ta­ble of­fers a re­minder of the al­chem­i­cal el­e­ments and how met­als can be up­graded.

RIGHT: A tale of aris­to­cratic houses un­der­pins your al­chem­i­cal ef­forts.

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