Technic Wars

Here is the next in my series of articles about Fantastic Contraption, the physics puzzle game I wrote.

Today I’ll digress from the ranting and wander back into design.

I want to talk about Technic Lego vs. Star Wars Lego.

Specifically, why Fantastic Contraption is Technics and The Incredible Machine is Star Wars.

See Star Wars Lego has all these pieces that are specific things.
Like one piece might be the front nose-panel of an Y-Wing. It’s a
weird shape that couldn’t really be made out of other lego pieces.
And when you pick it up you pretty much have to make a Y-Wing like
thing out of it.

Thats like The Incredible Machine. And some other games in the
build-a-thing-to-do-something genre. The conveyor belts convey.
That’s pretty much all they do. After you master conveying you’ve
pretty much got them sorted out. So the fun mostly comes from
learning to use new things. Every couple of levels you get a new toy:
springs, rockets, hamsters, whatever. And the fun comes in figuring
out what this new thing does. How it hooks up to the conveyor belts
you already have, finding what hole in functionality it fills. And
that is a fun thing to do. So the The Incredible Machine, and other
Star Wars Lego games are very fun.

Technic Lego is a little different. There are no windsheilds or guns
or landing-gears or what have you. It is all basic building blocks.
So making a Y-Wing is much harder and it isn’t going to look anywhere
near as good. And you aren’t presented with a Y-Wing nose panel and
challenged to make something out of it. But technics has a different
kind of raw appeal to it. That of pure contruction. Because you
aren’t guided to certain solutions by your tools you make crazy
imaginative things. The feeling of creation is more raw because you
started with less.

Fantastic Contraption is like that. After the first few tutorial
levels you have to progress beyond the material’s obvious functions.
Like while wheels are still for rolling you discover that wheels are
also for building catapults out
of. Or while sticks are still for carrying you can use them as legs
to make a walker.
So each level can be solved any number of ways and players come up
with radically different solutions to the same problem.

I obviously played with Technic Lego alot more when I was a
kid/undergrad than I did with Star Wars Lego (or the space set or
whatever it is we had back before lego did cross-over marketing).
Fantastic Contraption is a direct result of that. It is the
tinker-toy simplicity that allows the player to generate complexity.
It is the blank canvas that challenges you to create.

So that’s why Fantastic Contraption doesn’t have rockets or springs or
hamsters. And you can’t resize the wheels or turn gravity side-ways.
Those would be distractions from the task at hand.

Although I would like to breifly mention Armadillo Run as a game that
has its cake and eats it too. It is all about raw imaginative
Technics energy but it still doles out access to a few Star Wars
pieces as the game progresses. And in doing so becomes one of the
best games ever made.


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