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The RPS Advent Calendar 2021, December 8th

The power of the sun in the palm of my hand

To open this door of the RPS Advent Calendar you must first construct a complicated series of production lines, each feeding into more production lines on other planets to facilitate the creation of an automated door-opening machine powered by the sun. Like so.

Operating at peak efficiency, it's Dyson Sphere Program!

Ollie: Automation games have really started to grow now, haven't they? Backpedal a few years and I'd only have been able to name Factorio, and I wouldn't have thought to even call it a genre. Now there are dozens of automation games out there, more releasing every year, and each one desperately trying to put its own spin on the format. I've played many of them now, and I can safely say that Dyson Sphere Program comes the closest to knocking the almighty Factorio off its throne. On certain days, depending on my mood, it may even usurp Factorio altogether.

A new game of Dyson Sphere Program puts you in control of a mech suit which is plopped onto a friendly spherical planet which brings to mind the worlds of The Outer Wilds. Your aim is to gather resources, build factories, research technologies, spread to other planets in your solar system and eventually to other solar systems in your procedurally generated galaxy. All with the lofty aim of creating a Dyson Sphere - a megastructure which can harness the entire energy of a star - that can power your species' virtual reality home forevermore.

It's a ridiculously ambitious idea, but it's more than just an abstract goal. Several elements I just mentioned also introduce some major features and mechanics which turn Dyson Sphere Program into an automation game unlike any other. For starters, everything is done through the mech suit, which you must keep powered by adding fuel of various kinds into the Fuel Chamber. And if you want to expand your horizons (literally), you'll need to upgrade your mech suit so that it can fly around, and escape the atmosphere to travel - literally travel, real-time, no loading screen - to different planets.

Then there are the planets themselves. In Dyson Sphere Program, planets orbit their star in real-time, which means sometimes planets are near each other, and other times they're very far away. That becomes important when you start setting up transportation of resources across different planets. You'll also need to pay attention to each planet, because it's not just their available ores and resources that set them apart from the rest. Some planets are far better for solar energy or wind energy than others, for example. Some are larger than others, giving you more room to build. Some planets are tidally locked, which is fantastic for solar farms because you can place them on the sunny side where they'll churn out energy 100% of the time.

Dyson Sphere Program gives you a lot of new things to think about even for veteran players from other hardcore automation games. It's all incredibly well put together and polished, and it takes after Factorio in its careful leading of players from one problem and solution to the next without ever feeling like the game is holding your hand.

It's most certainly the most gorgeous automation game I've played as well. The bright colours and soft lighting combines with the real-time, fully simulated sunrises and sunsets to give the game a really beautiful and serene atmosphere - a far cry from Factorio's perpetually grim mood. How such a tiny team of developers managed to create such an incredibly solid and enjoyable game with so many great new ideas, and make it look this good, and keep everything running smoothly even while simulating multiple mega-factories spanning whole star systems, I'll never understand.

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