World of Goo I give it 4 stars

In this clever, gentle indie game, your goal is to build imposing edifices out of goo. Yes, goo. By dragging little gooballs with eyes around, you convince them to form links to neighboring gooballs. The resulting structures are mighty wobbly, but position your gooballs well and you can build a tower, or a bridge, or some other neat shape to reach the intake pipe that’s your goal on each level.

Part of the game’s offbeat charm is that right from the start, it’s not really clear whether it’s a good thing or a bad thing for the cute little gooballs that they’ve been harvested by the World of Goo Corporation. The Eflman-esque soundtrack, chatty billboards, and ramshackle plot all add to the fun. So do the cute, squeaky noises the gooballs make as you place them.

What I liked most about this game, though, is its physics. Some games have a physics engine so that the explosions look more realistic, but World of Goo is designed its physics. You’re building trusses out of goo, and by the end of the game, you’ll have wrapped your head around a fair amount of basic structural engineering:

  • You’ll be intuitively aware which gooball links are in compression and which are in tension.
  • You’ll ponder the tradeoff between building a rigid but heavy frame and a light but wobbly one.
  • You’ll know just how far a structure can bend before it buckles.
  • You’ll take into account the degree to which links stretch or shrink when axially loaded, and how transverse loads lead to rotation about the gooballs at their ends.
  • On the very clever levels in which you support bridges with balloons, you’ll become intimately familiar with how applied forces induce torques: a balloon at the leading end of your bridge has a very different twisting effect than one at the middle.

This is an outstanding educational game. It gives players a toolkit and goals, and then sets them free to discover both the underlying rules and useful heuristics for taking advantage of them. I would love to see a high-school physics and engineering module designed around this game.