Factorio Part 1: The Story

By Shamus Posted Thursday Apr 22, 2021

Filed under: Retrospectives 93 comments

Yes. This is what we’re doing. I’m going to do a “retrospective” on Factorio. Rather than complaining about games that frustrate me, I want to talk about a game I love. Also, I want to somehow justify the two-week binge I just went through and this seems like the path of least resistance.

Is this a bad idea? Probably.

Factorio is part of a small list of games that remain evergreen for me. Like Minecraft and Kerbal Space Program, I can come back to Factorio again and again and find something new and interesting each time. Sometimes the novelty comes from mods, and other times it comes from self-imposed challenges or goals. You can learn the basics in a few minutes, and then you can spend years puzzling over all the layers of complexity that the game has to offer.

My reviews tend to be very narrative-focused, so let’s go over that stuff first.

The Story

I hope I'm a better engineer than I was a pilot.
I hope I'm a better engineer than I was a pilot.

Your spaceship crashes on an unknown planet. You build some machines. Eventually you build a rocket. You launch the rocket. You stay on the planet. I don’t know why you don’t use the rocket to leave.

Okay, that’s out of the way. Now let’s talk about…

The Characters

We don't know much about this character, but we DO know they default to beige / yellow for their armor color. (You can change it if you like.) I don't know what that tells us, personality-wise.
We don't know much about this character, but we DO know they default to beige / yellow for their armor color. (You can change it if you like.) I don't know what that tells us, personality-wise.

You play as a nameless, faceless, genderless, voiceless engineer in a space suit. There are no other people around.

That’s it for the characters.

In Conclusion

Other than the curious detail that your character doesn’t ever choose to leave the planet, there are no plot holes. There are no cutscenes where the player character is incompetent. There are no frustrating conversations where you’re prevented from asking reasonable questions, and you’re never forced to say anything stupid. Or anything at all.

The secondary villain is the endless swarm of insect-like monsters. Their motivations (eat your face) are clear and they never act like they’ve read the script. The primary villain is your own goddamn train, which JUST HAPPENS to come screaming by while you’re crossing the tracks, killing you instantly. You can never truly defeat the train, and it will never stop being humiliating when it runs you over, but you will eventually learn to laugh about it. Or cry. Or (like me) curse at the game and pretend it’s not your fault.

The tone is perfectly consistent. There are no bad vocal performances, no janky animations, and no uncanny faces. No immersion-breaking audio logs. No clumsy fetch quests. You never have to do stuff for an NPC you hate just to progress the plot, because there isn’t one.

And best of all, Kai Leng never shows up.

10/10 GOTY ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐ 👍Two Thumbs Up 🍅Certified Fresh 🥇Editor’s Choice 🚗 Car of the Year

Gameplay


Link (YouTube)

The trailer does a pretty good job of demonstrating the premise, but if you want the long version:

You begin mining things by hand. You mine some stone to build a furnace. You mine some coal for fuel. You mine a little iron ore and shove it into the furnace to create iron plates. Then you use the metal plates to make conveyor belts and little robotic grabber arms. This allows you to automate the above process. A machine digs up the iron and coal, conveyors carry that stuff to the furnace, and grabber arms shove the stuff in.

Among fans, this phase of the game is called the “burner phase”, because you’re using machines that burn coal and haven’t yet built a power grid for improved machines that run on electricity. Depending on the map layout and how far apart the resources are, this part of the game can be anywhere from fifteen minutes to half an hour long. This stuff is really important for newcomers to teach them the basic mechanics, but veteran players often use mods to boost them past the burner phase and reach the main part of the game, because running around hand-feeding machines gets old really quickly.

Scaling Up

There are a lot of strategies out there, but I'm a big believer in the general idea of 'build a lot of stuff'.
There are a lot of strategies out there, but I'm a big believer in the general idea of 'build a lot of stuff'.

This is a game where your goal is to automate things until there’s nothing for you to do. When you’re learning the game, you’ll find yourself getting pulled in several directions at once. Your furnaces are stalled because they’re burning fuel faster than your automated miners are delivering it. So then you adjust the conveyors to send more fuel to the furnaces, without realizing that this will slowly starve the power plant. Ten minutes later the generators finish all the fuel that had been backed up on the conveyors. Once that fuel is gone, the power goes out. In response you add more machines to harvest more coal to keep everything supplied. The problem is that the early-game conveyor belts can only deliver stuff so fast, and eventually they’ll be saturated. Do you research faster conveyors, or build more lanes?

You can either examine all the inputs and outputs of the machines and do the math, or you can do what I did and chase outages until you develop an intuitive sense of where to build things and how many to build.

The Three Goals

While the overall goal of the game is “launch the rocket”, your production is generally going into three different areas: Rocket, Research, and Resupply.

Rocket

The rocket represents a massive investment of resources. It’s not that complicated to build, it’s just that it’s made of hundreds of parts with long production times. You can cut down on this time if you’re willing to scale up and build a bigger factory, which is where the game begins nudging you towards “optimization” instead of merely “getting it done”.

Anecdotally, I gather that this doesn’t work for a lot of people. Rather than scaling up their production, they just walk away and leave the game running for a couple hours until the rocket is done.

I don’t think this is a flaw in the game. The idea of building a larger, more optimized system with greater throughput isn’t really everyone’s cup of tea. For me it’s the whole point of the game, but for other people it’s like doing all the sidequests and beating the secret bosses in an RPG. Some people are happy to just get to the end credits and don’t feel the need to have the perfect game.

Research

On the left you can see multiple conveyor belts of different-colored science bottles. The domes are the science buildings that turn these bottles into research progress.
On the left you can see multiple conveyor belts of different-colored science bottles. The domes are the science buildings that turn these bottles into research progress.

You can’t start building the rocket right away. Instead, you have to research new technologies, which unlock new machines and recipes, which allows you to research more stuff, which grants access to new resources, which you get the idea.

You do research by creating “science bottles”. These are little glass bottles filled with colored liquid. As the game goes on, you unlock new science bottles made of more complex products that allow you to research higher-level things.

This system doesn’t make a lot of sense. The lowest tier bottle is the red one. To make it, you combine a segment of conveyor belt with a robotic grabber arm. Neither of these things contains glass or liquid, so how these hunks of metal become a bottle of juice is left to the imagination. If you want to know more about this and enjoy massively over-thinking things, I wrote a post a few years ago talking about how funny these bottles are and how much they ought to weigh, given their recipes.

Resupply

This sort of gets overlooked when people talk about base design, but it’s a really important part of your setup. As you play, you’ll be placing robot arms, assembly machines, conveyor belts, power poles, and other items. You could craft these things by hand, but that would get old really fast. It takes a few seconds to assemble some items, and the really good late-game items can’t be assembled by hand.

So what you need to do is set aside a section of your base for constructing these supplies. Then when you run out of (say) conveyor belts and power poles, you can swing by your resupply area and pick up a few stacks of these things. Once you reach the mid-game, you can set it up to have robots automatically deliver supplies to you when you get low.

So that’s the overall flow of the game: Crash on a planet, slog through the burner phase, build a large base that will harvest resources, build infrastructure for Rocket, Research, and Resupply, work your way up the tech tree, and launch the rocket to win the game.

Maybe that’s enough for you. Or maybe you’re like me and you want to keep playing to push the systems as far as you can. How small can you make your base? How fast can you progress from the start of the game to the rocket launch? How quickly can you launch additional rockets after that point? How high can your production go?

Factorio takes place on a massive procgen world, so there’s no hard limit to how far you can push things. We’ll talk about these optimizations next week.

 


From The Archives:
 

93 thoughts on “Factorio Part 1: The Story

  1. Pythor says:

    I’m thrilled you’re doing a Factorio series. I’m currently playing a Space Exploration modpack game with two of my sons when we can schedule the time together. I love the game.

    I see an awful lot of walls in your screenshots. Is that a relic of early game “protect from the biters” builds, or more ascetic? We tend to build walls in big sections near natural chokepoints to keep the biters away.

    In any case, thanks for another great article.

  2. RamblePak64 says:

    Your mention of optimization is, I think, more universal than you might assume. While you’re right that a lot of people (especially these days) play just to see the end credits, the appeal of finding the most optimal build/strategy persists across genres. After our recording the other night I had a conversation with my brother, and he mentioned starting new games in Hearts of Iron IV as the same empire over and over because he’s looking to achieve that most optimal play style with that empire. Typically once he’s found a good strategy, he’ll switch on Ironman and see how it holds up in that mode (but only on Normal, he’s not masochistic enough for Ironman on higher difficulties).

    Similarly, I didn’t get to mention it during our recording, but one of the reasons the original Resident Evil appealed to me, as does Resident Evil 7 and the remake of Resident Evil 2, is that ability to go into a familiar environment and see how much more efficiently you can play. Knowing which routes to focus on clearing zombies, which zombies can be left alive, and where you’ll need to clear some crimson heads for more common halls traveled. Mr. X throws a very interesting wrench into these plans, and is in some ways is frustration as it interferes with the “most optimal path” play style, but also increases replayability through that more dynamic approach and presence. You can still create optimal routes, but it’s more focused on having an escape than it is a concrete set of halls and rooms to traverse.

    So while there’s a lot of folks out there just playing to see the end credits, I think that notion of “the optimal strategy” allows a game to really stick for a lot of players across different genres. It just depends on what sort of problems you like solving most.

    1. DaveMc says:

      Greetings, verbose commenter on this blog, let me officially ask you this question: why don’t you just write more of your thoughts over on your own blog instead of within this comments section? Or are you going to gleefully refuse to answer? :)

  3. John says:

    The tone is perfectly consistent. There are no bad vocal performances, no janky animations, and no uncanny faces. No immersion-breaking audio logs. No clumsy fetch quests. You never have to do stuff for an NPC you hate just to progress the plot, because there isn’t one.

    And best of all, Kai Leng never shows up.

    I love this. I love it so, so much.

    I won’t go so far as to claim that all games should be story- or plot-less. Story or plot is the whole point of some games and there’s nothing wrong with that. But in a lot of games, maybe even most games, the story is either (i) an afterthought or (ii) plotted (if not necessarily written) by people whose core skill-set is not story-telling. There are only so many Jordan Mechners in the world, unfortunately. Most people are not good at both game design and story-telling. So games’ stories tend to be kinda crummy. Over the years I have come to appreciate games with sparse or minimal stories because the more story a game has the more chances that story has to irritate me.

    1. Echo Tango says:

      I mean, theoretically the devs, designers, and writers should all be working together, to make a game that runs well, has good mechanics, and has an engaging story… :)

      1. Asdasd says:

        a game that runs well, has good mechanics, and has an engaging story

        As any engineer would tell you: you can only pick two ;)

        1. Tom says:

          Yeah, and that’s only under optimal circumstances. IF everything goes extremely well and there are no setbacks whatsoever, you can pick two. Otherwise you’ll get maybe one, if you’re lucky and get to finish the project at all.

      2. John says:

        Yes. Theoretically.

        I mean, it probably does happen. It just hasn’t happened in any of the AAA games with big fancy cutscenes that I’ve ever played. Of course I haven’t played all that many AAA games with big fancy cutscenes, so what do I know?

        1. Tuck says:

          Haven’t played Witcher 3, then?

          1. John says:

            No, but I’ve read Shamus’ description of the “looking for Dandelion” quest chain so pardon me if I’m skeptical.

    2. MelTorefas says:

      This is precisely how I feel. All the games I love have very minimal story (if any). I play games because I enjoy the gameplay, but most games with big stories seem to think the story needs to take place either mostly or entirely outside the gameplay. As in, let’s stop the game for yet another long cutscene. I can’t stand that. Half-Life is one of the best “story based” games I ever played, precisely because the vast majority of the time the game KEEPS HAPPENING while the story is going. I don’t know why this seems like such a rare concept.

      I suppose there are a fair number of games that “solve” this by having talking heads emote/yell at you while you do things. Which is better in some ways, since I can mute and ignore them in theory (depending on how obnoxious the UI is about it). But on the other hand, there is something to be said for cutscenes if I can skip them, rather than talking heads that never. leave. you. alone. That style often just results in me feel constantly harassed by the NPCs, which drives me to quit anyways.

    3. BlueHorus says:

      Over the years I have come to appreciate games with sparse or minimal stories because the more story a game has the more chances that story has to irritate me.

      100% agree. It’s one of the reasons I love Subnautica so much: there IS a story, but it’s minimal, universally comprehensible, and doesn’t get in the way. You start by crash landing on a planet, you need to escape, there are complications, the game ends with you escaping. There are logs and records of other crash survivors who are now dead, which provide hints and context to the situation.
      And that’s it. It’s great! No-one wasted time or effort on dumb twists, expensive cinematics, villain monologues, cutscene stupidity or anything else that plagues so many other games.

      Resurrecting an old point I’ve made before: XCOM: EU and XCOM 2 are a fantastic example of storytelling in games going wrong.
      The first game was lean and simple: Aliens are attacking Earth; you need to stop them. There’s three NPC characters for exposition and explaining game mechanics, a handful of revelations about the aliens, you win by defeating the leader of the enemy and then the game ends. Done.

      Then along comes XCOM 2, which retcons the first game, puts the narrative at odds with the gameplay, wastes time with bombastic ‘action’ cutscenes, stunt-casts famous actors, turns characters into idiots, makes large parts of it unskippable, etc, etc etc…
      While XCOM 2 is a lot better than the first game in a lot of ways, the story is in many ways an ugly, bloated mess…the worst part of which is that it was unnecessary.
      The story wasn’t broken, it didn’t need fixing, and it’s about ten times worse than it was for someone trying and failing so badly.

      1. Echo Tango says:

        The cutscenes are at least somewhat rare in XCOM and XCOM 2, compared to the interface- and menu-animations…which are also un-skippable. I think it got even worse in XCOM 2, compared to the first. :S

        1. Philadelphus says:

          Thank goodness for mods like Stop Wasting My Time which speed up or eliminate a whole bunch of those little half-second animations to make a much snappier game overall.

      2. The+Puzzler says:

        Is the XCOM 2 narrative any more odds with the gameplay than the original? “Underground resistance movement with limited resources” at least makes more sense for a squad-based game than “International organisation responsible for defending the world from alien invasion but which can only afford a few dozen employees”.

        1. BlueHorus says:

          “Troops, we’re the scrappy underdog resistance movement, vastly outnumbered and limited to hit-and-run attacks. That’s why we deploy to and from missions in our noisy jump-jet, even when we’re infiltrating an enemy-occupied city!
          Also, three out of four times, your final mission objective will be to hang around the mission site, after we’ve achieved our primary objective, and kill all the remaining enemies while their superiors send in support.
          Somehow, killing all their troops on the ground will convince ADVENT to not send any more reinforcements to the area.”

          You can hand-wave this stuff, or come up with reasons why it makes sense, sure.
          But it’s also a matter of tone and framing: in XCOM, you assumed the role of the commander of a co-operative, international agency that could fail and had lukewarm international support.
          In XCOM 2 you are The Commander, a Chosen One military genius who will Save The Earth and that all the other NPCs desperately need…which all makes me less willing to forgive the issues that I see.

          1. Philadelphus says:

            Also, three out of four times, your final mission objective will be to hang around the mission site, after we’ve achieved our primary objective, and kill all the remaining enemies while their superiors send in support.

            Just to clarify, I believe you only get the “mop up any remaining enemies” objective if there aren’t any reinforcements being sent in (i.e., it’s safe enough that you can take the time to do it before leaving). If there are reinforcements, they’re coming infinitely, and your job is to do the main objective and get the heck outta Dodge before they eventually overwhelm you. I won’t try to defend the rest of XCOM 2’s story and tone—even though I love it it certainly has its share of nonsense.

            And then you have XCOM: Chimera Squad, which doesn’t exactly retcon XCOM 2, but does make you realize that all those alien mooks you gunned down were perfectly sapient, rational beings forced into being cannon-fodder by the Elders…

            1. BlueHorus says:

              I can’t think of any retcons that happened in Chimera Squad…not like XCOM 2’s ‘your victory over the enemy was actually a simulation all along’*. Nothing grated that much in Chimera Squad, for me at least.

              And, for all my complaints about XCOM 2, I still like it a lot. The gamplay, pacing, structure and many other things are great…it’s just the story. Kind of like someone made a really good cake but decided to frost it with wallpaper paste.

              *Which might not technically be a retcon, per se, but that twist isn’t far from ‘it was a dream!’

              1. Decius says:

                XCOM 2 continues from a loss in XCOM. The canon ending of XCOM is that the humans lost.

                1. John says:

                  I don’t think that canon is a useful concept when it comes to games like XCOM. XCOM isn’t a narrative-driven game telling a single, official story. That not the point. Each game–heck, each individual playthrough–can–and does!–have its own individual story and that’s as it should be. They’re all valid and none of them is more or less real than any of the others.

            2. Decius says:

              Except for the chryssalids. And the floaters.

              1. BlueHorus says:

                Well, they were pretty much mindless drones from the very beginning. The Chryssalids in particular seem more like a biological terror weapon than a coherent, self-sustaining species. Kind of like the Xenomorph from Alien which – while terrifying, and a good metaphor for rape – it’s hard to imagine a society of them that wouldn’t just run out of victims over time and die out.

                Still, they managed to fit well into Chimera Squad. I was all for using nonlethal rounds in that game, since technically we’re law enforcement, not the army…
                …until we came to the faction that fielded Chryssalids against civilians. Damn, did the Kid Gloves come of quickly after that.

        2. Sleeping Dragon says:

          My issue with 2’s story is that it kinda, sorta mislead me about what the game was going to be about. I mean, sure, I knew it was going to be tactical missions with an overworld strategic layer but from the description, the promotional materials and even from the beginning of the game I was expecting there would be an aspect of “winning hearts and minds” which in reality is absent from the game, except for the cutscene at the end which is… kinda silly and I felt like it’s lip service to the premise. In that sense for me the narrative was to some extent to the game’s detriment.

          I’m finding it a bit difficult to do the “compared to the original” because while typing I realised I’m not sure which “original” you mean.

          1. Decius says:

            It would be nice if there was some reason to reduce collateral damage some of the time.

            I think Apocalypse’s faction system cares about collateral damage to some degree, but it is simply too much work to do enough damage in Apocalypse to care.

      3. beleester says:

        I thought the story in X2 was pretty good. Aside from the questionable decision to appoint the guy who lost the first war with the aliens as the leader of the resistance, the general plot makes sense and provides a driving mystery to keep things going. Aliens are working on the Avatar Project. Each story mission lets you research another piece of the Avatar Project, until eventually you have enough clues that you understand the project and can use that knowledge to attack them directly.

        This is, IMO, exactly how an XCOM plot should go – you are facing an Unknown Enemy, and the only way to defeat them is to steal their technology, learn their plans, and beat them at their own game. And it’s competently executed – the groundwork for the final plan is laid as early as the first mission when they introduce the Commander’s brain-chip and the psionic network, but you don’t see the full shape of it until you’re almost at the end, which is the mark of good foreshadowing.

        (Also, “stunt-casting”? I can’t say I recognized any of the voices for the main cast.)

        1. BlueHorus says:

          Yeah, I should have said in my original post that the worst of the story sins are in the game’s DLC. They are orders of magnitude worse than anything that features in the base game.
          (The stunt casting is in the War of the Chosen DLC, where they got Jonathan Frakes and some other Star Trek actors to voice NPCs and troops.)

          You’re also right in that the base game’s structure works. The narrative is kind of at odd with the gameplay (see ‘noisy jump jet’ in my post above), but most of my complaints are just ‘I don’t like it’ rather than there’s anyting terrble about it.

          1. beleester says:

            Ah, I still haven’t gotten around to the WotC DLC.

      4. Stu says:

        It didn’t retcon the story. It follows the plot of the first game, just not the specific line you personally consider “canon”.

      5. Tom says:

        How does Xenonauts compare, in terms of writing? I’ve not played any of the XCOMs (apart from a playable demo when I was a kid, and didn’t really get it), so I wouldn’t know, but I’ve played Xenonauts and thoroughly enjoyed it, and vaguely recall getting the impression from discussions at the time that it’s regarded by some to be “XCOM 2 done right.”

        1. Addie says:

          If I was given the choice between playing Xenonauts, which is a pretty slavish remake of ‘original X-COM aka. UFO: Enemy Unknown’, and OpenXCom, which uses the X-COM assets but with a completely new code base, with the intention of being nearly exactly like the original, but with the bugs fixed and a couple of quality-of-life improvements (particularly in movement, showing all the places you *could* go with your time units), then I would have to go for OpenXCom. Which just goes to show how damn good the original was.

          Xenonauts does a lot of things right, but to me it suffers from the ‘Terror From The Deep’ problem of having maps with a ridiculous number of nooks and corners, which makes clearing them time-consuming rather than fun, and from having much less charismatic enemies to fight – they’re all just a bit drab. And the shooting down UFOs bit is a pain, as opposed to the original’s which at least stayed out of the way. Which is a shame, because the cold war setting and a lot of the presentation is a blast – when it works well, it’s great.

          ‘New XCOM’ and ‘XCOM 2’ are a great improvement over the original in the tactical part, all the work gone into streamline and polish has paid off, but I find the strategic part really lacking in both of them – deciding where to put the rooms in your base, in an order which is basically preordained and where there’s few interesting decisions – just isn’t the same as building up your (multiple!) bases world-wide, specialising them, deciding what the right balance of troops and interception and (multiple!) recovery vehicles is going to be. Xenonauts is a much better sequel in that regard; it clears up the busywork (eg. of ordering conventional weapons and ammunition) but still leaves plenty of choices.

    4. Tom says:

      Personally, I find it to be a trichotomy, not a dichotomy. It IS possible to create a mainstream game with both brilliant story and also brilliant gameplay, but invariably a third factor seems to get sacrificed in order to free up the resources in order to achieve that: robustness, or “quality assurance” in business-talk.

      So very many of my all-time favourite games – those which have both original, engaging, detailed and coherent writing, combined with original, engaging, detailed and coherent gameplay – have, in my experience, tended to be stunningly difficult to keep in working order as they have aged, at least compared to other, more mediocre and formulaic titles.

      Of course, this could be mere confirmation bias – I’m naturally going to try harder to keep my favourites playable, even literal decades later, before giving up – but I suspect there is an element of truth to my perception.

  4. Lino says:

    Even though I never intend to play Factorio (not really my genre), I’m very excited for this retrospective.

  5. Raion says:

    Yes. This is what we’re doing. I’m going to do a “retrospective” on Factorio. Rather than complaining about games that frustrate me, I want to talk about a game I love. Also, I want to somehow justify the two-week binge I just went through and this seems like the path of least resistance.

    Is this a bad idea? Probably.

    Negativity is entertaining, cathartic and it sells, but often enough we get so caught up in it that we forget to celebrate the things we love as well.

    I can only speak for myself, but I’m not a rage addict or a frustration tourist, I can take some gushing from time to time.
    But maybe your analytics suggest otherwise. Dunno.

  6. Rho says:

    “In the grim darkness of the far future, there is only three factory, built amidst the laughter of thirsting players.”

    Ok, I kid, but how cool would a Warhammer 40K game in this style be? It even answers many questions in the genre, such as why you can only build certain machines (because lack the STC schematics for more), why you need everything fits together easily, and you can have a variety of interesting foes instead of just one type.

    1. Rho says:

      Drat: “the” factory, not “three”

      1. Philadelphus says:

        “We have always been at war with (the factory of) Eastasia.”

    2. Echo Tango says:

      I think the Warhammer universe gets licensed out fairly liberally, depending on what factions, units, or races are getting licenced. I can totally envision a Factorio mod, that just changes all the items and enemies, so it fits with that universe. It could maybe even be a proper “campaign”, where you play with different constraints on resources, available blueprints, or types of enemies, so that each play-session feels different. :)

      1. Rho says:

        It shouldn’t be too impractical to have some different player characters. I.E, Techmarine, Techpriest, and finally Technician could form the easy/normal/hard modes whole having somewhat different goals and rules. Then the Hetetek or Ork campaigns might be wildly different.

    3. BlueHorus says:

      A Warhammer 40,000 game not focussed on endless, meaningless fighting!? HERESY!!!!!!

      Okay, I jest, but the setting IS famously a wargame. A lot of fans would be upset if combat wasn’t a large part of the gameplay – and, I wouldn’t be surprised if Games Workshop wouldn’t grant a license to a game that wasn’t about combat.

      Still, it would fit the Adeptus Mechanicus faction REALLY well. Just make the game about conquering and esablishing a Forge World: You clear out an area of the planet, recover schematics, build them to gain access to more powerful troops so you can clear out a new area…rinse and repeat. It could work!

      1. Echo Tango says:

        There’s enough mechanics in Factorio for it, I think. It’s not the main focus, but I’m sure there’s some portion of 40k gamers who want to explore some of the factions that are the gun-producers for the front-line armies. Tower-defense, artillery-shelling other factories or armies? I think it’s even got mechanics (only in special game-modes right now, but totally available for mods) for time-limited objectives, swarm-style tower-defense, etc. That’s not an army-oriented RTS-style experience, and much different than a squad-focused thing, but there’s got to be money made here, using an existing engine to make a short game for fans of this army-supplying aspect of the Warhammer universe. :)

      2. Tom says:

        Well, that’s kind of the big secret of real life warfare that fictional depictions are very often quite reluctant to admit, because it’s much more difficult (but not impossible!) to romanticise – the vast majority of the effort in most wars is person time spent PREPARING to fight, not actually fighting.

        Only quick, decisive engagements are a real test of martial prowess; if one side doesn’t conclusively defeat the other and come to terms during the first encounter, the whole thing immediately changes from a sprint to a marathon (if just GETTING TO THE BATTLEFIELD hasn’t done that already – see below!), and becomes largely, if not entirely, a test of which side has the greater industrial and agricultural productive capacity and logistics; who can hold up their end of a perpetual stalemate long enough for the other side’s economy to collapse.

        This isn’t even a concept restricted to modern, industrial warfare, either; it’s been around for at least as long as people have been building castles and besieging them. Interestingly, single combat between knights in armour also worked on basically the same principle; unless you somehow struck a decisive blow immediately, the whole fight would usually consist of slowly and ineffectually battering away at each other until one opponent was simply too exhausted to continue, then getting in close and either demanding they yield or else levering open a gap in their armour and sticking a nasty dagger through it.

        OK, sure, everyone knows that the castle has a limited reserve of food in the keep and it’s just a matter of starving ’em out, but what is sometimes easily forgotten is that the besieging army ALSO needs to eat. Until relatively recently it was absolutely standard and accepted practice for an army on campaign to rely upon foraging its food supplies from the surrounding towns and farmland (which is why commanders tended to keep their forces on the move whenever possible, so as to avoid depleting the surrounding area, and, I believe, one reason why Napoleon had such terrible losses during his retreat out of Russia – his forces were now having to forage for food in territory they’d already completely stripped of resources on the way in. In WINTER!). Ideally that concentrated food reserve in the castle keep will have been produced by taking it all out of the surrounding farmlands, too, so by the same action of preparing a castle reserve to last the siege, you also make the surrounding area much less hospitable to an attacker.

        All of this would probably be pretty damned boring to thrash out on a tabletop, though, unless someone designed some really amazingly clever and efficiently succinct game mechanics… but stranger (and more boring) things have been successfully made into fun gameplay – just look at Papers, Please – so I won’t say it couldn’t happen!

        1. Tom says:

          Belated edit: come to think of it, in my experience, core gameplay in Dungeons & Dragons can quite often resemble this cycle – long periods of marching, gathering strength and foraging for resources with which to fight, interspersed with relatively brief encounters where, if they aren’t kerbstomp battles within a couple of rounds or if someone doesn’t think of some VERY clever ruse that the GM likes enough to allow it to work, the battle will quite often turn out to be a laborious grind where everyone slugs it out until one side gets worn down to nothing.

          (In case you couldn’t guess from my tone, I’m one of those people who plays DnD for the story, exploration, puzzles and role-play more than the combat; not that I don’t think combat has its place, of course!)

      3. Bubble181 says:

        While it’s not 40K, things like Blood Bowl do exist within the regular Warhammer universe. It’s not impossible to have a non-combat game in the setting.

        1. Decius says:

          But Blood Bowl be ‘bout bashing.

      4. Decius says:

        Somebody has to build all the stuff that gets destroyed in the war.

  7. Abnaxis says:

    The bottle that takes robotic grabber arms and conveyor belts is the green bottle. The red bottles take iron gears and copper plates, at least without mods.

    You can tell how much “skipping of the burner phase through mods” has been done here XD

    1. Echo Tango says:

      (I was about to point out the same mistake. :)

      Re: Burner phase
      Myself, I actually wish the game had a longer burner-phase, so that players could learn and be nudged towards automation sooner. This would require a few more buildings in the early game, but without the different type of interaction that electricity brings, I think it would be simpler to grasp. (I think a burner assembler and burner science is all you’d need.) Burner mines, inserters, and furnaces all either output items, or take items as inputs, so the player could get used to these mechanics over a longer time. Players who want to skip it could ramp up production to get past it. As it is right now, you’re pushed towards electrical things right away with your mines (“hey, I don’t have to build these fiddly belts for these new, better mines”), but it’s very possible to not automate your furnaces, and just hand-dump coal and/or ore into them for a long time. Technically you can put ore and coal onto two different sides of a belt, but I think that’s only briefly covered in a tutorial, and isn’t guaranteed that the player will find it out by themselves. The problem is that that’s needed to power your burner inserters or if you’re rushing electricity, your furnaces need two-side belts for inputs so that you can get your outputs onto another belt. (Long-handed inserters are farther in the tech tree than belts, etc.) I launched a rocket mid-way in early-access, and when I came back this year to the game, I had totally forgotten I’m supposed to do that stuff. You can also use splitters and multiple belts if you spread out your furnaces, but I think even splitters are somewhat up the tech tree. So if I was going to “fix” the game, to help ensure players have explored belts, splitters, and inserters, I’d move all that stuff before electricity in the tech tree. :)

      1. Decius says:

        Burner science labs would suggest that it’s necessary to use burner science labs.

        Why not have burner versions of everything, so that an outpost can run entirely on coal or solid fuel? Maybe even not so much worse than electric.

        1. Tom says:

          Increased pollution makes the local wildlife colonies evolve, multiply and expand more quickly, and they become much more aggressive.

          Honestly I think the game pulled its punches, there, too, since you only have to deal with atmospheric pollution; it’d be interesting to also see mountains of mine tailings and lakes of chemical effluent build up and need safe disposal before they leach into the surroundings and cause problems.

      2. Mike says:

        If you haven’t looked at it yet, pretty sure Industrial Revolution conversion/mod does exactly what you are describing there.
        It makes technology transitions more smooth and gradual, to the point of introducing primitive helper clockwork robots running off personal burner generators early on. Also has great all-original art and animations.

        1. Echo Tango says:

          Thanks! This looks pretty cool, although like Q’s Longer Burner Phase mod, it adds a bunch of other stuff that I don’t actually think is missing. (Non-burner stuff, extra / harder / longer recipes, etc.) It seems every time I try to play this game, I need to install a bunch of mods, then find out that none of them are really what I want the game to be. And I’m way too lazy to do programming…to play a game after a day of programming for work. ^^;

          1. Mike says:

            Ah well, guess that’s why there’re so many of them around – everyone wants something different :)
            If it was up to me, game would’ve started with you on a train instead of burners, as I kinda love these.

        2. Echo Tango says:

          Good gravy, there’s so many recipes and intermediate ingredients in this mod! I really like the early robots, and the steam-power stuff, but dang – there’s like triple the ingredients right now, and I’m still at steam power! This seems like a good mod for players who are bored with the base game (like me), but I think for newer players, something a lot closer to the base game would be appropriate. :)

  8. hewhosaysfish says:

    I’ve always thought that the satellite you have to launch is a communications satellite. Are you actually told that at the start of the game or is that me just seeing what I expect to see?

    It makes sense to me that the player wasn’t trying to leave the planet on a chemical rocket but rather to signal someone with a working interplanetary/FTL ship to come an pick them up.

    1. Syal says:

      It’s a missile. Enraged at being stranded on a foreign planet, our protagonist engages in an elaborate revenge scheme to destroy the worlds that abandoned him. Factorio is basically The Tempest.

    2. Echo Tango says:

      Ealier in the game’s development, you actually escaped the planet when the rocket launched. Later, they changed it so that you’re launching satellites, presumably to map out the planet’s surface or map stars. (Given that they now give you “space science” flasks.)

    3. beleester says:

      It’s a research satellite of some sort, seeing as it produces space science.

      At some point near the end of development, they changed it so that launching the rocket ends the game no matter what’s inside it, because players would finish the rocket, triumphantly launch it… and then nothing would happen because they forgot the satellite. So now you win the game if you launch a rocket with any payload, and the satellite is something you research separately.

      Also, easter egg: If you put a car into the rocket, then you can enter the rocket like a vehicle and it’ll take off with you inside. It’ll return you to the silo once the rocket disappears.

  9. Chris says:

    Ive played this game a fair amount for about a week but then got burnt out. At the one hand I love the concept of going from getting on your hands and knees digging pieces of coal from the ground to having a megamachine deliver coal by the boatload. I love drawing out an entire production process, from coal and iron ore to intermediates and finally coming all together to form the final product. The problem is that as my factory grew, i kept bumping into my old creations, like someone who paints himself in a corner. At times I would tear out entire sections to reroute them. You end up with the problem similar to citybuilders where your citycenter has tiny 1 lane streets that cannot handle the massive amounts of traffic it now has to handle. I would combine metal plates and grabber arms only to find that after half an hour suddenly the system didnt work well and grabber arms outproduced metal plates. Or iron production which went perfectly well suddenly wasnt enough, forcing me to go through every link in the chain again to see what was going on. And then when that was fixed the iron field was depleted and half the miners didnt work. And when that was fixed the coal production suddenly faltered and my entire factory went dark before there wasnt coal to fuel the powerplant. What also was annoying is that you can put a 50 stack into a furnace by hand, but a grabber arm refuses to put more than 1 unit in. I guess it makes a bit sense to prevent one part from drawing all the resources excess of what it needs, but it also caused a lot of inefficiency in my design.
    Then i had to make blue research (which I think required engines) and I was so burnt out on rerouting my entire production again that i quit for the night (and never started again). Then i looked online and noticed that a main bus is the recommended setup. I liked my spaghetti factory quite a lot and using some internet preset felt a bit cheap.
    Fun game overall. I think the easiest way to see if you like this game is when you discover oil cracking. Does the idea of “you can take raw oil and refine it into different parts and use water to crack it into different products that are more efficiency than just processing raw oil” make you think “wow thats amazing im going to set up oil efficiency right away” or make you think “ow please have mercy i just want to use oil”.

    1. Echo Tango says:

      I think building a “main bus” is actually a bit of out-dated gossip from a few years ago. (Or maybe it’s still popular, but I’m just biased against it.) Like, you can build a tonne of side-by-side lanes for all of the main products, but when you split out some lanes of it to feed things, it takes up a lot of space to re-balance the lanes afterwards. Even if you’re not re-balancing, you’ll still end up in situations where you’ve got three belts of something, between belts of other things, and now you need a fourth belt. Do you re-route all the miles of this belting you’ve already built, or put the new belt out of place? Do you even have room to add a new belt, or is all the space taken up on both sides by assemblers? It can be a useful strategy, but I think the abstraction that a player finds for themselves is usually the best one, since they get to choose the trade-offs. (For me, that means dealing with spaghetti until I can get solar, 2-4 trains, and electric smelters. Then it’s a lot easier to be organised, scalable, and buffered.)

      1. TFrengler says:

        I’ve pretty much only ever done the main bus design since it was all the rage, but yeah I am not sure either if it’s still the “best” way. Seen some of the better streamers/YouTubers who make small, localized production facilities for the various products which seems to be a thing as well.

        Many ways to skin a cat in this game, and trains/robots seem to open up other avenues beyond just shunting stuff around a centralized mass factory area using belts.

        1. Echo Tango says:

          Even without trains, you can still get some smaller specialized factories set up. The various colors of belts are all relatively high in throughput, cheap, and easy enough to extend off to the side of your main factory. The biggest issue I think, is that the default game settings have so many resources so close together, that players aren’t nudged towards expanding much. The best advice I got by accident, is when I saw a streamer (Catherine of Sky?) just ignoring and walking past fields of ore, because the world is infinite, full of many separate ore-fields and sometimes just expanding to keep your base organized is important. Compared to an infinite world, those ore fields aren’t really getting “wasted” if you’re ignoring them and building farther past them. :)

      2. beleester says:

        Mainbus requires you to set aside room for the lanes before you actually need to build them (I set aside 16 lanes, 4 blocks of 4). Yes, this is going to mean you leave a lot of empty space in the early game and have to belt some items a longer distance, but 16 lanes will easily see you through to the endgame, at which point you have enough production to build whatever sort of megabase you want for the post-game.

        If you don’t want to do that much planning ahead or you like a more “organic” look to your base, one tactic I like is “bus by rules.” It goes like this:

        1. Pick a direction for your base to expand. New production lines get added in this direction.
        2. Whenever you build a new production line, the assemblers go perpendicular to the direction of expansion.
        3. The output of a production line goes in the direction of the base. You only expand forwards, not backwards.
        4. When adding a new production line, use a splitter instead of taking directly from the belt.

        Basically, it’s a mainbus where instead of having all your belts centralized, you just create a new belt going forwards wherever your previous production line ended. It’s more disorganized and can take up a lot of space since your belts aren’t centralized, but it guarantees that every production line is built with room to expand, so you can’t paint yourself into a corner. Really useful when you’re still learning the tech tree and don’t know what the future will bring.

    2. ivan says:

      I’d say regardless of what setup you are trying to do, if you’re grabbing blueprints or designs from the internet, you are factually playing it wrong. Create it for yourself, whatever it is. That is literally the point of the game, if you take that away by using someone else’s work, you just leave yourself the busywork of putting the things down.

      Or watching your robots put down entities to match someone else’s design, I guess. To put it elegantly, if you use someone else’s blueprint, you either watch your robots do it, or you take the role of robot for yourself.

  10. TFrengler says:

    Good read Shamus :)

    I love Factorio. Bought it way back (a year or two after it was released on their own website), and been playing it on and off for years. This game makes me obsessed for reasons very similar to Shamus. Guess working as an automation tester – and generally loving optimizations and micromanagement – this game really appeals to me. I’m not particularly good at it though, and seldom (if ever) make any calculations to get the right ratios. I tend to just bumble about and learn through trial and error.

    This also means that even after all these years I have never finished a game. Every time I play a get a bit further as I learn how to deal with the next stage in a way that isn’t spaghetti-factory worthy. Last year was the first time I progressed past the construction- and logistics-robots phase, and now I struggle with the more advanced stages of dealing with liquids and the more advanced circuits.

    One day I will finally launch a rocket :)

    1. Mike says:

      It took me a long time to progress into trains and robots as I just really enjoyed my spaghetti factory. But now that I’ve (somewhat) figured out trains and robots, its a completely different game. And launching the rocket is really just the beginning of the end game. From there you see how much science you can produce a minute and just keep optimizing and expanding, if that’s what you’re interested in. The factory must grow.

      The other direction after completing things a couple times is moving up to the ‘difficult’ mods, i.e. Angels, Bobs, py, Space Exploration, LTN (which in some ways makes things MUCH easier I’ve heard, but there’s a learning curve to get there), SeaBlock, or some combination like Angels + Bobs.

      1. TFrengler says:

        I love the trains! I’m a massive fan (with too many hours…) in OpenTTD so I have a very good handle on that aspect and really enjoy making good rail networks. It’s more involved here of course, but still very enjoyable. Being able to drag/drop train tracks was one of the best changes they made.

    2. Echo Tango says:

      Honestly, I wouldn’t recommend doing any math if you’re already having fun. After doing it once, you realize it’s all just basic arithmetic, or maybe some algebra later on, to solve for the amount of inputs and outputs you need. It never gets more complex than that, and just makes the game feel more like actual work to me. :)

      1. TFrengler says:

        Cheers, that’s positive (and different) response to what I often get when I share my experiences with the game. Guess I run into a lot of personality types who enjoy hyper-optimizing things by doing loads of calculations on paper and then applying it to the game.

        1. Drew says:

          For me, it’s a lot less fun to do the math and build optimally, but instead, I’m more interested in building crazy circuit contraptions to monitor product flow across the entire enterprise, and ideally have them warn me when something starts getting out of balance. I’m sure that’s a less efficient solution, though in my experience it’s a much more realistic solution because you don’t know what you don’t know and things go wrong sometimes. Plus lots of blinking lights and sirens telling you that you’ve got about 2 minutes to figure out why your power plants are about to go offline is pretty fun.

          1. Echo Tango says:

            I just get by with massive production lines, and buffering all my stuff on long belts, in chests, or in item-specific trains that form the set-it-and-forget-it supply line of my mid- to late-game base. The circuits and conditions on train-stops to have it run mostly-efficiently, are so dang easy compared to all the spaghetti of belts, and the super-logic I’ve seen in other peoples’ tutorials and streams, that I don’t know why more people don’t use it. (Mostly, just have train stops with the same names, like “iron ore supply” or “need steel”, and then you can have trains running specific supplies all the time. You can save on wasted trips to mostly-full stops, if you get each stop to check the buffer-chests at the stop, and shut off the train-stop if it’s already got enough. I’m not even sure if you need combinators for that, just colored-circuit-wire and the built-in options for chests, train stops, and trains. :)

    3. Mike says:

      I’m not particularly good at it though, and seldom (if ever) make any calculations to get the right ratios. I tend to just bumble about and learn through trial and error.

      I’d highly recommend using an in-game mod like Factory Planner (though there are few alternatives with different GUI styles around) to not get bogged down by this stuff.

      They also help with planning your steps a lot – like “ok, I have ~1/s red science, what I need to get 1/s green next?” – planner mod will break it down from X drills all the way to Y assemblers for final stuff, which I find very easy to keep track of as a kind of todo-list and build in blocks (esp. with robots once you can “abstract” blueprints of “inputs=A outputs=B” easily).

      Well, at least if confusion and forgetfulness is the issue for you with this, like it is for me – neat optimization is kinda optional side-bonus with this type of planning :)

  11. Abnaxis says:

    This sort of gets overlooked when people talk about base design, but it’s a really important part of your setup.

    You experience may vary, but IME there is A LOT of space in Factorio forums and guides dedicated to designing your “mall” (the term I guess the community has settled on to call your resupply center)

  12. CoyoteSans says:

    One day, I will return to Factorio from Dyson Sphere Program. That day is not this day. Yes, it is currently “simplier” than Factorio’s systems, but A) I’ve found I don’t care and actually enjoy not having to deal with a lot of Factorio’s arbitrary nonsense (never having to feed smelters coal ever is so nice) and B) the sheer scale of the game more than makes up for it in my opinion.

    That Roy Batty speech from Blade Runner, only it’s about flying over rows of space elevators on a jungle world tinted blue by an O-type star (ringed with a Dyson Swarm feeding a nascent shell) receiving a convoy of vessals full of sulphuric acid pumped from an ocean on an interstellar Mercury-like world. Factorio’s 2d single dieselpunk world feels quaint in comparison.

    1. Echo Tango says:

      Factorio gets up to regular-punk by the mid- to late-game though. (Maybe even cyber-punk if you count the robots, lasers, and electrically-fed stuff. Or maybe just nuclear-punk? Does it still count as punk if it’s not raging against anything? :)

      1. Tom says:

        Personally, I consider the pursuit of efficient technological elegance to constitute rage against entropy and inevitable heat death of the universe.

        It’s all futile in the end. You can’t win, you can’t even break even, and it’s the only game in town – but you can still choose to get in that game and fight as hard as you can, and people are still looking for new ways to fight even harder. You can even learn to ironically enjoy what you still know is a losing fight against ultimate universal chaos, with the right mindset. That’s as punk as it gets.

        Dunno what kind of punk you’d call that, though. Kelvin-punk? Carnot-punk?

    2. Decius says:

      DSP made some bad choices to fit with their theme.

      They should have gone with a hexes and 12 pentagrams layout for planets, rather than broken square grids that make areas near the pole entirely unusable.

      1. CoyoteSans says:

        The secret is the poles have a few special uses, but not for typical production lines. Because of how small the planets’ curvature is, the poles are ideal for solar panels and ray receivers (the big dishes that gather energy from the Dyson Sphere). And the fact you can quickly close belt loops in a straight line near them makes them ideal for fractionator loops, which are a stupidity efficient manner of producing much-needed deuterium versus the “intended” method of using particle collidors.

        tl;dr: If you’re trying to build smelter and assembler lines at the poles, you’re doing it wrong.

  13. Gautsu says:

    This is like my version of Shamus’s Dark Souls…. /sigh

    1. GoStu says:

      What, a game that you have absolutely zero interest in? Same here – the “collect and craft stuff in order to collect and craft different stuff” genre has never appealed to me. Hell, I’ve never even played Minecraft.

      Still, it’s Shamus’s blog and he loves this game, so I’m along for the ride. Maybe I’ll find out what he and others see in this.

      1. Gautsu says:

        It’s like a blind spot, I just can’t see anything enjoyable in the genre. I realize there must be something there for people, otherwise they wouldn’t sell and continue to make them. But it is such an alien concept to me I don’t understand it. But my wife does a lot of things in a similar vein, so it probably says more about me than anything else

      2. Mr. Wolf says:

        A game that you have absolutely no interest in that keeps getting talked about a little too often.

        1. Erik says:

          Oh, very much like Dark Souls. :)

          Honestly, for me Dark Souls itself is interesting but unplayable for my age and reflexes. At least you explore the world and build your character. The truly uninteresting genres are (heresy alert) 2D platformers and bullet hell games – all stick, no carrot. Trying to make it as far as you can before you die is not an enjoyable gameplay mode for me, especially when my survival rate is very low so I get very few reward moments and even those are more relief than joy. I’d rather build something that grows (character, factory, or city) than just kill until I die.

  14. Mattias42 says:

    Dang~, you can just have arms grab out of already supplied labs and make a conga-line like that? That’s way easier to keep plugging stuff into then one or two main feed trunk flanked by arms.

    Makes perfect sense, but just never thought about that. No wonder my base turned into this sprawling, indefensible pile of nonsense spaghetti last time I tried this game.

    Not sure if I have the time for Factorio this weekend, but I’ll definitively remember that tip for next time.

    1. Echo Tango says:

      I wouldn’t say this necessarily makes sense. Assemblers, furnaces, and chemical factories don’t allow you to pull inputs from one building to feed another that has the same ingredients or even the same recipe. Furnaces do allow you to pull outputs from one to feed another, but that’s the same for all buildings. Science labs are the odd one out here, allowing inputs to be syphoned by inserters.

      1. Tohron says:

        Probably because they don’t have any resource outputs.

    2. Erik says:

      Daisy-chaining labs does eventually cause lower performance, as the early labs get their packs stolen before they can actually be processed. But a short chain is still good, and you can do a parallel set of (say) 10 labs to start, then daisy chain another rank of labs later to expand. (I’d have to look for the break point on the wiki, but I think up to 2 or 3 levels of daisy chain is still acceptably efficient.)

    3. Mike says:

      Note that you can also daisy-chain burner drills, which is a neat trick to make compact and lasting self-fueling lines of them easily in an early game.

  15. bobbert says:

    I am really looking forward to the novel length Factorio mini-series. It’s going to be great.

    The part of the game that I am really bad at is after researching all of the green science and before having requester boxes.

  16. Dalisclock says:

    I feel bad. I’ve owned factorio for years now and never progressed past the tutorials the two times I’ve tried to get into it. I don’t know if it just doesn’t interest me or there’s something that feels unintuitive about it or something so I stop, think “I’ll come back in a day or so” and never get back into it after that.

    And I know someday I need to just sit down with it for a few hours and try to get into it and I’m sure I’ll love it, but that day is never today. I have the exact some problem with Crusader Kings 2, which I hear is amazing once you get past the learning curve, I’ve just never gotten that far and lose interest for something shinier and more welcoming I have waiting.

    And it’s bizarre because I’ve sunk countless hours into Kerbal Space Program and love it, so I know it’s not the complexity that’s the problem.

    1. Blue+Painted says:

      I’m the same on Crusader Kings 2 – I’ve started a few times, with big plans but given up when I lost the battle of the learning curve.

      1. Mike says:

        Can recommend CK3 and its tutorial and UI, imo they fixed that major CK2 issue pretty well there.

  17. Khazidhea says:

    And best of all, Kai Leng never shows up.

    Well not until Factorio 3. And by that point the series has become pretty warped, focussing on building a macguffin-device from plans discovered on Mars, which supposedly has the ability to defeat the train who has been taken over by tertiary villain, The Intrusive Man.

    Factorio 2 is where you get to see the rocket being used, in the opening cutscenes (only for it to break into pieces causing you to fall back to Earth). Your disintegrated body is built back to be even better at creating machines (but this all seems pretty pointless, as you’re back to where you started as if you’d never left Earth at all). The machines in this game are all new, and fairly interesting (but only come back as cameos in the third which goes back to most of the original favourites plus a few bland new ones).

  18. Niki says:

    I have played about the same hours in SW and Factorio (<10), but I find reading about Factorio more interesting than Dark Souls puzzles in the Star Wars universe

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