YoYo Games Instant Play
by Maarten Baert
1860 -- Etienne Lenoir, a Belgian engineer, patents the world's first internal-combustion engine.
1927 -- Georges Lemaitre, a Belgian physicist, proposes the "Big Bang Theory".
2011 -- Maarten Baert, a Belgian game maker, releases The Machine!
OK, a little over-the-top hype here. Maarten's game may not mobilize humanity like the gas engine, but in the world of Game Maker, it ranks very highly. The Machine was written by Maarten Baert, with help on level design by longtime GMC resident, Erik Leppen. The game was initially released for the 24th Game Maker Contest, held by the Dutch Game Maker Community.
The Machine is a physics-based construction/puzzle game, reminiscent of The Incredible Machine series created in the 1990's. The goal in each level is simple: get the ball into the cup. You do this by assembling various parts, and then letting your "machine" run. Some solutions involve constructing simple ramps so the ball rolls into the cup. But later in the game, the solutions become more complex, resembling actual machines with moving parts. That's all there is to the gameplay. What could be simpler? ...right.
When you first start the game, you're presented with menu options including HELP and SANDBOX. I highly recommend you read the HELP instructions, and then visit the SANDBOX. They explain the various machine "parts", and how to assemble them. In fact, the HELP page is so well-written, it's worth showing here (below)
Original size 800 x 600
This is an example of a well-written HELP page: short, clear and concise, with illustrations. Your next stop should be the SANDBOX. Here, you can practice a few minutes with the various parts, and get familiar with how to connect them to each other, and to the various attachment points.
Original size 800 x 600
In the sandbox level, you have an unlimited supply of the parts, so you can experiment with how they fit together. The parts include (from left to right) girders of various shapes and lengths, flexible ropes, springs, rigid connectors, and rivets. In the actual game, however, only a limited set of parts is available for each level. So you must be clever about how you assemble them. And frugal. Other tools, such as ramps, motors and anti-gravity blocks are introduced in later levels.
Perhaps the best designed feature of the game is it replay value. Once you complete a level, you can choose to save that solution and move on. But at any time during the game, or in another game session, you can return to a level and create a different solution. Perhaps you want a solution that's more elegant, or one that uses fewer parts. Or maybe you want to create a "Rube Goldberg" solution that's more playful. This is what gives the game such wonderful replay value.
The player's interface for this is absolutely wonderful. When you start the game, the levels you've completed are listed on the left, along with the next few uncompleted levels. You can select any particular level and view a "thumbnail" image of your saved solution. Or you can view the layout for the uncompleted levels that await you. Here's a screenshot of my current progress, showing a preview for a particular level:
Original size 800 x 600
It's the multitude of possible solutions that gives The Machine such appeal. For example, one particularly difficult level is "Elevator". In the GMC topic, Maarten says "Elevator is actually incredibly easy if you know how to do it. My solution uses just 5 parts. But there are also more complicated solutions, like this one:"
Sound and Graphics
The game has no background music -- a wise choice, as music would only distract. But there are a few well-chosen sounds that add realism. First, there's a "clanking" sound when you accidentally bang girders together during assembly. But the unexpected surprise is the loud "pop" when a rivet explodes under stress. This may happen when you assemble something incorrectly, or when your flawed design collapses like a house of cards.
The graphics are simple too, but well designed for a game like this: steel gray girders and rivets, straw-colored rope. Perfect. And according to the game credits, the textured background was created by David Gurrea, who offers his textures freely on the web.
Reproducing realistic physical interactions with complex parts is a difficult task. But Maarten has done this superbly well. In The Machine, he uses a DLL called ExtremePhysics, his own 2D physics simulation engine designed for Game Maker. ExtremePhysics allows you to use complex physics in your GM games without having to worry about the math involved. And by the way, ExtremePhysics is available for download at Maarten's ExtremePhysics Website. It's a "must have" for all advanced GML programmers.
But whether or not you try ExtremePhysics, try this game. It's well constructed (pun intended), easy to learn, has tremendous replay value, and GREAT fun. So build something, already!
Edited by chance, 24 June 2011 - 04:11 PM.