I have been sending this list of games to my friends over and over, so I figured it was time to formalize and detail and post. It also gave me an excuse to practice dvorak. Let’s go!
Carnage Heart – for psx was the first of these games that I ran across, although I was in no way prepared to deal with it. For those that don’t know it, it is a mecha RPG, but the core of the game is a complex flowchart system. Using these flowcharts, you can program the mechs for battle, setting movement rules, firing distances, and the like. Unfortunatwely the game had a learning curve that was near verticle. I didn’t play the second installment, but from what I understand, they only ramped up the difficulty.
This game is absolutly targeted at real programmers, not people that just want to mess around. I wish I still had a copy, so I could revisit it with my current knowledge.
WarioWare DIY – Oh man, this one was exciting. I don’t normally play too much DS, but this kept my interest for quite some time. On the surface this game is a clone of gamemaker, but the limitations are pretty brilliant. Animations are limited to four frames, things like random states require hoop jumping, and games can only last five seconds. Worth messing around with for sure.
The major downside is all the hoop jumping that is required to share your levels. I lost interest after sending my code to a few people, waiting for responses, and then having my games played. It would have been nice if your levels just had URLs that you could send to people, but I imagine that nintendo had issues with that.
Zachtronic Industries – This is where I started noticing that there was a demand for this type of game. Zachtronics’ games are unbelivebly nerdy, almost to the point of being unplayable. They wallow in this nerdyness though, and that makes them quite enjoyable. I am really looking forward to his next one, which looks like it is going to be a really epic challange.
manufactoria – I came to this game through Zachtronic Industries. While it does have some of the same nerdiness that is present in the Zachtronic games (some of the puzzles are just building binary arithemetic systems) the turing machine in the game is pretty easy to wrap your head around. This goes a long way to making the game a pleasure to play. The machines are also built with a small set of components, which leads to a ton of fun problems that just have to do with the arrangement of elements, in addition to the order of operations.
trainyard – I feel like this game is simultaneously a stretch to fit in with these games and also just about the best programming game on this list. A stretch because it isn’t really turing complete like the rest of them. Because it isn’t turing complete, it can have a simple instruction set, in fact, it only has one instruction that can be used in two different ways.
The criticism that I can level against this game is that it is a bit too simple. With only one instruction, the problem space is limited to two issues to manage, timing and order. I found myself blowing through the game at an alarming rate. It did tickle my brain in a very similar way to these other programming games though, so I think it is pretty safe to include on this list.