Capsule Review: Human Resource Machine

A puzzle game tasking the player with writing simple programs to manipulate numbers. Eleven different programming commands are available as building blocks for conquering forty one increasingly-complex challenges. Most puzzles also have optional goals to optimize your program’s line count and execution time. The experience is lightly wrapped in a shallow but ironic story that has your program executed by a human office worker doing pointless work to climb a corporate ladder.

While the concept is great, the execution may be too simple for its own good. In particular, you have very limited options for control flow - just a “jump” command with two conditional variants that only execute if the held value is zero or if it is negative, respectively. There are no other available conditionals and there is no ability to create subroutines. This means your programs are necessarily messy, which likely frustrates experienced coders and teaches bad habits to the uninitiated. And since the commands are gradually made available over the first half of the game, the second half’s increasingly complicated puzzles must be solved with a language that doesn’t get any more powerful or easy to use. In theory this makes the later puzzles more interesting to solve, but it also results in increasingly tedious implementation and testing of the solutions.

I’m hard-pressed to think of a person I’d recommend this game to. Lack of instructional scaffolding means it’s not a great teacher even of the concepts that would transfer to real programming elsewhere. Anyone who wants to learn to think like a programmer or to challenge themselves to devise interesting algorithms rather than to implement them in an artificially-limited language is likely better-served by a tutorial or set of challenges based on a real language – many of which are freely available online.

I Stopped Playing When: After solving half of the puzzles (including optional optimization goals), I saw the next challenge and realized how tedious it was going to be to input the solution, compared to how it would be in an even slightly more powerful language. (The game that introduced me to programming, Rocky’s Boots, used logic gates and even that allowed for subroutines by letting you burn chips containing arbitrary circuits and using those in other circuits.) Since to me the fun part is figuring out the algorithm, not implementing it in a weak language, it was starting to feel too much like unpaid coding work and I abandoned the game.

Docprof's Rating:

One Star: Not for me. While there might be someone out there who'd enjoy this game, I was actively repulsed by it or just found nothing to latch on to.

You can get it or learn more here.