hrm_01.pngThe newest game from Tomorrow Corporation, makers of burn-all-the-things simulator Little Inferno, is a puzzle game about automating tasks. Programming, in essence. The player character is a worker at a corporation who is given a series of input values and instructions about what needs to be done to the inputs before sending out a set of outputs.

No typing is required or even allowed by the game. Everything is drag and drop, though the commands are arranged into numbered lines like a programmer would see in an IDE. The player starts only with the ability to pull the first value off of the input stack and add values to the output stack. Over time, they unlock the ability to copy to and from storage spaces (which are just marked spots on the floor of the office), increment and decrement numbers, add and subtract pairs of numbers, and jump to different points in the code.

It's a very limited set of instructions, but one that allows for a wide array of puzzles. The limited number of instructions is one of Human Resource Machine's greatest strengths, both in terms of creating challenge and fun for the player and from an educational standpoint. Puzzle games that require programmatic thinking are not all that common, but there are a few out there. However, they don't usually make the player figure out how to change the sign of a number without multiplicative capabilities.

Little Inferno was an idle game with flames and fun burning effects for the items that could be bought, but it also had an undertone of social commentary about consumerism. Human Resource Machine's story is as simple and sparse as that of Little Inferno, this time with themes of corporations dealing with diversity and the PR and business decisions that come with that.

hrm_06.pngMy personal experience with games similar to this one is limited to SpaceChem and TIS-100, both by Zachtronics. SpaceChem is more abstract, more visual, than Human Resource Machine, with its instructions represented as nodes that can be placed anywhere on a grid and connected by a path that activates instructions as it goes rather than drag and drop functions in lines that look more like programming. SpaceChem also has more and different ways of on inputs that are in keeping with its chemistry theme. It also requires the player to use multiple processing units later in the game.

TIS-100 is much harder than Human Resource Machine, having a similarly limited instruction set but greater restrictions on how those instructions can be used. It's also mostly text and suggests that you print out a manual, making it less accessible to people who aren't familiar with programming but better for experienced programmers.

ProperPlanning.gifOverall, Human Resource Machine feels like a good addition to the programming-tastic puzzle game space. My only complaint with it is that their intent to publish to touchscreens is clear in the lack of support for anything but the mouse and the escape key. You can't even use the keyboard to skip text. If you like gaming on Wii U or tablets, you might just want to wait until one of those versions come out.

Human Resource Machine is available on Windows and Mac right now via Steam and other platforms for $9.99. The Wii U version comes out on the 29th. No release date has yet been announced for tablets.