Look for the Human Resource Machine icon in the App Store.
Look for the Human Resource Machine icon in the App Store.

Human Resource Machine

Cost: $4.99
Seller: Experimental Gameplay Group
Devices: iPad, iPhone and iPod Touch
Rating: E10+ (Everyone 10 and older)

Pros: Good problem-solving designs. Simple concept.
Cons: No tutorial and limited assistance.

First impressions

I know it’s been a while since I published one of these. I’ve been a busy bee, and I just couldn’t find an app I liked. Beyond that, the App Store is clearly pushing its iPad Pro agenda, which means that a number of the cool-looking games aren’t available to me and my apparently outdated iPad 3.

Anyway, I had a bit of time over last weekend to go a-hunting for a new app, and I came across the Human Resource Machine. According to the information in the store, this is from the creators of World of Goo and Little Inferno. I had not heard of either of those apps, but people don’t tend to brag about failures or disasters, so it seemed the designers already had a couple of winners under their belts.

I liked the promise of problem-solving games – always my favorites. I think I also found the dark brown, towering skyscraper in the picture oddly reassuring – like Tim Burton meets Wall Street.

Even though the app cost more than I would usually spend, I figured I’d splurge since I’ve left you all hanging for so long.

I paid up and braced myself for the message from Apple, berating me for still owning a piece of substandard technology. No such message appeared. The app downloaded, and I now had myself a copy of Human Resource Machine.

That can't be good.
That can’t be good.

How it works

First you need to choose an employee tag and an avatar for yourself. You don’t get many to choose from – two male and two female with different hair colors. It won’t matter – trust me.

Anyone who has worked in an almost empty, soul-sucking room, with perhaps some conveyer belts thrown into the mix, will feel right at home when the next screen opens up. You are the sad little character on the left, and on the right, a pencil-pushing boss sits at a desk, ready to throw some tasks your way.

You are standing by one conveyer belt labeled “IN” and across the room is another belt labeled “OUT.” If you’re quick enough to grasp the implications of these two pieces of machinery and their titles, you’re on your way to victory.

Tap the speech balloon hanging over your boss’s head to get some instructions; then comes the fun part. He says that you can ask him for further information, or you can tap your character to bring up “Hello again,” “Tell me more,” “Give me an example,” and “Optimization challenges,” but really, you don’t get much more than you’ve already been given. This is not terrific if you’re sitting there, scratching your head.

Once the boss has told you what you need to do, a sidebar will appear on the right hand side. It’ll tell you to drag things into it to create a program and thus a solution to the problem.

I’ll give you some information so you don’t end up faffing about, trying to drag everything in sight to that sidebar: you drag “inbox” or “outbox” to it at the beginning. You’ll get more commands later on, but that’s what you’re dragging at the beginning. You’ll thank me, believe me.

Along the bottom of your screen is something that looks like a play button, and that’s exactly what it is. Every time you press it, your program will run so you can see whether it works or not.

That can't be good.
That can’t be good.

If it doesn’t, your boss’s speech balloon goes fire engine red, and you’ll want to hit the stop button icon to try it again. The rest of the buttons are fairly self-explanatory, along with those at the bottom of the sidebar. I don’t want to spoil all the fun for you.

When you’ve completed the first task (considered your first year), you move on to the next level (second year) and so forth. Naturally, the tasks get more complicated and more commands get added to the mix, including “copyfrom,” “copyto,” “add,” “jump,” and so on. You’ll get the hang of it.

After the first four levels you get a coffee break, and after the “Rainy Summer” level, the path splits into two. You can go either way. You’ll be completing all the levels in the long run anyway.

My only piece of advice is that just like climbing over a ravine and not looking down; you don’t look up through the levels to see how far they go. They go on and on and on. You’ll then realize that there are much more complicated tasks on the horizon, so savor your easier moments of simply slinging things from the inbox to the outbox.

P.S. If you do decide to take the left path when you reach the first junction, be prepared to deal with a cow of a boss. She doesn’t seem to have any patience at all.

When I tried it

I really did have some hiccups at the start, because I simply could not figure out what the heck I was supposed to be dragging onto that sidebar. When I finally clued in on the whole inbox/outbox thing, it was plain sailing after that.

The option of running the program whenever I wanted was a nice feature, as even though I’d get the red speech balloon from hell, I could see where I’d gone wrong so I could correct it.

My knowledge of Math certainly didn’t hurt, and anyone who’s familiar with flowcharts would probably find the earlier levels a breeze.

I was well on my way up the corporate ladder after about a day of working on it.

Final thoughts

If you enjoy problem solving; Math; flowcharts; or just showing a crabby boss that you know what you’re doing while enjoying rapid advancement, the Human Resource Machine app is the one for you. I actually think it would also be a great learning tool for students, if for no other reason than hopefully it will put them off seeking a dead end office job reminiscent of the opening scenes from “Joe Versus the Volcano.”