Sixty Four is a beautiful system design toy that reveals something rather dark


Enlarge / Your author is eight hours in and only recognizes roughly 50 percent of the objects and resources in this provided screenshot. It gets deeper—and weirder.

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There haven’t been many times in my life where I’ve wondered if this feeling I have is something that oil barons must have felt at the height of their Gilded Age powers.

But Sixty Four got me there. I’m still not sure I’ve ever played a $6 game that had me so fully engaged while also deeply disquieted about the nature of humanity.

Sixty Four (Windows and Mac, on Steam) has been running for more than seven hours on my computers. “Running” isn’t quite right, though. Early on in Sixty Four, you’re actively clicking, upgrading, and figuring out what’s going on. As the game goes on, and you figure out some virtuous loops, you can technically leave it running in the background while you do other things, checking in occasionally to fuel a machine or start a conversion. I write “technically” because while the game is capable of working in the background, indifferent to the human need to build, refine, and expand, you very well may not be.

Trailer for Sixty Four.

What are you building, and why? Where are you? It’s not clear. Sixty Four starts you in a blank white space, with a single machine, an Extracting Channel. Push it down, and you’ll see big black cubes emerge from the ground. Click on those cubes many times and they break into 64 smaller cubes, then eventually burst and collect in your inventory. With enough black cubes (Charonite) stashed, you can build machines that make cubes easier to break and faster to extract. Eventually, you can keep your extractor pressed down with a pressure pump and have an “Entropy resonator” click the cubes for you.

Your job shifts from cube-clicker to system-builder to optimizer. You set up machines to do things, machines that improve those other machines, machines to feed those machines that improve those other machines, machines that help you recover more resources from machines you later discard. At one point, the blocks cover so much of your screen that you build a radio tower that turns them into tiny lines, blowing like dandelion fluff from source to storage.

The resources flow at mesmerizing rates, with a beautifully chaotic, percussive sound. There is literally no reason you are doing this except that you can, in fact, do it. It gets more expensive to build another Extracting Channel, but you have to, because you need the Elmerine for your desablizers and pump stations, and we’ve dug way past Elmerine now. It only seems excessive if you don’t know how elegant this system you’ve built is, and how, with the next machine, it works even better.

Meanwhile, your friend keeps messaging you. You were supposed to head to their house, but you started messing with these machines. They can’t find you, and your messages about putting yellow stones inside machines, and how you can use the “Q” key to clone or destroy machines, are making them worry. The last few messages sent in my game regard Hell Gems, rare green cubes that show up very deep into … whatever it is from which we’re extracting. At this point, the friend is more bemused by my plight than worried. You can hide the friend’s messages, so you have more room for the important stuff.

From screenshots and glimpses in the trailer, you can glimpse how Sixty Four will go beyond mining (there’s a dev commentary video, too, but I’ve yet to watch it). I’ve seen some things, like Hollow Fruit and fission. The trailer suggests players will “Face the darkness” and “Find the light.” Is it going to get a bit meta? Probably, but that’s fine by me.

Each new object is a marvel of Sim City 3000-era micro-design, including a kind of unexplained but consistent numbering scheme for your machines. The isometric view can block your view sometimes, but there’s a transparency button to help, and (also like classic Sim City) you can make design choices specifically to address this, putting your less needy devices behind the resources. I dig the sounds the game makes, especially when your setup is semi-automated, but you can, of course, turn off the sound. There’s also a night mode toggle, too, which doesn’t crudely inverse the colors, but dulls the white background quite a bit.

Update: I’m now at eight hours in. Since I started writing this, I’ve spent another hour feeding my machines. I just need 32 Hell Gems to feed the Hell Gem Injector, which ups their occurrence in blocks. Once I’ve pulled 128 Hell Gems, I can swing an Excavating Channel, which puts me back into Elmerine and Qanetite, so I can feed the smaller devices. If I’m not expanding, I’m failing, and we can’t have that.



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