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Video Game / The Incredible Machine

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"Blow up the fish tank with the missile."
Professor Tim

A Puzzle Game developed by Dynamix and published by Sierra Online for DOS 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 for DOS, then Windows PCs, and the series has since been a recipient of several awards.

For the more modern variant, see Crazy Machines or the Creator-Driven 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.
    • It is possible to activate a solar panel with any source of light, from a lit candle to a flashlight.
    • The Super Ball of TIM2 and 3 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. Many puzzles involve him being dropped from great heights(sometimes off the screen), knocked out or eaten by alligators.
  • 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.
  • Early-Installment Weirdness: The first game has a vastly different art style from all the others. Later on, the Contraptions games did have an Art Shift in comparison to TIM2 but it wasn't nearly as huge.
    • The first game also included a timer, which, if you solve a puzzle fast enough, would give you bonus points. Also the first game had a point system.
    • The creatures were named differently. Do you recognize Pokey, Mort, Bob, and Kelly? If you've only played the sequels, you know them as Curie, Newton, Bill, and Pavlov Mandrill.
    • If you're playing the enhanced Mission-Pack Sequel, The Even More Incredible Machine, the alligator's name is Ernie instead of Edison. Mel, however, is already named that way.
  • 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.
  • Extendo Boxing Glove: One of the many parts. Tapping the button will cause the glove to punch, resulting in a strong impact that knocks whatever's hit forward horizontally.
  • Family-Friendly Firearms: The first game had an actual pistol instead of the Toy Phazer used in later games. The latter's physics-defying properties in comparison to real lasers (which are also in the game) make more sense when you understand that it's standing in for a bullet.
  • Green Gators: Edison Alligator is colored green.
  • Guide Dang It!:
    • Neither the tutorial nor help button explains that the coffee pot's steam can spin the pinwheel. This is necessary to use when beating Medium 43, "Schlemming Snack" in Even More Contraptions.
    • Level 22 on "Hard" in TIM2, "Jolly Jolly Jumpin' Jack". The same level is also level 30 on "Difficult" in Return of the Incredible Machine: Contraptions. The mechanic the game uses in this level makes absolutely no physical sense, has never been taught and never appears anywhere else in the game. Thank God for alternative solutions.
    • If it weren't for (strangely easy) alternative solutions such as using the blimp to hit a pool cue that hits the ball on the conveyor into the pipe, Expert 19 "Panorama" in Return of the Incredible Machine: Contraptions would not have been solved by any sane person. The puzzle is just outright broken because the pre-set conveyor is facing the wrong way. The solution shown by the game as "intended" only works through the sheerest of luck and borderline exploitation of the game's physics engine. Either the puzzle was poorly tested or the designers were a bit too smart for their own good.
    • Expert 10 "Sky Skipper" from Even More Contraptions is frustrating in that it necessitates that Mandrill be on his "bonked" state when the game checks that the goals are satisfied, but that it's not specified at all and is completely unintuitive.
    • Expert 35 "Curie Cage" from Even More Contraptions requires that the cat be trapped under the basket while at the bottommost floor of the left part of the screen.
    • A few Expert levels from Even More Contraptions can elicit this reaction upon watching the intended solution, because of tricks that only make sense after you see them. Expert 39 "The Gemini Machine" contains a good example of such a trick in its intended solution. Again, thank God for alternative solutions.
    • The stated goal in Two Player 42 "Bubble Trouble" in Even More Contraptions is to break the fish tank and get the basketball off the screen. Not mentioned is the missile must also be taken off the screen to complete the level.
  • 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: Mel 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".)
  • 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!"
  • Non-Indicative Difficulty: Some puzzles are easier than the difficulties may indicate:
    • The Mel-in-the-Box puzzle in Return Of The Incredible Machine has a clever solution, but the difficulty is easily circumventable, thus making it very easy for the 38th Expert puzzle, arguably being easier than most Difficult Puzzles and not out of place for a Medium puzzle. In fact, this is addressed by having a nearly identical puzzle in Even More Contraptions, but as a Difficult puzzle.
    • The Expert 19: Mondays... puzzle in Even More Contraptions is easy due to alternative solutions, such as using three laser mirrors from the laser that is already on to launch the missile.
    • On the other hand, some puzzles are very hard for their difficulty, such as Difficult 52: Tropical Tribulations from Even More Contraptions, which reeks of an Expert puzzle.
  • Noodle Incident: In Return of the Incredible Machine: Contraptions, the Professor explains that he's communicating via loudspeaker because he's currently radioactive.
  • No Plot? No Problem!: There is exactly zero reason given for building these machines. That doesn't detract from the enjoyment in the slightest.
  • Password Save: Each level has a password. The first part of the password gives the level, and the optional second part is the score code.
  • Perpetual Motion Machine: The game has absolutely no concept of thermodynamics, so these pop up all over the place. Powering a generator with an electric motor powered by that same generator is just the start. They make for great puzzle pieces, though.
    • Expert 4: Perpetual Machine in "Even More Contraptions" involves manipulating this mechanic to create the titular contraption.
  • 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 (though is still referred to as "Professor Tim" in the description for the lava lamp).
  • 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:
  • Shown Their Work: While an anti-gravity pad isn't exactly realistic from the get-go, if such a thing did exist, the effect it has on balloons (making them go down instead of up) would be plausible. Helium balloons float because they're lighter than air. By reversing gravity, you're also reversing the weight of both the air surrounding the balloon and the helium inside it, causing it to fall like a heavier-than-air object in normal gravity.
  • Slow Laser: 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 mass-less light. That said, real lasers still wouldn't have a beam visible from the side unless the room was very dusty, smoky, or foggy, but hey, points for trying.
    • Played straight with the Toy Phazer, though, whose projectiles travel slower-than-light and have plenty of knockback. See Family-Friendly Firearms above for a possible explanation why.
  • 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.
  • Take a Third Option: Some difficult puzzles can be made significantly easier due to alternative solutions. Furthermore, some alternative solutions involve certain manipulations of the game mechanics, such as beating Expert 55: "Contrapology Final Exam" of Even More Contraptions by delaying when a ball rolls down by using the fact that the mouse motor runs for only some time upon being triggered.
  • Theme Tune Rap: "Hip Hop" from The Incredible Machine 3. Rap song? Check. Lyrics about The Incredible Machine? Double check.
  • Units Not to Scale:
  • Updated Re-release: The Incredible Machine 3 has the same content as 2, but runs in Windows instead of DOS with a new interface and CD audio.
  • Video Game Cruelty Potential: There are many, many free-form machines that involve marching large groups of Mels into the waiting mouths of alligators, Rube Goldberg Device optional. Other things include feeding the cat the mouse and breaking the fish tank.
    • You can shoot the cat with a pistol. Admittedly, the cat doesn't die or get injured, but still.
  • 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.