Indie game developer Zachtronics Industries is offering its chemistry-focused puzzler SpaceChem to schools for free, in a bid to outdo other educational games, "that often forget to be fun."
The game is all about constructing complicated chemical factories that can autonomously turn a handful of atoms -- like hydrogen and carbon -- into real-world molecules -- like methane (CH4), without everything breaking.
To do this, you create tracks for a pair of nanoscopic robots called waldoes to run along, and lay down commands (like pick-up, bond or fuse an atom) for them to carry out when they pass over.
|What you're really doing is visual programming, complete with debugging. The majesty of SpaceChem is the devious way it teaches you techniques like in-order execution, loops, branching, synchronisation primitives and subroutines, without you even realising it. Making it a perfect game for education.|
Zachtronics admits that SpaceChem's molecular machine is "a concept that is not entirely grounded in reality," and points out that later levels introduce imaginary atoms (and space aliens), but reckons that it offers "an opportunity to practice problem solving skills," and "a way to get students excited about computer programming and chemistry."
Educators can email email@example.com to request a permanent site license of the game, until January 2012.
The game has also recently received a new mode called sandbox, which lets players construct experimental molecular computers and pipelines. To celebrate, the indie puzzler has received a permanent price cut from £8.99 to £6.99. It's also available on iPad in the form of SpaceChem Mobile, for £3.99.
Environment Clean Generations