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Hi, I'm Mariano Guerra, below is my blog, if you want to learn more about me and what I do check a summary here: or find me on twitter @warianoguerra or Mastodon

Playing with Code: Programming-Adjacent Games

Some weeks ago I was working on some explorable explanation for binary operators and I started thinking if there was any interesting work on making programming interactive, interesting, even fun.

I asked on twitter, mastodon and the future of coding slack the following question:

Do you know any games where the core game mechanic is about programming? Things like Zachtronics games, factorio or Robotopia

Below is an edited summary of the anwers I got.

Thanks to Ivan Reese, Cameron Yick, Joe Nash, Jeffrey Tao, George Campbell, Daniel Sosebee, Kartik Agaram, Richard Carlsson, Asbjorn, Janne Auki and Dragan Okanovic for the contributions.

Quadrilateral Cowboy

In Quadrilateral Cowboy, the player takes the role of a computer hacker in the 1980s, armed with a "top-of-the-line hacking deck outfitted with a 56.6k modem and a staggering 256k RAM".

The game is played from the first-person perspective. The player acts as the hacker overseeing one or more adept agents that have missions to infiltrate buildings and steal documents.

Human Resource Machine

Human Resource Machine is a visual programming-based puzzle video game developed by Tomorrow Corporation.

Human Resource Machine uses the concept of a corporate office worker assigned to perform tasks that involve moving objects between an inbox, an outbox, and to and from storage areas as a metaphor for assembly language concepts. The player works through some forty puzzles in constructing a program to complete a specific task.


Dreams is a game creation system video game developed by Media Molecule.

Players can create and play user-generated content in the forms of games, audiovisual experiences and game assets, which can be shared or remixed to be used in other players' creations.


Solve Puzzles using Programming!

LightBot is a puzzle game based on coding; it secretly teaches you programming logic as you play!

LightBot was designed with first-time coders. It's been played by over 20 million kids and has been used by tens of thousands of teachers worldwide.

Zoombinis (series)

Zoombinis was a series of educational puzzle computer games that were originally developed by TERC and published by Broderbund.

The series consists of three games: Logical Journey of the Zoombinis (1996), Zoombinis: Mountain Rescue (2001), and Zoombinis: Island Odyssey (2002). Logical Journey was remade as Zoombinis for modern operating systems in 2015. The series focuses on the Zoombinis, small blue creatures each with different appearances and personalities, which the player must guide through strange puzzle-filled lands.


TwilioQuest is an educational video game designed to teach a new generation of developers how to change the world with code.

TwilioQuest prepares you for real-world programming by helping you configure a local development environment and introducing tools used by professional programmers around the world. From learning how to use your terminal, to coding in Python, JavaScript, and PHP, TwilioQuest will help you develop practical engineering skills.

From the author:

I worked on a now defunct programming education game (TwilioQuest) and myself and another dev used to stream gameplay and interviews with programming game devs, there’s still some of the vods kicking around at, including a chat with Zach of Zachtronics

Nintendo game builder garage

In Game Builder Garage, the player uses a visual programming language centralized on the concept of creatures called Nodon. The Nodon represent various facets of input, game output, logic, and on-screen objects, such as a Stick Nodon that reports input from the Joy-Con analog stick or a Person Nodon that represents an on-screen character. The player builds a program by adding Nodon and making connections between the various nodes on Nodon, such as connecting the Stick Nodon to the Person Nodon as to tie the analog stick to movement of the character on-screen.[1] Nodon are available to interface nearly all features of the Switch and Joy-Con, including the infrared sensors and motion controls.

The game features a lesson mode to guide the player through using the Nodon language and to help them understand some of the principles of game development through a series of seven built-in games that the player can create.

Rabbids coding

Across 32 levels, players are tasked with cleaning up a spaceship that has been overrun by Rabbids, which is achieved by providing simple instructions to a Rabbid wearing a mind-control device.

Players drag instructions for their Rabbid from a menu and place them in order, before pressing the play button to test them out.

The goal in each level is to provide the simplest instructions possible to complete the task. Eventually players will unlock a sandbox environment, allowing them to explore and play with the instructions as they see fit.

Signal state

Set in a post-apocalyptic future, The Signal State challenges you with complex puzzles inspired by modular synthesizers. Repair machines, rebuild an abandoned farm, and be part of a revolution that will change the fate of agriculture once and for all.


A competitive game where your code is the controller.

All you need is a web server that responds to the Battlesnake API.

Develop your own algorithm to find food, stay alive, and eliminate others. Battlesnakes are controlled by a web server you deploy, running the code you write.

Shenzhen I/O

Shenzhen I/O is a puzzle video game set in the near future in which players assume the role of an electronics engineer who has emigrated to Shenzhen, China to work for fictional technology company Shenzhen Longteng Electronics. The player is tasked with creating products for clients, which involves constructing circuits and then writing code to run them. The programming language used in the game is similar to assembly language and the circuit elements resemble simplified versions of real-world electronics.

The game allows players to create their own challenges by writing Lua scripts.


Exapunks takes place in an alternate timeline in the year 1997. The fictional world of Exapunks is heavily computerized, and a disease called "the phage" is ravaging the population, turning the bodies of those affected into computerized components. The player takes on the role of Moss, a hacker who breaks into computer systems in order to afford a $700/day drug to slow the progress of his phage affliction. His hacking missions are given to him by a mysterious artificial intelligence known as EMBER-2.

Each mission takes place inside a network of interconnected and specialized computer systems. Using programmable software agents called EXAs, the player must accomplish each given task by writing computer code to cleverly manipulate the data stored on the network's systems. The EXAs' instruction set features a few simple opcodes for movement, data processing, network messaging, and interfacing with files and registers. Due to their limited memory capacity, these tasks often require several agents working together in a highly coordinated fashion. EXA units also have the ability to replicate themselves inside the network. Typical missions include retrieving data from secured storage systems, hacking into company databases, and causing an automated teller machine to dispense free cash. Some puzzles also require the player to hack Moss's body to maintain his health. Some puzzles challenge the player to hacker battles, where they must pit their EXAs against an opponent's agents, for example altering a television station's program to broadcast Moss' content instead.

Lastcall BBS

A collection of ideas that weren’t big enough for full games in their own right but still absolute bangers, has a game that I think a lot of people here will get a kick out of, called “X’BPGH: The Forbidden Path”, which is kind of a cellular automata programming game where the rules of the automata are obscured by the eldritch horror dressings of the whole thing

Boot up your Z5 Powerlance and dial into Last Call BBS, the last game from Zachtronics! The Barkeep’s loaded up his retro computer with a full set of puzzle games for you to download and play. No need to worry about copy protection, they’re all fully cracked and ready to enjoy!


SpaceTraders is an API-based game where you acquire and manage a fleet of ships to explore, trade, and fight your way across the galaxy. Use any programming language with our API to control the most powerful fleet in universe.

Baba is You

Baba Is You is a puzzle game where the rules you have to follow are present as physical objects in the game world. By manipulating the rules, you can change how the game works, repurpose things you find in the levels and cause surprising interactions!


TIS-100 is an open-ended programming game by Zachtronics, the creators of SpaceChem and Infinifactory, in which you rewrite corrupted code segments to repair the TIS-100 and unlock its secrets. It’s the assembly language programming game you never asked for!


graphing equations is the core mechanic

SineRider is a game about love and graphing, built by a global team of teenagers at Hack Club


Synthesis is I think something that doesn't look like programming, but seems to me like programming in a deep way. Seems similar to SineRider in that respect (which I love, but man it gets difficult quickly. Somebody should graph the learning curve of SineRider within SineRider :)

Shapez is a relaxed game in which you have to build factories for the automated production of geometric shapes. As the level increases, the shapes become more and more complex, and you have to spread out on the infinite map.

Turing Complete

Turing Complete is a game about computer science. If you enjoy the thrill of figuring things out and those moments where a deeper perspective is revealed about something you thought you understood, this game is for you.


ComputerCraft is a mod created for Minecraft by dan200 that adds Computers, Monitors, Modems, Turtles and more! ComputerCraft's Computers and Turtles are programmed with the easy-to-learn Lua programming language. You can use Redstone, RedPower or even MineFactory Reloaded alongside with your devices for the best experience.


It's an open-source game for programmers, wherein the core mechanic is programming your units' AI. You control your colony by writing JavaScript.


The idea is: Surely there are some really smart people who can write the bot to beat all other bots. That could be you!

Here, on this site, you can write bots that play a turn-based-squad-based game inspired by XCOM. Especially the tactical layer. There is no strategy layer on this site as that is very game dependent.


In Duskers you pilot drones into derelict spaceships to find the means to survive and piece together how the universe became a giant graveyard. In film terms it's The Road meets the first Alien movie. In game terms: It's a roguelike with elements of dungeon crawling and real time strategy, but in a survival horror setting that focuses on subterfuge, and adapting to survive.


  • Gritty retro digital atmosphere
  • Use a Command Line Interface to control drones & ship systems
  • Explore procedurally generated derelict ships and universe
  • Upgrade and modify drones with the salvage you find
  • Discover ship logs and piece together what happened
  • Find creative ways out of bad situations using tools and your environment

Old-school Games

Check Category:Programming games for a complete list.

Incredible machine (series - Rube Goldberg machines)

The Incredible Machine (TIM) is a series of video games in which players create a series of Rube Goldberg devices.

The general goal of the games is to create a series of Rube Goldberg devices: arrange a given collection of objects in a needlessly complex fashion so as to perform some simple task, such as "put the ball into a box" or "start a mixer and turn on a fan". Available objects range from simple ropes and pulleys to electrical generators, bowling balls, and even cats and mice to humans, most of which have specific interactions with or reactions to other objects: for example, mice will run towards nearby cheese, and light sources placed next to a magnifying glass will ignite wicks. Levels have a set of fixed objects that cannot be moved by the player, and the player must solve the puzzle by carefully arranging a provided set of objects around the fixed items. There is also a "freeform" option that allows the user to "play" with all the objects with no set goal or to also build their own puzzles with goals for other players to attempt to solve.

Rocky's Boots

Rocky's Boots is an educational logic puzzle game by Warren Robinett and Leslie Grimm, published by The Learning Company in 1982.

It was one of the first educational software products for personal computers to successfully use an interactive graphical simulation as a learning environment.

The object of the beginning part of Rocky's Boots is to use a mechanical boot to kick a series of objects (purple or green squares, diamonds, circles, or crosses) off a conveyor belt; each object will score some number of points, possibly negative. To ensure that the boot only kicks the positive objects, the player must connect a series of logic gates to the boot.

Robot Odyssey

Robot Odyssey is a programming game developed by Mike Wallace and Dr. Leslie Grimm and published by The Learning Company in December 1984.

It is a sequel to Rocky's Boots, and it was released for the Apple II, TRS-80 Color Computer, and MS-DOS.

The player is readying for bed when, suddenly, they fall through the floor into an underground city of robots, Robotropolis. The player begins in the sewers of the city with three programmable robots, and must make their way to the top of the city to try to find their way home again.

Core War

Core War is a 1984 programming game created by D. G. Jones and A. K. Dewdney in which two or more battle programs (called "warriors") compete for control of a virtual computer. These battle programs are written in an abstract assembly language called Redcode. The standards for the language and the virtual machine were initially set by the International Core Wars Society (ICWS), but later standards were determined by community consensus.

Tierra (computer simulation)

Tierra is a computer simulation developed by ecologist Thomas S. Ray in the early 1990s in which computer programs compete for time (central processing unit (CPU) time) and space (access to main memory). In this context, the computer programs in Tierra are considered to be evolvable and can mutate, self-replicate and recombine.

Halite AI Programming Competition

Halite is an open-source computer programming contest developed by the hedge fund/tech firm Two Sigma in partnership with a team at Cornell Tech. Programmers can see the game environment and learn everything they need to know about the game. Participants are asked to build bots in whichever language they choose to compete on a two-dimensional virtual battle field.

Ruby Warrior

Game written in Ruby for learning Ruby and artificial intelligence.

You play as a warrior climbing a tall tower to reach the precious Ruby at the top level. On each floor you need to write a Ruby script to instruct the warrior to battle enemies, rescue captives, and reach the stairs. You have some idea of what each floor contains, but you never know for certain what will happen. You must give the Warrior enough artificial intelligence up-front to find his own way.

Programming-Adjacent or Game-Adjacent

MockMechanics (arguably a game)

StarEdit or other level-editors that ship with a game

Pixel Starships

Pixel Starships has a rule-based AI engine that I think is pretty cool. You create a bunch of these rules for each crew member and give them an ordering. The highest-precedence rule whose condition is currently fulfilled is the one the crew member will take.

Games Big Enough to Require Explanation

Board Games


A programming game, designed to teach kids (6+) to program. Players try to collect gems by programming a robot on the board.

The robot takes three commands: move forward, turn left and turn right. Players string these commands to guide the robots. Advanced games include functions that can contain many moves which can then be repeated when wanted.

First player to collect three gems and return them to their home base wins the game.


Cameron Yick:

On a meta note, this question made me think about what elements of game design are “enough” to qualify as programming eg

  • Opportunity for emergent behavior? (Conway)
  • Ability to manage state / control flow?
  • System simulations (city / tycoon) - you achieve goals by modifying the environment rather than the agents
  • Has elements that can be optimized or automated
  • No single path to “win”, but some are quantitatively better than others