What Is Interesting About Factorio
It's the best, and most addictive game I've ever played
What is so good about it?
- Programming - super fast, stable, no bugs. You can feel the quality in every component.
- Custom UI everywhere, which you don't even notice because it's so good. i.e. the train configuration screen, the character screen.
- I now think of it as wireheading, but for the part of you that wants to work, learn, and get things done.
- The gameplay is extended way, way farther than you would expect. It's like dwarf fortress in that way.
Psychologically appealing elements
Lots of Factorio appeals to deeply set human traits.
- Place knowledge - you create a unique physical configuration, and gradually get to know common areas of movement. Pieces of your little starting factory will be left over when you're 100x as big, and you'll see them and get a sense of nostalgia.
- Natural world - people often leave certain trees, or lakes, as a memory of an earlier time in the game.
- Conquest/Naming - the minimap allows adding names in a very nice way, and it's totally worth naming all the islands and seas around you, as well as adding practical labels.
- Increasing order - gradually getting things straightened out is extremely pleasurable. When things line up just so.
- There's gotta be some innate machine-focused "interest in things" that this is tapping. I've never taken apart or rebuilt a machine, but this gets me anyway.
- Progression - remembering past challenges and imagining how easily you could overcome them now, both production and fighting. This is standard for nearly all games.
- Projecting/Quick Todo list - during play you often think "what should I do now?" and come up with a plan; ticking off boxes in the todo list is very satisfying. Projects in factorio have different mental elements - some are low intensity pleasure, some are dangerous, some require intense planning and organization.
- Diagnosing/bugfixing - because item production rates vary, and also because your production line has unavoidable dependencies, you often have to diagnose problems in item movement by tracing back the source of each item. This is extremely fun and satisfying
- The desire to watch working systems - once you make a change, watching the system come to equilibrium again is really fun. i.e. if I double production of green circuits, I'll watch them flow through the system and find the next choke point, as my trains no longer back up picking them up, and the system is stressed elsewhere.
- Growth - the areas under the name labels you set for distant lands full of biters will eventually be cleared, walled, and filled up with your large remote train factories. And how could it have been otherwise? How naive you were back then!
You gradually learn to trust the devs
It's good enough that when learning new parts of it, I have to remember to just trust them. However they've set something up, it is probably great. When I try a new mechanic, I'm regularly surprised at how nicely it's been done.
- Learning how belts work, and working for the progression of inserters, fast inserters, filters, etc. The feeling when you get access to "fast inserters" and watch them working hard for you. Finally understanding the two-sided nature of belts.
- Driving the car is just silly fun - something you've worked hard to get to, then it's hard to control and you keep crashing into things in a comic way.
- Grenades are very smoothly integrated into the physics of the game.
- Trains, & train unloading, and the tradeoffs of various setups. Ways to line up trains. The really large progression in understanding trains - single line, loop, loop with multiple trains, combined lines with chain signals, stackers to hold trains, properly using chain signals to have trains not precommit to one of a few identical stations, depot creation.
- Learning the UI, shortcuts, and blueprints is totally worth it and they have been done well.
The game really functions as a test of personality and IQ. I've noticed a few traits about myself from this:
Tendency to continue using known technology and strategy rather than invest in learning more.
When I first played, I kept using belts, which I understood, for ~50 hours, rather than spending even 5 minutes learning trains. When I finally learned how to use them, I regretted having delayed. Learning train signals was another similar blocker. I concluded from this that I'm applying known tech too often relative to learning new things - at least in this kind of protected, well-designed system.
Thinking back, it was also pretty irrational to not trust the game; I should have extended that trust the parts of it I didn't know yet.
Intense vs relaxed playstyle
My first ~400 hours were "intense" - I had a goal, some emergency in the factory that I always had to fix. But after I got to my long term goal (1000 science/minute) I relaxed and stopped for a few days. But then I found that it was still fun to play and just gradually smooth things out and improve things. In general that intense playstyle has a lot of downsides - stress, staying up too late, etc. What other aspects of life would a more contemplative style improve on, to just as good effect?
If you don't understand how something works in a game, will you spend 1 minute to set up a test that will validate it? Or will you just think "oh that doesn't work / I don't understand" and then ignore it for hours? Low quality games full of invisible walls obviously won't reward experimentation, but Factorio does.
Defaulting to testing/investigating is a really good scientific way of thinking. Yudkowsky calls this the "Ugh field" - having negative emotions associated with something (in this case, a new mechanic or object you don't understand) will cause you to ignore/avoid it, sometimes for years. Spending time learning to see and overcome these is valuable. What problem do you know of which you just don't want to think about, that's a subtle weight on your shoulders? Looking back I ignored trains, circuits, bots, wires for too long. They each had joys that I didn't initially see. (Does this mean I should just embrace npm?)
People often play for 100+ hours without knowing keyboard shortcuts for extremely common actions. A meme on factorio's reddit is "TIL (Today I Learned) this shortcut, can you believe it?"
Isn't it amazing that someone could do something for 100 hours and not think about obvious improvements, and not even wonder if they've been setup? Let alone people who otherwise already know tons of shortcuts in other contexts. Yet it's common - probably because everyone is in "intense" playmode at first.
This isn't so much a test of IQ as it is testing tool use. By default, regularly doing process analysis is really useful for learning - similar to having people review your go games, or just hiring a teacher for whatever you're learning rather than doing it on your own. Every 10 hours doing something you should step back and do a process analysis on it to see if you have any leaks.
I've even heard of people screen-recording them programming, and then watching later, to have an external view of how they spend their time, because in the moment you can't evaluate very well. Yet people don't regularly do this. There is no market where I can easily pay people to watch me talk, program, choose clothes, etc, and give me feedback.
This process of going out of your way to get feedback is common in most high achievers, and technology allows it, but it's underused.
- In poker, it's really common to record sessions and use automated analysis
- In go it's a long tradition to have group reviews of games, and alphago is being used similarly
- I've also heard of this in programming, since you can't tell what you need to improve in the moment.
Resistance to perfectionism.
Finding the balance between orderliness and organization, with obsessiveness, is really hard, and is also really valuable in life. Example: you deconstruct a belt with a full inventory and a low-value resource falls on the ground. It's really tempting to spend the time to pick it up; should you spend the time to go over and pick it up precisely? That will entail some inventory management. But if you keep seeing it on the ground there, won't that be distracting, too? Oh, and now you're spending time analysing a choice where both options are not very important. Factorio is full of this; most people settle on gratifying their perfectionism; being able to make things more perfect than reality is one of video games main attractions.
Time of day effects
It's remarkable, and similar to programming, how much better projects started in the morning are. If you decide to entirely redo a certain section of the factory late at night, you'll regret it.
There have been occasions I get killed by a train, and lose 20 minutes of work. Having to redo everything, you invariably realize you could have done a much better job. Yet if you hadn't gotten killed, you would never have realized. Why don't we use insights like this in real life? Programming work is almost never intentionally redone twice, either by two groups or by the same person, yet it's reasonable to assume that the second version would be much better.
I've played about 10 hours of multiplayer and it's even better, for these reasons:
- You feel more productive as a team
- You can share information, and also learn from them
- Pride in things I've learned on my own
- You actually do progress faster, and it feels like you spend less time doing scutwork.
- Doing a factory tour - you'll both be off working on your own project, and then come together and show off what you've done, and tip your hat at the others craftmanship.
This game illustrates the principles discussed in Business Process Novelizations - books which fictionalize factory/management/automation process work and analysis.
So it's actually devops work?
It's basically like working on networking/devops, but without any of the hard parts:
- You have complete ownership - no contacting/meeting with other teams
- No black box/3rd party APIs, and no confusing error messages when things go wrong.
- Nothing about security - everything is fully accessible - no permission groups, IAM, auth, etc.
- Api interfaces can be changed unilaterally. But just like in that work, there's huge value in standardization
- There is tons of lag, but it's a really fun part of the system, since you eventually see the system settle. (Although many parts of the game are designed with full knowledge of periodicity, like trains, and buffers to smooth it out, like how assemblers have a local cache of their ingredients).
There are some deeper, more human themes:
- Gradual disappearance and destruction of natural elements - your initial beautiful trees and open green fields slowly die, and you are motivated to destroy them with grenades or fire to make room for expansion.
- Mankind as an imposition on the natural world; natural world as actively resisting changes from man. Similar to gaia-type environmentalist/anti-natalist views.
- But the economic worldview is very positive sum! With nothing but a pick in your hand, you can build up a massive infrastructure, without really depriving people of much. You are clearly making something out of nothing, not just stealing it from someone. The key element to this is your knowledge.
- Sculpting nature - this theme would be nice to expand much more - I'd love to be able to re-plant trees and shape rivers. But for strategic reasons I don't think they allow it.
Specifics about the game
- The map screen is not quite perfect - navigating around or switching back and forth from the standard view is not ideal. Note: resolved after ~200 hours when I realized you could click the map to toggle it. Doh!
- It's a bit weird how many things you have to research using green which you won't use for a long time (as of 0.17). There are comments from the devs showing awareness and concern about the tech tree, and there may be future changes.
- The path laying default logic isn't perfect - having a "draw mode" that automatically rotated paths seems doable. This gets easier with proper keyboard setup.
- Haven't gotten into modding - that may answer more of my questions. Note: yes, modding fixes a lot of things and makes the game way better (once you don't have ego about playing vanilla.) My mods: long reach, perfect night vision, todo list.
- The production screen UI is quite bad compared to the rest of the game. The timespan / selected items aren't saved, which causes a ton of work. There should also be a shortcut you could use on an assembler or other item to jump to the production history of that specific item, instead of having to find it every time.
Friction in Factorio vs real life
What aspects of factorio have less friction (i.e. the difficulty of using and interacting with a system) vs real life?
- In factorio you can instantly rotate, delete, and redeploy buildings
- You can change what factories produce immediately.
- There are no costs for installation of components.
- You can carry much more in Factorio than in real life.
- There are no environmental, legal, political, or any other restrictions on deployments.
- Trains by default have engines which can handle all of wood, coal, rocket fuel, and nuclear fuel, and switch between them
- The human, managerial issue is
- It's now possible to see the real world as one giant factorio factory - industrial centers are fed by distant logging/mining bases, with trains and ships connecting them.
- It's an old-fashioned view of the economy, as being something designed to produce items. Modern economies target very human things more - food, companionship, fame, etc, which are ignored in factorio.
~400 hours in, here are the usability issues I still see:
- Loading locomotives with fuel every time I drop one is really manual and annoying
- The manual/automatic toggle for trains is really tedious - there should be a hotkey for this
- It would be nice to be able to assign hotkeys for individual items more easily. The quickbar system works pretty well but could be better.
What I'd like to see
- You should be able to build dams for hydroelectric power, and during the day, pump water back up behind them for storage for higher times of electricity usage. It would be awesome to be able to build dikes and raise the water level behind them.
- Landscape manipulation - cliffs are an amazingly powerful object, able to completely stop biters - but you can't create them. You should be able to do more geology modification. This part of the game is already a major, important theme - the progression from lush green forest to dead, bare concrete.
- Smarter enemies - a really evil version would have biters attack everything, not just military targets - let alone if they understood your factory and tried to make it non-functional by attacking key weak points.
- Desire paths for more physical environment integration.
Recommendation for new players
- As tempting as it is, don't restart a new factory when you want to rebuild. Just learn how to use bots to deconstruct, and fix it. It'll be more fun that way.
- Remap the "upgrade" key to something you can do with one hand - ctl-q
- Learn the q key.
- Use the quickbars
- Set keyboard shortcuts to use the 2nd quickbar without shifting. I use ctl+1-5 for one-hand use.
- Copy and past work as they should.
- Learning blueprints is not hard at all, and totally worth 2 minutes.
- 400spm Note the extremely dense central factory. This was before I built many remote factories. A recent innovation: a fuel depot in the lower right. This saved me so much trouble! Paths are getting super long and it's starting to get really messy and painful to make changes. I'm guessing this is about 100 hours in.
- 800spm - I've rebuilt the advanced product factories out west, and switched to smelting remotely. I haven't removed the local ore processing yet (left half of concreted base). I went crazy with rocket production units, and imagined I was at 800spm, but it was actually due to a huge backlog of blue circuits. The middle area is pleasantly empty and spacious - planning to use it for something related to the new rail depot. New in this image: iron loading/dropoff area in the landfilled area in the SW of the base.
- 800spmv2 - with the goal of getting to 1k spm not actually realized, I still adopted a more relaxed play style. Things won't fall apart if the factory does nothing for a few hours! Removed copper processing, and am extending a super dense red factory on the left. Biting the bullet to make things really good usually is worth the trouble. I've also made an eastern plastic production, which went a long way to clean up the "east side" which was all oil/pipes in the original factory. I'll be happy when this is all fixed, and there are no areas which you can't run through due to pipes. Once this red block is up and running, I'll max out blues and discover a new limiting factor - it's been blues for hours and hours now. I also re-established a "mostly-high-value & convenience" bus running north-south through a cleared area in the center. This has saved a ton of trouble.