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Video Game: The Incredible Machine

A Puzzle Game published by Sierra Online in 1992, The Incredible Machine (AKA "TIM") centers around the construction of Rube Goldberg Devices. The player is provided with a predetermined set of parts to use in order to achieve the given objective. There are over 100 puzzles to complete, each of varying difficulty, but custom puzzles and machines can also be made (with full access to all the parts in the game). Many parts are available, ranging from the simple (gears and ropes) to the downright bizarre (alligators and blimps).

The game's family-friendly quality and subtle moments of humor and satisfaction led to widespread popularity. Over the course of nine years, seven more titles were released, and the series has since been a recipient of several awards.

For the more modern variant, see Crazy Machines. It's also receiving a Spiritual Successor from the team that worked on the original game, called Contraption Maker.


The Incredible Machine contains the following tropes:

  • Artistic License - Physics: Despite being a physics game, fundamental laws are broken right and left.
    • The Super Ball of TIM2 somehow gains momentum with each bounce, in blatant defiance of real-world physics. In fact, it's so bouncy that the ball will take to the air, even if you set it precisely on top of a flat surface. It can't even be Hand Waved as being made of some sort of Unobtanium; if you take a customizable ball and simply set its Elasticity to maximum, leaving all other properties alone, it too will gain momentum with each bounce. Needless to say, nothing can generate momentum on its own simply by being super-elastic. Well, unless it's flubber.
  • A Winner Is You: For completing all puzzles in a difficulty tier in TIM2, your reward is a window with a congratulations message from Professor Tim. For completing all the difficulty tiers, your reward is a window with a congratulations message from Professor Tim.
  • Booby Trap: The Trap Door, introduced in TIM2. If any object with a mass greater than 5note  lands on the trap door, no matter how gently, the door will fall open. Conversely, any object lighter than this can never trigger the trap door, no matter how high it drops from.
  • Butt Monkey: Mel Schlemming.
  • Cosmic Plaything: The game's resident mindless mini-human, Mel Schlemming.
  • Cruelty Is the Only Option: A notable example occurs in Even More Contraptions, where the player is forced to goad a mouse out of its home using cheese in order to feed the mouse to an alligator.
  • Depth Perplexion:
    • Take a bucket, tie it to an anchor, and put the bucket level with the anchor so that it'll swing in an arc. Place hedge trimmers so that the bucket swings just under them, and notice how the rope just passes through the trimmers completely. Now drop a ball on the hedge trimmers right as the rope passes through; the rope somehow gets snipped.
  • Exactly What It Says on the Tin: It's a machine, and it's incredible.
  • Excuse Plot: In Even More Contraptions, earning a Doctorate of Contrapology.
  • Frickin' Laser Beams: Averted. Introduced in TIM2, Laser Guns fire one-pixel-wide beams of light. The beam travels from the gun to its destination in one frame (i.e. as close to the speed of light that the game can simulate). If the beam is cut off by an object passing through, the beam past that point disappears immediately; when the blockage is removed, it reappears just as quickly. Laser beams also have no knockback, since they are made of light.
  • Hair Trigger Explosive: TIM2 introduces Nitroglycerin Vials, erroneously depicted here as a low explosive, as opposed to a high explosive. This can be demonstrated by dropping a vial on a Blimp, which has a different "destroyed" animation depending on whether it came in contact with sharp objects or fire. Nitroglycerin, being a high explosive, should destroy the blimp with sharpness (a combination of flying glass shards and droplets moving faster than the speed of sound). Instead, nitroglycerin burns the blimp.
  • Hitbox Dissonance: Lots in TIM2.
    • When lighting fuses, only the tip can be ignited by open flames.
    • When blimps are dealing with obstacles that aren't vertical walls, expect these little dirigibles to change direction seemingly at random.
      • This is exacerbated in Return of the Incredible Machine; the new graphic for the blimp is more slender, but it retains the same hitbox as the previous fat model. As a result, there's a considerable amount of empty space beneath the blimp which will cause the blimp to react if crossed.
    • With the remote-control explosives, only the dynamite and TNT barrel are tangible.
    • You can set a pool ball on top of the tip of a cue stick, and set the cue stick off. The pool ball will not react.
  • Made of Iron: The small human character can withstand just about anything aside from being eaten.
    • Falling too far will knock him out, though. (Either that or trigger the character's latent narcolepsy, since it's represented as "falling asleep".)
  • Man on Fire: Averted. Open flames won't burn anything that isn't specifically designed to react to fire, which is to be expected, since being able to set Mel on fire wouldn't be very family-friendly.
  • MST3K Mantra: invoked One of the song lyrics of the track "Steel Drums" suggests that you:
    "Wipe that puzzled look off your face. It's just a game, mon!"
  • The Professor: Professor Tim, a man in his late 20s, early 30s with wild hair, giant glasses, bushy eyebrows, and slightly unkempt manner of dress. He appears only in TIM2 and its Updated Re-release TIM3. In subsequent installments, he just becomes "The Professor", and is downgraded to The Voice.
  • Projectile Toast: The toaster essentially acts as a one-shot, electric-powered springboard; when the bread shoots out, anything resting on the toaster is pushed up. Even bowling balls spring up a few inches. Just what is that bread made of, anyhow?
  • Public Domain Soundtrack: Pictures At An Exhibition is one of the recurring soundtrack songs.
  • Ray Gun: The Toy Phazer from TIM2 shoots pulses of energy... which can set things on fire. Pretty dangerous for a toy!
  • Reflecting Laser: Strategically-placed compact mirrors can redirect laser beams.
  • Reptiles Are Abhorrent: In TIM2, when Edison Alligator chows down on a mini-human or a mouse, he'll look at the camera and snicker, implying he only ate them For the Evulz.
  • Rube Goldberg Device: the entire idea behind the game.
  • Selective Gravity: Generally speaking, objects can be classified into those that are fixed in place (conveyors, seesaws, etc.) and those that aren't (balls, animals, etc.). The pool balls in particular are exempt from gravity altogether, and air pressure determines which objects fall and which objects float in midair.
  • Shout-Out:
  • Spiritual Successor: 2006's Crazy Machines.
    • A truer successor is 2013's Contraption Maker, as it's made by the original Incredible Machine team.
  • Stock Scream: Mel when he falls off stuff.
  • Stuff Blowing Up:
    • Each game has several kinds of explosives, each of which detonates if exposed to an explosion from another source. You can place explosive objects next to each other for a domino chain effect. All explosives also go off if hit with a bolt from a phazer gun. On top of that, each explosive has one or more unique ways to set it off.
      • Dynamite explodes when you light the fuse.
      • Remote-controlled explosives detonate when you push or pull down a remote button.
      • The nitroglycerin vial explodes if it falls more than a few pixels, is pushed by a physical object or moving air, or comes in contact with fire. Bizarrely, these vials will not explode if they bounce on springboards.
    • While missiles and fireworks are technically explosives, they are far more sturdy than any of the above. The only way to set them off is to light the fuse.
    • Blimps can explode from open flame, explosions, and phazer bolts.
  • Theme Tune Rap: "Hip Hop" from The Incredible Machine 3. Rap song? Check. Lyrics about The Incredible Machine? Double check.
  • Units Not to Scale:
  • Video Game Cruelty Potential: Feeding Mel to the Alligator, feeding the cat the mouse, breaking the fish tank.
  • Vocal Dissonance: The mandrill's yawn in TIM2 is unexpectedly loud and deep.
  • The Voice: The Professor in Return and Even More Contraptions.
  • Wide Open Sandbox: The Build Contraptions option.

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alternative title(s): The Incredible Machine
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