The Powder Toy: an awesome sand game

The Powder Toy: an awesome sand game

Despite the strange name, The Powder Toy is an awesome falling sand game that manages to be entertaining and, dare we say it, pretty educational.

A Powder Toy creation

So what’s it about?

The Powder Toy is an experimental falling sand game for PC and Mac. That’s great if you know what an experimental falling sand game is, but not so cool if, like the rest of us, you have no idea.Think of it this way: The Powder Toy is a blank mini-world where you create your own fun by combining elements – from the organic (wood, goo, water, soil) to the electronic (conductors, electrodes, wires, transmitters) and the chemical (radioactivity, anti-matter, photons, uranium) to tools (air, water, heat, gravity).

These elements act like they would in real life, so, for instance, if you mix an explosive and a heat source, you’ll get a very convincing explosion. Likewise, if you hook an energy source up to a conductor and build a generator, you’ll be able to power it. It may sound like a cliche, but with The Powder Toy, the only limit is your imagination.

Is it really fun?

If you’ve read so far, you should know immediately if The Powder Toy is your kind of game. It’s complex, sure, and to get the most out of it you’ll really need to put some effort and research in. If you do though, you can expect hours of fun in exchange. Combine the fun with the ability to create projects and challenges for yourself, and you’re onto a winner.

Another Powder Toy example

So what’s the problem?

The Powder Toy is inaccessible. Really inaccessible. OK, so if you’ve played similar simulations before, you’ll be making stuff pretty quickly, but if it’s your first time in, we think there’s a good chance you’ll be grossed out by the interface, confused by the instructions and bored by the fiddly tools.

The Powder Toy’s interface is basic in the extreme. Sure, we can cope with basic, but this one has the added benefit of being hard to use. The elements you use to create things seem to jump around as you roll over them. You have to use tricks and hotkeys to prevent “losing” the thing you’ve just chosen, and if you do manage to select one successfully, you have to look outside the program to see about how you might combine it with anything else. There is some information when you open the program, but it’s a guide to shortcuts and won’t help you much when it comes to actually creating.

The Powder Toy welcome screen

What about the online help?

As I said in my review, there’s a vibrant online Powder Toy community. There are forums, an FAQ, wiki and a Browsing area where you can see other peoples’ creations and tutorials. Tutorials, I hear you cry, great! Well, if you know exactly what you are looking for, yes, but if you’re not very sure, browsing through the thousands of unorganized entries will become a little soul destroying if you don’t happen upon the very one that you need. The rest of the content, in the wiki and forums, seems a little advanced and might not be of much help until you get a foothold in the game.

I like the sound of it, but how do I get started?

If you think The Powder Toy sounds cool, but you’re not exactly sure how to get into it, never fear. Here’s our top 5 tips for getting started in The Powder Toy:

  1. Download the game!
  2. Read the introduction that appears when you start. Even better, take a screenshot: it disappears when you click!
  3. Browse other people’s creations to get an idea of the things you can do
  4. Read the General Usage tutorial, followed by the Element Usage tutorial
  5. Get creating!
Loading comments