Human Resource Machine PC Developed by the Tomorrow Corporation Released in 2015
For many of us games are a way to escape daily realities, but for some reason I seem to often end up playing games that are kind of like work. Sure, sometimes I get to take on a profession unlike my own, like stepping into the boots of a farmer in Stardew Valley, but puzzle games like Human Resource Machine and
Nethack Hacknet are examples of me having fun doing things that I usually get paid to do. Either I made good career decisions when I went into IT or video games are just darn good at making computer work fun.
Beep Boop complete tasks
You play as the latest employee in a company and your job is managing the inbox and outbox. A series of numbers flows in from the inbox and you have to move them to the outbox, except you don’t move your employee manually. Instead you make a list of commands that your little guy will execute. At first just using inbox and outbox commands will have him move numbers between the two, but later down the line you’ll have to alter or filter the numbers, meaning you’ll have to implement longer sequences of commands.
It’s unabashedly a game about coding. You’ll find yourself working with different jump commands that check whether a number is 0 or negative before leaping to another part of your sequence, you can leave comments to keep the list of tasks readable, and with the copy commands you can store numbers on special floor tiles and pick them back up later, similarly to how variables work. It’s about looking at the input you are getting and setting up a sequence that will deliver the desired output regardless of what numbers are fed to you from the inbox. The game actually does check whether your code would work with numbers other than what you were given, so there is no hacking it, even though the game does a great job at accepting a myriad of different workable solutions.
Human Resource Machine manages to make these mathematical coding puzzles fun to solve and even an outsider can, with some practice, learn how to solve its puzzles. There is a great learning curve to this game and it’s good design that it stops you the moment your code ceases to work or delivers an unexpected output. You can then rewind step-by-step to see where things go wrong and figure out a fix, though I will say that for particularly lengthy levels it can be utterly impractical to spam the rewind button until you spot a mistake. I like that you have this slider to speed up the processing of your work, but a similar feature for rewinding wouldn’t have been amiss.
I also found that later stages got particularly tough, making the process of troubleshooting a bit too much like doing actual work. Even so, I did have a lot of fun working through the first 2/3 of the game, and there might be dedicated puzzlers and code fanatics that will have a really good time with the remaining challenges.
Gameplay score: 7/10
No work before coffee
The presentation of Human Resource Machine is, like the game’s title, a deliberate jab at dreary office culture. Levels are very grayish and look dull, but are populated with bobble-headed characters and I am still unsure if all the female employees just have weird mouths or if those are moustaches. The soundtrack is also really unfitting, but I found the tracks to be catchy, especially the main theme was really comedic and had me sticking around on the title screen for a while.
Presentation score: 7/10
Tidy up your code
Human Resource Machine has some really effective bonus content. For starters, each level (after a certain point) challenges you with coming up with effective solutions. You can earn two rewards per stage, one for staying beneath a certain amount of commands used and one for the amount of steps it took your character to finish his routine. While the latter can sometimes be really dependent on the numbers you get, it was fun to try and optimize my code to run with as little fluff as possible.
The game’s story mode also branches at some points to allow you to tackle some harder, optional stages, which themselves have these optimization goals you can work towards. I didn’t do many of these, but those that I did complete were clearly a step up from what you are asked to do in the story mode at that point.
Extras score: 8/10
It’s interesting to see how the context of a video game, even an indie game with a weird theme like this, can make an ordinary day job seem really fun. If you are interested in programming to any degree, then I can really recommend this game as an exercise for getting a grip of some of the basic logic behind it. It frames its puzzles in ways that are fun and rewards players for going the extra mile with optimization.