Zachtronics will release on July 5th Last call BBS, a collection of stylish little puzzle games wrapped in a retro PC gaming atmosphere. After 11 years in business (and even longer away from commercial releases), a period in which the studio has developed a cult following almost unrivaled in indie gaming, it will be the last new game Zachtronics will ever release .
Zachtronics, named after founder Zach Barth, has spent most of those 11 years specializing in puzzle games (or variations on the theme). And pretty much every single one of them was Great (or at least Interesting). Browse our own archives for Zachtronics games and you will find:
Despite this repeated excellence and a deeply loyal fanbase, Zachtronics never became what we would make a household name even in this enthusiast realm. Which is fine, and even intended. Barth, Matthew Burns, and their small team (usually only about five people total, depending on the size of the project) were just really good at doing what they loved, regardless of how popular it was, and just kept doing it .
The result was a series of games that might not have appealed to everyone, but for those that did, it did her shit. It’s not hard to see why: most of Zachtronics’ games included challenging puzzles but also a deeply cool and interesting presentation that surrounded them, be it the dirty hacker aesthetic of exapunks or the pre-wars-how Mobius front 83. Given these initial and superficial differences, it can sometimes be difficult to pinpoint exactly what makes a game so clearly a Zachtronics joint, but like love and art just by looking at it know it.
So it’s sad, but awesome in its own way, that 2022 will see the end of Zachtronics. Not because their publisher shut them down, or because their venture capital funding expired, or because Activision got them to keep working call of Duty, or for some other reason (bankruptcy! scandal!) game developers usually close their doors.
No, Zachtronics is closing because… they want to.
“We’re breaking up!” Barth tells me much more enthusiastically than one would normally expect under the circumstances. “Zachtronics is released Last call BBS next month. We’re also working on a long-awaited Solitaire collection that we hope to release by the end of the year. After that, the team disbands. We all have different ideas, interests, tolerance for risk and so on, so we’re still figuring out what to do next.”
I ask him how it feels to be in such a privileged position where they can make that decision on their own terms and Barth says “It feels pretty good to be honest!”. He emphasizes that knowing when to stop is an intrinsic skill, something the team already has some experience with, and tells me, “We actually closed Zachtronics before, back in 2015 when I for what ended up going to valve its been 10 months. It gave us an opportunity to cash out some of our equity, re-engage with the rest of the gaming industry and start from scratch.”
“I’m not saying the same thing will happen here because we’re really shutting down Zachtronics, but if you consciously make those decisions for yourself, rather than letting circumstances dictate them, it’s easier to get the results you want 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’ve gotten really good at making “Zachtronics games” over the past twelve years, it’s been hard for us to do anything else. We were fortunate to carve a special niche and I’m grateful that we were able to fill it and survive in it, but it also bound us to do something we didn’t feel like doing, forever.”
The studio’s last game with a fitting title Last call BBSwas announced recently, but if you’d followed the reactions to the debut trailer online you’d have seen that alongside the usual excitement there was also plenty of sadness, something the team, in the rare position they were able to, had prior to their closure to confirm.
“Since we announced this Last call BBS will be our last game. I’ve had countless emails from fans thanking us for the games we’ve made,” says Barth. “Many of them cite games as one of the reasons they became professional programmers or engineers. It’s hard to say anything other than “thank you,” but that’s really all I want to say. A game without someone playing it is hardly a game, and it is only because of our players that our games have meaning and a life of their own. We all really appreciate that!”
Once the decision has been made and announced, what’s next? For Barth, he hopes to work on something different, while other members of the team also try their hand at new challenges. “My original plan was to wrap things up at Zachtronics and then find a new job teaching high school computer science, but the timing was wrong,” he says. “I’ve just finished my first year of apprenticeship and Last Call BBS hasn’t even been released yet! I was hoping that I’d really like to teach and stick around for a few years, but I’ve learned that’s definitely not the case, and I’m having a hard time imagining anything other than gaming in any form in the future. ”
“What we do next as individuals or as employees is a question that we are very actively discussing right now. I’m particularly interested in freelance work and quirky side projects, while other team members are drawn to the idea of a steady job with more growth potential than a small indie studio making essentially the same game every year.”
Last call BBS Coming to Steam on July 5th, it will be the studio’s last New Game. You can check out the very cool trailer below. Your official final publicationbut it will a bundle that combines their various solitaire games into a single packageand as mentioned above, that will be out later this year.