BioHack – The Hardest Game Ever

We’ve all played physics-based games before. But have you ever tried one based on biochemical kinetics?

That’s the developer’s description of BioHack. If I was the developer, I’d have written “so, you think you’re good at puzzle games? BioHack is here to fuck your shit up.”

First of all, CLICK HERE TO DOWNLOAD BIOHACK ON XBOX 360 (80 Microsoft Points)

At this point you should go have a play. Just get a feel for what it looks like and then come back in eight minutes and read the rest of the post, because it’ll make more sense if you’ve got a tiny bit of experience. You could also watch the trailer instead, to get a rough idea of what it’s all about.

Then, when you get back, continue reading…

A year ago, I said this about BioHack:

I’ve played BioHack’s trial three times and still don’t get it. My gut is telling me that there’s an awesome puzzle game here but it’s so confusing and complex, I need to play all the tutorial levels at least twice more I think, just so that I can really work out what’s having an effect on what. At the moment, I have no idea why the things I do affect the game in the way they do. I’ve seen enough to know that there’s a pretty good chance it’s excellent. The scoring system certainly has potential for beating your scores by a few points each time and getting better and better. Just be prepared to trial it in excess of five times!

Me, being me, I was right of course. I’ve been playing it for the last few days and having finally worked it out, it’s become a completely awesome experience. It’s the hardest puzzle game I’ve ever played, and the reason for that is that the levels are constantly evolving, but there’s no way for the player to react to it. You have to plan for it. I’m getting ahead of myself, though, so let’s back up.

At the start of the post, I revealed that the game was about “biochemical kinetics.” That should really have been enough to scare you off and if it didn’t, well done! You’ve passed the first test. I mean, it is bloody scary but I don’t have a clue what biochemical kinetics is, and I’m still able to play the game fine. It will probably help you a lot if you do know what biochemical kinetics is, but the only advantage you’ll get is that you might pick it up faster.

I picked it up in about two hours. This was funny, because the trials for Xbox LIVE Indie Games last precisely eight minutes. I played the thing three times and still couldn’t work it out so I gave up and bought it anyway. I’d have had to play it another ten before it actually clicked with me, and oh my, what a glorious click it was.

The point of this post is mainly to try and explain the basics behind it, and go over a few of the things that the tutorial doesn’t make quite clear enough or things it speeds past which are actually essential to the understanding of the game.

This is what a level in BioHack looks like. It’s the first level in the game, and so it’s really easy, but it includes enough stuff to get an understanding of the basic mechanics.

The game is about transporting metabolites to metabolite pools. Don’t worry about the terminology, it could just as easily be about transporting zombies to malls or something. The small white dots on the line above are metabolites. At either end of the line and in the middle, the masses of dots are metabolite pools. All they are is somewhere where metabolites gather. The orange one is your destination, and you have a certain amount of time to lead enough metabolites there to raise that percentage to 100. If you don’t do it in time, you lose the level.

Each of the white lines between metabolite pools is a pathway. Pathways flow in only one direction, independent of other pathways. In the example above, the left pathway flows to the left, and the right pathway flows to the right. Your metabolites all start in the centre pool (notice how it’s the largest one) and if you run the level as it is, half of them will flow left, half of them will flow right, and you’ll fail the level because you won’t meet your target.

The blue things are enzymes. Enzymes modify a pathway, either speeding it up or slowing it down. This is done with the two tools you have at your disposal. You have a limited number of induders, which are used to speed up a pathway, and a limited number of repressors, used to slow down a pathway. They’re both used in the same manner, see the shot here.

The green line is your inducer, the red line is your repressor. They’re used by connecting them to the enzyme on the pathway you wish to affect, and connecting them to one of the metabolite pools. In the example above, you can see that we’ve slowed the left path down with a repressor, and sped the right path up with an inducer. This means that now if you run the level, most of your metabolites will go to the right very quickly, and only a few will go the other way, getting you to 100% and winning you the level.

That’s basically it, but there’s one important concept that I didn’t really get for ages, and it’s probably the most important concept in understanding the game that there is. Remember earlier I mentioned that levels evolve? Let’s look at the example above again, and its solution.

As the metabolites leave the centre pool, that pool gets smaller and smaller and smaller. As it gets smaller, its effect on any linked enzymes diminishes. So a sped up pathway will slow down, and a slowed down pathway will speed up and eventually normalise. This works the other way, too. If you link an enzyme to a metabolite pool that gets larger as the level progresses (the orange one, for example), its effect on that enzyme will become more powerful. An enzyme hooked up with a green inducer will get faster and faster and faster.

This means that a solution that starts off really efficiently can suddenly slow right down as the concentration of metabolites has shifted from one pool to another, and a solution that was going really well can fail. This means that you constantly have to know where the metabolites are going to be, and plan ahead for it. There’s no limitations on where you can place your inducers or repressors, you can stretch them across the entire level if you want, so every level has hundreds or thousands or even more combinations.

A few of them will work. Working isn’t enough, though, because the game has a three star rating system. If you find a working solution, you’ll usually get one star. If you want three stars, you’ll have to not just solve the level, but solve it really, really efficiently. Your final score is based on the amount of time you have remaining when you finish a level, so one second gets you 100 points. The most efficient solution, the highest scoring solution is the one that finishes quickest. There’s also bonuses for having some inducers or repressors left over which can be the difference between two stars and three. This quest for efficiency is something that should really appeal to fans of SpaceChem.

Levels get a fair bit more complex than the straight line example above. Here’s a few screenshots to show you what you’re in for…

– Read the in-game help, more than once. Play the first few levels and read the help again, and again, and again. It makes more sense the more you get used to the game’s mechanics.

– UNDERSTAND what’s going on. It’s tempting to rush through the tutorial with the solutions it gives you, but it’s very difficult to understand the game that way. It’s important that you realise why things are affecting other things in the ways that they are.

– DON’T GIVE UP! It seems impenetrable at first, but if you stick with it and learn the mechanics, you’ll soon be enjoying one of the best puzzle games I’ve ever played, and I’m a total freak for puzzle games.

– Enjoy yourself. If you have any questions or need anything clearing up, just leave a comment and I’ll do my best to help you out. Discuss solutions, post scores, have fun.

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One Response to BioHack – The Hardest Game Ever

  1. Pingback: BioHack – The Hardest Game Ever « Five Hundred a Day

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