Let me tell you about Panekit

Panekit - パネキット (PSX, 1999, JP only)

This is a primer for what I believe is one of the best games ever made. I cannot stress how invigorating it was to experience the discovery of what this game is on my own, with no foreknowledge. I think there may be some of you here that will get value from this, so this is my disclaimer:

As you read, if you get the sense of “I might actually have a good time with this” I highly encourage you to stop reading and just give it a shot. I believe you will get some of the same joy from it that I did, and you’ll get the most on your own.

As a JP only release, accessing the game is also a time commitment with some language barrier, so I am including a “Playalong” section that will take you through the first segment of the game for you to enjoy anyways.

“But I can’t read or understand Japanese” - Once you’re playing yourself, a phone with google translate camera will get you where you need to be to engage with the game. The only voiced segments of the games are the tutorials, which I am including here and embedded within this post with captions I added. (I can’t get the videos to embed with captions on by default! so turn them on for translation)

There doesn’t appear to be any cohesive walkthrough/FAQ/Lets Play/review/commentary of any kind online in English. Here and there people say more or less “This game is pretty cool!”

I am here to build the case for a stronger claim - this is possibly the most complete game experience I have ever had. (Also I am a physics teacher so this game was possibly made for me)

First, just look at what you would see on a shelf if you were me a few weeks ago.

Traders in Akihabara on the last day of my trip at the last shop I had time to check out. A price of 2,700 yen. This was the most immediate buy I’ve had in years. You can see a boat, you can see a helicopter. What the living hell is going on here. I took it home and didn’t look anything up.

Playalong section: Part 1 - demos

I get home and launch the game. I see there is a demo option in the main menu, so I hop into it and pick one:
First demo video

Things that stand out to me:

  • The robot appears to be dynamically prepared upon load.
  • The folding mechanism is not fully rigid, and there must be some way to map buttons.
  • Projectiles have some dynamic existence after being fired. My interest is piqued.
Second demo video

Things that stand out to me:

  • This mirrors one of the simplest walking mechanisms you can physically build in reality - having taught a robotics class, it’s familiar.
  • Arms create drag with the ground to turn.

I enter into level one of having my mind blown - what’s being shown to me seems to not be spoofed or just animated.

Third demo video

Things that stand out to me:

  • You can dynamically modify your cars through clever design
  • Super slick ground impact animation
  • There seems to be a racecourse of some sort

My mind entered blown phase 2.

Fourth demo video

This is just hilarious to me. I start laughing uncontrollably - this game might be capable of absolutely anything.

My mind ascends further out of my body.

Playalong section: Part 2 - Starting the game

Gameplay video segment 1 / 3


Commentary on video:

As soon as you have hands on the controls, you can tell that the model you are driving is physically there. Once you start getting flipped around and bumping into things, it is unmistakable - this game is not faking. I am still in near disbelief but it hast to be the case - those demos really aren’t just video clips.

When the game shows you that you’ll be acquiring items stored in chests, it immediately becomes clear that exploration will be a key element of what you’re doing. Simply driving around and developing your model and trying others to find hidden things is an immediate driving force to continue playing. When those things are the parts and blueprints to explore the world? Awesome. Considering the time of release - 1999, how many open-world exploration games were around at this point, particularly with physics? This is before GTA3. I’m totally out of my mind.

Gameplay video segment 2 / 3


The initial foray into the menus makes clear that there are many categories of vehicles to unlock blueprints for. There appear to be upwards of 15 models per category. The instructions menu is fully a freeform text field to write your own instructions, indicate buttons.

The preset menu shows four categories, with one model in each category, and a percentage. There are upwards of 15 different models to unlock in each category.

Gameplay segment 3/3


I am ready to leap out of my seat. Not only is there a set objective, the game appears to have a pretty robust scripting mechanism to define an arbitrary game. On top of that, while the first level was trivial, the game changed on the second try to include a scoring mechanism. It isn’t immediately a gimme. In my first playthrough, I stuck with it until I got a score of 800 before continuing.

(I will not show any further non-tutorial footage of this game in this post)

Description of continued gameplay

Moving to the opposite side of that same square, there is a basic driving challenge, navigating a cone obstacle course. Again, the first round goes easily, but the second round seems unachievable with the model I have. Seeing what this game has shown me so far, I immediately imagine the breadth of possible challenges that could be presented. I’m super stoked right now because I realize that this isn’t just a tech demo sandbox, that someone actually made this a game.

Playalong section: Part 3 - tutorials 1-3

I then went on to watch the first three tutorials for the editor (English captions added). These are the longest out of any of the tutorials, and if you skip them, you won’t miss an essential point of this writeup.

Tutorial 1


Tutorial 2


Tutorial 3

Mechanically this all is sound and not that arduous to navigate. The limitations are clear, and the button mapping system is quite interesting to consider.

Warning, if you’re feeling curious, this is a reminder that running into these things yourself may be even better.

Playalong section: Part 4 - tutorials 4-6

I return to playing and find a minor in-world challenge for getting to the next area. Once I reach that second area, I unlock the second set of tutorials. These are worth viewing, and are short.

Tutorial 4


Tutorial 5


Tutorial 6


Comments on second round of tutorials

Here you see the analysis screen that allows you to test drive and visualize the forces causing the motion of the model. I was speechless observing this.

In what game are the physics of front vs rear wheel drive explained, simulated, and fully tinkerable? The recoil of guns clearly causing forces on the vehicle - does Gary’s Mod even do this? Jurassic Park Trespasser did, right? That came out the year before this? Get real. This is a PS1 for cryin out loud.

Moving on

In the second area, the diversity of challenges gets greater and greater. There is no load into a new area, you simply cross a long bridge to the second island. On that second island, you first see challenges around a branching race course. I try the beginner one, and can clear the first round with the car I’ve been using, but cannot clear the second. Both the medium and high level courses are not clearable with my current car - too slow, too hard to turn. I explore further, and climb to the top of the mountain, find a bowling, ball sweep, and target shooting challenge.
Each challenge can be individually focused on or ignored, my mind works in the background thinking about what might work. Clearing level 1 is typically fairly straightforward, but clearing level 2 of any given challenge typically requires a fully different level of engagement and thinking. The game says clearly “I know what you’re capable of, keep going, you have the tools.”

Playalong section: Part 5 - area 3 and tutorials 7-9

At the third area, you access the final set of tutorials, and get the final types of parts - motors and jets. Again these tutorials are short and worth watching.

Tutorial 7


Tutorial 8


Tutorial 9


Comments on last round of tutorials

I don’t know that any explanation is needed to argue how substantial the windmill footage is. A max speed is attained as a result of increasing lift from the rotation being balanced by drag from the body. Differential rotations result in a turning force.
Not only is there drag, there is also ‘ground effect’, where being at low altitudes results in stronger lift forces, as the air will be blocked by the ground and push back up against the model.
It shows how to consider center of gravity of the model and how control surfaces can be used to maneuver in the air. Basically, airplanes work the way airplanes work.

I am wholly bought into the game at this point, and have been enjoying playing and thinking about it since. Now, I will make…

The case for Panekit

Panekit is a sandbox with objectives, a tech demo with full game design


Yes, you can sit in the beginning area and try to make whatever you can from the initial parts, but there are literal signposts dotted throughout giving tips and encouragements towards different challenges - “oh up this way is the mountain summit.” The player is constantly shown literal or figurative trails to head down, and at the same time has the full mechanism of the game (if not all parts - though each type can be unlocked within an hour of play) available.
On top of this, the game manages to not become commodified or externally driven. In spite of the reward of unlocking presets from challenges and getting boxes, at no point did more than about 20% of my motivation / reward come from an external source. You aren’t dosed with a golden nug for getting to the top of the mountain or checking each corner. It separates itself from being a technical marvel without becoming a gameloop honeypot.

The genius of the power balance problem


Adding more panels adds to your power capacity, but adding panels will always add weight and drag.

Therefore your design is what matters - yes you can strap a jet on your car, but will that make you faster? To go faster, you need more thrust, for more thrust you need more power, but for more power you need more panels, and more panels means more drag. You cannot escape this, and furthermore, the wide variety of challenges means that every particular question the game asks of you requires you to explore another element of this space, nearly none of which have trivial solutions.

I want to go faster around this track, but need cornering - how might I gain better traction and a tighter turn radius? Does that cost something for my acceleration? That puzzle is left for you to engage with how you desire, and is not overdirected.

It's good in the hands


On top of the question of “did I build my model well for the purpose” you also must answer “can I control my vehicle with the configuration I have designed?”

Since you must map the controls onto the parts you have added to the vehicle, how complex of a brainteaser you make is up to you, and configuring your controls is part of the challenge. I personally love a game that makes me use more than two inputs at once, so I can do that to my heart’s content. In contrast, a single button can control as many elements as you like.

Coupled with this is that over time how your vehicle controls becomes known to you. Unless you’re using a preset it is unlikely any other vehicle will ever move just as yours does. Do you pivot the wheels separately? Do you have a crossbar that fully rotates? Rearwheel steering? Where is your power? What power levels do you use? How does it handle on different surfaces? Do you have spoilers applying downforce? Where?

For example, in my current best racing vehicle, I have L1 and R1 set to turn my turning mechanism further than when using the D-Pad, creating pseudo analogue controls. On top of that, however, when using this hard turn, I have some thrusters to apply downforce in appropriate locations that get triggered with the shoulder buttons as well. I also have two modes of ‘drive,’ circle for four-wheel drive with full power being demanded, and x for front wheel drive and a thruster - effectively creating a low and high gear mechanism.

I’ve not yet worked on fully designing an aircraft for myself, but look forward to that design space.

Harmony of direction and freedom


Challenges are presented in a gentle but not slow tempo. You can choose to approach or disregard challenges, gather boxes, or just take your time hanging out.

Would you like to build a plane right away after you get your first jet engine? Go right ahead.

Hangout space


Whether you’re choosing to be creative or pursue a challenge, you also have the ability to just drive around, and enjoy the feel of your vehicle. Free-roaming around to see what you find or just to burn time, the game is comfortable. The music is pleasant and not distracting. Spending time looking at these graphics and considering the effort and intention of the entire game object is a pleasure in and of itself.

Excellent difficulty curve


The pattern of the two-level challenges is always thus:

First, present a relatively achievable challenge, then, present a higher bar that is a substantial step up from that first level.

The distance between the first and second challenge’s difficulties is very often outside your initial thinking’s ability to bridge. That said, no level 2 challenge is a wall to your progress in the game. You get the opportunity to succeed at something, and then presented with the fuller version of the question, which you are permitted to answer whenever you are ready or interested.

Coupled with this is the preset system. Every challenge can be cleared with a preset vehicle, so if you are not inclined to engage with the design aspect at any point, you can still enjoy the gameplay challenge of using a particular model to attain whatever unique objective. Handling the model adequately to clear the challenge is itself sufficiently difficult to give satisfaction. That said, I decided to not allow myself to try any more level 2 challenges with presets, because I would like to figure it out on my own.

On top of this a meta-question comes up: what model might be able to clear multiple level 2 challenges? Can you create a car that is good at both offroad and track races? Could you add a shooting mechanism and still do that? This is all up to the player.

There is a dream world of an infinite set of modifiable challenges that push in even more directions (e.g. fly without jets, water-based challenges), but the game as it is has a very well paced difficulty curve.

Limitation encouraging creativity


The game gives you only these parts to work with: tire, jet, xyz joint, motor, panel. No spread of different tires, jets, joints, no upgrade trees to ‘become better’.

Panels must be connected at edges. No forking of connections, no non-integer lengths. Angles at 15 degree intervals. Panels are not placable in arbitrary space, but are all linked in a tree-like structure. 100 panels in a single model allowed.

4 mappable button settings per joint/motor, but each is potentially fully independent. No macros for multi-stepactions.

Not an infinite environment. You can consider interactions with specific aspects of the map or a course - the third bend in the road race or the series of bumps on the offroad course.

The game presents fences around the player through all these design choices, but also makes clear that within those limits, there still is an effectively infinite amount of space to explore. The same game engine without these limitations would not be the same, and I think would not be as good. You have as much freedom as you need, but not so much that there is no friction between thought and action.

The physics works


You are able to examine the forces acting on your vehicle easily within the editor, and every behavior of the model can be comprehended in terms of the physics of the system.

Some examples of the elements of the physics that I particularly appreciate, which still don’t feel guaranteed in physics engines to this day:

There is a difference between static and kinetic friction, and both types of friction change not only based on surface but based on what kind of part is in contact.

Weight balance for turning wheels has a substantial effect, not only statically but dynamically as the car leans or experiences downforce. Driving a well-designed vehicle can feel as good to drift in as any racing game of the era.

Ground effect - flying low gives you more lift - as nicely illustrated in this diagram from a guide

Water behavior - while there is no displacement or buoyancy, since that would effectively require continuous checks for 3D flood filling since panels are movable, water acts simply as high-drag fluid. This allows you to design vehicles that get sufficient lift from the water but insufficient lift from the air, and thus ‘float’ and navigate in the water intuitively.

Finally, I’ve not had any full blown glitchy jumpy behavior outside of what I would expect from slinging parts around willy nilly

There are a couple things that I would grant are limitations or shortcomings:

Missing wind for sailing, updrafts - it seems like it would be relatively simple to create a region of air that simply does an offset for the relative motion of the panels and thus simulate wind or updrafts. Creating a sailing car and demonstrating how sails are best designed to not just be blown from behind seems like it would be within reach of the system.

In order to make flight attainable, the relative magnitudes of the force of gravity and drag forces are much closer at much lower speeds than in reality. You may feel like the car you are driving is closer to a leaf than it is to a delorean if you manage to get slightly airborne. This is unavoidable to keep the creative space inclusive of both land and air traversal without tremendous differences of scale and speed.

Get in get out


Loading on a ps3 from disk is a matter of about 4 seconds to get from menu to world.

When you load your game or remake a model, you start exactly where you left off in the world. These two elements (load speed and maintaining location) means that making repeated changes to your model is not arduous, so the prototyping can rapidly iterate without requiring patience for the game to keep up.

Additionally, traveling from region to region is made easy via the map’s fast travel options. You can jump to any challenge you have visited, and there are additional map markers that can be fast traveled to.

On top of this, the overworld is seamless. Going from one island to another doesn’t result in a load screen - it is all in the same space, and I have not faced a loading hiccup while traveling through the world. The one exception is if you time out in the water very far from shore, the game has to take a moment to load the region on shore you will be dropped back on. I don’t have examples in my head of a game that did a boundaryless 3D open world like this on PS1.

Two player modes:


Finally, all the types of challenge you would expect to see for a robotics competition (sumo, ball sweep, etc) are available in a head-to-head mode, as well as a ‘open play’ two-player mode. Upon selecting the two-player option, you select the model you would like to use from either memory card slot. I can easily imagine two friends owning this game and bringing a memory card over to the other’s house to do battle. Its inclusion is completely in line with the thoughtfulness I see throughout the game’s design.

For all of the above reasons, I think Panekit is one of the greatest games ever made, and the greatest technical and game design feat on the original PlayStation.

How should I play this game?

The game is still available as a psclassic on PS3 via Japanese PSN! Requires loading money onto your account via either credit card on the website or by charging your account with a prepayed card. Thanks @gsk for bringing that up - I had read that the service had been announced to end, but it just ended credit card payment on the console directly.

Who made this game?


Appears to have been originally prototyped on a PS Yarouze, and somehow picked up to be developed into a full game. Developed by Kuniaki Watanabe, goes by Kuni online (twitter). Edit: and he has seen this post!

He works in some software development capacity for a non gaming company. This is a nice blog article by @gingerbeardman that links to some of his other works:

MaBoShi (Wii) was his other substantial console release, and is worth checking out (links in the article above). The DS version you could load from your wii captures basically all of the elements of the console version, and the game has some genuinely good game concepts to check out.

He also released a simple steam game (.fall) which was a visual upgrade to an earlier title he had made. Again, a basic game concept but clearly pared down to have a single core loop that extends strongly.

Is there more panekit?

Not from this developer. One main fan-made game took the basic system further, and there are some tools and scenes to check out:

RigidChips link
Fan based, still alive to some degree, offers scripting and more wildness with the same basic framework. Project is no longer maintained by its creator, who went on to work on another similar physics-based crafting game, Laputan Blueprints, which also seems to have reached an end.

Some videos of RigidChips -
Multiplayer flight:

Driving with some additional scripting overlays - DIY gran turismo flavor

Model exporting tool PanelWriter

Allows you to edit save files to read/write model patterns, and was the main means people were passing designs around the net at the time. Haven’t yet figured out some of the absent files to run it, but the network of sites that this site sat within from this time seem somewhat intact. http://www2.plala.or.jp/ayami/ This is a fun zone to poke around for simply the archaeology elements, and a surprising amount doesn’t require archive.org to at least view.

The game is still alive in Japanese #パネキット

I don’t yet understand the way this person uses stacks of motors to achieve these complex motions.

The 20th anniversary was celebrated on one site at least, and they collected comments from players. It is interesting to see what people have to say (and to see the demographics of the respondents). 『パネキット』本日8月5日で20周年!「パーツ+アイディア=無限の工作」の方程式が世界をどこまでも広げていく─熱すぎる読者コメントも見応え満点 | インサイド

Odds n ends:

Reprint of disc - read before you buy a physical copy


First, note that PSX games are region locked, and PS2 and PS3 consoles maintain that region limitation (unless you do some CFW/modding). On top of that, the original disc for the game was printed in such a way that PS2 consoles (maybe not all?) cannot read the disc. Sony offered a mail-in system to get a reprinted disc, which is now largely passed around in a sealed form among collectors. The physical distinguisher is that the text above the sony logo on the non-reprint is in ‘negative’ (nothing printed on the disc) making it ‘shiny’ as you see the disc surface. Below is what a non-reprint disc looks like (only compatible with PS3 or PS1)

The reprint has that same Sony text on the right printed in black. Nobody seems to be opening these discs up, though, which is moderately obnoxious. A few weeks back there was one on yahoo auctions (sealed), got sniped from under me at around 11,000 yen. Any ‘new’ copy of the game itself will be that original printing that cannot be read on a PS2.

Control tips:


If you don’t have a manual, some useful shortcuts to know -

While in editor:
Hold triangle + d-pad - rotate camera
Hold triangle + L1/R1 - zoom
Hold triangle + L2/R2 - rotate view 90 degrees
Hold square + d-pad - move cursor more quickly
Square + select - Undo

Note that the game does support the PS1 mouse in the editor (which I bought, but can’t use because I have an early printing and only a PS2 and 3).



Two guidebooks were published. One is a focus on model designs (here) and another is more gameplay-focused (here). Both are floating around and available if you search, and I have both. The first model guide is generally more expensive online, but I find it to be not as good as the smaller gameplay guide. The second guide focuses more on explaining principles of design and has great conceptual diagrams and explanations.

The End

Thanks everyone for reading. I hope some conversation and interest can develop around this game, its creator, and its implications. It is shocking to me that this game is not known more broadly for not only the customization and physics aspects, but also as a game design triumph. Please feel free to use any parts of this post in spreading the word. If you have a suggestion or an angle to post this elsewhere for a wider audience, any tips are welcomed - I’m not much for posting things online aside from here or sharing directly with friends.
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i've barely scratched the surface on this post, but this has to be a lock for insert credit forum post of the year 2022. awesome discovery.

where did you find a copy of this?

Amazing post.

I'm going to keep an eye out for a copy.

Nice job! I had no idea Panekit and MaBoShi were designed by the same person. MaBoShi was originally a cancelled GBA game – more “accurately” a cancelled Game Boy Micro game from the same era as BitGenerations and Tsūkin Hitofude. The DS version you mentioned, which was originally only available via a temporary local download from the WiiWare game, was more or less a port of this lost GBA version.

There was a video interview of the developers available on the Wii’s "Nintendo channel" (… I think? The one which had new game trailers) but unfortunately, I am pretty sure that video is now lost to time so I can’t tell or remember if Watanabe was one of the devs interviewed.

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You convinced me very early on (the demos section) that I should play this, so sorry! I have not read 90% of the post, but I will read after I play at least a little of the game. I'll also forward this to my indie game developer friend whose games could all be described as


@“MDS-02”#p93025 what’s being shown to me seems to not be spoofed or just animated

@“whatsarobot”#p93026 found my copy at the big Traders in Akihabara. Haven’t seen it elsewhere. Yahoo auctions seems to have a good number of copies around. Used copies go pretty cheap but see my note about the reprint in case you’re gonna be putting it into a ps2.

@“saddleblasters”#p93041 please do share your experience after checking it out. If you want translations for the tutorials, they’re here.

well would you look at that. I love it

@“chazumaru”#p93039 I’m also somewhat in the hunt for the DSiWare title Flametail, which looks like a bit of an extension of the square game from Maboshi. My previous search turned up dry.

In most cases I‘d advise against ever bothering to purchase PS Classics for PS3 but I’ll make an exception for Panekit, purely because Kuni's old royalty deal meant the digital version actually turned out to be fairly profitable for him, and so you might as well give his final payout a little bump.

@“gsk”#p93205 I don’t have a JP psn account so I couldn’t confirm whether it was still available there. It is?

Edit: ah ok it’s just credit card payment that got shuttered. They planned to close it down but kickback made them backtrack. I’ll add it to the post, thanks for that @"gsk"#p93205

# now THIS is a [color=red]'H[/color][color=orange]o[/color][color=yellow]t P[/color][color=orange]os[/color][color=red]t'[/color]

Holy moley... thanks for sharing. This _is_ a pretty mindblowing game in terms of the degree to which it had a vision and executed on it.

You would expect something like this to have either an obsessive builder/editor but an uninspired system for progression (but like at that point you might as well just go by some Lego robotics), or a decent exploration system but a fairly compromised and constrained system for building stuff (I can't think of any standalone games like this but I do think of something like the Gummi Ship in _Kingdom Hearts,_ which is for fulfilling such a narrower purpose). It's not every day we can talk about a game that is... you know, clearly so very much of what its creator(s) wanted it to be.

Here's a question too stupid for the Dirtbag: is _Panekit_ the most confidently successful use of the autogenrifying sub-subtitle? I mean, I wouldn't say that _Metal Gear Solid_ isn't Tactical Espionage Action, but, the Tactical Espionage Action in _Metal Gear Solid_ pales in comparison to how much _Panekit_ is an Infinitive Crafting Toy Case.

I showed this post to my cousin and they drew the now somewhat obvious-seeming-in-hindsight comparison to Banjo-Kazooie: Nuts & Bolts, in terms of games that are, like, have a somewhat similar enough premise, and that weren't made by the same guy.

Makes me wonder what the Venn diagram is of ```People who has played Banjo-Kazooie: Nuts & Bolts``` and ```People who have played Panekit```, and what someone in the middle of it would have to say about that.

Well I bought the one cheap copy on ebay (sorry)

this thread and MDS deserve a shoutout on the podcast imo

@Jaffe maybe you can call them out or have the authors do a digest audio clip

@“exodus”#p93362 I'd be happy to! Let me know if I can be of help.

Some recent action on Twitter.


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Guy who has played Panekit, browsing https://zeldabuilds.gg/:

Getting a lot of ‘Panekit’ vibes from this…

@“◉◉maru”#p116859 yeah I recently started playing totk myself and was thinking something similar. Taps into a common vein, tho the air drag simulation in zelda pales in comparison to Panekit.