Opus Magnum is a Programming Game from Zachtronics Industries that draws inspiration from real world alchemy. Using a transmutation engine that is effectively the fantasy equivalent of SpaceChem's atomic reactors, you separate, bond, and transform atoms from one form to another, programming the machines you place onto the transmutation engine's workspace to make it happen.
Like SpaceChem's 'fake chemistry', Opus Magnum takes its cues from 'real' alchemy: Only the classic elemental primes, neutral salt, and a handful of metalsnote are used to create every molecule you construct in the game. The game draws many ideas from one of Zach's previous games, The Codex Of Alchemical Engineering, including all the component atoms save sulfur, and arms and glyphs to manipulate the atoms and molecules you'll be working with, now on a hexagonal working space instead of Codex's orthogonal board.
In a departure from the usual approach of Zachtronics games, you take on the role of a named character — Anataeus Vaya, an ambitious young man about to graduate from the Imperial University. The story follows his graduation and employment as the Head Alchemist of House Van Tassen. He chafes under the restrictions of his position and the politics of high society, but quickly finds himself scrambling to fight back when House Van Tassen comes under attack.
This game provides examples of:
- Alchemy Is Magic: Repeatedly defied. When Concordia compares him to a wizard, Anataeus protests that alchemy is a science and an engineering discipline, not magic.
- Art Major Physics: Even more so than SpaceChem. Scientific accuracy took a backseat to aesthetic appeal when it came to designing the puzzles for this game. The creators actively encourage players to consider the game's setting and aesthetics when designing submissions for the in-game Journal of Alchemical Engineering.
- Book-Ends: The tutorial levels end with Anataeus and his classmate Henley discussing their plans after graduation, and Henley wishes that "each of us realize (his) Opus Magnum. At the end, Verrin Ravari, realizing his plans were for naught, laments the loss of his Opus Magnum.
- Completely Missing the Point: Anataeus tries to convince his patrons that a war cannot be won by assigning him to make hair gel. Captain Gelt insists that having Frederick Van Tassen show up with impeccable hair to raise a sword will inspire the troops enough to turn the tide of the war. It doesn't.
- Deadpan Snarker: Concordia Lem, House Van Tassen's Provisioner and natural foil to Anataeus's egotistical genius.
- Decoy Getaway: The Head Alchemist of House Colvan has found Anataeus in his hideout, but the Mists of Hallucination and a spare mannequin reveal that Anataeus and Concordia are long gone.
- Gameplay and Story Integration: During the post-puzzle conversation of "Very Dark Thread", Anateus mentions they've used up their last supplies of mercury/quicksilver to make the eponymous thread. Starting with the next chapter, he has to use the "Glyph of Purification" to turn metals into their higher forms without mercury.
- Gentleman Thief: Nils Whittle, who manages to steal a shipload of lead from the Van Tassen estate for Anataeus and Concordia, is actually a high-level spy in employ of Clara Soria.
- Honor Before Reason: House Van Tassen's military tactics amount to a lot of posturing and bluster, as Captain Gelt is positive that a few rockets will completely rout the House Colvan advance. When House Colvan slaughters the entirety of the Van Tassen line, it comes as a major shock to everyone involved.
- Insufferable Genius: Anataeus is very much one. The tutorial's storyline is about him swotting up on the principles of automated alchemy for his final exam before graduating; prior to this he'd been doing all his labwork by hand, without realizing how powerful and convenient modern alchemy is. When he mentions that he finds the term 'Opus Magnum' to be rather pretentious, his classmate scoffs at his lack of self-awareness.
- The Head Alchemist of House Colvan gives off this vibe as well, but his ability doesn't quite measure up to his boasts.
- Kiss of Death: The Curious Lipstick.
- Liquid Courage: The Courage Potion, which turns out to be mostly alcohol.
- Minigame: Sigmar's Garden, a match-the-marbles game with its own set of rules based on the principles of alchemy.
- Magitek: The transmutation engine is an atomic manipulator with magical parts that do more traditional alchemy. Think the WALDOs in SpaceChem with alchemy thrown in.
- Motive Rant: Having found Anataeus, Verrin Ravari, Head Alchemist of House Colvan, reveals that the happenings of the game were his idea, and that his plan was to take control of House Colvan, and then proceed to take over the other Houses (which he considered weak from decadence, with his alchemy talent. He even offers Anataeus the remains of House Van Tassen, in exchange for his help. However, as detailed above, Anateus and Concordia are long gone by the time Ravari tracks down their hideout.
- Mundane Utility: In contrast to the real world where alchemy never achieved the transformation of lead into gold and even today it takes a hefty amount of equipment and a degree in nuclear physics, in-universe this is a well-known and straightforward process, to the point of being passe, especially by the main character's standards. He takes the indignity of having to perform such a basic procedure (twice!) poorly.
- Only Sane Man: Anataeus seems to be the only one who actually takes Colvan's aggression and later attacks with absolute seriousness, trying to make things that would actually help Van Tassen's defenses.
- Perilous Old Fool: Captain Gelt, the aging commander of House Van Tassen's soldiers, charges into the Colvan forces and dies for the honor of his House — which surrenders immediately thereafter.
- Revenge: House Van Tassen is taken down by House Colvan. Anataeus and Concordia plot to take down House Colvan in return.
- Ruling Family Massacre: It is not stated outright, but strongly implied that Taros Colvan ordered the Van Tassen nobles executed after they have surrendered. In that case, it makes Concordia and Clara's intense hatred for him quite justified.
- Silk Hiding Steel: Clara Soria, who is generally overlooked by her House as a pretty, but dumb thing, is actually a master planner and manipulator.
- Spiritual Successor: To The Codex Of Alchemical Engineering.
- Steampunk: Much of the game's art direction and aesthetics are inspired by this, with artwork that depicts characters wearing elaborate outfits, intricately detailed interiors, and airships. The architecture of the Great Houses and major landmarks such as the university grounds dominate the landscape of the city, resembling cathedrals and industrial palaces that dwarf everything else. Even taking the map's emphasis of these locations as a Broad Strokes depiction they must tower over the surrounding buildings.
- The Greatest Story Never Told: Anataeus wistfully bemoans that the story of how he manufactured the Universal Solvent (one of the aspirations of classical alchemy) will never be known, but survival and their revenge against House Colvan hinging on no evidence of his work remaining wins out over his desire for recognition.
- Time Skip: The "Production Alchemy" puzzles take place an unspecified number of years after the main story, as the "Fragrant Powders" puzzle refers to the assassination of Taros Colvan happening "many years ago".
- Unspoken Plan Guarantee: Exaggerated, as we never actually learn what Clara's plan for revenge on House Colvan was, even after it is executed and the debris settles. From the little bits of dialogue and the compounds Anataeus makes for her, it appears to involve Clara making a dazzling appearance at her first official high society event, seducing Taros Colvan, giving him the Kiss of Death with the poisonous lipstick Anataeus created for her, then pinning it on Colvan's own alchemist, Verrin Ravari. Meanwhile, Nils sneakily places timed explosives (also created by Anataeus) around the Colvan estate to go off the moment Taros dies, ensuring the downfall of his House. And while all that is happening, Anataeus invents the Universal Solvent to destroy all evidence of his involvement, leaving behind a mannequin sprayed with hallucinogens to buy time while he and Concordia skip town.