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Review: Shapez

Which way should I rotate them?!

I’ve been playing Shapez, a factory game where your raw resources are colors and shapes. There are three primary colors (red, green, and blue), and there are four shape-pieces (circle, square, star, and windmill). Colors are always pure, while some of the sources of shapes are a mixture of two or more quarters of different types (but always a four-quarter shape).

You start with minimal tools, and you unlock additional tools as you complete levels. You also get upgraded versions of tools by meeting delivery quotas for different shapes. But the goal of the game is to make shapes, paint them, and deliver them, all with conveyor belts and the machines you have and make.

As the game plays on, you get more ability and faster tools, but the complexity of the shapes grows with that, until a couple are downright puzzles to figure out how to build.

And after level 26, the shapes asked of you are random, requiring you to build an everything machine to build the shape without rebuilding your whole factory every time. While in the early levels you don’t need to do much wiring, building an everything machine requires a lot of wiring (signals and filters and booleans and inspectors to figure out which pieces are needed by the machine to make the layers and shapes).

As far as achievements go, most are simple enough and obtained through normal play. The hardest is likely to speedrun to level 12, which is a whole other (but probably equal) challenge to the everything machine. The everything machine requires a ton of building and wiring and checking and testing. The speedrun puts you back at the start of the game, and you have to figure out how to do things fast. Everything machines are zen gardening, speedrunning is a hotdog-eating contest.

My own modest tips for the everything machine (assuming the reader has looked into the task already):

  1. Four-color painters with four lanes of every possible color feeding it. You can run those lanes from afar, so that the rest of the factory can be closer to the goal.
  2. Trash filters before and after each step so you can clean up when the requested shape changes.
  3. You can find shape resources that contain all four parts. I used two different ones, but the maps vary. Throw them into four-way cutters and you have the raw materials. One full belt output will require 16 lanes of shape pieces (one per quarter makes four per layer, times four layers maximum).
  4. So you need seven colors times four quarters (28) times four layers: 112 color lanes total.

But it’s mostly a lot of wiring and shame that you didn’t build everything perfect the first time, reworking, figuring out you forgot to add that belt, and so on.

As for the speedrun, it’s tough. A lot of the trouble here is realizing you have to unlearn all those nice tools and upgrades you earned in the main game, because you only get some of them back as you progress through the run.

You need to get upgrades fast as you can, but you’re limited on how far you’ll get in the 30 minutes for the gold medal. You have to balance the immediate level goals with the amount of time they’ll take to complete.

My first attempt was just over an hour (so I only got bronze), but it took practice to keep my wits about me in the early game, staring blankly as I couldn’t copy-paste, couldn’t build how I’m used to. It was a fun challenge.

After maybe ten attempts I got down to just over a half hour, and on my final run I was done building with five minutes to spare. Enough, I thought until I realized I’d forgotten to let enough purple circles through for the next belt upgrade (47 short!), so I frantically tried to beg-borrow-steal them to upgrade as time ticked away, but it didn’t matter. I got there in just under 30 minutes.

A lot of runs fall to small things. Forgetting to set up stars at the start, or forgetting to connect a few belts here or there. Getting tangled up in rotations. But with enough practice, your brain figures all that out, you see what you can reuse, and you can become rather speedy.

I’d heard of factory games, but hadn’t really played them before. I played Spacechem years ago, but it’s a bit different from modern factory games and is more puzzle-oriented.

I’ve enjoyed playing. It takes some learning, but the level progression is good at teaching you step-by-step, and outside of the speedrun (and maybe the everything machine) it’s not too hard to get the hang of.

On the whole it took me about 74 hours to finish the game (through level 101) and get all 45 achievements. I enjoyed my time playing, so if you want to try a factory game, give this one a look.

A Team Fortress Reskin Crafting Quest

Wait. There are craftable hats, too?! BRB.

Back in late 2021 while playing Team Fortress 2, I encountered members of the Ham Mafia, a service organization dedicated to the pork leg melee weapon known as the TF2 Wiki: Ham Shank. Originally a promotional item from the Wikipedia: Don’t Starve game, at some point it became craftable and some players made it part of their game persona to wield it, to make up lore around it, and even to give other players the item for free.

I too wanted to bludgeon other players with a hunk of ham, but not wanting to be affiliated with any sort of mafia (they make you burn a saint), I looked into the crafting requirements. That sent me down the rabbit hole of the other less-available items I could obtain by crafting.

There were 11 craftable weapons that I didn’t have. Two were general-use melee weapons (the ham shank and the TF2 Wiki: Freedom Staff). Most of the rest were class-specific melee weapons: the Heavy’s TF2 Wiki: Apoco-Fists; the Scout’s TF2 Wiki: Three-Rune Blade and TF2 Wiki: Unarmed Combat; the Pyro’s TF2 Wiki: Maul; and the Spy’s TF2 Wiki: Wanga Prick and TF2 Wiki: Sharp Dresser. Besides, there were two primary weapons: Pyro’s TF2 Wiki: Nostromo Napalmer and Sniper’s TF2 Wiki: AWPer Hand. Finally, there was Spy invisibility watch, the TF2 Wiki: Quäckenbirdt (not shown in the art, because it’s invisible). All were promotional items except for the Unarmed Combat and Wanga Prick. All lack their own specific crafting recipes, unlike most items you can craft.

And so, from December of 2021 I began to save my item drops to use toward crafting these items. The chance to craft each one required eight item drops: two for a scrap metal, three class-specific weapons to make a class token, and three slot-specific weapons (melee, primary, or PDA2) for a slot token. Throw those three together and the crafting server rolls the dice and gives you one of the applicable items.

In order to keep things sane, I devised a strategy: other than the Spy watch, which required other Spy watches that don’t drop as often (as there are only two that can come as item drops), I would save up and craft everything in batches.

For the first four months, there was no crafting at all, only saving up my item drops and keeping track of what I had and what I needed. On 2 April 2022, I had enough items for my eight first attempts. And I had immediate success! I got the Apoco-Fists, which meant Heavy was no longer a contender (so all his drops could be used for making slot tokens) and I got the Ham Shank from trying to craft the Pyro melee, which was fitting given the Ham Mafia business was my original inspiration.

Eight attempts? asks the reader. Yes, the multi-class melee weapons didn’t make sense to have their own attempts, as I was just as likely to stumble upon them while crafting class-specific melees. And that’s exactly what happened with the Ham Shank.

Anyway, it was mid-May before I got to the next batch, which landed me only one of the spy melees, the Sharp Dresser. And that month-and-a-half cadence held for a time, so at the start of July I tried again, and I added the Pyro’s Nostromo Napalmer and the Scout’s Three-Rune Blade to my backpack.

While only getting half of the Scout and Spy melee targets wasn’t great, it did reduce the number of items I needed for subsequent attempts, as did checking off one of the two primaries. At the end of July I was ready for the fourth set of attempts. There were only four dice rolls, and I came up empty other than a duplicated Sharp Dresser. My first whiff, but it would not be my last.

In late August, I was not yet ready for a full set of craft attempts, but I was getting a bit sick of all the primary weapons accumulating. See, the imbalance of slot token fodder meant I had more than enough to try to craft the AWPer Hand while I still couldn’t try for the four remaining melee weapons. My impulsiveness got the better of me, and I went TILT trying to craft the Sniper primary, only to whiff six times in a row! I still had enough to keep going, but decided to hold off until I could make an attempt with all the melees too.

The next week, I had enough to roll with, but more botches left me with only another duplicated Sharp Dresser plus an extra Three-Rune Blade. And late October saw another failure and a third duplicate Sharp Dresser.

It took another two months, until Christmas of 2022, for me to have all the items for my next shot. Baby Jesus smiled up or down or whichever direction at me! I came away with both the Spy’s Wanga Prick and the Scout’s Unarmed Combat as Christmas bonuses. Cross the Scout off the list, freeing more items up, while Spy’s were in reserve for whenever I got enough watches for a PDA2 token.

That left only two attempts per batch: Pyro’s melee (plus a multi-class) and Sniper’s primary. And on Martin Luther King, Jr.’s birthday in 2023, I made my next attempt. I crafted the Freedom Staff on that anniversary of one of the greatest advocates for freedom in memory. While it didn’t free up more items, it did mean I didn’t need to worry about the multi-class melees any more.

Though I was one step closer, I still had two items to seek per run. At the end of January, I also had enough Spy watches to try for that item besides, but I had another luckless day.

The good news was that from the year-mark on, I could do a two-week cadence. The bad news was that from the end of January to April I had 13 busts in the crafting department. The only saving grace during that time was I happened to craft another multi-class melee: the TF2 Wiki: Bat Outta Hell. Readers may have seen it up in the art and wondered why I didn’t mention it before. I already had an untradeable one from Scream Fortress (Halloween) Merasmus drops, so I wasn’t actively looking for another. In any case, it took until late April to break my losing streak, when I finally snagged the AWPer Hand. That left only Pyro’s Maul (and the Spy watch) to acquire.

I stuck to the two-week cadence, and after only one miss, I got the Pyro’s Maul. I was effectively done, except the Spy watch, which at a one-in-three chance was more dependent on the luck of getting the crafting materials than on the luck of the craft. On my next attempt, only last weekend, I got that watch, the Quäckenbirdt, and have completed my quest.

Before I started, I had run the numbers on the quest. I estimated a worst-case of about 70 individual crafting attempts. I ended up taking 63 crafting attempts to get it all done. Not too far off the worst-case. I didn’t estimate how many months it would take, but 1.5 years feels about right.

In terms of the most items spent, the AWPer Hand took me 21 attempts, which comes out to around 160 items (though slightly fewer because the failed attempts still produce an item that can be fed back in for the next attempt).

The best part of getting the items was playing with them. They are all reskins of items I mostly don’t use, so getting a chance to switch up my game by using Sniper or the stock invisibility watch (which is what Quäckenbirdt is) gave me a chance to revisit other playstyles I don’t usually try.

My favorites of these items are the Nostromo Napalmer and the Apoco-Fists, with the Unarmed Combat getting an honorable mention.

Review of Goop Loop

Childhood memories of an inflatable rubber ball that was partly filled with water come flooding back.

Goop Loop is a 2D platformer game by Lone Wulf Studio. In it, you control a blob of goop inside of a loop. It’s a Getting Over It with Bennett Foddy type of game (Sisyphus-like), but with blob-in-a-hoop physics instead of man-in-a-pot-with-a-hammer physics. You control the goop, and by air-accelerating into the sides of the loop you can affect its momentum.

This is another single-developer, pure-indie game. And it’s well-made. It’s a single course, with four layers to it. As you enter each next layer, there’s a turnaround, and the difficulty goes up as you go up.

It’s hard to get going at first, but you pick it up, kinda-sorta. Hard to master, by design. The first playthrough is all about learning the ropes, and falling off the ropes, plummeting back down as your goop rattles about in the cold ring prison.

It features a backseat-gamer sort of narration that is full of puns, good humor, and tidbits about the game design. Also a bit of the talking-during-putt golf effect sometimes, where you’re concentrating and the narrator eggs you on at the moment you’re about to succeed, only to fail because of the distraction (or so you tell yourself).

The art is nice enough. The background is placid and fits well with the overall design, while the foreground world, the goop, and the loop are utilitarian. The goop and the loop can change colors, the former from hitting any of seven paint buckets suspended at parts of the course. To change the hoop you have to beat the course better than bronze, silver, and gold par times (or after hitting all the buckets).

I don’t mention soundtracks often in reviews, because they’re usually adequate but nothing special. In this case, there is no music, so you might want to keep some on-hand if you like accompaniment.

Gameplay control was solid, if intentionally hard. Your goop sticks to the loop wherever it touches, and jumping takes inertia into account to some extent making control difficult at times. But you do get the hang of it. The game lets you remap the controls however you like, including controllers. I opted for keyboard.

There are three basic moves to master in playing the game:

  1. Slam the Side: you jump into the middle of the loop and then air-accelerate into the side in the way you wish to move. Doing this repeatedly makes you go fast.
  2. Stall: you jump against your movement, in order to slow down or stop. Necessary near gaps when you don’t have the speed you needed, to back off before you fall down.
  3. Hula: from the sides of the loop, you propel yourself perpendicular down. This causes the hoop to spin faster, and if done in the air, causes that sort of hula-hoop motion that can be very helpful in climbing.

It took me 11 hours to get all the achievements. That was 25 significant attempts, including the first time through which took me between four and five hours. Most of the rest of my playtime was spent on getting the golden hoop (beating the course in under five minutes). My second time beating the course took about 15 minutes, and from there I whittled it down to 11, eight, and finally four minutes forty-three seconds.

Getting the golden hoop is the only hard achievement, and it does take some effort. The other achievements take a bit of time, but once you’ve beaten the game and know the techniques, they aren’t that much trouble.

For getting done in under five minutes, my pace check was three minutes to the boxing glove. If I didn’t make it there by then, I’d restart. I got there faster a few times, but the run that got it done had me there at about three minutes, so I think it’s a good time to use.

While not a long game, the humor and frustration and the challenge made it a fun one, so if you don’t mind some intentionally-frustrating gameplay, you should take this one for a spin (and fall, and try again, and again, so-close! Damn! Argh!).