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