224th played so far

Genre: Puzzle
Platform: Internet
Year of Release: 2008
Developer: Colin Northway
Publisher: inXile Entertainment

Today a short one. While waiting for Everquest to download (who’d imagine that a 13 year old game would require a 7GB+ download? At least  it’s not Aion… that took all day to get) we searched for something smaller to entertain ourselves with. Going through our lists, we came across Fantastic Contraption, which seemed like a charming little game.

From earlier experience, I always loved The Incredible Machine and its spinoffs. While this game looks like it doesn’t entirely match that, the basics seem similar – create a special machine to reach your specific goal. As a certified engineer (despite of a different area), I’m already loving it.

Our Thoughts

It sounds simple. You have a red package. It’s in a blue background box. It needs to get to a red goal box. You have several types of rods to get it there, as well as wheels that turn clockwise or counterclockwise. To reach your goal, you build a vehicle using this to do so.

It’s a simple concept and many of your solution will likely use variations on the same idea. The differing requirements, however, always require that you adjust your strategy. It starts off with your goal being above the ground, meaning that you need to find a way to keep your package higher up. Later you need to get over blocky terrain, knock over a wall and ride over its bricks, and even switch directions part way through to get to where you need to go. You create mini-tanks, higher triangles to lift you and wheels that pull the package like a horse pulling a cart.

The physics are solid. It’s at times annoying and it takes some time to get used to them, with how the rigidity and gravity will affect the different options. The schoolboy technique of relying on triangles work as they create a stable situations. Lots of cross connections can help, although there were times where removing them for more flexibility got the package there faster.

The biggest frustration might actually be in the environment. The graphics are simple and clean, with nothing extraneous and no cute touches added. This mostly works, but it can be unclear how different background elements affect the path (movable, solid and such), with the main question being how much they actually affect your interaction. The force and weight of your vehicle seems unspecified, which is what can get in the way here. Related to that, sometimes the elements you need to solve the puzzle are hidden out of view, which seems a bit tricky when it makes such a big difference. It just feels a bit less fair.

For me the biggest physics problem was with friction. It is clear by the fact that the wheels have some form of traction that there has to be some sort of friction acting here. As a teacher who, as of writing this, is teaching forces to three separate classes my spotlight on physics is abnormally bright. In terms of weight/gravity this is pretty solid, momentum is okay but could do with a little work… but friction is too patchy to be reliable. Then we get to the concept of weights and counter-weights where it would be helpful (in the creation of a turning force/moment) to know the mass of the red square in relation to our wheels… after some experimenting it can be determined that they are near enough the same.

Final Thoughts

It’s a fun diversionary game and I will probably be back to play the later levels (you gotta love free games) as well as linking to it to students as a way to explain some simple force ideas… simple force ideas because there are some larger physics concepts better dealt with by games like Universe Sandbox and Portal. I’m thinking like a teacher… dear Lord.