Programming is a skill I can’t claim to possess, even though on a fundamental level I can understand what it’s for. Pressed, I could tell you I know it has to do with programs I use daily, from basic word processors to the games I play. What makes Algo Bot different is how it covers aspects of the actual programming experience in ways that made me think outside of the box, often literally. Even with such noble ambitions it’s still hard to say for sure if left me more impressed or frustrated by the time I finished playing.
You control Algo Bot, a service droid working on the junk deck of the ship Europa while it travels through deep space. The crew is in deep sleep, dreaming about the new life that awaits them on the far side of the galaxy. When Europa’s systems start to go haywire the two onboard AI, Also Bot and (appropriately) PAL have to work together to restore the systems. If they don’t, the ship’s crew will never wake up on the other side of the galaxy.
This coding-based puzzle game is the first of its kind I’ve had the pleasure of playing, though from the first level it proved to be a challenge for me. Basically, you use visual programming language to move Algo around to complete tasks and finish objectives. This adorable robot is able to do everything from U turns to picking up objects and carrying them to another location. You’ll guide his every move and the slightest error in code means going back to troubleshoot the problem. Again and again.
I spent way too much time pouring over sequences I’d issued Algo and figuring out how to make things go from Point A to Point B. I’m not a patient person, so being forced to slow down and track each movement Algo made proved to be more than a challenge. I had to take time to go over every command, test it, and then go back to fix any errors in my sequence if things didn’t pan out like I wanted them too.
Thanks to helpful comments from PAL I did manage to get past the levels and understand how to optimize commands for my little droid. Functions were useful for putting together a sequence of commands I would have normally listed out separately over and over again.
Eventually, it started to surprise me how much, despite my frustrations getting Algo to do my bidding, how much of an appreciation for the programming concepts I was learning about. While I don’t think I’ll ever be a master programmer, it’s fascinating to glimpse what they deal with to make the programs I rely on.
Even with laudatory goals of introducing basic programming skills like functions and debugging, Algo Bot was still hit or miss for me. I loved and loathed it, often at the same time, though I did come away learning more than I’d expected to – but only by dragging myself kicking and screaming through the process (or should that be processes?). It’s a great introduction for people who want to learn more about programming, but aren’t sure where to start.