Factory Balls, from Bart Bonte, was for me the most immediately appealing entry of JIG's Casual Gameplay Design Competition #4. Maybe it was the elegance of the core concept and the out-of-the-box thinking it provokes; maybe it was the simple awesomeness of making ball-people with rabbit ears. Either way, Factory Balls is a great, albeit short, game that displays the clean design and quirky sensibility that I've come to love in Bart's work.
In Factory Balls the goal is to create, using various tools, the "ball physics" required for each level (I take issue with the term "ball physics" for this process, but I'll get into that later). The player begins with a rotating cog full of plain white balls and a palette of gizmos that, when used in the proper order, will cause the plain ball to match the goal design. Through logic and trial-and-error, the usage of each tool is discovered.
This description is a bit abstract, so maybe an example is in order. In the sixth level the player must create an orange ball with black "eyes" and an orange nose (it's easier seen than described). One of the tools paints the ball orange, another paints it black, another creates a nose and a fourth puts "sunglasses" on the ball in order to allow the eyes to remain black while the rest of the ball is painted orange. The order in which you apply the tools is the challenge of each level.
Play all the Factory Balls games:
The game spans 14 levels of increasing complexity, and is over if the player messes up too many times and runs out of white balls. Winning or losing, however, hardly seems the point; to me Factory Balls feels more like a neat puzzle-tool than an actual game. Half the fun is enjoying the creativity of the tools: a black stripe is created by a roll of masking tape, the "create a nose" tool is represented by a sideways plunger, and a light bulb is used to illuminate the ball from inside out. It's a bit like a hi-tech, quirky version of Mr. Potato Head.
Analysis: Factory Balls is an absorbing and inventive game with many of the whimsical details of Bart's hallmark style. In order to succeed the player must step sideways into Bart's peculiar and mischievous world, in which the edicts of logic are twisted ever so slightly; it may not entirely make sense that a sideways plunger would create a nose, but then again it kinda does--and that's the fun of the game.
During the judging of the competition, my one hesitation in awarding highest marks to Bart was that, well, I didn't think Factory Balls really had much to do with ball physics.
—noun (used with a singular verb) the science that deals with matter, energy, motion, and force.
This is going to make me sound like a mean old codger, but I didn't see a lot of the above in the core content of Factory Balls. Bart does provide a neat "extra" in the form of a ball tumbler (a larger, player-controlled version of the game's rotating, plain ball-filled cog), but it feels more like an a last-minute attempt to introduce the theme as opposed to an actual integration of "ball physics" into the game. Part of the competition, in my mind, was having to abide by the limitations of the theme, and I don't think that Factory Balls entirely did so.
But, y'know what? In the end, it really doesn't matter (I love you, Bart!). Factory Balls is an engaging, creative and most of all fun addition to Casual Gameplay, and I adore it. I think it has the potential, with added levels and perhaps increased complexity, to become truly outstanding. This is one you don't want to miss.
Jay - It just goes to show how subjective judging a competition like this is, because I viewed making a puzzle out of changing the actual physical properties of balls to be a clever play on words and a unique and creative implementation of the "ball physics" theme. Still, as others pointed out, I would like to see more puzzles, randomized puzzles to increase replay value, and perhaps even a build-your-own-puzzle with a code to share your puzzle with others as elements that would propel this entry from 'good' into 'great' territory. A very creative entry from one of our favorite developers and an active supporter of our competitions by participating in every one of them so far. Well done, Bart, and thank you kindly!