Zachtronics is making its final game: Last Call BBS

Redmond-based indie studio Zachtronics was founded by Zach Barth, designer of sandbox builder Infiniminer, AKA the game Notch ripped off to make Minecraft. After that, Zachtronics made a name for itself with 2011's SpaceChem, which dresses like a game about synthesizing chemicals for space colonies but sneakily teaches you programming and circuit-building. It, and other Zachtronics puzzle games that are either explicitly about programming (like TIS-100, Shenzhen I/O, and Exapunks), or sneakily about programming (like alchemical device-builder Opus Magnum), have been dubbed 'Zach-likes' by fans. The studio has made games in other genres though, like AI-themed visual novel Eliza, and alternate-history strategy game Ironclad Tactics.

Last Call BBS seems like a culmination and combination of everything Zachtronics has done over the last decade-plus of indie game development. It's a collection of eight puzzle minigames ("although some of them are quite big, at least the size of TIS-100"), all accessed through a fictional retro computer called the Sawayama Z5 Powerlance. A BBS administrator called The Barkeep has filled this chunky red PC with games for us, and helpfully they're "all fully cracked and ready to enjoy!"

Those eight games cover the gamut of the studio's styles, from the expected Zach-likes to games with more in common with its other output like the competitive Solitaire of Nerts! Online or the block-and-conveyor construction work of Infinifactory. There's also one about assembling Gundam models? Here's what Zachtronics has to say about all eight:

  • 20th Century Food Court: Design factories to produce food just like they did over 700 years ago in the 20th century. Keep your costs low and your machines running fast!
  • STEED FORCE Hobby Studio: Assemble robot models based on the anime smash hit Steed Force right on your computer. No sandpaper required!
  • X'BPGH: The Forbidden Path: Enter a cursed world and create bizarre flesh sculptures in exchange for eternal life. The master is pleased… but can you trust him?
  • Sawayama Solitaire: It wouldn't be a Zachtronics release without a brand-new solitaire game. This time it’s a fresh take on Klondike, the "classic" solitaire variant.
  • Dungeons & Diagrams: Try your hand at these beguiling tile-based logic puzzles. Can you map out the dungeons and steal all the treasure?
  • ChipWizard™ Professional: Build integrated circuits using wires, transistors, and capacitors. Wait a second, is this a game or a CAD program?
  • HACK*MATCH: The tile-matching minigame from EXAPUNKS, completely remastered with a single player campaign and local head-to-head multiplayer (with Steam Remote Play support).
  • Kabufuda Solitaire: Create matching sets of Japanese kabufuda cards in this retro-demake of the challenging original solitaire game that debuted in Eliza.

That's a lot of game. What's more, there's some kind of overarching mystery to unravel about the Sawayama Corporation responsible for this strange PC, and the Last Call BBS run by the enigmatic Barkeep. 

Sadly, Last Call BBS will be a last call for Zachtronics. As Zach Barth told Press X to Learn earlier this year (thanks to RPS for the tip), he's working as a high school computer science teacher these days. Given how many people have picked up elements of programming from the games he's worked on that seems pretty apt, but obviously full-time teaching doesn't leave a lot of hours free for game development.

Last Call BBS will be available on Steam and PC Game Pass from July 5. As with previous Zachtronics games it'll launch in an Early Access version, but a fairly complete one. Seven of the games will be included, and the plan is for it to leave Early Access after "One or two months."

Jody Macgregor
Weekend/AU Editor

Jody's first computer was a Commodore 64, so he remembers having to use a code wheel to play Pool of Radiance. A former music journalist who interviewed everyone from Giorgio Moroder to Trent Reznor, Jody also co-hosted Australia's first radio show about videogames, Zed Games. He's written for Rock Paper Shotgun, The Big Issue, GamesRadar, Zam, Glixel, Five Out of Ten Magazine, and, whose cheques with the bunny logo made for fun conversations at the bank. Jody's first article for PC Gamer was about the audio of Alien Isolation, published in 2015, and since then he's written about why Silent Hill belongs on PC, why Recettear: An Item Shop's Tale is the best fantasy shopkeeper tycoon game, and how weird Lost Ark can get. Jody edited PC Gamer Indie from 2017 to 2018, and he eventually lived up to his promise to play every Warhammer videogame.