The Machineers: Episode One – What We Think:
Want to learn how to solve logic problems like a programmer? Guide a young robot on its quest to become one of the great Machineers. By fixing other machines in town, you’ll learn how to construct and repair increasingly complex mechanical sequences.
Bursting off the screen with a visual style that is equal parts Machinarium and LittleBigPlanet, Machineers is handily as charming as it is educational.
A Small Cog
Tivoli Town is a run-down burg populated entirely by robots. Starting out as an apprentice in the town repair shop, the player is given some initial challenges to solve. These puzzles introduce the key elements that make up the game’s core mechanic. Devices will be missing items like gears, chains, and sequencers. Even after these items are placed correctly, they may have to be adjusted slightly in items that require specific timing.
To get around town, simply point and click the areas you want to reach. Mousing over characters and points of interest will change the cursor icon, indicating that an action can be performed. Speaking with characters generally opens up a repair challenge.
The Fix Is In
Several of the town’s denizens have reached out to the repair shop to help with a rash of mechanical problems. Parts from various machines have been mysteriously vanishing, causing them to break down entirely. The player’s job is to put the right parts back in place, and get the machines back to their proper running state.
Starting a challenge brings up a schematic of the damaged object, and instructions on what the machine needs to do to function correctly. The parts available for the challenge are found in the boxes on the left. At any point during the challenge, the player can hit the orange “Go” button to see what the end result will be. Even if the job isn’t finished, breaking the task into smaller chunks in this manner can be helpful.
Eventually, the player is tasked with creating simple computer programs using combinations of the few instruments available. The first such challenge is a working replica of Space Invaders (cool!). It may be bare bones programming, but the interface makes it simple to grasp. The sequence of the descending aliens must be “programmed” by placing the right pieces and adjusting them accordingly. The control stick and firing button must also be hooked up and configured.
Eventually, after solving a clever mechanical lock, access is granted to the vehicle workshop. Here, the frame of the car is provided, as well as a few existing parts. It’s up to the player to get everything connected to get the car moving again, and make it fully controllable.
Broken Down on Skid Row
The imagery that links the game together is the most endearing quality. All of the characters are a hodgepodge of gears, knobs and gauges. The town is is beat up and crumbling, but it still generates a warm, welcoming feel. The building interiors resemble abandoned factories, with cracked walls and peeling paint and plaster. Though everything looks like it could collapse with a stiff breeze, it all functions, if barely: it conveys the feeling that the ever-busy Machineers are the only thing keeping the city running.
The design mockups look more like stop motion claymation than they appear in game; once animated, the overall effect is more akin to Flash than Wallace and Gromit.
A few minor glitches mar the appeal: In a couple of the schematics I attempted, the graphics would go wonky while making connections to power sources. My creations would still function as if the connection had gone through, but visually, there were odd breaks in the line. It isn’t game breaking, but it is notable.
Unfortunately, the game is a bit on the short side. Depending on your grasp of the kind of problem solving featured, it’s possible to finish the first chapter in under two hours. At present, one additional chapter is available as downloadable content, and features more difficult puzzles. At 5 dollars per chapter, it’s not an expensive game, but there also isn’t a lot of replay value.
Rage With The Machine
As a lite programming tutorial, Machineers covers a few of the basics, and does so with a lot of heart. Wrapping it up in a quest-like progression is a great way to have the lessons increasing in difficulty. It doesn’t go incredibly deep into the world of programming, but it is a satisfying game to play.
Watch the official trailer for Machineers: