Automation obsession manifests in Factorio

Elements of modded Minecraft and Sim City combine, creating factory management RTS

STRANDED ON A PLANET WITHOUT THE MEANS TO ESCAPE, THE PLAYERS MUST MINE, RESEARCH, AND BUILD themselves a rocket to safety, all while fending off hostile local wildlife.

Factorio has been available since February 2016, and I can’t believe it’s taken me this long to pick up such an innovative game. The premise is simple—you’re stranded on an alien planet and need to build a rocket ship to escape. There are abundant resources with which to do this, and you (fortunately) have the knowledge and skill to build some mining machines to get it all rolling. But as the copper, iron, and coal rolls in off the conveyor belts, the player will quickly realize that manually collecting, smelting, and crafting everything is a bit too slow. That’s where the fun begins: automating everything.

Looking at the game’s full technology tree, huge list of craftable items, and spaghetti networks of conveyor belts, pipes, railways, and machines of other players, it’s easy to be turned away by sheer complexity. What I think Factorio does extremely well is create an interactive, engaging tutorial that walks the player through the core of the game. A little bit of storytelling explains the premise, and the abundant, yet restricted area sets a comfortable scene to overcome the biggest hurdle in simulation and strategy games: familiarization. As the player progresses through the tutorials, new gameplay mechanics are added and taught. In some instances, the complicated stuff is already assembled, but with a few “breaks” in the automation chain. I found this endlessly helpful, as it took away the “what the heck is going on” and allowed me to tinker with what was there, understanding how it works and why I should be building in a certain way. This gave me confidence as I entered my first playthrough. I felt like I had the basic tools to make my way into the game, but with plenty left to discover on my own.

I must say, I love the graphics for this game. The graphics are dark and grungy—entirely fitting for a game about mass resource harvesting and giant factory production. The 2D nature of the game allows there to be a nice level of detail without a performance hit. In addition, the animations for the machines are beautiful to watch. They are simple and fluid; their functionality is explained without over-complication, and watching a landscape of assemblers build parts for my factory is nothing short of captivating.

The open-world, creativity-focused nature of the game reminds me a lot of Minecraft, which is good, because much of the developer’s early inspiration for a factory management game came from the popular Minecraft mods Industrialcraft and Buildcraft. This game is one with extensive replay value. I’ve established the groundwork for my first factory, but looking at other player’s designs has shown that there are limitless solutions to the problems we face. I am excited at the prospect of exploring new strategies, from the efficient to the absolutely absurd. To anyone with a passion for real time strategy games, $20, and a few (hundred) hours to spare, I’d recommend Factorio.