Alright, brainiacs, time to grease up the ol' grey matter and get to work! Tile Factory by Jonathon Duerig placed second in this year's Casual Gameplay Design Competition #8, and for good reason. It's a puzzler that has you programming a factory floor by laying down various treadmills and devices to get to their ultimate goal... which is probably being used as a backsplash in some obnoxious thirty-something's "Tuscan Inspired Kitchen". Sigh. Destiny is harsh.
Each level has a certain goal that needs to be met, and your job is to set down a track of all the machinery needed to meet it. Just click on a tile on the menu at the bottom of the screen, and click again on the factory floor to place it. Once you have everything rigged up the way you want it, click the test tab and hit the play button. If everything works, gravy! If not, you can just click stop, and head back on over to your tiles to play around with the layout. Although things start out simply with conveyor tracks you can rotate, before long the game ups the ante by introducing new requirements. Suddenly you've got to paint tiles too, and moderate how many are created, and how quickly. You'll also find yourself learning how to use sensors, which can be wired to specific devices so that those devices only activate when the sensor is tripped.
Of course, once you're successfully juggling all that, the game starts demanding more of you. Colours too easy? How about stencils? Just make sure to remove them before the tile reaches the goal. One set of tiles not enough for ya, Mr-or-Mrs Smarty McTilepants? Well, how about managing two of them, each with their own requirements, simultaneously? And of course you'll need to install rotators if you want everything facing the way it should be... hey, are you starting to sweat? If you start to get overwhelmed, don't worry; you can place and remove tiles without penalty, and you can take as long as you want to solve a level.
Analysis: Instructions are for babies. Or at least, that's what I tell myself every time I toss aside the instructions that come with anything that requires assembly because I've convinced myself I'm smart enough to "wing it". With minimal instruction beyond what tiles do, Tile Factory just hands you the tools and lets you figure out how to get to your goal. There's something very satisfying about hearing that mental click of things falling into place as you figure out what you need to do. The difficulty curve is also more of a difficulty-gentle-slope, and the whole game is exceptionally easy to get into.
As challenging as the maps may initially appear to be, however, they lose a lot of their brain-crushing menace when you realise you can basically just flood the factory floor with as many tiles as possible until you find what works since there's no limit to how many tiles you can use. Past experience has shown that some people find trying to solve similar puzzles with as few pieces as possible for maximum efficiency part of the fun, but a good chunk of us (yours truly included) are more of the "throw everything at the wall and see what sticks" type. If you don't put in certain limitations on the tools at hand, you lose a portion of the challenge your gameplay might otherwise have posed.
joye - I remember when I was a middle schooler and how unfair math tests were. I always got the right answer, but if I didn't show my work and do it exactly the way we had been taught in class, I would lose credit. What did it matter how I did it, I always griped, if I got the right answer? Too many puzzle games are like the humorless algebra teachers of those days. You will use the new tool we have given you for this level, comrade! Refusing to use the new tool is counterrevolutionary!
So it's fabulous to find a game that says, "Hey, new tool here, I think it'll be useful to you, but if you can figure out another way, knock yourself out." You'll never really finish the Tile Factory. Oh, sure, you can beat all the levels. But can you beat this one faster? Using less tiles? Using MORE tiles? Can you fill up the entire screen with tiles and make a hilarious Rube Goldberg machine? And in sandbox mode, you have no restrictions at all. Puzzle games don't have a reputation for being freewheeling, but Tile Factory proves that they can inspire creativity just as effectively as the loopiest webtoy.
Jay - Tile Factory is precisely the kind of game I was hoping to see entered into this competition. In true sandbox fashion, the game includes a variety of elements and tools that allow for a broad range of solutions to each puzzle. The puzzles themselves are a cross between Manufactoid (which became The Codex of Alchemical Engineering) and Factory Balls, which Jonathon has indicated were both inspirations for his entry. Add to that a puzzle/level editor with which you are given a blank canvas to come up with your own puzzles (and even a way to share them, too!), and it's not surprising to see Tile Factory among the highest scoring games in our "SANDBOX" game design competition! Congratulations, Jonathon!