Sometimes wasting time feels like, well, a waste of time, but we've all had those moments when suddenly whatever it is you're doing sets something off in your brain, some little pattern or detail you've always managed to overlook because the world is so damn busy all the time. Of course, there are "educational" games that throw some vaguely school-looking content into an otherwise stiff and conventional gameplay -- and Art Attack's not sure if we've ever seen any real-life examples of George Costanza's legendary Frogger moment, but it is quite a feat for a game designer to make something that looks like a game and makes you feel like you're accomplishing something.
Manufactoria is one of our favorite games from the past year and one we're excited to keep telling others about. It starts like a relatively simple and compact puzzler. You have a conveyor belt spitting out different color dots and you have a goal to achieve using a handful of different machine components: Dispose of yellow dots, separate the colors, reverse the order of the dots, etc. As you progress you start to learn more complicated types of operations (the tree-like structure of the level map doesn't always make sense to us, but there are definitely categories of level-types) from treating the different color dots as binary 1's and 0's. You literally build a simple calculator in one of the final levels. When's the last time you built a calculator?
Manufactoria is a game that might as well be used as crash course in basic computer-engineering (think Turing machines) and that can at times be frustrating, but well worth the work and time. The version of the game hosted on the Kongregate website has solved solutions and custom levels by other players, and seeing how many different ways people solve the same problem is one of the joys of this game.
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The only downside to playing and solving the levels is that the sense of accomplishment you feel when you've finally figured out how to put a yellow dot in the exact middle of the string, or some other obscure operation, is very hard to communicate to your friends (which is one reason why we keep insisting that they play the game). Your satisfaction remains limited to knowing that if you got stranded on a desert island or survive the apocalypse, you might actually have a chance to become "the professor" and build a coconut laptop. If only Minesweeper could have taught us something... (nice try mathematicians).