Factorio Part 3: Biters and Solar Power

By Shamus Posted Thursday May 6, 2021

Filed under: Retrospectives 75 comments

I originally planned to give a tour of my base here, but in the last few weeks I’ve had half a dozen bases. I’ve been hopping from one game to another, trying different things and exploring bits of the game that I normally overlook. So I don’t have a single game to show off. So instead let’s talk about the level generation system and the biter aliens.

The Level Generator

The Factorio level generator offers a ridiculous number of options. This isn’t like Minecraft where you just pick a seed and take whatever the algorithm gives you. The game gives you a lot of sliders for determining how the world is generated.

For example, the options for iron deposits are:

  • Frequency: How often does this feature show up? Set the frequency high, and you’ll find an iron deposit every few meters. Set it low and you might go a few kilometers between iron deposits. The latter is really good for making maps that encourage you to use trains.
  • Size: When a deposit does finally show up, how large is it? Keep in mind that the size of the deposit is functionally a limiter on throughput. If you’re looking to maximize your base and output stuff as fast as possible, then you want to cover a resource deposit with as many mining drills as possible. If the deposit is small, then you’ll only get two or three drills on it and you’ll need countless different deposits to support your base. I have no idea why you’d want this, but the option is there. 
  • Richness: How much does the deposit contain? How long can your mining drill work on it before the deposit runs out? If you make this low then deposits will run dry quickly and you’ll have to constantly relocate your mining equipment to fresh nodes. If you make it high then a given mining outpost can run for many hours without you needing to worry about it. I don’t think it’s particularly interesting to keep moving my drills around, so I actually use a mod that sets the deposit richness to “infinite”. This is closer to how Satisfactory does it, where a single node can give you resources forever.

You get these three options for every resource in the game: iron, copper, coal, stone, uranium, and oil. 

The Biters

This is a biter nest. This is not a good place to go.
This is a biter nest. This is not a good place to go.

Another thing you can control is the presence and density of the biters. (The alien monsters.) At the start of the game, they leave you alone unless you get too close to their nests. As the game goes on you’ll inevitably create pollution. The biters are driven wild by pollution. It causes them to mass in groups and assault your base. Also, the more pollution you release, the more the biters evolve. If you pollute carelessly, then you’ll find yourself fighting larger and stronger biters with more complex unit compositions. 

To be honest, I’ve never been crazy about the biters. I’ve played a normal game with them in it. I’ve even used the “death world” preset which makes them evolve and attack like crazy. It sounds like an interesting idea on paper, but in the long run I find them to be an annoyance rather than a challenge.

Back in the days when I worked for Activeworlds, the phones were set up so that whenever someone called the company, it would ring every phone in the office. Everyone had a phone on their desk, and it was “everyone’s” job to answer the phone. That might sound crazy, but remember that we were a tiny company with about half a dozen people. The company didn’t have extra funds to spend on luxuries like receptionists and operators.

So my work would go something like this….

Where was I? Oh right, we’re getting this weird glitch where users jitter around while flying. Their character looks fine on their own machine, but other people watching them fly will sometimes see them appear elsewhere for a few frames. I’ve never seen it happen myself. Maybe it only applies to large crowds? Or to people on dial-up? 

So, here’s a structure that holds the user’s positional data. Because we’re working in vanilla C, this block of memory gets raw copied on the spot and the copy is given to the network code to send over the internet to other users. I don’t see how that data could ever be changed, though. So why is the user’s apparent position changing only for remote observers?

Oh! now that I’m looking at the network code I see that…


Oh damn it. I hope someone else gets that. Anyway, I was looking at the network-


This is stupid. What kind of lunatic sets up their office so the programming  staff has their phones ring all day. Don’t they understand that…



(I answer the phone and spend three minutes trying to figure out who this is and what they want and where I should send them. Finally through the thick accent and rambling story I’ll realize they have a billing question, so I’ll route them over to Tom.

So where was I? Oh right. This weird glitch. Only happens for remote users. Let’s see, I looked through the movement code, found this copy operation, and… what was that for? Oh right, that gets sent off to the networking code. But so what? That code isn’t supposed to touch the data. Just broadcast it. Right? Let me check. Oh right. I read this a few minutes ago before the distraction when I noticed that… What? I remember sitting right here, looking at this block of code, and I realized something. Maybe it was…


Oh come on. The problem was right here. Or if not the problem, a clue. What does this block do, anyway? I see that it has…


Arg. Come on. Someone pick up. I see that it doesn’t just shunt this whole memory block over the internet like I expected. But then what was that memory allocation and copy for? Was that to-


Fuck this job. I’m going back to McDonald’s

Anyway. Interruptions are bad for programmers. This is a known problem. Sure, sometimes you’ll see naysayers claiming that programmers aren’t anything special and we’re just being babies about this. I can tell you those people are 100% wrong. I’ve done other jobs. I’ve written code, I’ve written books, and music, I’ve made 3D models, I’ve made texture maps. I’ve made hamburgers and tacos. There’s no comparison. While it’s always annoying to get interrupted no matter what your job is, nothing comes close to the annoyance and cost of losing your train of thought while coding. 

These distractions don’t just cost me time. They also push my anger button really hard. 

Getting Back to Factorio…

These defenses seem pretty tight, but occasionally you'll get a larger attack that punches through. If you're not there to deal with it, then the biters will pour through and break everything. At that point you'll need to restore to some twenty-minute old save. Either that, or babysit everything all the time. Either way, it's not super-interesting.
These defenses seem pretty tight, but occasionally you'll get a larger attack that punches through. If you're not there to deal with it, then the biters will pour through and break everything. At that point you'll need to restore to some twenty-minute old save. Either that, or babysit everything all the time. Either way, it's not super-interesting.

While the biter attacks aren’t as annoying or frustrating as being interrupted while coding, it’s still not a ton of fun. The biters will assault my defenses. I’ll rush down to make sure the wall holds. Then I’ll hike all the way back to whatever I was working on. And just about the time I remember what I was doing, the biters will assault my other flank.  I’ll spend most of my time bouncing back and forth between hotspots and never really get anything built. 

It might be cool if the biters used some sort of brute-force “tower defense” style AI where a good defense could lead them through a death maze. But the biters would rather attack a wall than go around it, and so they’re constantly tearing down fortifications that need to be rebuilt. You can’t just build something good and then forget about it. Defense requires constant upkeep.

It feels like the game needs to be either all creative building or all siege defense, because splitting your attention between the two doesn’t really work.

So I tend to turn biters down until they’re an occasional problem. Often I just remove them from the game entirely. 

Solar Panels

Here’s an interesting case where making slight changes to level generation can have an enormous impact on the game. 

Aside from all of the other options, you can also decide how many “cliffs” you want. Cliffs make the land look more interesting, at the expense of making the game more of a chore. A cliff is effectively a wall for the player. If the landscape is covered in cliffs, then getting around can be a pain in the ass. Worse, your normal collection of blueprints won’t work. “Oh, this is the perfect spot for my green circuit board blueprint, except there’s a few squares of cliff intruding right in the middle. So instead of stamping down this blueprint and moving on, I need to manually engineer around this blockade. Boo.”

You eventually get specialized dynamite that will let you remove cliff walls, but that doesn’t show up until halfway through the game. But that point you’ve already built some weird mutant base designed to work around the obstacles. Unless you want to rebuild the entire core of your base, those bent conveyors and oddly-shaped delivery systems are there to stay.

So like a lot of people, I turn cliffs off.


These cliffs don't seem like a big deal, but trust me: It's going to be a huge PITA to build ANYTHING in this area.
These cliffs don't seem like a big deal, but trust me: It's going to be a huge PITA to build ANYTHING in this area.

But if you turn off the cliffs, this changes the whole balance of the game. Specifically, the game will suddenly strongly favor solar panels.

There are three ways to make electricity in the game: Steam engines, solar panels, and nuclear power. Steam engines scale poorly and pollute like crazy. Nuke power is great, but it has an insane setup time and is really complicated. 

But then you have solar, which is easier to set up than either of the other two. It’s cheaper and lower in the tech tree than nuke power. It’s the simplest and most straightforward form of power to use. And best of all, it creates no pollution.

The only cost to solar panelsEr. Not the ONLY cost. You still have to build them. Still, they don’t really take any exotic resources like you’d expect for “pollution-free-energy”. is that they take up a lot of space. That’s a slight inconvenience, but it’s nowhere near enough to balance out all of its advantages. 

Yes, cliffs make it a little harder to build everything, but the extra-large footprint of solar means it will be most impacted by cliffs.

So if you don’t want the distractions of biters or the annoyance of cliffs, then you also need to refuse to use solar panels or you’ll trivialize the entire electricity production aspect of the game.

(Personally, I think it would make a lot of sense to have solar panels deliver like 1/4 the power they do now. That might bring it in line with the other systems so that solar panels don’t feel like an exploit.)

I find this really interesting, and a good illustration at how complex it can be to balance a complicated game like this. Turning off cliffs will trivialize power production, which makes it easy to make pollution-free energy, which in turn trivializes the biters, which means you can skip building huge fortifications, which means you can skip a lot of expensive military research, which makes the overall progression on the rest of the game that much easier. 

All you wanted to do was play the game without annoying walls all over the place, and you’ve accidentally activated “easy mode”.



[1] Er. Not the ONLY cost. You still have to build them. Still, they don’t really take any exotic resources like you’d expect for “pollution-free-energy”.

From The Archives:

75 thoughts on “Factorio Part 3: Biters and Solar Power

  1. Tuck says:

    Maybe it only applies to large crows?

    Crows…or crowds?

    1. Eichengard says:

      Either way you’ve got a problem. God forbid you end up with a crowd of crows! Then you’re really screwed.

      1. tmtvl says:

        There is a reason why a crowd of crows is called a murder, after all.

    2. Philadelphus says:

      I think the obvious solution is to not allows users to choose the “crow” avatar. Boom! Problem solved.

      1. Bubble181 says:

        Well, do we have reports of medium- or small-sized crows producing this bug? I thought not. And they’re really popular. So let’s allow those, ok? It’s just large ones that give a problem.

  2. Mako says:

    I read the title as “Bitters and Solar Power” and thought that would actually be a decent Solarpunk future

    1. Sabrdance says:

      Or a cocktail.

  3. Michael G says:

    Wait, what do the cliffs have to do with solar power being effective? Is it just because it’s a bit easier to place them? Surely that would still apply to other power sources and, well, everything else. Why single out solar panels?

    1. tmtvl says:

      While I haven’t played Factorio, the way Shamus phrases it makes me think that solar needs a lot of space and cliffs make it hard to set a solar farm up properly, while the other methods are more flexible with spacial requirements.

      1. Echo Tango says:

        Solar’s actually even more flexible, since you only need to plant a power pole in the middle of them, but other structures need power, conveyor belts, and/or pipes to feed them or take away their products. They do take up more space than the amount of things they power, which means you need to fight cliffs more frequently than other structures. (But I still agree with Shamus that solar should be about 1/4 as powerful; The batteries need an even bigger nerf, too. Late-game upgrades past nuclear or spaceship would be fine for the current power-levels. :)

    2. Pythor says:

      Like tmtvl says, they get in the way. In particular, it seems like Shamus uses a lot of blueprints, which is the easiest way to produce good solar systems, but also don’t work well when cliffs are involved.

    3. Dreadjaws says:

      Well, read again the entire thing. The thing with solar panels is that they:

      a) are easier to set up that the other two power sources
      b) are cheaper than nuclear power
      c) are lower in the tech tree than nuclear power, which means they can be built earlier
      d) produce no pollution (and remember that pollution attracts and strenghtens the monsters)
      e) take a lot of space, which is the only negative

      So yes, if you suddenly HAVE a lot of space then not only there are literally no negatives to solar power, but you find yourself having an easier time with enemies. So obviously that’s why he’s singling them out.

      1. Shas'Ui says:

        There is a bit of balancing in the need for oil production in order to make batteries, so while the panels don’t produce pollution once they are up, you’ll create a lot getting them set up. On the other hand, you’ll be going after oil like mad anyway, so it’s not really a cost.

        I suspect that solar is so great as an incentive to getting oil running: when first starting out, oil is one of the big stumbling points. They reward the initial investment by relaxing the power & biter pressure, giving you enough room to figure out how to run the oil, at which point you expand enough to be pushing up against your limits again.

        1. Tom says:

          I dunno if that’s the conscious intent, but it’s certainly the effect I experienced – building up my infrastructure enough to be able to churn out vast numbers of solar panels and batteries, figuring out an optimised tessellating solar grid design with components in the correct ratios so as to be able to store JUST enough energy, on top of the daylight supply, so as to be able to supply the same amount throughout the night and thus avoid sudden blackouts (one central giant pylon, cluster of batteries around that, concentric ring of solar panels around THAT, all linked ONLY to the central pylon by a couple of smaller poles to avoid routing problems, paved roads crossing vertically and horizontally so I can travel through the solar field quickly), and also have enough construction bots that I could just mark out huge areas for automatic solar field construction, was just indescribably satisfying – it’s my biggest “breather” moment in the game.

  4. Pythor says:

    Shamus, do you ever play multiplayer? I really prefer it, because you get to split up the responsibilities. One person can handle defenses, another can expand the power infrastructure, and another can start building the the processing for the most recently discovered tech. It really helps soften the context switching blows.

    1. Echo Tango says:

      Yeah, the game was designed for single-player first, but I think it accidentally stumbled into being a game that is best for multiplayer. If it had a normal RTS style interface, and no player avatar, it would be a lot better for a single person to manage. Lacking any kind of normal worker unit that can lay down new turrets and repair sections of your base really makes the biters more annoying than fun. They’re ok-ish if you disable their expansion mechanic, but that’s not very satisfying either. ^^;

      1. Echo Tango says:

        Note, you get construction robots about mid-way through the game, and they’re about twice as powerful as you’d need to get started. A slow, non-flying, coal-powered, clockwork little guy would be a pretty reasonable place to start. :)

  5. tmtvl says:

    Is there in the Factorio community a name for a world with all the resources sliders turned down to the minimum? Like “slow mode” or “grind mode” or something like that? It would be interesting to see how a veteran player works with such a world.

    1. Echo Tango says:

      I think that would be very similar to the “rail world” settings which are one of the presets the devs included in the game. Would just be more-so, so something like a hard-mode or long-distance rail world. (Although I think most players just refer to this stuff as “trains” and maybe to the “tracks” instead of “rail”, “locomotive”, and whatever else are the names in-game. :)

  6. Dreadjaws says:

    On the one hand, the customizable level generator gives you the freedom to choose how easy your experience will be. On the other hand, the seed system can be entertaining precisely because you don’t know what you’re gonna get. I think there’s a place for both systems in a game. It would be nice if both were allowed. I think there are a few games that give you this “Let me choose/pick for me” option, but I can’t think of any right now.

    1. Warstrike says:

      Alpha Centauri had a bunch of settings that could be picked or set to random in its world generator if I recall

    2. beleester says:

      Factorio’s level generator puts the “preview” on a separate screen, so if you don’t want to peek at the precise map before you start you can do that. Beyond that, I suppose you could add some sort of “spread” modifier so that you can tweak how far it’s allowed to get from whatever you chose.

  7. Chris says:

    I didn’t get too far into factorio but in real life the obvious drawback of solar power would be the uneven power production. So during peak production they could overcharge your power grid (for example Germany had to pay other countries to offload some of their solar power overproduction) while during the night you have no power. From what I experienced the game smoothly lowers the output of your steam engines when your solar energy picks up, and there is no problem if your solarpanels produce more power than the total demand of the system. I think one way to make solar panels less effective is making overproduction damage your factory, and makes batteries bad at carrying over solar power into the night. Then you have to plan it out so you don’t produce more than your factory can take during peak hours, while outside peak hours you still need coal/uranium to keep up with demand.

    Space is also an issue IRL, but the endless map size, no terrain or power transfer inefficiencies, no cliffs or monsters you need to deal with, all help in making solar panels the dominant strategy. Making them inefficient would just make you scale up your solar farm. Making them groossly inefficient would mean it’s not worth the effort and you keep going with coal into nuclear. And with monsters set to minimum the pollution of coal isn’t a problem.

    If there are things like solar eclipses or sun bursts then those would just be annoying interruptions. Maybe it’s good that power is trivial to manage, since you seem most interested in the optimization gameplay and not crisis management gameplay.

    1. Echo Tango says:

      The endless map size in theory at least should be compensated by fighting more biters. So a simple nerf to accumulator density would probably be the easiest option to try. As for long-distance transfer-losses, I think they could do that in the game, but they’d need to make power poles have flow-direction, like pipes in the game. (There’s other power mechanics players have wanted in the game, that the devs noted are prohibited by the omni-directionality, but I can’t remember what they are.) But that would be a lot more hassle for the player, because right now, power-poles just auto-connect to other poles in range, so you’d probably end up with a system with a lot more clicking for the player.

      1. Mikko Lukkarinen says:

        You’d also introduce more lag. When building, you’d need to calculate paths to all connected power plants for each power pole you plonk down, instead of just checking connections to neighboring poles and whether they’re connected to Power Network A or B or whatever. When running, calculating available power for all poles individually is bound to hog more resources than just subtracting the power usage of all connected devices from the power output of all connected power plants.

        1. Echo Tango says:

          Given that the game already has similar mechanics for fluids and belts, I don’t think heavily favoring a system for computational simplicity is a good trade-off, because it reduces the puzzles to nearly zero far earlier than nuclear which is a later research. Late-game has large bases, and you’ve done enough puzzling and resource-burning to earn the ability to cheat past some of the earlier puzzles in the game. (e.g. robots)

      2. bobbert says:

        The Buggers can’t balance solar farms because of the square-cube law. Double the size of your farm in both directions and you have 2x the perimeter to defend, but x4 the power production. Laser-turrets are very efficient at turning electric power into security. It snowballs very fast.

        1. Echo Tango says:

          Yup! I realized that fairly quickly in one of my first games, while it was still on early access. The devs and I think tutorial, act like the intended experience is to claim little bits of land for small expansions or outposts, and just defend them individually, but you’re better off trying to maximize the area you’ve claimed – more solar, more bullet-production, more everything, compared to the smaller perimeter you’re defending. :)

          PS, it’s not square-cube, it’s the difference between a line and a square.

          1. bobbert says:

            True, but the ‘Line-Square Law’ sounds really lame.

    2. beleester says:

      Handling overproduction would be pretty easy to solve with circuits and a power switch – if battery charge is above a threshold, disconnect the solar panels, if it’s below, reconnect the solar panels. Same design as an emergency generator, but in reverse.

      And wouldn’t overproduction be an issue for steam/nuclear as well? Except even worse, because you need steam plants well before you get circuit control and batteries to smooth things out?

      1. Echo Tango says:

        Nuclear already has an over-production problem, but less drastic than what Chris proposes – nuclear fuel gets burned even if you can’t absorb the extra heat / steam. If you were going to introduce that type of mechanic, you’d need the circuit-network unlocked at the start of the game.

        1. Tom says:

          If nuclear fuel gets burned up and you can’t sink the extra heat it produces, you get a core meltdown! I imagine this could be simply represented by turning the game terrain beneath the reactor into a perpetually unusable, inaccessible, unapproachable pit that pumps out constant high pollution – or, even more simply, just destroy the plant and dump a pile of unapproachable Corium where it used to be built, with the same environmental effects. (I’ve remarked before that I’d actually quite like to see the game have you need to deal with solid and liquid industrial pollution as well as atmospheric, if you want to avoid super-big biters swarming you – huge spoil heaps and lakes of toxic effluent to process and safely store away if you don’t want them radiating game “pollution” from wherever they come to rest uncontained!)

          Really, over-production isn’t actually a “problem,” from a pure engineering standpoint, AFAIK – you can’t “overcharge” a grid with a regulated generating plant, you just regulate or convert supply to maintain nominal voltage. It seems to me that, aside from the separate day-night storage issue, solar over-production is just an economic problem, in that you’re making something potentially saleable and then it dissipates if you don’t use it yourself, so you’re technically acquiring and then destroying an asset if you don’t sell the excess to someone – but every square metre of land you have that doesn’t have a solar plant on it was already doing that 24/7 with all the sun that falls on it, so you’re still ahead of the game if your solar plant only works half of every day.

          From an engineering perspective, in cases where the excess energy can be safely dissipated and is renewable, there is no waste of a finite resource and hence no actual problem with the equipment you have other than it could be bigger (so for a wind turbine you alter the blade pitch to reduce conversion efficiency and let more of the wind just blow right past; photovoltaic I think doesn’t even need that because at maximum irradiation it just reaches a peak voltage and stays there…), and for non-renewable resources where the rate of burn-up can be controlled – and you’d be simply insane to build a non-renewable plant where you can’t do that – you just turn it down (so for a steam engine, you just lower the rate at which you pump fuel into the furnace; for a nuclear reactor, you insert the control rods a bit more).

      2. Chris says:

        Then you blow up the solar panels obviously, since they produce power in a circuit which has zero power consumption. Also while it probably should cost circuits, tuning down the power of a fossil power plant is easier than turning down the sun. It would be interesting to see people make giant useless machines to vent excess power though.

        1. Philadelphus says:

          Hmm, solar panel efficiency depends on angle towards the Sun, right? So theoretically you could solve the overproduction problem by having solar panels intelligently change their angle to adjust their production. If you’ve got too much power, just angle away from the Sun until your production drops to your consumption. I guess you can’t actually turn a solar panel off during the day due to scattered light from the atmosphere, but by pointing away from the Sun you should be able to get get the power levels down pretty low.

          Also I have no idea if Factorio actually simulates the Sun or not, but even if it doesn’t directly you could simulate this by making solar panels have variable power generation.

          1. Echo Tango says:

            The game simulates a simple day-night cycle, but it’s a sort of trapezoid-shaped ‘curve’ instead of a real sine wave for solar. (Flat horizontal graph for power over time during the day and night, 45 degree lines connecting them.) The solar panels in the game follow the same ‘curve’ for their power-output, I believe. :)

        2. Tom says:

          Photovoltaic panels don’t do that; if they’re in sunlight and you don’t draw any current from them, they just maintain their maximum voltage with no ill-effects, AFAIK.

          Now, if the game had you build solar-thermal plants instead – make every solar array a Fresnel mirror element, focussed on a steam boiler built up a tower – then you’d be in trouble, because if you didn’t keep the boiler supplied with cool feed-water and use up all the steam you were generating, then best-case the safety valves would lift until it’s empty and then the whole boiler would melt, worst case the whole thing would just explode.

    3. bobbert says:

      The real sin of solar isn’t being too good (which it also is) but being boring. There are no inputs to manage, no logistics, no maintainece, no nothing; you just build a cluster once and it gives you consistent power until judgement day.

      Maybe a tiny cooling water requirement for the battery-stations would help. It would probably solve the problem of “Want more power?” – “Just put down another block of power-quilt.”

      1. Echo Tango says:

        Another way, would be to not just have solar follow a perfectly nice sunny schedule every single day. They’ve got clouds in the game for visuals but not for solar output. That could be a relatively small amount of data to store, cache, etc, compared to how much it would impact the monotony. Or they could make the planet have different solar as you move east-west, like on earth. That’s an even smaller calculation, but again would help break up the simplicity of solar! :)

        1. bobbert says:

          I know buildings can make clouds of smoke or steam. I don’t think there is global weather.
          Just a 30% of a cloudy day (-60% panel output) would make solar much less of a slam-dunk (and it’s computationally cheap). That’s a very smart idea.

    4. Decius says:

      Factorio has a building that stores power, and solar doesn’t vary in production from day to day- just between day and night.

      So what happens is a tessellating blueprint of solar panels and accumulators and power transmission and distribution buildings in the proper ratios gets made and tiled all over. The cliffs don’t really impact it much if you have little enough OCD-like brain to accept some suboptimally empty space.

  8. BlueHorus says:

    Biters sound like a feature with a lot of untapped potential. If the game wasn’t so focussed on building and optimizing an industrial base, they could be the core gameplay element. You have better defenses, they have better AI, you can root out their nests and raze them, they can etablish new ones…

    …or would that just make the game a Real Time Strategy?
    Still, I bet there’s mods out there that do that kind of thing.

    (also, someone positied a Warhammer 40k version of this in a previous post…the more I think about a variant where you’re the Adeptus Mechanicus, trying to reclaim / establish a forge world infested with Tyranids or similar aliens, the more I like it)

    1. Echo Tango says:

      The devs have said somewhere, that the aliens’ current dumb AI is about as much as they could put into the game, because of the impact it would have on world-update speed. But if you were making a themed, RTS-style, Warhammer version of the game, I think you could get past the increased computer-usage, by just having finite maps, and have the game played out in normal ‘levels’ like other RTSs. The game even has the mechanics for that already; It’s what’s used in the tutorial / limited story-mode the game has already. :)

      1. Echo Tango says:

        In addition you could have fewer, larger enemies, which could free up some resources to run more complex AI for those bigger aliens.

  9. Joe says:

    The more you talk about this game, the more interesting it starts to sound. Way back in the day, I bought Star Wars Galactic Battlegrounds, an RTS. I didn’t much like it, apart from one interesting game mode. Monument race wasn’t about shooting. You couldn’t shoot the other sides. Instead you gathered your resources and climbed the tech tree until you could build a monument. I treated it as a kind of first attempt at a citybuilder game. A really watered down Sim City or Pharaoh kind of thing.

    That’s what your description reminds me of. If SWGB got rid of the combat entirely and leaned into the building aspect, though in a different way from the others. I’m almost tempted. Anyone out there played both games? I’d like to know if my feeling is correct before I even think about plonking down my money.

    1. Lord Nyax says:

      I loved Galactic Battlegrounds as a kid! Sure, it was basically a reskinned Age of Empires but it was a lot of fun to play. You brought back some memories, I had forgotten about monument race.

      1. CJK says:

        If I recall correctly, it was so much a reskinned AOE that troops with blasters could shoot over walls because they were, functionally, archers….

        1. Decius says:

          And the ion battering ram or whatever they called it was resistant to blaster fire.

      2. Philadelphus says:

        Yeah, I had a lot of fun with both Age of Empires II and SWGB (which I think literally used the same engine, with some hacks to allows spaceships) back in the day. I don’t remember if the original AoE II had it but Age of Empires II: Definitive Edition has a Wonder Race mode which is exactly the same thing.

  10. Echo Tango says:

    Meta(editing comments):
    Shamus, do you have much control over the popup box / plugin, for editing comments? It seems like it’s using hard-coded sizes, probably to make the colored borders easy to do and also compatible with really old browsers, but that makes it unable to shrink enough for phones. As you type in the text-box, the cursor drags your focus around the view, which means at some point the buttons to save and cancel are outside of your visible, clickable screen. That wouldn’t be too bad if you could drag to scroll, but that only lets you scroll around the part which is already visible. (Like, I can pinch to zoom, but then that only gets me movable within what’s already visible, and doesn’t let me go left enough to get back to the buttons.)

    1. Echo Tango says:

      Test for editing…

    2. Echo Tango says:

      By ‘looks like’ I mean Firefox’ dev tools seem to only have hard-coded sizes in the styles, but that’s only a cursory look. No clue if javascript can modify CSS on the fly, or what other shenanigans might be going on. Switching to ‘desktop mode’ is a work-around, though.

    3. Lino says:

      +1 on this. I’m using Chrome on my Android devices, and I’m having a similar issue. Although I can see the “Cancel” and “Submit” buttons, that Edit box is so annoying to use, that I’ve adopted a strict “No-Edit” policy when commenting from my phone.

      There are bigger problems in the world, of course, but if it’s a simple fix, it would be a good idea to look into it.

      Also, consider moving the “Reply” button slightly to the right – I constantly press it on accident when I’m on my phone. But then again, that might just be me being dumb :D

      1. Philadelphus says:

        Nope! I hit it constantly while trying to scroll down the comments list on my phone with my left thumb (which is why I normally only come here on my desktop…).

  11. Ghostowl says:

    Maybe Solar needs to be scaled based on the amount of cliffs in the game? “Flat world: 1/4 current power. Some cliffs: 1/2 current power. Tons of cliffs: double current power.”

  12. Abnaxis says:

    Fun fact:
    A lot of the optimization that goes into making a massive base is more figuring out how to make your base in a way that minimizes the computations Factorio has to do to track the state of the world rather than optimizing the production lines of your base. If it takes too long to update the entities the “updates per second” (which should nominally be 60) drops and the program consequently slows down.

    Solar panels are 100% necessary if you want to build the biggest of the big megabases. This is because every electrical network of solar panels/accumulators essentially counts as one “entity” (because every panel behaves identically no matter where it sits on the map, and the developers were smart enough to use this opportunity for optimization to reduce computations) whereas for steam and nuclear power the game has to track fluid flows and heat pipes, not to mention the production lines for fuel necessary to run nuclear or burner power. This, combined with the fact that beacons reduce the number entities required for the same throughput at the cost of massive energy draw, is why when you see really huge bases there are panels EVERYWHERE.

    1. Ingo says:

      Yes, it’s all about the UPS. some of the optimisations are quite fascinating. I’m seeing a lot of ‘direct insertion’ megabases coming into vogue.
      Direct insertion is where resources are inserted directly from one entity to the other without going by conveyor belt. I’m seeing a lot of train-to-assembler insertion or miner-to-train insertion or train-to-car-to-assembler insertion, where the car is essentially a conveniently-sized 2×3 chest.

      The other thing people are doing is making sure their belts are fully saturated. The game no longer keeps track of the positions of individual items on a belt. It keeps track of the spaces between items. If a belt is fully saturated, it’s the same computational cost as if it were empty. If your splitters leave heaps of spaces between items, that extra computation can add up.

      1. Echo Tango says:

        Even without the computational incentive, those behaviors are all incentivised by the resource costs of building too many belts or other things, when you’re not saturation belts or using trains for efficient transfers.

      2. Decius says:

        The advantage of the space-between-items model is that on a belt of constant speed, it only needs to update the front item, or the first moving one, unless one is added or removed. The space between the rest remains unchanged, even if it isn’t zero.

  13. The Rocketeer says:

    Under an orange sky darkened by black smoke and smog, two men in a hastily dug trench take blind, frenzied potshots over the edge. An endless thunder of gunfire, heavy weapons, and screaming echoes from every horizon, and a demoniac chorus of frenzied, inhuman keening pierces the sky as a collapsing megastructure shakes the earth.

    One of the men turns to the other and says,

    To be honest, I’ve never been crazy about the biters.

    1. Abnaxis says:

      I lol’d

    2. raifield says:

      There’s a Warhammer 40,000 crossover somewhere in here, just waiting to be written.

  14. Erik says:

    I’ll note that the devs say that biters are meant to be thought of as a production problem – if you’re fighting them by hand, you’re playing the game in grind mode and probably want to rethink your approach (automate everything!). And if they’re overwhelming you, then you aren’t allocating enough of your resources and research to defense.

    In general, one can set up an ammo belt to feed the turrets and a wall to protect them, and if it’s built adequately then biters can be ignored until you finish your task of the minute and take a moment to repair the walls. If you’re always running back to keep them from falling, you presumably need to either build stronger or tech up for more killing power. (Don’t ignore grey science!)

    Once one gets oil, then flame turrets become instruments of mass biter murder. And with oil comes blue science (a common definition of mid-game), and as you get construction robots (early blue science if you rush them, which you absolutely should :) ) you can put a few repair packs and robots in roboports that cover the wall and you only have to pay enough attention to refill the repair pack boxes every half hour or so.

    And when you get logistic bots they can refill the boxes, but that’s yellow science which is late game, and most folk don’t bother with logibots if they plan to end when they launch the first rocket.

    But all of this is optional. If you find biters annoying, turn them off! It’s a single checkbox in the new game options, and it’s totally valid to play without them.

    Personally, I turned biters off for one of my first games, but after I’d figured out the basics I found it a bit boring without some external force making me pay attention, and all my later games have them turned on, usually at normal settings except with a larger starting area to give me more time to get my feet under me before I have to deal with them.

    1. Echo Tango says:

      You can refill your repair-packs with belts and inserters, can’t you?

      1. Decius says:

        You can, and they aren’t much harder to make than ammo.

    2. newplan says:

      This is the answer.

      Part of your hardened defenses has to be enough bots to keep it repaired and (failing that) enough excess walls for the construction bots to rebuild the destroyed structures – losing a few wall sections in an attack is fine if the attack is beaten back.

    3. bobbert says:

      Another thing to be aware of is that the Buggers WILL path around small (~3 block) streachs of wall. Planting a field of +’s in front of your main wall can dramatically multiply the effectiveness of your flame turrets.

  15. beleester says:

    Defenses don’t need upkeep once you get bots. Put a set of roboports behind the front lines, and have a supply train periodically deliver ammo, walls, repair packs, replacement turrets, etc. This is pretty much essential when you start setting up mining outposts since they’re too far away for you to run over and protect them if they’re in trouble.

    Before that point, I generally follow a rule of “if the wall takes damage, it’s time to add more turrets.” The game gives you a different warning for “turrets engaged” vs “structure taking damage” vs “structure destroyed,” so you have a lot of warning that your defenses are getting weak before you’re actually in danger.

    Oh, and cliffs are absolutely amazing for defenses, since they’re basically walls that Biters can’t destroy.

  16. Smosh says:

    I never understood why solar panels are in the lower third of the tech tree, but nuclear is at the top.

    We’ve had nuclear power plants since the sixties, but solar panels with any meaningful output are something that we haven’t had until this millennium. Solar power should be a pinnacle technology in factorio.

    1. bobbert says:

      The honest answer is that nuclear was added in a resent patch, so of course it would go at the end of the tech tree.

      If you wanted to be picky, we still down have practical wind/solar power, today. The only reason their numbers look as good as they do is because each unit needs to come with a natural gas backup generator (which does 70- 80% of the work), and natural gas is incredibly cheap right now.

  17. Jaedar says:

    I kind of disagree on the power of solar panels. Admittedly I do play with biters but even so I find that solar has very low power density. So you need to spend a lot of time putting it down (or putting down and managing drone infrastructure so they can put it down) and you need a lot of factories making solar panels and capacitors. So when I used solar I’d find myself constantly having to stop putting down new factories to drop out another 100 panels.

    And solar panels+capacitors cost a lot of oil based resources, requiring a bunch of liquid handling (handling liquids is way worse and takes way more space than physical goods) and oil expansions, making it even more annoying.

    These days I usually go for coal power and try to get nuclear out asap, mostly ignoring solar.
    Once you hit scale a single nuclear plant produces 160MW while a solar panel produces 42KW and requires .8 capacitors. So to produce a similar amount of power as a single nuclear plant, you’d need 3810 solar panels and 3048 capacitors. I can’t even imagine running large bases on solar power any more.

    1. Echo Tango says:

      Once you get robots, you can just make blueprints that include more robo-ports to continue the pattern indefinitely. The blueprint editor even lets you align the blueprint to a certain number of tiles, so the whole blueprint can be repeated without any gaps, and scaled to ever-larger sizes. So eventually you’re barely clicking anymore. :)

  18. Christopher Wolf says:

    Sounds like your small company did not budget smartly. Having someone way cheaper to answer the phones instead of everybody would have boosted production of more expensive employees and cut down on bugs which would have cut down on other costs.

    1. Decius says:

      The only time it makes sense to have a programmer answer general phone calls is when they are the only employee.

  19. EmmEnnEff says:

    Biters are intended to be an automation problem for you to solve, not a manual interruption to your game.

    The intent is that you automate production of walls, turrets, repair kits, bots, and ammo, and send those things out to your perimeter walls. Your bots will then automatically repair and rebuild destroyed walls and turrets. Manual intervention will only be required when you’re trying to expand your borders. (And even then, you can blueprint expand with artillery installations.)

  20. Gordon says:

    I don’t find the biters a problem at all, pretty much never an interruption.
    Early-mid I just ring everything in overlapping turrets and every so often kill everything inside pollution range.
    Late game, artillery firebases with automated repair and resupply at choke points between lakes puts an end to them.
    Current play through I have 1 artillery wagon (not train, wagon) touring ~20 firebases and that’s plenty.

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