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Game Day: Human Resource Machine

With WWDC just finished, I figured what better game to try than Human Resource Machine, a puzzle game with a development angle that has been available on the Mac and Windows since last Fall, but just debuted on iOS earlier this month. Human Resource starts out simply. You play Human Resource as a nameless worker tasked with moving boxes from an inbox conveyor belt to an outbox conveyor belt. The 41 levels become challenging quickly, but are a lot of fun and cleverly introduce programming concepts in a way that requires no prior knowledge of programming.

At each level, Human Resource explains the goal of the level and introduces a set of functions like ‘copyto’, ‘copyfrom’, and ‘jump’. Using the available functions and slots on the floor where you can park boxes temporarily, your job is to complete the puzzles presented by your boss. The instructions you create for your character are assembled by dragging functions to an area on the right side of the screen. When you are ready, tap the play button at the bottom of the screen to see if your instructions work and you can move to the next level, or step forward and back through the instructions one at a time to test each step. In later stages the game rewards you for solving the puzzles in as few steps as possible.

It’s easy to see the programming parallels in Human Resource. Your character is the CPU that requires instructions to complete tasks, the spots on the floor where boxes can be stored temporarily are memory addresses, and the functions are little chunks of code, from which you assemble programs for your worker to carry out.

Human Resource is from one-half of the team behind 2D Boy, the maker of World of Goo, and it shows in the aesthetics of the levels. Each level has a beautiful, dark, sepia-toned look that feels like it’s from a time gone by and is accompanied by an old-timey soundtrack.

If you’re wondering whether this is a game that will appeal to programmers only, I don’t think so. The concepts introduced are clearly from the programming world, but they are presented gradually in a visual way that doesn’t require you to learn special syntax or other aspects of programming. Instead, Human Resource abstracts the details of programming away reducing them to intuitive logic puzzles that can be devilishly difficult without feeling like a chore.

Whether you want to learn basic programming concepts in a fun way or just bang your head against 41 levels of challenging logic puzzles, I highly recommend Human Resource Machine.

Human Resource Machine is Universal and available on the App Store for $4.99.

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