Factory (Mac) review
"Assembly lines are a necessary and largely invisible evil of our time. Ever since the industrial revolution, people have had to reluctantly man those unforgiving conveyer belts to perform such repetitive tasks as assembling greaseburgers, children's dolls, discount televisions or even toilet bowls. As work, it strikes most of us as a faceless, endless, utterly thankless job; mind-numbing and possibly even soul-destroying in its monotony. The last time you tore open the box containing the latest ..."
Assembly lines are a necessary and largely invisible evil of our time. Ever since the industrial revolution, people have had to reluctantly man those unforgiving conveyer belts to perform such repetitive tasks as assembling greaseburgers, children's dolls, discount televisions or even toilet bowls. As work, it strikes most of us as a faceless, endless, utterly thankless job; mind-numbing and possibly even soul-destroying in its monotony. The last time you tore open the box containing the latest version of the world's most prolific operating software, did you stop for a second to think about the fatally bored girl who slipped the documentation into that box? Or into hundreds of other boxes exactly like it?
Take heart, assembly line workers of the world! Factory for the Macintosh is the title to empower you. All that was hidden about your profession - its grueling demands on your concentration, intellect, reflexes, and sorting abilities - is now revealed.
Factory from Roundhouse Software is a shareware title which presents you with twenty-three days of assembly line work over a 'month', and for a game which potentially sounds like it's running with the most boring subject matter ever conceived, it's scarily addictive. Simple, attractive platformer style graphics present convoluted assembly lines, pipe paths and sorting/ stamping/ machines that go 'ping', as the various components for the product you have to make on each level pop out regularly at different locations onscreen. With the mouse-controlled pointer, you can click on the arrays of machines to toggle their functions on or off, on trapdoors to manually eject components, or on pivoting chutes to change the path along which the components will get funneled.
A basic task for instance (level one) involves sorting out the arriving caps and bottles for a mouthwash product, and overseeing the filling and capping of each bottle prior to its feeding into the delivery truck. It sounds banal, and it is... but hey, the game is easing you in, as well as psyching you into the assembly line experience. A far more nightmarish and engaging task (level ten) would be to sort and assemble dolls which arrive in varying states of completion. You must guide them through the system so that headless dolls get heads, hairless dolls get hair, armless dolls get arms, and legless dolls get all they deserve.
The pressure of the game comes from having to meet product quotas within time limits. While the course of time is constant, you have full control over the physical speed at which everything in the factory is moving, being able to flick between 'slow', 'medium' and 'fast' at will. Go slow and obviously you will have far more reaction time for making decisions about where all those doll limbs should end up, or to fiddle with the machinery settings. But you'll never meet your quota by the deadline if you maintain such a snail's pace. Factory demands that you apply horribly big amounts of logic and dexterity to the puzzle of each level, and that for at least a stretch of each level, you are able to execute your plans at high speed - and execute them over and over again.
It's quite exhilarating once you fall into a demanding rhythm and become happily aware of, say, those completed pies popping out at the bottom of the screen one after the other. But the difference between assembly line bliss and utter disaster is merely a blink or lapse of concentration away. Suddenly the pie mix is slipping into the wrong chute, the pie is being stamped shut with a metal tray that was supposed to be waiting for it at the bottom of the screen, and you now have a steaming pile of misshapen goop rolling along the conveyer belts that you need to get rid of. Mistakes tend to beget mistakes in Factory. Divert your attention to try to fix the first one and it's amazing how fast sequel disasters start to occur all over the level. Are you 'gamer' enough to perform numerous superhuman feats of assembly line maintenance all over the screen and get back on top of this mess? Or will you laugh hysterically and sit back and watch as mutant dolls, contaminated food products and unrecognisable splats roll into the delivery truck?
Factory boasts the single most entertaining sound effect I've heard in a Macintosh game. This is the nasal kewpie doll exclamation of 'Oh No!' whenever a component is mutilated on the assembly line. It's cute and very funny and depressing, all at once. You'll want to lift the effect like I did and use it as your computer's warning sound, I tell you!
There's a monetary score system in place based on surplus output, component wasteage, etc., but I've always found the main attraction of Factory is just the age-old desire to overcome the current level and see what diabolical new setup will come next. I'd had Factory around for a couple of years before I registered it, which allowed me to retry any level I failed (as opposed to being shunted back to the start of the current week) and that was what I really needed to beat a particularly galling setup involving boxes and candy canes. Once you've registered Factory, you can design your own products and levels as well, and download levels made by others. Surprisingly I haven't played around with these features much, as I find plenty of grueling joy in the odd bout of the regular levels. But the level-editing capabilities are generous and they're there if you want them.
Factory: Outwardly it looks banal, to the extent that you can almost feel embarrassed to be seen playing it with enthusiasm (I have), lest you admit to being stimulated by assembly lines. But that's the great joke here. Factory takes situations and ideas that are almost surrealistically boring and torturous, and sneaks them up on you as a demanding and extremely addictive game with a nice line in humour. A little bit of social commentary is just the icing on the cake of an incredibly neat and unusual shareware title. Roundhouse Software deserve your support here. You're not paying for sparkling graphics. You're paying for a very addictive game of great longevity, and presumably for the 'Oh No!' sound effect.
-- Factory -- 8/10 --
Community review by bloomer (February 06, 2004)
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