SHENZHEN I/O Released out of Early Access

Zachtronic’s latest programming game, Shenzhen I/O, has exited Steam’s Early Access program. Vaguely similar to PICO-8’s fantasy console, but Shenzhen should be most familiar to people who played TIS-100. I wrote a little bit about TIS here last year, where I wondered “who the heck writes assembly today unless they’re writing code for embedded systems?” That was a little bit of a premonition, as Zachtronic’s Shenzhen I/O is all about writing assembly code for tiny embedded computers with a light helping of laying out circuits. Those layouts are (so far in my game, I’m still not far in) just connecting inputs and outputs between multiple embedded computers that you’re programming at any time.

The version of solitaire included on the fantasy desktop in Shenzhen is good fun, but maybe one of my favorite parts is getting the feelies together. I don’t have a printer anymore, so I had to get the manual printed out at an office store and order the binder online. Putting something physical together for a game is so strange anymore.

Shenzhen manual

Shenzhen I/O is a ridiculous programming game that is available now for Windows, macOS, and Linux/SteamOS, on Steam for $15. It’s on sale for $13.49 until the 24th.


After trying a bit of Pico-8 I was still craving another fantasy micro-computer. That’s where TIS-100 comes in:

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!

The website and all of the other information about TIS-100 are very intimidating at first glance to anyone making a purchasing decision. Doubly so for non-programmers and who the heck writes assembly today unless they’re writing code for embedded systems?

Well it turns out that you don’t even need to know the barest level of programming to get started with TIS-100, the instruction set is so limited that it could fit on a three-by-five card and the way it starts out is kind of similar to that old Pipe Dream game where you’re trying to manage the flow of water by placing pipe parts and junctions. The difference in TIS-100, at the start at least, is that you’re managing a flow of data using written instructions instead of pipe pieces.

TIS-100 ups the challenge fairly quickly by moving on to more difficult puzzles where you have to transform the data in some way while it is moving through the system. Still, I think that anyone who appreciates puzzles could enjoy this game, and shouldn’t be intimidated by the programming and the aesthetic of the website. It’s only $7 to try it out via Steam or Gog and it runs on Mac, Windows, and Linux.