Aku Kotkavuo



I am a software generalist from Helsinki, Finland. I’ve been working with software for most of my life. I practise writing about related topics here.

My open source projects include mpyq and jisho.


6 November 2016

👍 Recommended (38.3 hrs on record)

SHENZHEN I/O is the latest masterpiece from Zachtronics. It builds and expands from TIS-100 by giving you different kinds of parts to work with, with heavy focus on the microcontroller chips in between. The familiar elements of problem-solving, discovery and optimization define their own puzzle subgenre, a "zachlike".

The game starts with an optional real-world quest of assembling your own manual by going to a supply store and buying a three-ring binder and a 5-part divider. Then you print the 40+ page manual and divide the pages according to the instructions. I absolutely loved this part, bringing back memories from my youth when games shipped with real manuals.

The game starts with easy puzzles, which jog you through the assembly language the game uses. Real-world programming experience helps tremendously here. As you progress through the puzzles the difficulty curve picks up delightfully, although I felt the suggested order was somewhat off for a few of them. Luckily the game always offers multiple puzzle options for progression, so you can make progress even if you get stuck on a puzzle.

I've seen some confused opinions about whether the programming in this game is real or not, so take it from a professional software developer: this is real low-level programming, albeit in a very limited fictional environment. This game tickled my brain just like a good programming task does. Too bad it often doesn't make sense to optimize my real world code to this degree!

The game is still listed as early access, although there is already tons of puzzles to solve. I have high hopes for future content, including new chips and parts to play with! The only thing that's sorely missing so far is an editor for building and sharing our own puzzles. It feels like this game was tailormade for Steam Workshop. I'd love to author a few puzzles for my programming friends!