Except for their initial programming, the three robots are identical inside. They are equipped with four thrusters and bumper sensors, grabber, radio antenna (for basic communication with other robots), battery, and a periscope to use while riding inside a robot.
Throughout the game, the player is presented with various challenges which require programming the three robots to accomplish various tasks. This is done by wiring a synchronous digital circuit, consisting of logic gates and flip-flops, inside of the robots. Tasks and puzzles range from navigating a simple maze and retrieving items to complex tasks requiring interaction and communication between two or more robots. Though the player can ride inside the robots, most challenges involve the robots acting autonomously and cannot be completed with the player inside (and perhaps simply rewiring their robot on the fly).
The robots can also be wired up to chips, which provide a convenient and reproducible way to program the robots. Various pre-programmed chips are scattered throughout the city and range from complex circuits such as a wall-hugging chip which can be used to navigate through mazes and corridors (one of which is wired to a robot at the beginning) to clocks and counters. The player must find out how these chips work themselves, as the only information about each chip is a short, and sometimes cryptic, description. Additionally, there are predesigned chip files stored on the various disks containing the game that can be loaded into the in-game chips. The available chips stored in this fashion, vary depending one which port or version.
The Innovation Lab can be used to test out circuit designs in the robots or create new chips. Chips created in the lab can then be loaded into and used in the main game. Load a chip in the main game will erase the previous programming in the chip used.
Although the game is recommended for ages 10 and up, it can prove to be quite challenging even for adults. In terms of educational value, the game teaches the basic concepts of electrical engineering and digital logic in general.
Carnage Heart involves programming mechas that then fight without any user input.
ChipWits by Doug Sharp and Mike Johnston, a game for the Apple II, Macintosh, and Commodore 64 computers is similar in both theme and implementation, although the interface to program your robot differed.
Epsitec Games created Colobot and Ceebot in recent years for Windows machines which are in many ways spiritual successors to Robot Odyssey. In these games the player program machines to accomplish puzzle tasks. Instead of using logic flops, switches, etc., these two games instead teach the player the fundamentals of object oriented programming like Java, C++, or C#.
There is also a clone written in Java, Droidquest, which contains all of the original levels and an additional secret level.