For all my trying, I have the coding ability of a turnip, but that hasn’t stopped me trying every robo-programming game released thusfar. Gladiabots is the latest in this small but underappreciated genre of problem-solving strategy games, giving you a small squad of mechs, a battle/sports field and tasking you to program their brains through a visual, flowchart-like language so they can get the job done. It surfaced as a prototype on Itch back in 2016, but now it’s evolved into a full commercial game, due to arrive on Steam early access this August 9th.
Thanks to developer GFX47 (formerly of Amplitude Studios) sending me a preview build, I can confirm that even if your brain turns to soup at the slightest whiff of C++, Gladiabots is still accessible thanks to its colour-coded flowchart AI system. Your bots follow conditional instructions flowing from left to right on your chart, so if you want to have them consider one priority before another, you just drag and drop that branch further to the left. It’s simple and mouse-based, but makes me feel like some kind of cyberpunk robo-master.
The solo campaign doubles as an extended tutorial, teaching everything you need from basic fundamentals (telling your bots to carry things from A to B) to more complex tactical routines like retreating when shield damage gets too high, keeping targets at optimal firing ranges and such. The heart of the game is a sports-like scenario which you can win through violence or dropping balls into goals for points.
It feels like the game’s primary focus is on multiplayer, which is fully ranked and works asynchronously. Once someone has uploaded their squad of sportbots to the server, people can challenge it even if their owner isn’t online, similar to Gratuitous Space Battles‘s system. There’s even cross-platform multiplayer so those with the mobile version of the game can play with us.