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Coding and gaming with Human Resource Machine

Coding-based puzzler that teaches programming skills

Human Resource Machine is a popular puzzle game for iOS that helps you learn coding skills while you play.

You take the role of a nameless employee in a faceless company called “Tomorrow Corporation”.  Your job is to direct a hapless worker who has to carry line of boxes from one side of a beige room to the other.

Boxes with letters and numbers appear on the left, in a line called “Inbox.” You must carry them to the right and drop them on the “Outbox” according to the order.

You may be instructed to put them in order, put only boxes marked 0 (or not marked 0), double each box, or times each value by 40.

All of this is done under the eye of a harsh supervisor who checks your output and barks out even the slightest error.

Coding in Human Resource Machine

Your hapless worker drone has to be issued exact commands to move boxes

Human Resource Machine review: boxing clever

What makes Human Resource Machine interesting isn’t the story (there isn’t one). It isn’t even a game set in a drab office, which has been done before. More important is the game mechanics.

Rather than control your character directly, you guide them by dragging instruction blocks in order. These start out as simple “inbox”and “outbox” (pick up and put down). Then you move on to “copyto” and “copyfrom,” which enable you to put down a box on the ground enabling you to pick up another box. Then you move to more complex commands like “add” and “subtract” before using “jump” and “jump if 0” to start repeating or skipping commands.

As you solve problems you are increasingly given more advanced commands and harder problems to solve. You are ranked by the number of commands you use, and the number of steps your employee takes. So gain extra points by coming up with clever and efficient solutions.

Coding in Human Resource Machine

You are graded on the efficiency of your solutions.

Human Resource Machine Review: coding on the sly

Part of Human Resource Machine’s appeal is the belief that it’s surreptitiously teaching programming skills.  The maker say: “Don’t worry if you’ve never programmed before – programming is just puzzle solving. If you strip away all the 1’s and 0’s and scary squiggly brackets, programming is actually simple, logical, beautiful, and something that anyone can understand and have fun with!”

While this is true to a small extent. We assure you that you’re not learning actual programming in this game. What you’re doing is using program-esque blocks to solve logic problems.

Coding in Human Resource Machine

The game is clever enough to spot solutions that work in some, but not all, cases

Human Resource Machine is a great game for logic nerds, and we love playing it. But an absolute beginner to programming isn’t going to get a head start in Python from this game. For that they’d be better off spending time in Scratch or Codecademy. Even Apple’s upcoming Playgrounds app (due in iOS 10) is more closely linked to actual code than Human Resource Machine

Having said that, it’s a clever and charming game that manages to be easy to pick up. It also becomes deceptively difficult, and you’ll feel a great sense of achievement when you come up with a clever solution that solves a problem efficiently.

Code nerds will love it.