EXAPUNKS – Hack-all-the-things programming game by Zachtronics

Zachtronics just announced EXAPUNKS, which looks to be a new kind of programming game. It looks like it integrates the physical/external source information, like Shenzhen I/O’s computer manual, this time in the form of hacker zines. The focus is on writing viruses to compromise a variety of institutions (banks/universities) and devices (game consoles/highway signs).

As a SpaceChem guy without a lot of deeply technical skills, I don’t know if this is going to be my brand of Zachtronics game, but it’s good news for those of you who like these kinds of challenges! And I’m really glad Zachtronics has continued to explore this unique design niche.


(EDIT: I said TIS-100, but it’s Shenzhen I/O that had the manual.)

Ima thinking I need that limited edition. So I can continue my grand Zachtronic tradition of playing 90-95% of the game then quitting in frustration, satisfied not satisfied.

This looks promising. For me, building stuff in Shenzhen I/O just felt like a chore after a while. Looking at a system that’s already been created and trying to find a way to break it sounds much more appealing.

Sold! The zines are a really fun addition, and an accessible game about 90s hacking sounds pretty great. Loved SHENZEN/IO with the hard copy manual

They shipped my limited edition today, standard mail though.

Oh yeah


But I gotta wait until August 21st to play it!

I actually barely played Shenzhen or TIS-100, but I loved Spacechem, Infinifactory, and Opus Magnum, and I have gladly jumped on the physical edition for all of his games. Very happy to support them even when the game is slightly out of my wheelhouse.

Got my steam key! Turns out it releases (early access) on the 9th, not the 21st. Two Days!!

What! That’s not fair, I don’t have… oh there it is. Yay!

This is a dilemma - I ordered the physical edition, but I don’t expect that to arrive (here in the UK) for 2-3 weeks. Do I wait for that to start playing, for the best experience, but mute this thread until then? Or do I start tomorrow, with the knowledge that the only way I’m going to get to the top of the friends leaderboards, however briefly, is getting there first? Hmm…

20% discount on Green Man Gaming

Really enjoying this one so far. I’d say this one has the best production values out of any zachtronics game yet, including voice acting and anime story style storytelling.

I also love some of the multiplayer and community features, like being able to write a program to battle your friend’s programs. I haven’t unlocked all of it yet so I’m not sure what all it entails, but I do know that there is even a level editor that you can program in javascript to make your own custom levels.

There’s also a ‘game console’ in game that you can code games for, and export the game to a PNG image that another player can drag into their game to try out. Very nifty.

I guess they have about 1/3 of the physical zines and materials left for people to order. It comes with some 3d glasses that you can use at various parts of the game including the game console that has a 3d mode with 9 levels of depth apparently. I do think I read somewhere that Zach was saying something like it may not be amazing, but I still think it’s a neat feature.

I spent around 5 hours or so trying to pass one of the levels. The difficulty was a huge ramp at that level, as before that I solved everything fairly easily. On this level I really had to optimize to get it to work, but I’m sure there was some much more efficient concept that I wasn’t getting.

Programming the exa’s is pretty interesting even for a programmer, they can spawn copies of themselves so you kind of have recursion features, there’s also a few good quality of life features with the programming that I am glad zach added.

I’m liking the story, too. Hack the planet!

I’d be eager to hear the perspective of a non-programmer. As a person external to computers, I enjoyed tremendously Spacechem, enjoyed a lot Opus Magnum, but wasn’t fond of the other Zachtronics games.

It’s a spiritual successor to the TIS-100 vein, which was the programmiest of the programmiest so take that as you will. Instead of a bunch of fixed processors working together you can spawn and fork off as many recursive EXAs as you want.

I just spent an assload of time writing two copy and omit functions using a temp file only to find out my bar graphs where on an entirely different level than everyone else’s, and not in a good way. Ah, yes, VOID F. Well that’s a helluva lot simpler.

Thank you very much, that absolutely answers my concern.

So did everyone know you can alt click on a line to jump to that code’s execution point? I didn’t! Should have been reading the ingame chat earlier…

Can somebody talk a little more about the exa battle concept?

I’ve always kind of felt that somebody could, and should, make a more approachable version of Core War, and I’m wondering if that may have been an inspiration.

I have only done one battle, a TV station that has you trying to move your files into each room while moving your foe’s back to home. I spent some time building one EXA that entered every room in a loop removing all files not mine back home. Then another one that moved my files back to a room if it found them back at home. That was enough to get a perfect score against the NPC and peterb (only friend that had an entry).

I thought I was all hot shit for slaughtering peterb till I saw what happened. His bots are kill happy, meaning they usually but not always kill mine. Sometimes I earn some points, sometimes I don’t and stay at zero. However peterb never earns positive points, his robots kill mine and his - each one earning -1 points to his total.

This game is a master at presenting a simple solution which the programmer in me goes ‘hah, easy’. Then I inevitably hit brick wall after brick wall because you only really have one register for storage and other crazy limitations.

When you get your solution finished, like writing a simple sorting routine for a file, it yanks the carpet out from under you and says ‘haha’. I was less than amused was I discovered I didn’t meet the requirements because the inputs dynamically adjust after each input (see: Stuxnet puzzle) so my one time file sorter was useless. I could just have it resort a new file each time but that would be a massive waste of cycles.

Curse you Zachtronic brothers! Despite all that bitching above I am really liking the game so far. Like all their prerelease products it’s already very polished.

They did fix one bug last night that invalidated a previous solution of mine but that was fun to just rewrite.

Yeah, this is better than TIS-100, partly because the overall polish is much better (although TIS-100 was somewhat deliberately lo-fi), but also because the constraints are less onerous (more characters per line, more lines per window). My solutions have been consistently at the bottom of the friends list, but so far I don’t care much.

I got stuck for a while on the first modem puzzle, where you have to insert some data at the beginning of the file. I couldn’t think of any better way than to copy all the data out to a second file, then write the data at the beginning and copy it all back in. But that took way too many lines, I ran out (you can only have 100). Finally a much better solution dawned on me, and it worked, which is a very nice gameplay moment. There’s also a secondary catch in that puzzle, where you have to keep your place in one file while repeatedly reading from another file, and not have the two interfere with each other writing to the global M register. I had several wrong and inefficient answers to that before I had the a-ha moment.

Yeah, I eventually gave up trying to beat everyone on my friends list because I didn’t want to burn out on the game. Which was a good call, I finally beat my first Zachtronics game and got to open the secret envelope! Probably makes this the easiest Zachtronics game, but that’s hardly a bad thing - coincidentally or not it’s also my favorite now.

I think I need to go back and beat Shenzhen too, I was really enjoying that game before something else shiny pulled me away.

Infinifactory as well but I just flinch everytime I think of the later levels.