A game where you are rewriting bits of machine code in order to solve puzzles. Also looks to have a level editor where you can create your own levels in order to send them to the developer and maybe get them added to the game. There is also a slimmed-down web version you can try.
Zachtronics is back with another programming game with a cyberpunky storyline and in-game ‘zines’ for you to print out and play with. If you are new to Zachtronics games then there are probably easier ones to begin with, but if you’ve played all the others then you’ll want to play this too. There is even a separate program on Steam to allow you to run programs written in the in-game language!
For those who like there programming a bit more competitive, this game uses a visual programming language and tasks you with designing the AI for a set of robots who must go up against an opposing team.
Most people seem happy to describe this as Factorio in 3D, which you can understand looking at it. It is currently in development so we shall have to see how it turns out.
The follow up to [the Sequence]. This is more of the same, but instead of being set on a squared grid you are on a hex grid which adds to the complication. As with the first game things start simple and as more types of component are added, the challenge increases.
This is “light redirection” style puzzle game where you are given a set of inputs, outputs, a grid and components you can place. The presentation looks pretty basic, but the puzzles seem solid and challenging.
If you enjoyed Human Resource Machine then this is more of the same, except with the twist of controlling multiple humans at once with your code.
If you can get past the UI which feel aggressively functional, then it looks like there is a lot going on in this game. I’m not sure if it’s a bit too much of a simulation game for this list but I’ll leave it in for now.
This one starts out looking like a Settlers-style logistics game, but the more you play and unlock the more it becomes about automating and optimising your town.
This one may put a lot of people off as it really doesn’t do a lot to make itself a ‘game’. You have a code editor and a programming goal and you have to figure it out.Marvellous Inc.
Originally released in 2000. This game involved building a robot by taking a body, adding wheels/tracks/hover, steering, motors and sensors and then wiring them all together using various logic components in order to acheive various goals from simply following a line or going through a maze, to racing through coridors and locating and shooting other robots. Before the age of online multiplayer (and way before youTube), people used to have tournaments where everyone would email their robot save file to the person running the tournament. That person would run all the robots against each other two at a time and then post the results up on a website. I have a lot of nostalgia for this one. 🙂 For a recent version, try LogicBots.
This is a curious little game which initally appears to be an ASCII rogue-like, but you quickly gain access to code blocks which build the levels and then it becomes an exercise in modifying the code to pass each level. Again, much like Elevator Saga, you have a vary paired down interface and they don’t hold your hand when it comes to already knowing how to program, but for people who already can, this looks like a fun way to use that skill.
I wasn’t initially going to include this one on the list based on the first few levels, but the thing I liked about this was that the levels you build initially become the building blocks for you to use later. It was really difficult to categorise because it is almost exactly between a programming and logistics game, but I think the programming side is the main focus of the puzzles.
This game is again symilar to LightBot in that you are giving your character a set of actions to perform. The difference with this game is that instead of simply turning on floor tiles, in this game you specifically setting different colours and/or characters within a display.
This is a conveyor-belt game where you are dealing with little robots that have data associated with them (a sequence of coloured dots). You must shuffle them around depending on their programming and later on change the programming. This game has a nice progression, has a decent challenge and have more depth than a standard conveyor-belt type of game.
I can’t think of any way you could possibly create a lower-level programming game than this. You are manipulating different materials in order to build basic logic functionality which you then add all together to solve logic problems. It’s so low level that you may actually have to deal with race-conditions across the circuitry in your solution! Not easy but if you want a challenge…
The game that inspired SpaceChem. You can place down various little machines and robot arms and then give each arm a set of actions which it should perform. Use the arms to move, combine and modify various elements. Starts pretty simple. Gets pretty complicated and if you finish it, there is the Magnum Opus challenge which gives you a whole new set of levels.
This game is now free as an open source project. The original game was released in 2001 but is no longer available. It is a survival game where you have a group of robots available to you. You can control them directly or program them to do tasks for you. You goal is to colonize nine different planets.
Very very similar to LightBot, but if you like that style of game then this is more of the same.
This is an odd one. It has a whole set of puzzles in it, but up front they seem to be more interested in pushing the language/IDE that they have made. To be fair, it is pretty much usable even on a phone (although my phone had serious slow-down issues) but it seems weird that you can then only use it within the game itself and they limit you on save slots unless you buy blocks of in-app currency. Definitely worth a look if you are very into the programming, but might end up alienating you a little.
This free, ad-supported game is quite odd because it is part logistics game and part idle/clicker, which means you aren’t really solving problems, you are mostly waiting for money to accrue. You progressively unlock different machines, product and upgrades which in turn produce more money. It’s a bit mindless compared to a lot of the other games on this list but it’s still fun to plan, build and see your little production line ticking away. Worth a look if you prefer your games on the zen side.
This one is very Factorio-lite. Enemies attack in waves and destroy your base so the game becomes a hectic combination of maintaining your factory and building new stuff in order to upgrade it. If you like time to think in your games then it may not be for you (although you can pause whilst building). The controls can also be a little awkward but it is getting regular updates and improvements and it appears to be free so why wouldn’t you try it?
This game appears to primarily be an advert for a development environment, but actually the game itself is a lot of fun and definitely gets your brain thinking. It has a lot in common with LightBot in that you are giving your robot (arm) a sequence of actions in order to get the crates into the correct order. Even if it wasn’t free it would still be worth a look. But it is free so check it out!
One of the most well-known of the programming style of game. You have a little robot and you want to light up various tiles on each level. Give them a series of actions and make use of sub routines to complete the level. LightBot has a very simple clean UI.
At first glance this looks like another LightBot-style robot programming game where you give commands to your avatar and set them off but this looks to be made more complicated by introducing things like branching paths in your programming script.
This is a pure logistics puzzle game, really nicely presented and with a decent challenge. The thing which makes this game really interesting is that each type of action happens in sequence, so objects aren’t all moving at once, but rather things moving up with move, then those moving left, then down etc. It doesn’t seem like much but it can add real depth puzzle solutions.
I’m not sure this really is unique. I think it again shares a lot in common with games like The Codex of Alchemical Engineering in that you use little devices to push, pull and rotate objects around each level, but what it is is very nicely (minimally) presented with a decent UI and puzzles which get very challenging toward the end of the game.
This seems to be one of the most intentionally unapproachable games I’ve seen in a while. It appears to be a game of wiring up various logic gates in order to get the required output, but instead of a visual interface, the game is presented as if though through a ascii-only terminal where you have type out the various components you want to use and how they are assigned to other elements.
A lot of the reviews for this seem to describe it as a cross between Big Pharma and Factorio, but a lot closer to Big Pharma. From what I can tell, it takes Big Pharma, removes the tycoon elements and gives you a larger space to create factories in, so if you just like the factory building (and watching your creations busilly working away) then you might like it.
I’m really torn on this one. It is a remake of The Codex for Alchemical Engineering but done by a different company. They have changed just enough so that it isn’t a complete copy but somehow it doesn’t quite have the same spark as the original. Now that Opus Magnum has been released it is even more obvious that the UI in this game is clunky and the progression is awkward. If you have already played all of the Zachtronic games then give this a go. It’s more of the same (just not quite as good), but if you haven’t then start with Zachtronic games every time.
Very much like Jump Step Step, this is a LightBot style programming game where you decide what actions your little robot should take and then let them go. The presentation isn’t as bold as Jump Step Step, but again it’s also pretty cheap.
It says it is educational but but it doesn’t seem to be anymore so that other LightBot clones. This game looks really pretty but appears to have quite a few bugs and the developer has said they aren’t supporting it. They did say that they plan to redesign it in the future and port it to mobile, at which point this might become a much more tempting buy. Right now though buyer definitely beware!!
This is a LightBot style programming game where you decide what actions your little robot should take and then let them go. The presentation is really bright and colourful. It’s also pretty cheap.
This is a very traditional conveyor-belt style logistics game. Move boxes from their starting locations to various different machines and then out. The only downside is that the presentation is pretty simple, but if that doesn’t bother you then this should keep you busy for a little while.
This is another programming game in the LightBot vein. Working your way through the story isn’t going to give you too much of a challenge but the graphics, story and sense of humor make the trip worthwhile. There are extra steam achievements if you want more of a challenge.
This one is a little difficult to categorize. I think it is closest to programming because the complexity in this game comes from the use of logic gates. The lasers are kind of a stand-in for electric wires, but because they are using light instead it means they can do interesting things like mixing colours.
This is a programming game in the circuitry style. You are using simple components (adders, timers, latches etc) and the game revolves around figuring out the logic and figuring out where to route the various signals from your components. The UI uses a simple circuit diagram/blueprint kinda of look which seems appropriate and allows you to see what’s going on.
Based on MindRover, in this game you create a robot from a selection of components, attach sensors and then wire up the behaviour in order to solve various tasks. The programming is logic based and will see you dragging various logic gates onto your circuit board and then wiring them all together so that your little robot can do things like follow a line on the floor or navigate through a maze.
This may be one of the most intimidating games on the list. I love programming puzzle games but I don’t kid myself that I’m a super genius at them. The idea of playing against other people has made me hold off on this one so far, but if you fancy a challenge then this is unarguably one of the most unique games on the list.
Again, this one I wasn’t sure about because, at least initially this is just an adventure game where you appear to just be changing variable values, which isn’t the same as actually building logic, but it looks like that may be something available later in the game. Might be worth a look if you like adventure games and don’t mind a slow start.
A retro themed visual programming game with a sci-fi story where you are building ‘circuits’ which act as pathways for data packets to travel along. Use the various components to affects the data as required. Comes with the graphs usually associated with Zachtronic games to encourage optimisation.
This is a visual programming game but also feels a bit like a logistics game because you are moving data around from location to location, filtering and sorting them as you go. Your solutions will earn you money which you can use to buy hats for your cat! Optimise your solutions to make more money.
This game is about automation on a massive scale. You start out digging rocks and will end up with whole rail networks and miles of stacked up conveyor belts! I personally was a little put off by the combat. I quite like the zen-like quality of many of these games, but if you are OK with being kept on your toes and having to react to attacks then this might be the mother of all automation games! You can even play it multiplayer.
This game is definitely an adventure game first and so I wasn’t sure about including it on the list, but the puzzles are definitely based around programming and that seems to be core to the game so I’ve included it. If you want programming puzzles with a whole load of story with them then this seems ideal.
This game is part conveyor-belt style logistics game and part tycoon game. Unlike Big Pharma this seems to be focused more on the logistics side of the game rather than the tycoon side. You also have a lot more floor space to play with in Production Line so you really can create huge sprawling factory floors!
This game is part conveyor-belt style logistics game and part tycoon game. If you want a pure logistics puzzle game then this may not be for you, the challenge may not be in creating the best or most efficient factory floor, but also in how you sell and market the products you are making.
This game uses a visual programming language to allow you to move your avatars through levels collecting files and avoiding enemies. The programming interface is really nice in the way it lets you wire actions together (and feels really nice on mobile) and the way you interact with (and can change the colour of) coloured floor tiles adds a lot of depth to the gameplay. There are also graphs for optimisation fun and community levels to play!
Autonauts is an automation game. You start with nothing but sticks and stones but quickly are able make your own little robots. Once you get to that point the game just takes off. You can automate anything you do either by getting the robots to watch you and directly with a nice visual programming language. Before you know it you have hundreds of the little things working away like bees in a hive. It’s really satisfying to build up little production systems and then watch them go!
Use a visual programming language to solve which involve taking one set of inputs and generating a set of outputs. Puzzles can get very challenging towards the end especially if you are trying to achieve the optional goals for speed and number of operations! On top of a really nice UI and solid puzzles, the visual style is also really quirky and fun. If this sounds interesting, don’t forget that the sequel, 7 Billion Humans is also available.
There have been lots of little web games where you put down conveyor belts to manipulate items. This game takes that concept and brings it into 3D. It’s got a fun side-story but the main draw is just how much depth the third dimension adds to the standard conveyor-belt gameplay. It’s hugely satisfying and again comes with the usual Zachtronics options for optimisation.
This game is kind of an evolution of TIS-100 in that you are still writing low-level code but there is also an electronics element involved so you are also building circuit boards with various components from simple logic gates and memory blocks, to different types of programmable processor. Again you have the usual options for optimisation and there is a sandbox mode to play with.
The blurb for this game pretty much says it all. If you like pretty low-level programming puzzles then you are in luck. The interesting part of this game is the way you have multiple modules all running in parallel which can make for some really interesting solutions. Again, you have optimisations for number of modules and speed etc.
This is a spiritual successor to one of Zachtronics earliest games called The Codex of Alchemical Engineering. In this game you set up and program an assortment of grabbers and little machines to pick up, combine and manipulate elements. The interface is really slick and it is as satisfying as ever to see little molecules being put together. Again you have graphs for things like speed, cost and footprint which keeps you coming back to fiddle.
I applied the tags based of the following vague definitions with the knowledge that these categories often cross over:
Programming: The game uses either written code or a visual language to enable to you define behaviors.
Automation: The game encourages you to build up systems which then can work autonomously and then become building blocks for further progress.
Optimization: The game gives you multiple objectives which require you to engineer solutions differently such as for speed or efficiency.
Logistics: The game focuses on movement of elements around the game area and acting on those elements (joining, separating, modifying) those elements in synchronization to achieve a goal.
The recommendations are based solely on what I enjoyed the most. It doesn’t mean the others aren’t good, I may just not have played them yet. A lot of these I haven’t played. The ordering is pretty arbitrary I’m afraid and isn’t necessarily any indication of how good a game it. I may have an unhealthy attachment to Zachtronics games though! 🙂
Full disclosure: I backed both Autonauts and LogicBots on KickStarter.
Lastly, this list is primarily intended for puzzle games and whilst a lot of other games have the ability to build logic or use wiring to solve problems, they won’t be included on the list just because they are primarily platform or survival games, so no Little Big Planet, Minecraft or Terraria I’m afraid.
This is just a simple list of nerdy programming games because I like this kind of game and I never seem to be able to find a decent list of other games in the genre (other than abandoned lists on various forums) so I figured I’d just make one. I will most likely have missed some. If you have other suggestions or just find this list useful then please let me know.