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Catastropieces is a game all about making mistakes, getting messy, and playing with physics. It’s a 3D puzzler where you construct a makeshift Rube Goldberg machine out of items lying around the room in order to splash paint on an enormous canvas. It’s free on Itch.io for PC.
When I played a demo of Catastropieces at the USC Games Expo earlier this month, I was delighted to find that it had a story mode. You play as an artist who’s having trouble finding inspiration for their next great work — until inspiration strikes you and you decide that the entire room is your canvas. Each level is a new room, and you can rotate the space and zoom in and out to find objects to use to set up increasingly complex chain reactions. You’re usually given a few tasks, like the goal of knocking a bucket of paint onto a white canvas on the floor.
“We really wanted the story mode included because we wanted to encourage people to get into the mindset of an artist,” said game director Maria Ferreri in an interview with GamesBeat. “Because obviously this game isn’t for all types of people. But we want to encourage people that maybe aren’t normally super creative to start thinking in that mindset. I’m an artist. This is my space. What kind of painting can I create today? That’s why we wanted that. We also just did it for comedic purposes, because our game is very silly and wacky, so our narrative is also silly and wacky.”
But you can also opt out of the story mode and play Catastropieces just as a series of physics puzzles. Ferreri says that the initial idea for the game was to give the player a chance to make Rube Goldberg machines. That’s how they and co-lead designer Jackson Beavers pitched the game to the University of Southern California’s Advanced Games Projects course, which gives a select number of students two semesters to work on a game. The artwork narrative came later on.
“We eventually came up with this [narrative] and it all kind of clicked,” said Ferreri. “It’s like, of course you’re making these Rube Goldberg machines to make a mess, because that’s what they end up making, you know? They make a mess. We wanted to try to capture that into some gameplay that’s both super freeing, but not necessarily confusing or frustrating.”
And even though Catastropieces involves fiddling with little bits — positioning a book just right so that it topples into a plank of wood — it’s actually a calming experience. At any point in time, you can rewind and try again. And a light jazzy soundtrack keeps you company as you puzzle over your creation.
“I guess the message that art isn’t perfect. Art is always chaotic,” said Ferreri. “Things never go the way that you want them to. But at the end of the day, even if you make a beautiful disaster, it’s still beautiful. That’s why we’re making Catastropieces and not Masterpieces. In all of these instances, when you get to your solution, the fun isn’t in the painting at the end. The fun is in the contraption, the trial and error, and feeling like you’ve succeeded.”
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