I know I just finished one game based on computer programming, but I happened to pick up another one around called Lightbot around the same time and ended up finishing it completely. Lightbot has apparently been really popular and used to teach kids some of the fundamentals of programming, and it's available on the usual platforms, including iOS and Android.

Unlike my aforementioned experience with Human Resource Machine, I actually enjoyed Lightbot overall. The puzzles start off at a very basic level where you use icons (move forward, turn left, turn right, and jump) to give your little robot commands in order to light up specific panels on the Q*bert-like stage. The difficulty ramps up and before long programming concepts like loops, functions, and conditionals are introduced and explored. Whereas Human Resource Machine felt more like drudgery than fun, Lightbot succeeds in part because it doesn't restrain itself to its source completely literally; a lot of the game's mechanics give more of the flavor of programming rather than literally teaching programming. There are some drawbacks to this, though, as experienced programmers may get a little frustrated by how the game's puzzles difficulty generally comes from artificial constraints (e.g. restricted number of commands) rather than an elegant solution, resulting in solutions that aren't at all efficient from an algorithmic perspective.

The game invites experimentation and the game design is simple but effective. The touch-based interface works great; the graphics are clean and not too cutesy; and the music and sound effects aren't intrusive. The game is a decent length and doesn't overstay its welcome, although I'm not sure how many kids would actually work through all 20 of the challenges (including some pretty tricky puzzles near the end). The game doesn't really "teach kids programming", but it does a great job of introducing some important concepts while still being pretty fun.

So far the games by Tomorrow Corporation have been pretty hit or miss for me. I'd been really impressed with their second game, Little Inferno, which was an offbeat indie game with a completely unique game mechanic that ended up being both funny and surprisingly chilling. I'm not at all a fan of physics-based video games, so it's no big surprise that I was pretty bored with their much-acclaimed first game, World of Goo.

I was a little leery of their latest game Human Resource Machine (available on many platforms, including iOS and Android, Steam, Switch, and Wii U), as it's a game about programming and I'm a professional programmer. The game starts off pretty well with new commands being introduced at a gradual pace, but things soon become pretty tedious. The visual design is very simple and pretty much identical to Little Inferno, which is a bit disappointing. The presentation in general is very bare, and at first seeing your little worker act out your code is cute. The game's code is very low level and mimics assembly language (the the Wikipedia article does a good job of identifying the parallels).

Unfortunately, pretty soon it's apparent that there's nothing much to liven up what becomes a seemingly endless supply of bone dry programming tasks. If the developers were hoping for players to really feel all the tedium of working a white-collar office job, they certainly succeeded. I also agree with other reviewers that the game would have really benefited for more hints or assists to help people who aren't programmers as you can easily get stuck without any way to proceed. Hints would also have been helpful for people who are trying to tackle the optimization challenges (optional challenges to accomplish the task with the fewest number of lines of code or fewest number of actions).

It's a little difficult to imagine who the game would really to. Hard-core programmers would probably enjoy working through the optimization challenges, and budding programmers may find this an interesting way to learn about programming, but I can't see that general puzzle fans would stick with the game all the way through to the end. As a programmer myself, playing the game feels too much like work, but even despite that there's really very little about the game that feels like much fun. The game has decently high scores on Metacritic, although it seems like there are a lot of people who admired it (me included) rather than really enjoyed it, let alone finished it. It's disappointing that they're planning on continuing this game's concept with their next game, a sequel that sees you controlling multiple workers (yawn), but despite my lack of enjoyment with this title I still enjoy the developers' unique ideas and I'm looking forward to what their next wholly new game will be.

My most recent post was about Minecraft, a game with massive popular appeal that I was able to appreciate but didn't fall in love with. This week I played some of the free-to-play game Fortnite, another game that's gotten hugely popular. I took a look because it was just released on Switch, and I wanted to see what the hype was about.

In what is probably another example of a video game generational divide, I had a similar reaction to Fortnite as I did to Minecraft. In both cases I can definitely see why they're popular, but they just weren't really my type of game. In the case of Minecraft I'm just not very interested in the building aspects, which is the central mechanic of the game. In the case of Fortnite, I feel like the paceĀ of each battle is pretty ho-hum. I like the battle royale concept in general, and this is the first game like this that I've played. There are different options of how a battle's 100 players get divided up: every player for her or himself, duos, squads of 4, or 50 versus 50. The 50v50 mode is a good way to learn the ropes, but without any coordination amongst your team it's pretty chaotic.

The 4v4 mode seems the most fun as when playing casually there isn't too much pressure on an individual, and I can see the game being pretty fun with an 8 player 4v4 match with friends. I found playing solo to be pretty boring, though. I suppose the release on Switch brought in a ton of new players all at once, and in the squad battles I played I was often fighting with people who were even more new to the game than I and who got killed pretty quickly. But even regardless of that, I found the game's elements to be fun but at odds with the battle royale format, which makes sense if you keep in mind that this was a mode released after the original story mode (nowadays called "Save the World" to distinguish from the BR mode). For example, collecting materials and crafting defensive buildings is a good concept and makes perfect sense in the story mode, which pits you against waves of enemies. In the BR mode, though, it ends up being mostly used to throw up quick shields rather than forts or quickly creating ramps to get to higher places, and this type of scattershot crafting on the fly just didn't feel like much fun to me.

The actual combat is also pretty lame as well. In the story mode you can lay traps and experiment with different types of weapons, but in the BR mode shooting at a distance is extremely difficult unless you're using a gun with a scope or something with a huge blast radius like a rocket launcher. The lack of being able to aim well makes more sense if you consider it was designed for the story mode, where you're mowing down zombies who presumably don't really attack back much. So for the vast majority of each battle you're just running around and collecting a big arsenal of materials and guns, only a tiny fraction of which you'll really end up using. Encounters with enemy players usually end in seconds and aren't nearly as satisfying as in regular FPSes where you can quickly get back into the action by either respawning or starting a new battle.

Reading through comments online it seems like I'm definitely the only person turned off by the fact that for every battle most of the time there's nothing really going on. The BR mode has only been out for about nine months, and since it's been so popular it'll be interesting to see if the developers add modes to make it more fast paced (a smaller starting area would definitely help). I probably won't touch this again unless a group of people I know are playing, but I'll be keeping an eye out for updates that might fix some of the issues I have with the game. I can't say I'm that interested in the story mode, but it's co-op so if it ever came to Switch I'd be open to trying it out.

Survive these Fortnite links:
- Trailer of the Switch version
- Intro to the game at Nintendo's E3 2018 Treehouse Live
- Entry on the Battle Royale mode on Wikipedia
- Review at NintendoLife

I know I'm late to the party, but when the Super Mario DLC was added to Minecraft I knew I would have to bite the bullet and finally try it out. I get leery of games that have such immense popular appeal, and from the outside I, perhaps due to not being a millennial, didn't see much about it that interested me. I've been playing it sporadically for a while, but I finally sat down and "dug deeper" into the game recently.

I played the Wii U version, although the game is available on pretty much every platform under the sun. Minecraft can be played in different ways, but I stuck with the basic mode, which is at its core a survival adventure game with a heavy dose of building mechanics, or more like a sandbox game with some survival adventure elements. I like that the game doesn't hold your hand much, but the in-game help is a bit too sparse at times; it took me a bit too long to learn how all the game elements work. Once I got into the rhythm of gathering resources, crafting, exploring and mining, and crafting some more the game became more fun. I worked my way up from my basic wooden weapons to crafting with diamonds and gold, but, unsurprising to me, I was much more interested in exploring the world rather than building elaborate structures. The worlds are randomly generated and mine was mostly a huge forest with a bit of jungle, although if I explored more I would probably eventually find more varied environments.

The Lego-like building aspects worked fine but didn't hold my interest, and mining for precious materials also got pretty boring. Battling enemies helped add tension, but I lost interest in that pretty soon as well since there isn't any RPG-like progression in either story or abilities (outside of being able to craft more powerful weapons and armor and enchantments). I can see why the game is so popular as its mechanics are compelling and there are a lot of fun game systems, including building, farming, raising animals, and laying mine tracks, but I have to say I'm not particularly interested in sandbox games like these that don't have any sort of story or adventure. More recent games that build on the Minecraft template, such as Dragon Quest Builders, combine the building aspects with a more traditional RPG experience, which I'd probably enjoy a lot more.

The graphics are simple but fun, and they've become iconic. I enjoyed the calming music a lot as well. The game didn't hold my attention for that long, but it was entertaining and enjoyable overall for the time that I spent with it. For now I've left my pixelated kingdom and don't have any plans to return to it in the near future, although I could see how this would be more fun as a co-op game, so I may try that at some point.

Survive these Minecraft links:
- Trailer of the Super Mario Mash-Up Pack
- A video of highlights of the Mario Pack from NintendoLife
- More footage of the Mario Pack
- Review of the Wii U Edition at NintendoLife

A few years ago I'd played two puzzle games on Android, both by a developed called Blue Ox Technologies. The games were 7 Little Words and Red Herring, and the former was more about figuring out words based on crossword-puzzle-like clues, whereas the second was more about grouping words into Jeopardy-like categories.

Based on these games Amazon's recommendations suggested I try out the game Bonza, and it's easy to see why. The game, by Australian developer MiniMega, probably wasn't designed to be a combination of the two Blue Ox games, but its gameplay is reminiscent of (and superior) to both. Bonza is easy to pick up and understand. Like 7 Little Words you have a set of pieces of words to put together, but instead of individual clues like in a regular crossword, the words all connect to the puzzle's category. The words connect horizontally and vertically like a crossword, and each puzzle has a really nice pace where at first you're at a loss of where to begin (especially with the more cryptic clues), but as you figure out more and more words your momentum build up right until you slot in the last piece. The design is minimalistic (perhaps a little bit too much so as the game has only a few sound effects and lacks even background music), but it's satisfying to put together words even for the straightforward puzzles (e.g. colors).

The larger puzzles can be take quite a bit of brain power to solve, but the game offers up free hints given out just for watching an ad. The game offers up plenty of free puzzles as well as a daily free puzzle. You earn in-game coins from completing puzzles, and you can unlock additional packs from these coins once you've accrued enough.

Bonza was a pleasant surprise, and one of my favorite word-based smartphone games Ive come across thus far. It looks like it'll take me a good while to get through the free puzzles, and by then I wouldn't mind throwing some money at the developers for what is a wholly enjoyable word puzzle game. The game is available on the Apple Store, Google Play, and Amazon, so it should be easy to track down if you're interested.