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CYBURBIA

THE GOODS : A Puzzling Homage to a Creative Man and His Machines

June 23, 1995|DAVID COLKER | TIMES STAFF WRITER

The great cartoonist Rube Goldberg didn't need a computer to help create his crazy inventions. The rest of us, not blessed with his genius, need all the help we can get.

"The Incredible Machine," a computer program now out in its second edition, is influenced by Goldberg's hilarious, fantasy contraptions that made use of elaborate machinery to accomplish everyday tasks. The program is, for starters, a wonderfully entertaining series of games based on Goldberg-like machines. (Although the cartoonist is not mentioned in the manual that comes with this program, on the box with my copy it at least stated that the program was "inspired by Rube Goldberg.")

In the game section, the machinery is depicted with parts missing. For example, a puzzle in which the goal is to "launch the balloon," starts out with a hot-air balloon shown tethered to a metal post by a long rope. Also on the screen are a flashlight, rocket ship and electric plug.

Your job is to look through spare parts shown at the side of the screen to find those needed to reach the goal.

In the end, when all the parts are situated perfectly and set in motion with a mouse click, a baseball falls on the switch of the flashlight, which beams light through a magnifying glass onto the fuse of the rocket ship. The fuse is ignited and the rocket takes off, turning the switch on a laser plugged into the electric outlet. The laser cuts through the rope and, voila, the balloon is launched.

Luckily, before you get to a puzzle this complicated, there are several warm-up, tutorial puzzles to get you acclimated to the game. There are also plenty of help features along the way and you have the ability to start the machine after making each change to see how the placement of a part affects it.

In all, there are 150 puzzles in "The Incredible Machine2."

When you've solved a number of them, you can move on to the competitive "Head 2 Head" section that takes two players. The object is to solve the puzzle first.

After all this puzzle solving, you can move on to the most creative part of the program--making your own machines. The hands-on tutorial for this section of "Incredible Machine2" is a bit confusing. Some of the features described are not available until you get out of the tutorial and finally make a puzzle.

The steps you follow are not too difficult once you get the hang of them, but making a cool puzzle can take hours or even days of cerebral, trial-and-error work.

But when you are all done, you can do something that Goldberg (1883-1970) never could do.

Goldberg drew his contraptions on paper. You make yours on a computer that can animate your creations, bringing them to life.

Nonetheless, even with all these digital advantages, we can't hope to duplicate the soul Goldberg put into his machines, which were not only wildly inventive, but also a gentle commentary on our fascination with technology. The best we can hope to do is to create an homage, not a clone.

"The Incredible Machine2" is available on DOS CD-ROM for about $40. Macintosh and Windows versions are due out later this year.

* Cyburbia's Internet address is Colker@news.latimes.com.

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