Engineer of the People
You may have already played the "Games for Engineers" that Zachtronics Industries is known for (Bureau of Steam Engineering, Codex of Alchemical Engineering). Now the author has come up with something new, and given its central concept you'd think playing it would blow up the space-time continuum. It's a computer game about programming computer chips. Welcome to KOHCTPYKTOP: Engineer of the People.
This game's a bit less accessible to non-engineers than the others were, but once you know what it's about, it's a cool puzzle game. You've just been hired to a semiconductor factory called H3, and your job is to construct computer chips that follow specific input/output rules. For example, on the first level you have to make four NOT gates (which outputs high current if supplied with low current, and vice-versa).
To build your wiring, click on one of the five commands on the right (or press the corresponding number key) to select it, then use the mouse to place what you selected on the grid. Click and drag to place silicon on the "lower layer" or metal on the "upper layer". Current cannot pass between silicon and metal unless connected with a VIA. Hold [Shift] to switch between the two types of silicon, or to allow the eraser tool to erase metal.
Only metal can connect to the twelve input/output squares on the border, and the "+VCC" squares are always supplying power. Once you think you've got things sorted out, click the Verification tab on the display at the bottom to test and see if your design works. If it does, great, move on to the next level; if it doesn't, go back and make some corrections.
The key to designing successful circuits is understanding how NPN and PNP gates work. Here's a quick lesson for the uninformed: NPN gates allow current to flow through the N-silicon "line" if current is supplied to the P-silicon "latch", and block it otherwise. PNP gates are just the opposite: current can only flow through the P-silicon "line" if there is no current to the N-silicon "latch".
If you're still confused, there's a tutorial video in-game that can help you understand things. We highly recommend viewing this before playing if you have any doubts at all. There are also some links to Wikipedia entries on the game's home page at Zachtronics Industries that explain certain concepts important for the higher levels, such as the Adder, the Flip-Flop, the Counter, and the Multiplexer.
Analysis: Kochy- Coch- Kochpti- aw, hell, Engineer of the People is one of the more difficult and engineer-oriented "Games for Engineers". Zachtronics is definitely becoming truer to its mission, although whether or not that's a good thing depends on the perspective of the individual. Let me just say that designing the screenshot level above wasn't that different a challenge from trying to solve some of the normal levels. It was fun, though.
I can't find much to complain about. The soundless audio and simplistic graphics we saw and loved in Zachtronics' past two games shows up again here, and the gameplay is well implemented. There's even a vague storyline hidden in the game.
Psychotronic - Though Engineer of the People once again provides an incredibly stimulating sandbox for ideas that other games dare not touch, I feel like it doesn't reach out to the user as much as it could. A more hands-on tutorial would help, and the editing tools could be more intuitive. I can select a section of circuitry and save it for later, but I would appreciate being able to rotate or flip it as well. I also found the working grid to be too tight, so that I often went outside of the lines and then had to go back and erase errant materials.
On the flip side, any game that has me involuntarily designing circuits in my head while I take a shower is doing something right. It's easy to share solutions, thanks to a simple copy-paste system like the one in Codex of Alchemical Engineering. Even if the concept sounds intimidating, give Engineer of the People a chance.