From The Tomorrow Corporation (creators of World of Goo and Little Inferno) comes Human Resource Machine, another wonderful puzzle game with a depressing story, unique mechanics, and lovely Tim Burton-esque visuals. These guys are good at that!
This time, player is tasked with learning and utilizing simple computer programming skills in order to move items from one side of the screen to the other.
It should be noted that I’ve never programmed shit. Even navigating this stupid WordPress site often seems way beyond my capabilities as a mere human being. But Human Resource Machine breaks it down into a set of relatively simple, user-friendly commands. The challenge lies in putting them in the correct order to fulfil a specific goal.
This starts off relatively simple (GRAB ITEM FROM INBOX, PLACE ITEM IN OUTBOX, REPEAT), but becomes increasingly complicated when loop commands and modifiers are added into the mix, and when your goals become more complex. I’ve read several descriptions of the game which claim that math is not necessary to solve these puzzles – only logic. But the line between the two becomes fuzzy as fuck, especially when you’re eventually asked to complete multiplication and division problems, using only ADD and SUBTRACT commands. On paper, this concept seems fairly simple, but attempting to string together the actions necessary – in the correct order and without any “bugs” – is often brain-destroying. You have to learn to think about the relationships between numbers in ways that real life hasn’t prepared most of us for, and it can be overwhelming. In a good way, though – always in a good way.
Like many of the best puzzle games, the problems here are crafted in such a way that it’s almost impossible to accidentally stumble upon the solution. You might spend a million years utilizing trial-and-error techniques, but when you finally solve a problem, it always feels like a result of your own hard work and lateral thinking, and it’s exhilarating. Human Resource Machine will make you feel incredibly stupid, and then it will make you feel incredibly smart, but it will never make you feel lucky or unlucky. The game offers around 40 levels, including several optional ones, and I am proud to say that I completed every single one of them, except for one. This one:
Fuck that level, and you know what? Fuck prime factors in general!! You heard me.
The game’s story and presentation should feel like familiar territory to anyone who is familiar with The Tomorrow Corporation’s past work. Creepy-yet-adorable characters in the tradition of Tim Burton or Edward Gorey, a plot which relays a bleak anti-corporate message, and hauntingly melancholy music all come together to make this feel like so much more than just a game about programming commands. Kudos to the developers for putting these disparate elements together into such a unique package.
I played this on the Wii U, but it’s also available on Steam if that’s your thing. Either way, I highly recommend it for anyone who loves that feeling of getting their brain fucked hard.