The Incredible Machine

The Incredible Machine (TIM) is a series of video games in which players create a series of Rube Goldberg devices. They were originally designed and coded by Kevin Ryan and produced by Jeff Tunnell, the now-defunct Jeff Tunnell Productions, and published by Dynamix; the 1993 through 1995 versions had the same development team, but the later 2000–2001 games have different designers. All versions were published by Sierra Entertainment. The entire series and intellectual property were acquired by Jeff Tunnell-founded PushButton Labs in October 2009. Pushbutton Labs was later acquired by Playdom, itself a division of Disney Interactive, so as of now the rights are held by The Walt Disney Company.

A new game by Jeff Tunnell, called Contraption Maker, is the spiritual successor to the Incredible Machine series. It was produced by Spotkin Games, a company founded by Jeff Tunnell, and features the same developers of the original Incredible Machine. The game was released through Steam for Windows and OS X on July 7, 2014.

The general goal of the games is to create a series of Rube Goldberg devices: arrange a given collection of objects in a needlessly complex fashion so as to perform some simple task (such as “put the ball into a box” or “start a mixer and turn on a fan”). Available objects range from simple ropes and pulleys to electrical generators, bowling balls, and even cats and mice to humans, most of which have specific interactions with or reactions to other objects. For example, mice will run towards nearby cheese. The levels usually have some fixed objects that cannot be moved by the player, and so the only way to solve the puzzle is to carefully arrange the given objects around the fixed items. There is also a “freeform” option that allows the user to “play” with all the objects with no set goal or to also build their own puzzles with goals for other players to attempt to solve.

Notably, the games simulate not only the physical interactions between objects but also ambient effects like varying air pressure and gravity. The engine does not use a random number generator in its physics simulation, ensuring that the results for any given machine are reproducible.