Zachtronics will release Last Call BBS on July 5, a collection of elegant little puzzle games wrapped in a retro PC gaming vibe. After 11 years of business (and even longer outside of commercial releases), a time when the studio has developed a cult almost unmatched in indie games, it will be the last new game Zachtronics will ever release. We spoke to founder Zach Barth to find out why.
Named after founder Zach Barth, Zachtronics has spent most of those 11 years specializing in puzzle games (or variations on the theme). And almost every one of them was great (or at least interesting). Comb our archives looking for Zachtronics games and you will find:
Despite this repeated excellence and deeply loyal fan base, Zachtronics has never become what we would call a “household name” even in this enthusiastic space. Which is fine, even by design. Barth, Matthew Burns and their small team (usually about five people in total, depending on the scope of the project) were simply very good at doing what they loved, no matter how popular it was, so they kept doing it.
The result was a series of games that may not have been to everyone’s taste, but for those they resonated with, it was their shit. It’s not hard to see why: most of Zachtronics ’games involved challenging puzzles, but also a deeply cool and interesting presentation that surrounds them, such as the dirty hacker aesthetics of Exapunks or Mobius Front 83 resembling Advance Wars. Given the initial and superficial differences, it can sometimes be difficult to pinpoint exactly what makes Zachtronics so clearly common, but like love and art, when you see it, you just know it.
It is therefore sad, but also in its own way unbelievable that 2022 will be the end of Zachtronics. Not because their publisher shut them down, or because they ran out of venture capital funding, or because Activision forced them to work on Call of Duty, or any other reason (bankruptcy! Scandal!) Game developers usually close their doors .
No, Zachtronics closes because … they want it.
“We’re closing things!” Barth tells me, a lot more enthusiasm than you would otherwise expect in these circumstances. “Zachtronics will announce the Last Call BBS next month. We are also working on a long-awaited solitaire collection that we hope will be out by the end of the year. After that, the team will fall apart. We all have different ideas, interests, risk tolerances and so on, so we are still figuring out what we want to do next. ”
I ask him what it feels like to be in such a privileged position, where I can make this decision on my own terms, and Barth says, “It feels pretty good, to be honest!” Stressing that knowing when to give up is a skill of his own, something he already has little experience with, he tells me: “We actually closed Zachtronics once, back in 2015, when I went to work at Valve for what ended up in 10 months. This gave us the opportunity to cash in on some of our capital, re-engage with the rest of the gaming industry and rebuild from scratch. ”
“I’m not saying the same thing will happen here, because we’re really shutting down Zachtronics, but when you make these decisions on purpose, instead of letting the circumstances dictate them, it’s easier to achieve the desired results in the long run.”
But why? Why now, why like this? “We felt it was time for a change. This may sound strange, but even though we have become very good at making ‘Zachtronics games’ over the last twelve years, it has been hard for us to do anything else. We were lucky enough to single out a special niche, and I’m grateful that we were able to occupy it and survive in it, but it also kept us locked in something we didn’t want to work on forever. ”
The latest studio game, aptly named Last Call BBS, was recently announced. If you had scanned the reaction to his debut trailer on the internet, you would have seen that, in addition to the usual excitement, there was also a lot of sadness, something the team was in a rare position to admit before closing them.
“Ever since we announced that Last Call BBS will be our last game, I’ve received countless emails from fans thanking us for the games we’ve made,” Barth says. “Many of them point out games as one of the reasons why they became professional programmers or engineers. It’s hard to say anything but ‘thank you’, but that’s really all I want to say. A game without someone to play it is hardly a game, and it is only because of our players that our games have meaning and their lives. We all really appreciate that! ”
With the decision made and published, then what comes next? For Barth, he hopes to work on something else, while other team members also want to try new challenges. “My original plan was to finish things at Zachtronics and then find a new job as a computer science teacher in high school, but there was no time,” he says. “I just finished my first year of teaching, and Last Call BBS hasn’t even been published yet! I was hoping to really love teaching and staying with it for a few years, but I’ve learned that it’s definitely not like that and it’s hard for me to imagine anything other than games in my future, in some form or form. ”
“What we will do next as individuals or collaborators is an issue that we are currently very actively discussing. I’m particularly interested in freelancing and unusual side projects, while other team members are drawn to the idea of a stable business with greater growth potential than a small indie studio that makes what is essentially the same game every year. ”
Last Call BBS comes out on July 5th on Steam and will be the studio’s latest new game. Below you can watch his very cool trailer. Their official final release will be a package that will bring together their various Solitaire games into one package, and as already mentioned, it will come out later this year.