Have You Played… Factorio?

Have You Played? is an endless stream of game retrospectives. One a day, every day of the year, perhaps for all time.

I admit it, I turned into a tiny pathetic babyman when one of m’esteemed colleagues suggested I should look at Factorio, a survival-management game about keeping yourself alive on a hostile world by setting up elaborate production lines. B-b-b-but look at all those conveyor belts! Those incomprehensible mazes of construction! Only rocket scientists, brain surgeons and people who know how toilets work could possibly be able to make sense of this thing.

It was maybe half an hour before I understood everything.

Factorio knows exactly what it’s doing, which isn’t something I can say of every game, particularly ones as involved as this. Sure, a game having a fixed internal logic is one thing, but knowing how to gently coax the player into understand complex systems to the extent that, past a certain point, they truly begin to think like it does is another.

And that’s Factorio’s masterstroke. Where, at first glance, those screenshots were nightmare fuel, now I am able to follow every belt and every circuit, know what it’s all hooked up to, appraise if it’s efficient and where it’s weak points are. I see Factorio’s matrix, and though this might appear a superficially crude affair, its degree of slickness in conveying how to understand its elaborate automation is extremely rare.

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37 Comments

  1. Miklosc says:

    You need to play factories with the hardcorio mod, you can also do a resource Mod to make it harder. Honestly hardcorio makes the game 3x more complicated. Worry about air and food and attacks from aliens and hives.

    • malkav11 says:

      Truly, the best plan for someone intimidated by Factorio appearing to be incredibly complex with a steep learning curve is to mod it to be massively more complex and difficult to learn.

  2. Premium User Badge

    Drib says:

    Factorio is one of those games that I know the first few hours of quite well.

    But then after… around the time you have to make blue science potions, I just can’t handle it. So much busywork setting up five hundred assemblers to make little potions. Absolutely cannot be assed.

    I like the game, but it just gets too complex for my stupid caveman brain.

    • Premium User Badge

      RaveTurned says:

      You may be in luck. Experimental builds of version 0.15 have been released this week, which reworks the tech tree. It reduces the complexity of making blue science packs (which was a known difficulty spike), while also adding more types of science pack further down the line.

      I’ve not tried it myself yet, but it should make the learning curve a little smoother.

      • MiniMatt says:

        Yep 0.15 is looking excellent, only got my base up to just thinking about oil processing and blue packs at moment, but so far it’s looking really good.

        Bunch of new high res textures, a reason for infinite continuation, nuke power options, and trains & circuits have come on leaps and bounds since I last played (0.12 or 0.13 I think).

      • MiniMatt says:

        edit: just loaded up to start my 0.15 blue science production and it looks like it’s simplified a little. You now only need advanced circuits from oil production, no batteries. So a plastics chain needed but no sulfur just yet.

        Looks wise as oil production in itself is a bit complicated at first, but it becomes a useful introduction into simple circuits too as you start controlling petroleum cracking based on storage tanks reporting capacities to pumps

    • FriendlyFire says:

      You need to beeline for the robots. They change the fundamental dynamic of the game so much, and I don’t mean in the sense that you can technically deprioritize belts if you wanted to. Construction bots will build stuff for you, so you just start automating the fabrication of things like assemblers, furnaces, inserters and belts, and then you put them in your logistics network, and you can just put down blueprints for stuff and your bots will build them for you. Save those blueprints and you can rapidly construct “blocks” that you just clone over and over to expand.

      Suddenly those 500 assemblers are a lot quicker to do, because you’re not manually building and placing them anymore. It’s glorious.

  3. Premium User Badge

    Mungrul says:

    I have to ration myself with this, as it’s very easy to lose swathes of my life to it.
    Actually, I probably haven’t played it seriously in over a year now, so it’s well worth revisiting.

    It gets ferociously complicated for a programming / electronics noob such as myself in later stages, but it’s incredible how things you thought were vital to production gradually become outdated thanks to the onward progress of research.

    I think I gave up on my last game around the time I’d developed flying delivery robots and tentative forays into programmable chests. I was realising that I would have to overhaul my entire production line once again, and it was simply too daunting a task. Plus, the alien swarms were getting continuous and more aggressive.

    Still, brilliant thing, and I’m truly amazed at how it gradually introduces beginners to concepts of electronics and programming via stealth.

    • JarinArenos says:

      Once you reach the point of “total assembly-line overhaul” you should have access to construction drones and blueprints, which can make the process a lot easier. Especially if you can design your factory with reusable/repeatable designs.

    • KDR_11k says:

      The aliens attack when the pollution reaches their settlements. The solution to that is to destroy any settlement near the border of your polluted area before you pollute more so they never mobilize towards your base. They’ll slowly spawn new bases that might get closer to your border again so regularly go through and wipe them out.

      • Kamalen says:

        And with enough energy production, laser turret makes defense much easier, and you can thus take and defend large chunks of land.

  4. poliovaccine says:

    Looking at it now, it makes me fantasize about a city-builder game where what you’re actually building is a motherboard. In fact, that could probably be done as a mod for this.

  5. rodan32 says:

    I think the question for me is “have you STOPPED playing Factorio?” Briefly. For short periods. But otherwise, I’m a slave to my ridiculous factory.

    • grimdanfango says:

      Hehe, right on. Civ ain’t got s*** on this game :-P

      I have to pick and choose my times, as any time I go back to Factorio *will* interfere with my professional performance. I have to make sure I avoid major deadlines!

  6. ScottTFrazer says:

    The mod scene for Factorio is also incredible. The recent release of 0.15 (I can’t remember if 0.15 is going to become 1.0 or 0.16 is slated for that) added a bunch of content and quality-of-life fixes basically pulled from ideas modders had previously implemented.

    And 48 hours post-release there are already hundreds of mods that have been updated to the latest version.

    If you hit that wall where you need to completely rebuild your factory but dread the initial “I have nothing” portion of the game, there are a number of mods that alter your starting load-out so you start with a larger basic factory and personal builder/deconstruction bots.

    It’s an amazing game

  7. MyrddinE says:

    Factorio is one of the highest rated games on Steam, and that’s partly because they did a masterful job of matching their advertisement (the video they made a year or so ago) with their gameplay. The advertisement is exciting to a very specific mindset, and that game is freaking awesome for players who like fiddling, tweaking, and optimizing.

    Of course, the game is also just flat out good. Like Civilization, it has that ‘one more thing’ quality, but instead of doing one more turn you optimize one aspect of your factory. Maybe you need to fix the output of your oil refinery. Perhaps you have a resource shortage in your green science packs. Oh, that’s because your iron mine is running out… well, it won’t take too long to plop down a new one. Hmm. Well, I’ll just clear out this nest of baddies that’s near this mine… oh crap, I’ll have to craft a tank because that nest has some heavy biters…

    And all of a sudden it’s Thursday, and you’re not sure when the last time you slept was.

  8. automatic says:

    I tried it once but had to ask for a refund. Couldn’t pass through the idea the whole point of the game is building machines just to build better machines… and eventually kill wildlife. It’s like a tumor simulator. There are other building games out there that also focus on tech improvement but gives players a much better experience. If they ever put a big discount on it maybe I’ll try it again and check the mod scene. Until then thanks, but no.

    • KDR_11k says:

      There’s the end goal of building a rocket and launching it into space, the factory is a means to that end.

    • Atlas says:

      You don’t have to kill the aliens though. They can be set to “peaceful” so they won’t turn hostile until you attack them. Plus the new update removed the resource you get for clearing them out so now there’s no reason to go after them if you don’t want to.

      • ScottTFrazer says:

        Indeed, in the newest version you can turn them off entirely.

        And Factorio is truly a sandbox game. Your goals are your own. Launching a rocket? Sure! Launching a rocket without polluting the trees to death? Harder, but still doable!

        Deforesting the entire planet and paving it in concrete? Sure, you evil bastard, go for it.

        • automatic says:

          I got it is a sandbox, but it’s a sandbox where the only thing you can do is improve a factory of itself.

          • poliovaccine says:

            Well sure, but machines are just easier. If some dev truly made a complete, working *nature* simulator they might accidentally create life..!

    • ScottTFrazer says:

      “If they ever put a big discount on it…”

      Unlikely. It’s never gone on sale on Steam and the devs expect to increase the price on release.

      If it’s not for you, that’s a perfectly fine opinion, but it’s hard to argue that a $20 game that people regularly pour 200 hours into is a bad value proposition.

      • automatic says:

        Time played is not necessarily an indication of value. I’ve played less than 10 hours on Soma, it’s sold for $30 and I think that was cheap for the experience. Talking building games, Besiege is only 8 bucks and I had a much better experience with it than with Factorio. Even rough Space Engineers has much more depth and often goes on sale… I bought it for about 8 bucks as well.

        Not meaning to discredit the dev work put on Factorio, but the value there is definitely arguable.

  9. pfooti says:

    Yes. Yes I have. I put around 150 hours in in version 0.14, and now that 0.15 is out, I’ll probably put a bunch more time in. Now, launching rockets is meaningful instead of just a resource sink. I also plan on turning up all the costs, mainly to make things harder.

    It’s weird tho. As I rip out the natural order and replace it with my self replicating machines, I can’t help but think: this game is about role-playing as cancer, and biters are antibodies.

  10. April March says:

    I’ll be sure to play it when they release a version that starts with 1.

  11. Sin Vega says:

    A friend who I played The Settlers with in my early teens (co-op, controlling the same side! A unique feature as far as I know. I wish other games would do it) bought me a copy after recently re-entering my life. I played it with him for a bit, and then suddenly 8 hours had passed. A terrifying consumer of life.

    Semi-coincidentally, it strikes me as the only real successor to the Settlers. It’s all about setting things up so your resources are automatically directed to where they need to be, reprocessed, and then moved again, as efficiently as you can to fit your purposes. I can’t even think of another game that got that right – most games similar to The Settlers completely miss that the roads and carriers were the foundation of the whole game.

    It’s also complex and demands thinking, but enjoyably so, not exhausting or judgemental, and while not anywhere near as pretty or charming as The Settlers, it does have a hint of that “let’s just relax and watch everyone work for a while” thing.

    • MiniMatt says:

      Yeah I think your comment above about sedate & relaxing whilst at the same time cerebrally challenging is a really good one.

      The other trick it manages to play is to encourage min-maxing whilst simultaneously encouraging a pragmatic “it’s messy but it works” approach.
      There are perfect ratios for everything, and in any other game that might pressure one to find the perfect layout in all things – resulting in perfect Sim City grids and the like. But here the game allows you to feel good about squiggling around and fudging – it rewards optimisations within a squiggly mess and the resultant tangled spaghetti farms look glorious.

    • grimdanfango says:

      Interesting point. I’d never thought to make the direct connection, but you’re right, Factorio is in many ways a logical extention of the original Settlers (before they instantly lost their way by assuming that missions and warfare were what needed expanding, and by Settlers 3 stupidly *removed* the road network entirely!).

      One of the most satisfying aspects of Settlers was always just watching a thousand agents buzzing around dynamically making everything work. There’s certainly analogues to that in Factorio, watching items weave their way through belt networks, and watching larger train networks tick over in the very-late-game…

      But I find myself wishing someone would take the stunning work done in Factorio, and use it to inform a more “picturesque” game, like a Settlers game. Banished did well, but it all feels too aimless too soon, and too constrained on limited, samey maps.
      Banished with a self-feeding-compulsion-loop and infinite world like Factorio’s would be singularly the most amazing game ever created, for my tastes at least :-P

  12. Uberwolfe says:

    One of the best games ever made.

  13. IronArthur says:

    Probably the best game i´ve played in the last five years.

  14. lrbaumard says:

    I saw this on here about 1.5 – 2 years ago.
    Impulse bought, best decision on game purchase. Incredibly fun and unique
    No regrets

  15. urbanraccoon says:

    Nonono no. no. I finally escaped and left that maddening factory world behind, liberated my dreams from the gears and plates, and despite my substantially inadequate willpower I check and there is now a new big update? WHAT HAVE I DONE? I need a couple sips of purple flask to forget this article ever happened.

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