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What Is Interesting About Factorio

It's the best, and most addictive game I've ever played

What is so good about it?

Psychologically appealing elements

Lots of Factorio appeals to deeply set human traits.

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.

Self-insight

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?

Doing experiments

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?)

Keyboard shortcuts

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.

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.

Reliving life

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.

Multiplayer

I've played about 10 hours of multiplayer and it's even better, for these reasons:

Automation principles

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:

Themes

There are some deeper, more human themes:

Specifics about the game

Other notes

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?

Real-world effects

Usability issues

~400 hours in, here are the usability issues I still see:

What I'd like to see

Recommendation for new players

Images

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