Crayon physics: A procrastinator’s dream

Procrastination is every Yalie’s favorite pastime. This week, I discovered what is undoubtedly the best way to procrastinate: Crayon Physics. The final non-free version of this game has not been released yet, but the free version will provide you with at least 20 minutes of pure bliss. While you can find video clips of the final game, Crayon Physics Pro, the FREE DEMO ON YOUTUBE is absolutely brilliant.

While you might immediately notice its stoner-ish, soothing music, the program presents you with a napkin-sized sheet of musty-looking virtual paper. Upon opening the game, you are presented with the first level, in which instructions are already written in crayon on the virtual napkin. Draw a box with your mouse—or with your stylus if you have a tablet. As soon as you lift the mouse button, the shape you just created falls until it encounters another, 2-dimensional shape, which also looks as though it has been drawn in crayon. As the box lands, it pushes the ball along its platform towards a happily bouncing star. The purpose of the game is to let your shapes fall in such a way that you are able to push, wedge, launch, or squeeze an indestructible blue ball past numerous obstacles into the bright yellow star.

At a recent video game conference, where developers were touting their latest and greatest shoot-em-up games with super-realistic graphics, this game’s developer had his demo running only on a few secluded laptops, but nonetheless, he and his program stole the whole show. Visitors would spend hours at his booth, much to the chagrin of the producers who had put millions into their own fancy-pants games, such as Crysis and Call of Duty 4.

Crayon Physics is not designed to provide you with real-life physics simulations, but it definitely requires creative solutions to advance through the game’s levels. Consequently, I have instituted a rule by which I only allow myself 30 minutes of procrastination per day — does writing this column count?

Still, if you think you’ve had enough of Crayon Physics, give PHUN a try. Sadly if you’re on a Mac, you’ll have to wait for Phun, and Crayon Physics isn’t even slated to be released for Mac. However, both will work on Windows and Linux.

Phun is a more realistic two-dimensional physics simulator developed by students at Umeå University in Sweden: I’d call this one a toy and not a game. Again, you draw shapes with your mouse, and attach them with hinges and fixed points. You can even add water to your model. Common projects include many-wheeled vehicles, caterpillar-track tanks, catapults and boats. Just like in crayon physics, once you start the simulation, you can drop your own mouse-drawn objects onto the scene and wreak havoc on your creation. Again, see YouTube for video clips of catapults and crumbling walls, as well as how to capsize a boat.

Finally, if you’ve grown tired of the frustrating constraints of a two-dimensional world, but still don’t want to go back to your philosophy essay, give SketchUp a whirl. As the name implies, you can your three-dimensional ideas in seconds. Feel free to design that space ship you always wanted for world domination, or what your tiny single would look like if you moved the bed in front of the fire door.

Some architects even use SketchUp to quickly put their ideas into a simple model: The program allows you to push and pull faces of objects, rather than manually creating every vertex and edge for your three-dimensional creations. Ask any architecture student if you need a little help, but the built-in tutorial should get you going in no time.

As for a little history: A Colorado-based firm originally developed SKETCHUP as a stupid-easy three-dimensional modeling program. Google soon bought it, realizing the potential to allow users of Google Earth to model the world in 3-D Google actively encourages users to model and import their own houses into Google Earth to add a 3-D element. Also, just because SketchUp is stupid-easy, that doesn’t mean it can’t be used for practical purposes. The built-to-scale models you quickly create can be exported to more formal programs such as Autodesk 3dsMax and Autodesk Maya. I spent a summer making 3-D models for a top-tier architecture firm in Manhattan converting into those programs from SketchUp. Some of my renderings even made it into the presentations to the clients. If you get good enough at designing 3-D worlds, maybe one day Pixar will consider shelling out some serious cash for your work.

So you’ve had your fun re-creating Skull and Bones on your laptop as you while away the hours in Bass, but you miss Crayon Physics. My last recommendation — which quite frankly I am too afraid to even touch — is to add the “Sketchyphysics” plug-in to SketchUp. Now you can have the bliss of your spinning, falling, 2-D whirlygigs you built in Phun, in a 3-D environment.

So I think I’ve completely ruined your work ethic for the day. I am victorious. If that doesn’t provide you with decades of procrastination material, I don’t know what will. Try thinking up something on your own. You never know, you may just design the next iPod. Or the best catapult ever. Just don’t try to build it in real life, for the good of the rest of us.

Barrett Williams is a sophomore in Trumbull College. His column appears on Wednesdays.