Game Review: Human Resource Machine (Mobile)

When I was young I enjoyed making .DOS based games that included one where a pixeled turtle would travel around a screen based on basic commands to chase down a dot that represented an apple. Crazy as it may seem, that was actually a retro version of video game development…..and learning how to write code at the same time.

Now being a technician, I have learned many ways to use and interpret logic code in my day to day life….but never did I think that gaming and code would ever be in the same place as once.

Welcome, Human Resource Machine, a visual programming based puzzle game from developer Tomorrow Corporation, that uses the concept of corporate office workers performing tasks between an inbox, outbox and storage areas utilizing assembly language concepts.

You play as a new hire, working you way through the corporate ladder from Mail Room all the way to the Sorting Floor by completing various puzzles that represent a “year” in your tenure with the company. There at times during your rise in the company that you will even experience a coffee break wherein there will be an interactive cut scene to add to the storyline (which is actually showing how your company is coming under attack by aliens and all your co-worker friends are being replaced by robots). At certain times, you will have the option to impress the boss and work on some “extra credit” puzzles that will provide you with some extra needed skills to be successful in completing future puzzles.

Your average tenure with the company is 40 years if you do not do any of the extra levels.

The game environment consists of an overhead view of a typical office room, which includes two conveyor belts — one is an inbox that sends small boxes labeled with numbers or single alphabetic letters, while the other belt is the outbox which will receive the boxes. The room is also decorated with fancy plants and sometimes a boxed rug (which each square is pre-numbered for use within puzzle solution in needed), which can be used for dropping boxes in order to help complete the puzzle.

Oh and then there is the floor boss who is routinely yelling at you on what you need to do and reprimanding you every time you make a mistake — no pressure!

In each puzzle (year), you are tasked with creating a list of instructions (or program) from rudimentary commands to control the movements of your in game avatar to transport the boxes from the inbox belt to the outbox belt correctly. For example, you could be told to add two numbers as they come in on the inbox or sorting a zero terminated string before delivering the results to the outbox. The method of completing of the puzzles mimics elements of assembly language (simple instructions equivalent to opcodes), the ability of the avatar to hold an item mirroring a processor registers and the spaces on the floor representing main memory. Later in the game, the concept of memory addresses comes into play when you can direct instructions to operate on specific floor space that is numbered.

There are various commands that can be utilized during each puzzle, some that include:

  • –> inbox
  • <– outbox
  • loop
  • jump
  • jump if zero
  • copyfrom
  • copyto
  • add
  • sub
  • mult
  • div

You are tasked with making logical decisions to layout the commands in correct order so that the program will run smoothly and complete as requested by the boss. The loop and jump commands even have a selective marked arrow that will help you to understand the logic flow of your program and ensure that you have the command looping or jumping back exactly where you want it to.

Once you believe you have the program ready, you can run through it at whatever speed you desire (sometimes going faster when you are confident or if you have a really long program), and see how you do. Sometimes if you are not confident with the logic order, moving the program at a slower pace will allow for you to “debug” the program if you see something not going right. If the outbox received any boxes that is not expected for the program, the program will immediately terminate and you will have to figure out what went wrong (and the floor boss will give you a scolding).

Once you complete a puzzle, you will be evaluated on how many instructions it took and how long it took to process the program on average by the local HR. Obviously there has to be some way to keep you wanting to strive to be the best….just like a real job. Each puzzle has an added “good job” for meeting or beating the average pre-set threshold for either of the instruction count or processing time. Cue the warm and fuzzies!

Once a puzzle level is completed, you can always come back and try to improve your skills and score.

I found this game extremely challenging, because the puzzles don’t have that normal learning curve….it slaps you with random difficulty as you play trough the years of tenure. And how frustrating is it when you already realized you made a mistake in your program but yet the floor boss needs to take a strip out of your hide for messing up. Seems like real life to me!? But I love a game that makes you think and strategize. Some of the best games come from those that make you earn you success rather than handing it to you.

The best part…. the opening sequence music is a sort of 50’s style that is extra catchy (especially according to my 2 year old who insists on dancing to it a dozen times a day).