E xa­punks

In EXA­PUNKS, spend­ing too much time on your com­puter makes you cool.

PC GAMER (US) - - CONTENTS - By Jody Macgre­gor

My EXA, a dig­i­tal bug-look­ing thing made of code, scur­ries out into rooms rep­re­sent­ing nodes in a fac­tory’s net­work. Fol­low­ing the pro­gram I painstak­ingly wrote for it, the EXA dis­rupts this net­work with pre­ci­sion be­fore run­ning the HALT com­mand to self-de­struct. There is no trace of the fact I have hacked this fac­tory, ex­cept that the snack bars it pro­duces no longer con­tain peanuts. It’s the lit­tle vic­to­ries. Later I hack a street sign so it reads ‘WAKE UP SHEEPLE’ and want to punch the air in tri­umph. Exa­punks is the lat­est game from Zachtron­ics, cre­ator of tricky puz­zle games such as Opus Mag­num and In­fini­fac­tory that are all about mov­ing things from one place to another, and hack­ing games such as TIS-100 that are all about typ­ing made-up but be­liev­able code into com­put­ers. Exa­punks con­nects the two, pro­vid­ing space for code and a vi­su­al­iza­tion of that code’s ef­fect, which is mostly mov­ing things about.

In this al­ter­nate dystopian 1997 I’ve got the phage, a dis­ease that slowly turns my skin into use­less mi­crochips like a crap cy­borg. I can only af­ford medicine if I agree to per­form ar­bi­trary hack­ing jobs for a mys­te­ri­ous lady who doesn’t un­der­stand hu­man emo­tions and is to­tally not an AI. Some­times that’s mak­ing ATMs dis­pense cash for free, some­times it’s the peanut job.

Exa­punks doesn’t mess around. The tu­to­rial throws you right in, ex­pect­ing you to learn by read­ing a man­ual that comes in the form of an in-uni­verse zine you can print out or just alt-tab to in a pdf reader. This zine, Trash World News, is a lovely lit­tle ar­ti­fact that, as well as teach­ing com­mands like LINK to switch hosts and GRAB to in­ter­act with files, im­plies a whole com­mu­nity of help­ful cy­ber­punks. So do the chats on Chat­subo in the cor­ner of my screen be­tween lev­els and the oc­ca­sional vis­i­tors at my door.

That’s more than just world­build­ing, it’s a hint about how to get the most out of this game. You shouldn’t go alone. There’s a real-world com­mu­nity on the Steam fo­rums and the sub­red­dit that’s grown dur­ing its time in Early Ac­cess, and seek­ing them out for ad­vice is es­sen­tial. This is a game that re­quires a kind of pro­gram­mer think­ing you ei­ther have or you don’t, and as some­one who very much doesn’t, I needed help.

My so­lu­tions are ugly and of­ten in­volve mul­ti­ple EXAs pro­grammed with slight vari­a­tions on the same code to deal with ev­ery pos­si­ble even­tu­al­ity. Clev­erer play­ers use com­mands like REPL to make replica EXAs con­tain­ing cloned code that doesn’t hurt their score. They’re ef­fi­cient in ways I not only don’t think of, but never would.

Game On

The pro­gram­ming lan­guage is ro­bust enough it can even be used to make games within the game. When I got hold of a Game Boy-look­ing hand­held called the Red­shift I could write my own games onto it, and play ones made by other peo­ple for a break when solv­ing puz­zles started to feel like work. There are a cou­ple of minigames to un­lock as well, in­clud­ing a soli­taire vari­ant, and there’s a com­pet­i­tive mode that tests your code against another player’s. Both these things give me headaches.

Exa­punks shares with Zachtron­ics’ pre­vi­ous game Opus Mag­num the idea it’s okay to brute-force a puz­zle. You’ll still un­lock the next level and story snip­pet, but you won’t make the leader­boards. To do that you need to try harder, tweak­ing com­mands to use fewer lines of code, cre­ate fewer EXAs, be more el­e­gant.

Exa­punks is a two-cof­fee game, one that re­quires fo­cus. Even then, there’s a hard limit on how good I’ll ever be. I feel out of my depth, like a smart dog who grad­u­ated puppy school and has been put in a physics class. In­fini­fac­tory and Opus Mag­num re­main the Zachtron­ics games I’d rec­om­mend, but if you aced both of those and are ready to graduate, Exa­punks is the next level.

Exa­punks doesn’t mess around. The tu­to­rial throws you right in

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from USA

© PressReader. All rights reserved.