If you ever thought back with longing to beautiful summer days spent filling out code sheets with a worn-down pencil and a well-thumbed processor instruction code book your only companions, well, Zachtronics' TIS-100 might just be your worst nightmare.
The thin plot has your Aunt Doris sending you a bunch of your recently-deceased uncle's belongings, including the TIS-100 and its manual, the last thing on which he was working. Because of some cryptic hints in the manual, and because you have more curiosity than sense, you decide to recreate his work and discover the hidden purpose of this mysterious device.
All this is merely a wrapper to the meat of the game, which is to write programs in assembly language to solve little problems. The TIS-100 is comprised of up to twelve processing nodes which run independently, connected to adjacent nodes via ports. There is no RAM, and the instruction set is 70s-era microprocessor simple.
Like its predecessor, SpaceChem, TIS-100 is a puzzle game where solving the challenge is usually only the start of the fun. The number of nodes you used, the execution time, and the number of instructions used is compared to everyone else who has solved the puzzle. Your solution too slow? Back to the drawing board.
TIS-100 is in Steam early access, but I'm not seeing anything terribly unfinished about it. The user interface is fairly functional, and that's part of its charm. You can even go full screen for the complete old-school experience.
I just can't imagine anyone but programmers, especially those of us who actually had to do this kind of stuff back in the day, really enjoying this. The manual is minimal (but hilarious in a geeky way). The TIS-100 doesn't do a fantastic job of introducing people to parallel programming or even the sort of assembly language likely to be used by anyone — this is a really stripped down set.
That said, you may just have found the hardcore programming game you never knew you were missing. SpaceChem with all that distracting space and chemistry stuff removed…. I'm having a heck of a great time with it.