Okay, first you attach the Antimatter Holder to a Power Generator, then add two Discharge parts to capture and store any excess power from the Antimatter reactions, add a few Radiators so the whole thing doesn’t blow up in your face—and voila, instant Antimatter Generator. Simple, right? So simple, even an apprentice could do it.
An apprentice like you. Arcsmith is out today on the Quest Platform, the latest from Bithell Games (of Thomas Was Alone and Subsurface Circular). It’s a unique and relaxing puzzler, set entirely in a science fiction workshop. Assemble modular components into futuristic machinery—Spore Incubators, Light Welders, space age Terrariums, and more—and help your mentor Korith Dinn make peace with his past in the process.
Did I mention that it features the cutest lil’ sentient toolbox sidekick, Toolie?
We sat down with Game Director Nic Tringali to talk “cozy workshop” vibes, making an impossible puzzle possible, and real-life tinkering.
How did the idea for Arcsmith come about? Did you draw on any influences, games or otherwise?
Nic Tringali: Our starting point was wanting to do this kind of open-ended puzzle game, where the game gives you a goal but how you solve it is up to you. Some of our favorite games in this genre are Kerbal Space Program and Opus Magnum, which are different in many ways but both give the player a wonderful amount of freedom to achieve their goals.
Aesthetically it’s a blend of classic sci-fi films, but we primarily went with a more cartoony direction like Treasure Planet. For the puzzles it’s nice not to worry too much about real physics, and the story overall has a lighter tone as well.
What’s your favorite device to build in Arcsmith?
NT: My favorite to design and solve was the Stealth Engine. Over the course of the game the player gets a solid understanding of managing heat using radiators, a generic part you get in every job. After you complete the story you get some extra hard jobs—including the Stealth Engine which doesn’t allow you to use any radiators.
I had the idea for that kind of puzzle early in development, and it almost got cut multiple times because I wasn’t sure it was actually possible. I finally sat down and experimented with different job requirements that would allow for a solution, and it took me hours to finally find a solution. It’s probably the most difficult job in the game, and in a way it was the closest I got to being able to play the game as a player and not a designer.
Building the first project in the game—the radio—Korith commented that I could’ve made it more symmetrical. Was there an effort to make the “best” or “canonical” versions of these creations look aesthetically pleasing? And does the game care or is this just some behind-the-scenes trickery?
NT: So the short answer is no—the game doesn’t know if your creations are visually pleasing or anything. The game does track in a limited way how many parts you use and the assembly’s size, but otherwise the player can build however they want.
As to Dinn’s comment, it’s actually a calculated joke! Mike [Bithell] wanted him to say something a little gruff to you about what you made, but not actually mean, so we went with the symmetrical line. Even if you disagree with him, it still works for the character.
Have you found that players take the time to make their creations look cool? Or are they just slapping parts together to make a functional device?
NT: Each player is different, and that’s great! Allowing you to build in an expressive way was one of the core ideas of the design. For example, we let you rotate parts in relation to one another—which is only necessary for a few puzzles—but some players will use that to make extremely off-kilter looking items. And others get annoyed if something comes together and it isn’t at a right angle. Either way, the goal was to feel like you’re sat at your workbench fulfilling the jobs in the way that makes sense to you.
What made this the right time to work on a VR game?
NT: We honestly were pleasantly surprised by the Quest when it came out, it’s a very straightforward system to use as a player. We also realized we would enjoy a game that was more relaxed, just you at a desk in a nice environment with some good music on the radio.
Bithell Games is well-respected for its storytelling. How is telling a story different for VR?
NT: Mike wrote the script so he could answer that with more depth, but from my point of view there was a lot of work in the environment and animation that impacted the storytelling.
Architecturally the space is meant to evoke a cozy workshop vibe for the player, but it also has to serve as a stage for the characters to deliver the story. From the animation side as well, VR is much closer to sitting in a theater than watching something on a screen, so the animation had a lot of considerations around the player’s location and sight lines, which is a lot different from placing a camera in an environment.
Any other lessons you learned or challenges you encountered developing your first VR game?
NT: Aside from the storytelling and architecture aspects, the other challenge we took on was aiming for a fully diegetic interface. The fantasy of a workshop is not just building things, but having tools around you to help you build them, or even how organized you want your work space to be.
So from that idea we wanted to have as much information about the parts and the job on screens the player could pick up and move around. It took a lot of iteration - there’s some information you want just at a glance, or in great detail about one specific part, or to see how the whole assembly is behaving. We didn’t get to fully diegetic on every bit of interface, but regardless it was a lot of fun to design the tools for the player in the guise of in-universe tools.
Are you a tinkerer in real life? Do you have any DIY hobbies?
NT: A little! Not as much as you might think given the game, but I’ve spent a good amount of time with Arduino, building computers, and other electronics. I really enjoy fixing things and thinking through workspaces like my desk or kitchen. I just got my first motorcycle as well so that’s my latest project that I will gladly sink a lot of time into.
What’s next for you? Any exciting updates in the works?
NT: I don’t know! I wish I could tell you. I have a lot of ideas and we’re only now starting to discuss what comes after Arcsmith. Hopefully I’ll have something to show off sooner rather than later.
Anything else you’d like to share with our readers?
NT: Send us your creations! We’d love to see how you solved certain puzzles. And thank you for playing!
Arcsmith is available now on the Quest Platform for $24.99 USD.