LGR – Widget Workshop – PC Game Review

LGR – Widget Workshop – PC Game Review


[typing] Sometimes I wonder what exactly
qualifies as an edutainment game? Take, for example, games like SimCity, which one could easily argue is edutainment, seeing as it educates while simultaneously entertaining. And it was even used as a curriculum
supplement in some schools. But generally, it’s more of a software toy, like the game I’m looking at today, Widget Workshop: The Mad Scientist’s Laboratory. It was published by Maxis as part of
their Software Toys for Kids line in 1995 for Macintosh and Windows PCs, launched alongside other games like SimTown and Marty and the Trouble with Cheese. And it was developed by Lauren Elliott of Elliott Portwood Productions, who is most famous for co-designing yet another edutainment game you may have heard of, Where in the World is Carmen Sandiego? This is the cheaper 1996 re-release version here, but I’ll be taking a look at the original
1995 release from here on out. Why? Because I am drinking milk. Chocolate! And it is my density. “Don’t get bored with science. Get mad!!” “Not angry mad – mad scientist mad.” Oh, I’m glad they cleared that up for me. I was totally preparing to get angry mad. Inside the box, you’ll find the Windows and Mac versions of the game on a single hybrid CD-ROM, a registration card telling you
how to become a SimKid. Wow! The Maxis Software Toys Catalog, which I read more than comic books growing up, a manual, or Mad Scientist’s Guide, covering the various functions of the program, and an Activities and Experiments Guide, which really could have been included in the manual. It goes into the nitty-gritty details of how to make specific virtual widgets in your virtual workshop, and acts as somewhat of a tutorial by example. And if you get the original release, you also got this plastic bag full of You’ve got rubber bands, straws, a magnifying glass, a thermometer, a compass, a circular… wood piece of… wood with a Sega Dreamcast logo on it. Oh, it’s a top. These are used completely outside
of Widget Workshop itself, though, so they are just here as a supplement to the program. A bit odd, considering Widget Workshop has no physical or mechanical elements in it. But whatever. They serve their purpose of giving kids some hands-on time with the
cheapest science-y things possible. Start Widget Workshop up and you’ll get some logos, and a fantastic opening theme song, which due to its use of percussive sound effects, reminds me a bit of the Streets of SimCity garage song. [percussive sound effect music] You’re then given the option to start a new widget, load a saved widget, or solve a puzzle. Much like in The Incredible Machine,
solving puzzles is a big part of Widget Workshop. In fact, the gameplay itself is pretty
similar to The Incredible Machine, in that you’re given a problem to solve and a limited number of parts to solve it. But that’s where the similarities end, because while The Incredible Machine consists of Rube Goldberg-like physical objects
interacting with one another, Widget Workshop is all about logical connections and learning cause and effect, through manipulating certain systems. You’re given a set of parts to use: display parts, timer parts, sound parts, number parts, switch parts, private parts, wait, no, text parts, and super parts. It is your duty to place and manipulate these parts through clicking and dragging the mouse. Like in the first puzzle here,
the goal is to mix red, green and blue on the TV screen in order to get white. Drop some switches into place, make sure the connections are all… connected, and the little question mark box will let
you know once you’ve solved the puzzle. [electronic fanfare] Rockin’! So unlike physics-based puzzle games, the placement of the actual objects doesn’t matter at all in Widget Workshop, only the connections. As long as you’ve connected everything
properly and the logic makes sense, you’re widget will work. Shop. There are only 25 puzzles in all, and while several of them
are pretty freaking challenging, you’re still going to get through them before long. Unless you’re a kid. It was a lot harder as a kid. Thankfully, the small amount of puzzles is not really a big setback, as the meat of the game is the Freeform Mode, where you’re unchained from puzzle constraints and the only thing holding you back is your mind. And the limited number of objects, of course, and your screen resolution and
method of connecting objects used, but whatever! You’re almost totally free here. Place all sorts of objects to create not only complex
mathematical calculation machines, but the most pointless widgets imaginable. In fact, several of the objects
include a customization aspect, like this recorder that lets you record sounds from your microphone. or choose an 8-bit .WAV file
on your computer to playback. [old LGR theme song] Another feature that’s made of win is the fact that you can also export your widgets to a standalone executable file. So you can share your designs with anyone, even if they don’t own Widget Workshop. I posted some of these on Twitter before this review for you guys to test out, and they seem to work just fine, even on the most modern of Windows PCs. Of course, with these executables, you can’t
actually edit the widgets, only start them, which really makes this a pretty genius
implementation of early viral marketing. And that’s pretty much it for Widget Workshop. It’s an incredibly straightforward program that allows youngsters to play with logic and jumpstart an interest in science. Really, it’s hard to think of a more noble goal
than that for a piece of kids software. It’s simple and you really do have to make your own fun, but that’s also the beauty of it. Just give the kids some toys, let them play with logic and see what happens. Widget Workshop is a total win in my eyes because it presents a clear goal, doesn’t try to pull off more than what it’s capable of, and the result is a program that’s
simultaneously silly and genuinely informative. If that’s not edutainment, I don’t know what is. [silly sound effects music]

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