Innovation is flourishing in the video game world. A few weeks back, this column gushed about the independently created game World of Goo, a delightful puzzle story about building structures with balls and bands of sticky goo.
This week, our hats go off to Crayon Physics Deluxe, another indie game and the one that beat out "World of Goo" for the grand prize at the 2008 Independent Games Festival.
Developed by Finnish game maker Petri Purho, the game was released Jan. 7 for play on Windows-based computers. Families interested in the game can first download a demo before buying it at www.crayonphysics.com for $19.95.
What makes Crayon Physics Deluxe so special is that it is a puzzle game set in a familiar, childlike environment of crumpled paper with crayon drawings. And yet, this juvenile environment houses a powerful physics engine that turns your scribblings into objects that have weight and mass.
The game consists of 76 puzzles, which all share the same goal: get the little red ball to roll over to the yellow star. Your cursor is a crayon and you can draw anything that you can imagine to solve the puzzle.
At first, solving a puzzle can be as simple as drawing a line between the ball and the star and clicking on the ball to get it to start rolling. But you will quickly learn how to draw objects that fall, as well as platforms and ramps.
As you progress through the puzzles, new concepts are introduced through drawn instructions. In one, you will see a small round pushpin and a dotted picture of how to draw a mallet around a pin. When you draw it, the mallet rotates around the pin, hits the ball and makes it roll over to the star. From there, the puzzles get more challenging by introducing levers and pulleys.
The puzzles are distributed over eight islands that slowly unlock as you solve the earlier puzzles. Puzzles can be solved in many ways and that is the genius of this game. As explained by Purho: "Coming up with creative solutions is what the game is really about."
When you succeed in rolling the red ball over the yellow star, you earn that star. But for each puzzle, you can earn an additional star when you find solutions that qualify as "Elegant," "Old School," and "Awesome."
An "Elegant" solution is accomplished by only drawing one object, and an "Old School" solution means that you didn't click on the ball to start it, didn't draw an object under it, and didn't use pushpins. You decide when to give yourself the "Awesome" designation.
The game also provides you with a way to create your own puzzles and allows you to upload them to the Crayon Physics Playground. Uploaded puzzles can be rated by stars, similar to the user-created content found in LittleBigPlanet, the award-winning Sony PlayStation 3 game.
Accompanying you while you play is a soothing, but limited musical track. Unlike World of Goo, this game has no story line. You play it simply to solve the puzzles.
Crayon Physics Deluxe is a game that will appeal to puzzle lovers. The early puzzles can be enjoyed by kids as young as age 6 or 7, but the later puzzles might be too challenging. It is a great platform for families to explore together. Its instructions are sparse, so encourage your children to experiment.
While your solutions are drawn on the screen by using a computer mouse, you don't have to be good at drawing to play this game. This is a game about exploring how the physics of the game environment will affect the objects you draw. What makes this game so good is that it encourages you to expand your thinking: If something doesn't work, figure out why and try something else.