Once more with feeling, a browser game review! My brother Jari recommended Manufactoria to me, and after completing the game I have to say that this one certainly deserves some recognition. I also have a bonus feature inside.
A programming game
I like the idea of programming game – I like programming and I like games, and these two tastes should by reason go well together. (Hmm, surprisingly Wikipedia even has an article on the topic.) In practice, however, I encounter enjoyable programming games only rarely. This seems to be mostly because a programming game is by nature a rather geeky subject matter, so the creator of such a game is unlikely to give the game a pleasing interface. I’m not nearly hardcore enough to compile my own C-code just to play a game, even as I like the idea of Crobots and similar games.
Manufactoria here is a change of pace in that it’s a programming game with nice pacing and funny color; instead of just having a single huge programming task like writing a robot AI in a real programming language you get a set of puzzle levels that each provide ascending levels of difficulty. The subject matter is funny too: you have to build a limited sort of Turing machine in the form of factory assembly line for the purpose of testing and programming various robots, one for each level. You start by testing simple robot lava lamps (discard if the tape includes three or more ones) and advance to robot tanks (accept any binary string >15), politicians (accept if there are exactly twice as many ones than zeroes) and even engineers (accept all middle-reflected symmetric sequences). These are of course relatively simple tasks for a full modern programming language, but it’s surprisingly tricky to do some of these things when you only have a tape for storing information and a limited space in which to construct machine state interactions sufficient for fulfilling the given task.
Aside from the topic that’s sure to please a programmer, Manufactoria shines as a puzzle game: each of the game’s levels provides a different task with the same tools, which increases playability; the full complexity of the game is discovered through a nicely increasing difficulty curve; there is no artificial difficulty injected; skills are transportable from level to level and even from real life to the game – anybody experienced with pre-’00s programming languages will have an edge in this game. The fact that you can measure the efficiency of your solutions by the time it takes for your sorting machine to fulfill the task or by the number of components you need to do it is a nice bonus when seeking dedicated mastery of the game.
The bonus feature
Tetris Hell is a brilliant joke game with a very simple premise. So simple in fact, that the game was designed in a webcomic for all practical purposes. I’d seen the comic in question a few years back so when Markku showed me the game last weekend I recognized the crazy idea as curiously familiar. As can be imagined from the image, this game is rather… difficult. Good luck getting even one line.