John Knight ex­plores trainspot­ters’ lat­est ob­ses­sion and gets in over his head. In­die gam­ing just be­came more tech­ni­cal – hail thee, au­toma­tion.

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John Knight ex­plores trainspot­ters’ lat­est ob­ses­sion and gets in over his head. In­die gam­ing just be­came more tech­ni­cal – hail thee, au­toma­tion!

Fac­to­rio is an early ac­cess in­die game with Linux sup­port – a gam­ing cat­e­gory in which we’re now spoilt for choice, so it ini­tially went un­no­ticed. How­ever, af­ter 1,000,000 down­loads, “Over­whelm­ingly Pos­i­tive” re­views on Steam, and see­ing two friends amass more than 500 play­ing hours in a rel­a­tively short space of time, it was ob­vi­ous we needed to see what the fuss was about.

The game takes place on an alien planet where you, the player, have crashed landed and need to restart from the very ba­sics in order to sur­vive and even­tu­ally leave the planet (that at least ap­pears to be the idea, but at this stage of de­vel­op­ment, one can only launch rock­ets and satel­lites). You’re taken from a very prim­i­tive start­ing point, and quickly move onto the game’s cen­tral premise: fac­tory build­ing and au­toma­tion.

Fac­to­rio is geared to­wards peo­ple with an in­ter­est in sys­tem build­ing and will in­evitably re­sult in a gi­ant ma­chine of enor­mous com­plex­ity by the player’s own creation. A fea­ture that will be of par­tic­u­lar in­ter­est to Linux users will be the of­fi­cially sup­ported abil­ity to write mods in Lua.

Ini­tial game­play in par­tic­u­lar takes much in­spi­ra­tion from Minecraft, with min­ing, craft­ing, “recipes”, fur­naces – right down to sur­viv­ing the night against in­vad­ing creatures who hurt you and dam­age ob­jects. Much like its ap­par­ent in­spi­ra­tion, the game seems to revel in a cer­tain amount of obfuscation. Masochists will re­joice in fi­nally work­ing out how to do some­thing they’ve spent the last few days try­ing to fig­ure out.

The game gives clever chal­lenges that over­whelm at first, but are de­signed to get the player ac­cus­tomed to the Fac­to­rio way of do­ing things – and be­lieve us when we say that this game is all about learn­ing the hard way. Once you’ve started to get a han­dle on the sit­u­a­tion and get a flow go­ing, you’ll soon find your­self do­ing mun­dane tasks and lots of wait­ing around, forc­ing the player into ask­ing them­selves, “How do I speed all of this up?”. And therein lies the ge­nius: you could just wait around, pos­si­bly ad­ding hours to each level, or you could do things the Fac­to­rio way: au­to­mate, au­to­mate, and au­to­mate some more.

Plenty to fac­to­rio in

De­spite a be­gin­ner’s tu­to­rial the con­trols and ba­sic gam­ing el­e­ments are ini­tially over­whelm­ing. The “tips and tricks” win­dow at the start of each level is of par­tic­u­lar an­noy­ance, with in­struc­tions that feel like telling a new­bie at Quake how to rocket jump when they’ve barely got to grips with us­ing WADS and the mouse.

Fur­ther­more, the ini­tial Minecraft in­spi­ra­tion quickly be­comes for­got­ten and ir­rel­e­vant: the cen­tral me­chanic of au­toma­tion be­comes all-en­com­pass­ing, and with an in­ter­face that’s al­ready overly con­vo­luted, we can’t help but won­der if it isn’t worth ditch­ing the Minecraft el­e­ments al­to­gether and adopt­ing a more stream­lined, con­ven­tional in­ven­tory.

Rat­ing games like this is very dif­fi­cult: imag­ine try­ing to give Minecraft an ob­jec­tive score. It might score badly and be non­sen­si­cal to reg­u­lar gamers, but try telling that to a nine year old who plays noth­ing else! If your idea of thought­ful and con­sid­ered game­play is CallofDuty4, you’ll hate this. How­ever, if you’re the kind of per­son who loves mi­cro­man­age­ment and finds bliss in tin­ker­ing with ma­chin­ery, then Fac­to­rio might be right up your al­ley. This is love it or hate it stuff – the ul­ti­mate in Mar­mite gam­ing.

If you’re chas­ing the next big in­die game and this fits your niche, con­grat­u­la­tions, this is your next six months to a year sorted. You’ll fall in love. But if your kind of gam­ing re­quires car chases and ex­plo­sions... run. Fac­to­rio will haunt your night­mares.

Fans of the ‘90s Com­mand and Con­quer se­ries will feel at home with these graph­ics, as your units ex­plore their gi­ant creation.

Fac­to­rio’s de­vel­op­ers are now mak­ing the game avail­able via Steam, to at­tract a wider au­di­ence.

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