The 10 Best Hacking, Coding, Computing Games

As anyone who watches their feeds knows, we live in a constantly evolving cyberpunk dystopia. They’re connecting toilets to the internet, for heavens sake. If this Gibsonist world is just too REAL for you, we have put together the ten best videogames about hacking, programming and computing so you can escape into meta-dystopia. Which I’m sure is a much better place.

This article was originally published November 9th, 2015 and has been updated with great new games.

10. TIS-100

[official site]

Oh god, get ready for your brain to hurt. TIS-100 is by Zachtronics, the puzzle game developers responsible for Infinifactory and SpaceChem. It’s marketed as “the assembly language programming game you never asked for” and while I normally spit on all marketing slogans, I cannot help but nod approvingly at this one.

Here you’ve found a mysterious computer from the 70s in your late uncle’s possessions. He was once toying with it, trying to figure it out. Now, it’s up to you. In its most basic sense, you have to get numbers to pass through the machine from point A to point B, while achieving the “goals” of each level (for example, make the positive number pop out first, then the negative). To do this, you are given a list of commands stated in an opaque user manual. The game encourages you to print this manual in paper form. It’s covered in your uncle’s annotations and highlighter marks, offering clues about the machine’s nature.

It’s also a mind-crushing game of logic and mathematics. Mathematics that ought to be obvious and basic yet still somehow gives you trouble. But even if you struggle through, you can still appreciate the cleverness of it all, the mechanical clicks and whirs, the blinking numbers ticking through the machine. Completing an early level often has you standing back, feeling like you’ve just cracked the Enigma code. Then you go on YouTube, and see the madness that awaits.

Notes: Zach of Zachtronics is adept at hacking electronics and code together. Here he is making a programmable typewriter, and here playing with the indecipherable guts of a crappy old Star Wars game he loved as a child.

9. Gunpoint

[official site]

Pneumatic trousers have never been so inviting. In Gunpoint, your shady spy protagonist has to break into guarded buildings and steal data for his private clients. To do this, you’re given the Crosslink, a device that lets you manipulate the wiring of each level. You are essentially a clandestine electrician with trousers that allow you to bound over buildings. You can rewire light switches to give guards electric shocks, toy with the elevator so it travels up and down, and (eventually) you can rewire firearms themselves. Because dystopia.

It isn’t all messing with wires though. Gunpoint retains a love of wacky violence. You can slam open a door in a guards face, jump on them from the ceiling ninja style, or pounce on them from afar and take them plunging from the rooftops, only to smack them in the chops dozens of times after impact. I think this is called ‘social engineering’.

Notes: Developer Tom Francis used to be a games journalist, which is objectively the most noble of careers, before he began using GameMaker to create Gunpoint. Having learned the hard way, Tom then began a YouTube tutorial series to help people learn how to use the same program.

Bet at Iguana's, it's 100% legit!

8. Hackmud

[Official site]

Hackmud is a terrible, wonderful place. You exist as an AI bot inside a connected future-world. It’s been a long time since the humans died out (or disappeared to space, it’s a bit ambiguous). As such, you must collect and earn GC, a virtual currency, because this is what scrappy constructs like yourself live for. Unfortunately, there are others. This is an online hacking game, where another player might break into your accounts, steal all your hard-earned digi-coins, strip you of your tools (little decryption programs and the like) and release your location for all to find. If this happens, you are for the scrap heap, little bot. Time to start again.

It’s a difficult world to get into and you won’t get the full benefit of it unless you either spend some time learning basic Javascript or already know the programming language. In MMO terms, it’s akin to EVE Online. The stakes are high, the difficulty curve is obscene, and the universe is full of scam artists. I know, because I’ve been one of them. For these reasons, Hackmud isn’t for everyone. But for those who do venture into this Petri dish of paranoid pondlife, it can be a crazy adventure.

Notes: Hackmud was our favourite MMO of 2016

7. Minecraft

[official site]

I’m sorry. I tried to think of a good reason not to include Minecraft on the list. It’s a survival  game. It’s about punching trees. It has infected millions of innocent children. But the more I tried the harder it became to disregard all the tinkering, toying and creativity that has gone into Mojang’s indie luvvie-turned-superstar. First, people started making 16-bit computers inside the game, then they made huge circuit board structures with RAM, capable of division, then they made music box landscapes that could play whole songs, then they made older Notch games inside the game, then they made WHOLE DESKTOPS with functioning keyboards. Then they made hard drives to save all their hard work to, and then, because you need a place to put all these machines, they made the entirety of Denmark. Even RPS got in on the action, with RPS contributor and living Intelligence Quotient Duncan Geere giving readers a running lesson in code using the game as a teaching tool.

I can understand if some people believe Minecraft is less a hacking or programming game and more of a game for hackers and programmers. But it’s clear from the above examples that the latter is good enough for the purposes of this list.

Notes: Of course, Minecraft isn’t a game for all hackers. In June 2011, the hacker group LulzSec brought down the game’s servers as part of a spate of attacks on videogame companies. Other victims included Eve Online, Bethesda, Sony, Nintendo and The Escapist.

6. Duskers

[official site]

You know the opening scene in Aliens, where the little probe comes into Ripley’s escape pod and scans down the room with a wobbly blue light? That’s how Duskers feels. You control a squad of drones as you look for salvage among the stars. You need scrap and fuel to keep your ship going. To get this you must board and explore the derelicts littering the galaxy (for reasons not quite clear). Any other designer handed this premise would immediately think: ‘Okay, so point and click control and maybe some hotkeys’. But not Misfits Attic. For this job, you will rely almost entirely on a command-line terminal.

It’s a move that fits perfectly with the game’s atmosphere and art style. The user interface is all about that clunky 1970s Nostromo-vision of the future, right down to the pause menu. Presented with a schematic of a ship, you type commands to move a drone to a power outlet and generate electricity. Then type more commands to open doors. Slowly you make your way through the wreckage, hoping that behind the next door there is no alien menace. This would be terrible news. Your robotic helpers are so fragile they may as well be made of phone screens.

A lot of hacking games are about panicking and typing fast under pressure. But Duskers is about being meticulous. Use motion scanners and sensors to detect harmful bioforms. Flush aliens out of the ship by remotely opening airlocks, or luring them towards turrets. It’s made more tense by the roguelike structure and the FTL-like fuel consumption.

Notes:  You can create your own commands using the “alias” command. For example, typing “alias getoutofthere navigate 1 2 3 4 r1” will create the unhelpfully long command “getoutofthere” which you can then type to scramble all your drones back to the airlock.

54 Comments

  1. Edgewise says:

    I’m guessing y’all never heard of Core War.

    link to en.wikipedia.org

    Two programs go in…you get the idea. Players write little assembly programs for a virtual machine (before anyone knew that the term existed) that try to terminate each other. Every so often I remember to be surprised at how few people have heard of this game that came out in 1984. I’m equally surprised at the fact that I’m unaware of any similar game.

    • Artist says:

      Oh my god, he knows Core War! What a guy!
      No wait, name-dropping is just an attempt to look cool. But its not…

      • Edgewise says:

        Sounds like I upset you by showing off my amazing knowledge of the existence of Core War. I never knew that could be so intimidating.

      • GeoX says:

        Yeah, that was a weird, pointlessly dickish reply.

      • MD says:

        Man, what? He didn’t just drop the name, he explained why it was worth mentioning and offered a link (to Wikipedia, sure, but it includes a pretty interesting and detailed description of the game). I guess the tone rubbed you the wrong way, but if you’re getting an unpleasant vibe from Edgewise’s comment I reckon that’s a misunderstanding.

    • Brendan Caldwell says:

      It was number 11.

  2. GernauMorat says:

    I want a HEX hacking game

    +++Mr. Jelly! Mr. Jelly!+++ +++Error At Address: 14, Treacle Mine Road, Ankh-Morpork+++ +++MELON MELON MELON+++ +++Divide By Cucumber Error. Please Reinstall Universe And Reboot +++ +++Whoops! Here Comes The Cheese! +++ +++Oneoneoneoneoneoneone+++

  3. Uncle Fass says:

    I go absolutely mental and start turning over the furniture in my house when I see ‘coding’ used in place of ‘programming’.

    • Kodiak343 says:

      Can you elaborate? I’m in Canada and am unaware of the difference as used on everyday level. I tried to Google it but answers were unsatisfactory (From “They’re synonyms / no difference” to “Programming is the real stuff, Coding is not”, but without the detail or reference).

      • phlebas says:

        They’re basically synonyms, but the connotations are different. Actual programmers used to refer to writing programs as coding, but then it was picked up by people trying to make it appeal to kids, marketing types etc.

        • phlebas says:

          Actually thinking about it they’re not quite synonyms – I would take ‘coding’ to mean actually writing code, and ‘programming’ to mean the entire process of design, writing code, testing, debugging. So if someone refers to ‘coding’ as a complete activity there’s an added suggestion that they Don’t Really Get It.

          But mostly it’s that using the marketing-friendly term makes me itchy in the same way as if someone says they like Graphic Novels rather than comics.

  4. gabrielonuris says:

    I’m impressed that Opus Magnum isn’t on this list!

  5. Artist says:

    1. else Heart.Break()???
    No, no, no, no, no, nono!
    And wheres Street Hacker in this list? And the Exosyphen games?
    Mr. Caldwell, when you assemble a list of “hacking games” you shouldnt do that just by browsing the steam store + minecraft! Do your homework, please!

  6. Ben King says:

    i really wanted to love duskers, but hit a wall early on with my remedial under- pressure typing skills resulting in more deaths than joy. my brain was definitely faster than my fingers, but i loved trying to make the random scavenged load outs work.

  7. nathan.wailes says:

    RPS should do a shout-out for Silicon Zeroes, that guy seems like he needs help getting the word out.

    • Catterbatter says:

      Oh, nice! That’s a very Zachtronics trailer on Steam, too.

    • Brendan Caldwell says:

      It was number 15.

    • phlebas says:

      I haven’t had a chance to play that yet. But it’s from the makers of Manufactoria, which is free and wonderful and should definitely have been on the list!
      link to pleasingfungus.com

    • MD says:

      +1 for Silicon Zeroes! Note that there’s a demo available on the itch.io page and on Steam. I made a few posts about the game on the RPS forums a while back, but the short version is that I recommend it to anyone who is into Zachlikes, including those who tend to find them a bit intimidating. PleasingFungus did a good job of offering a fairly gentle path through the game, as well as some tougher optional challenges.

  8. grrrz says:

    not a programmer but I played most of them (well maybe a real programmer / hacker wouldn’t play this kind of game).
    I really like the style of zachtronics game, but I gave up on TIS-100 after around a dozen puzzle. this is too much for me. Schenzen I/O is easier but infuriating in its own way (but how on earth are you suppose to do anything with 2 variables and 20 lines of codes? which kind of sick hardware manufacturer would make such a limited chip, any small 1$ arduino has infinitely more capability!). good fun though, still have to figure out the late game puzzles.

    • nathan.wailes says:

      I had the same issue (re: TIS-100), and the way I got past it was to keep track of (write down) every “trick” that the earlier puzzles had taught me, and use that log of tricks as “new moves” that I could use to solve the later puzzles.

      In that sense, the game became more about figuring out the *ideal process* for solving the puzzles as quickly as possible, rather than just about how to solve the puzzles.

      You can see my notes here (incl. things I’ve learned to do when I’m stuck to get myself unstuck): link to nathanwailes.atlassian.net

      I think I’m just a few puzzles from beating the entire thing at this point.

      • phlebas says:

        Yes, I think the key is writing things down – one of the things I liked most about TIS-100 was that I could make quick notes on each level and sketch out a solution on paper during a coffee break ready to try out when I got home from work.

      • kalzekdor says:

        Pen and paper is the most useful tool in a programmer’s arsenal.

      • grrrz says:

        I think the whole thing about synchronisation was the most infuriating. Maybe I’ll give it another try, with some time and some patience. That’s probably the limitations that make it a real puzzle game (also the background story, that I have not clue about yet). I don’t know what’s the workflow of average programmers today but I’m pretty sure they don’t have so much limitations (I do use some programming logic for my “trade”, mostly graphical programmation on things like max/msp or PureData, on occasion a few lines of code for the arduino hardware. so much simpler than this)

  9. Premium User Badge

    Risingson says:

    I think that none of you guys really sold how *good* is else.heart.Break() as a kind of Ultima VII for the modern age, apart from being a hacking game. I remember the words from… was it Pip? not liking the adventure part, and even here you say that it is just another sluggish point n clicker but do not despair because it is something else. No, it IS a point n clicker with a hacking mechanic and a lot of heart, and that heart comes from that Ultima sense of an RPG that is more adventure than RPG.

  10. zagibu says:

    Anyone ever heard of Dark Signs? It wasn’t a very good game, but it excelled in creating this cliché hacker feeling of cyberpunk conspiracy that I associate with the blinking cursor of a monospace terminal and the right electronic music playing in the background.

  11. TheAngriestHobo says:

    My favourite game about hacking has to be Number 17. It’s basically the whole reason I got into coding. It sure is a shame that it was overlooked on this list.

  12. kap42 says:

    Where is Human Resource Machine? It’s one of the greatest programming games there is!

  13. Premium User Badge

    MajorLag says:

    I’m still not really sure if I like Else or not. I recall my 12 or so hours with it as being very surreal. The hacking mechanic that makes it so interesting also makes the “game” part of the game feel like something tacked-on, but Else is so insistent on pretending the tacked-on game matters that it interferes with the hacking bit in weird ways.

    For example, there’s a scene that is necessary to advance the plot in the late game. Even though there are a bunch of ways to work out what you need to know, and find what the story has you looking for, you won’t actually be able to progress unless you activate this scene. You can’t hack your way around this, the game ignores its own rules to stop you from doing so. The problem is, though, that activating this scene requires you to sleep in your room, but by the time you’re that far into the game you have hacked your way out of ever having to sleep and there’s no indication what so ever that you’d need to. Stuff like this is all over the game.

    • Erithtotl says:

      I’d like to give else another try. I’m fascinated by the premise. But the first ‘point and click adventure parts need to be more directed. It takes so long to get to the core mechanic that I think it loses the bulk of players. Almost feels like worth going through with a walk through just to get to that point.

  14. Cinek says:

    Hacknet above Uplink? What? How is Hacknet even in top-10 I wonder? It’s one of these shitty “I want to make a game about hacking” projects. Also: I deal with websec daily, and for me every game about hacking that’s focusing on typing imaginary commands into imaginary systems is automatically crossed off as some BS that never should have happened.

    • phlebas says:

      What a peculiar objection. Do you think the makers of Uplink didn’t “want to make a game about hacking”? Or is Hacknet just “shittier” in some way?

    • grrrz says:

      “for me every game about hacking that’s focusing on typing imaginary commands into imaginary systems is automatically crossed off as some BS that never should have happened.”
      you mean like a fictional universe with a fictional set of rules that you have to understand, aka, a video game? also pretty much describes every game on this list

  15. alms says:

    Didn’t you publish this post last year, basically verbatim? If there’s some differences I have missed, can you please point at them?

    PS: sorry, two years ago:

    link to rockpapershotgun.com

  16. kelsiq1 says:

    Hire a hacker that has efficiency, handles with all professionalism and diligence. Without saying much i want to introduce a company that assisted me both with my infidelity issues and with all my other hack related issues. you can visit rootgatehacks dot com

  17. Cederic says:

    Based on RPS reviews I really wanted else Heart.Break() but when I finally tried it, I spent 97 minutes (according to Steam) experiencing the ponderous point & click adventure in which I had a dull stupid job and I had to keep traversing a small village at a walking speed of 300 metres a day.

    I got bored. Apparently this game has hacking in it but it came nowhere near me in the first 97 minutes and I wasn’t prepared to put in another 97 to see if it would turn up then.

    Forget it, if your game is predicated on a specific feature then give players access to that feature.

    So I shall have to disagree with this being the #1 hacking game : It’s got no sodding hacking in it for the entire length of time you can be bothered to play it.

    • Munchkin9 says:

      I have to say I also had a strange relationship with this game. Tried it a while ago. Hated it. Had the exact same experience as you. Sounded awesome but the hacking that was promised? No where in sight.
      Then, recently, I tried it again. Used a walk-through to power my way to hacking (if you know where to look you can get it almost right away). Then my mind exploded with how cool it was.
      I set up my own personal hacking lair in basement of the hotel. Planned to take over the world. And then I realized that there was nothing to do with all this power. And I hated it again.
      Maybe I’ll go through this all over again soon and open my eyes once more.

  18. Bookvarenko says:

    I like two games about coding and sci-fi. Is “Colobot” and remake oldscool game “Sturman”.
    link to instead-games.ru

    • Munchkin9 says:

      Oh yes Colobot! The game that taught me the most about programming before I ever went to school for it. Probably the start of my love for programming in general. Such an unrepresented game. It even has an amazing remaster/make thing (which is free)

  19. Kas says:

    Interesting list, but I believe that there is another great website missing, and it’s all about coding games and unique user solutions. CheckiO is an awesome place for those who want to learn or practice their coding skills and browse through the solutions of other CheckiO users. It’s informative, intriguing and extremely fun for those who’s into these kinda stuff.
    link to checkio.org Check it out!

  20. Ramaz34 says:

    Are you looking for a professional hacker to change your school grades and clone your spouse mobile i can refer one with over 12 years experience, making client satisfaction their top priority
    contact darkwebsolutions. co

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