The Incredible Machine

The experience of working through the stages of a solution, getting a little closer each time, is almost indescribably satisfying for anyone with the slightest hint of a tinkering spirit. The Incredible Machine wasn’t explicitly pitched as an educational product, but, like a lot of Sierra’s releases during this period, it nevertheless had something of an educational — or at least edutational — aura, what with its bright, friendly visual style and nonviolent premise (the occasional devoured mouse excepted!).

Man. Not only this game was fantastic and refreshing, it was very well executed. I enjoyed playing it in the evening after an afternoon fighting bad guys on consoles at my friends’ house. I would go back home and launch this puzzle feast where instead of following rules, there was none, outside the physic-based world emulated in The Incredible Machine (TIM).

I have a strong memory of feeling that TIM (and Lemmings, and Shufflepuck Café) was showing me that computer games could be absolutely anything. TIM was one of those games that made me want to be part of a development team. So much excitement from the game and the prospect of making games, firing up people’s synapses.

It thus manages to succeed as both a goal-oriented game in the mode of Lemmings and as a software toy in the mode of its 1980s inspirations.

Exactly!! Do I miss this from games. That agency. That scalability. People talk about markets, and how TIM was casual. It really doesn’t mean anything to me: you could have been playing hardcore TIM, building absurdly complex machines for hours on end. You could just try to finish a level before dinner. I’m in love with the idea of games being scalable to different lives and different people.

I feel like this is the right (and really hard) thing to do.

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