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The Incredible Machine (aka TIM) is a series of computer games that 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 titles had different designers. All versions were published by Sierra Entertainment. The entire series and intellectual property was acquired by Jeff Tunnell-founded PushButton Labs in October 2009.
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 (for example, "put the ball into a box" or "start a mixer & turn on a fan".) . Available objects ranged from simple ropes and pulleys to electrical generators, bowling balls, and even cats and mice to humans, most of which had 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 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 simulated 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 simulation of physics, assuring that the results for any given "machine" are reproducible. There are also hints. (For example "Place the toaster here" or "We need to move that cat with a conveyor belt").
The series featured the following versions:
The developers of the series have been criticized by fans for recycling content, specifically all the games after The Incredible Machine 2, rather than creating new additions to the games.
With the addition of The Incredible Machine for iPad/iPhone, the game includes new art, sounds, and levels.
The Incredible Machine, the first game in the series, was originally going to be developed by Electronic Arts for the Commodore 64 in 1984, but Dynamix worked on Arcticfox for the Amiga instead and work did not start on The Incredible Machine until the spring of 1993. Kevin Ryan programmed The Incredible Machine in nine months, on a $36,000 budget. The Even More Incredible Machine was actually an extended version of the original The Incredible Machine and had around 160 levels, about twice the number of levels in the original game, and also had quite a few more parts.
The Incredible Machine 2 introduced new levels, an extended assortment of parts, a new interface, significantly improved graphics, sounds, and music, and two player hotseat play. It also improved on the "freeform" mode, allowing players to create completely playable puzzles by defining not only the participating parts, but also the set of circumstances under which the puzzle will be considered "solved". In terms of gameplay, this version provided the biggest addition to the series, while subsequent updates were basically only ports of the game to newer operating systems with updated graphics/sounds and sometimes new puzzles, but no new parts.
The Incredible Machine 3, on some releases titled Professor Tim's Incredible Machines, contained the same levels as The Incredible Machine 2, but with an improved interface. As a Windows-only title, it added extra features as well like CD music tracks.
Return of the Incredible Machine: Contraptions was released in 2000. As a full 32-bit Windows 95 game, it had new 800x600 resolution graphics. Although it had a few new levels, the majority of them were levels from The Incredible Machine 2.
Even More Contraptions started a service allowing players to share their homemade puzzles using a service called "WonSwap". Even More Contraptions also came with a Palm Pilot version of the game that contained its own unique set of parts and puzzles suited for a small screen.
'The Incredible Machine' for iPad/iPhone is the first version in the series to be developed and released by Disney for the AppStore. This revamped version contains new art, sounds, and levels, as well as a redesigned user interface to make it easy to use on touch screens. Disney announced and released 'The Incredible Machine' on June 8th, 2011 at E3 in Los Angeles, CA. This version lacks the freeplay mode that the previous versions included. Both iPads and iPhones are supported and freeplay mode is reportedly on the way. The app has been retired from the app store as a decision made by Disney.
The Incredible Machine was the winner of several prizes due to its innovative style and simulation abilities. It was innovative enough, in fact, that Sid & Al's Incredible Toons earned Jeff Tunnell and Chris Cole a patent for the game concepts.
'The Incredible Machine' for iPad/iPhone also won Best iPhone/iPad Game and was nominated for Best Puzzle Game at E3 by IGN.
The Incredible Machine: Even More Contraptions was included in the 2005 edition of Hoyle Puzzle Games as a bonus game.
The original game was announced for a download release on Xbox Live Arcade, but it was later cancelled.
The Even More Incredible Machine, The Incredible Machine 3, Return of the Incredible Machine: Contraptions, and The Incredible Machine: Even More Contraptions were released on GOG.com on October 1st, 2009 as part of the The Incredible Machine Mega Pack.
A new iPad/iPhone version was released in the Apple AppStore on June 8th, 2011.
In May 2013, Tunnell announced an upcoming new game, called Contraption Maker, which is billed as a "spiritual successor" to the Incredible Machine series.