Playing the Factorio Demo May Have Been a Mistake

I’ve heard about Factorio for years, it seems. There was always something intriguing about the screenshots, but they were never quite enough to draw me in. This past Friday I was browsing games on my wish list and noticed Factorio has a free demo! In 2020, that’s a notable thing by itself. The game’s developer has a hard stance against ever putting their product on sale, so the demo exists to offset that.

Considering that my intent to see what the game is all about ballooned into three hours of play time in one afternoon, I’d say the demo is going to pay off.

So what’s the game all about? You’re a pilot, or something, stuck on an alien world and you want to go home. Surrounded by the wreckage of the ship you crashed in, you must salvage what you can to build a new ship and leave the planet you’ve been marooned on. But it’s not quite that simple. At least not in the world of Factorio. Scrap isn’t good enough, you must harvest resources to build a shiny new spaceship!

Your first order of business is to manually harvest stone and iron to build mines and furnaces to refine the raw materials from the ground. This allows you to build mining platforms to harvest the ore for you. Next you need to recover scrap from your crashed ship and build processors that combine multiple raw elements into new components. Those components are used to feed research to develop other new products. And on top of it all, you must manage power sources and – of course – build a dizzying array of conveyor belts to connect it all!

If it sounds simple, it is – except that it’s not. Machinery needs power to keep running. If you notice your conveyor of copper plates is empty, the odds are that a refinery or grabber arm ran out of coal. Sure, you could collect coal yourself and walk your character over to refill it. Or you could build a hideously complex conveyor system to deliver coal to the copper mine and automate the process.

It doesn’t take long before you’re constantly zooming in and out, tracing the supply of iron cogs to see if they’re supposed to go to the science lab or the other manufacturing plant. And then you notice a grabber arm has ran out of fuel, so you reroute the coal supply. By then you notice there’s a backup of iron ore for some reason… and so on.

It’s likely that some people will find this all to be a lot of tedious upkeep. For me, it strikes just the right balance between maintaining what you have and needing to expand and change. The tech tree allows you to research new abilities and machinery that will help optimize your layouts. There’s seldom a moment when you’re just sitting and waiting for something to happen.

The demo, which is the game’s tutorial scenario, does a nice job of offering specific objectives and letting the player figure out how to meet them. Hand-holding is minimal, allowing for maximum creative freedom. It also allows for mistakes. I find the game’s trust of the player to be a refreshing experience when compared to so many of today’s tightly choreographed campaigns.

But it’s not just peace and optimization. The planet you’re on has fauna that wants to destroy your factories and kill you. They’re super mean. This is what happened to my first base in the tutorial:

Compare this to the GIF above…

The next logical escalation in this war is adding guns to the research tree, which Factorio does. Now my base is protected by automated turrets. TAKE THAT, EVIL SPACE BUGS!!!

Factorio has proven to be pleasantly surprising. I’m sure I’m going to keep playing until the demo ends and, at this point, I’m planning to drop $30 on the full game when it happens. Now if you’ll excuse me, I need to adjust the conveyors to optimize my coal distribution.

Resolve to Dissolve the Gaming Shame

It’s confession time. There are some games that haunt me. Not in the sense of being reminded of bad experiences, but rather the knowledge that I may have fallen short. Or it’s possible the game didn’t or couldn’t live up to my expectations. Call them regrets, if you will. It’s time for me to address these and get them off my back.

The one I never played: Starcraft

Yes, that Starcraft.

What can I say? Back in the 1990s I was a Command and Conquer kid! It was my go-to favorite franchise for strategy gaming. Having this other game show up and get widely proclaimed as one of the best and most influential titles of all time just hit me the wrong way. I didn’t want to like it because it was popular. Plus I associated the game with Warcraft, a similar title set in a world of magic and orcs – and I was just too cool for that kind of fantasy setting when I was kid.

Younger me did some dumb things, and missed out on some cool stuff. Not adult me! I purchased Starcraft Remastered from Blizzard’s confusing storefront and will be beating the game in 2020.

The one I never finished: Homeworld 2

This one stings.

As I’ve publicly professed before, Homeworld is my absolute favorite video game series of all time. The first game captivated my imagination in December of 1999 and I credit it, along with Star Wars, for cementing my lifelong love of all things space.

But I never beat Homeworld 2. I’ve completed the other games in the series at least a half-dozen times over, but number two eludes me. Back when it released there were some balancing issues that made the single-player campaign punishingly difficult at about the midway point. I still remember giving up on it back in 2003.

The Remastered version was prettier and easier to play, but I just stopped playing about two thirds of the way through. Something about the story didn’t overcome real life and I gave up on it. I remember something about hyperspace cores, Progenitors, Sajuuk, and bears. Oh my!

Yeah, I need to finish this one properly.

The one I never was able to get into: Fallout

War. War never changes. It’s also very brown.

I tried, multiple times, to get into Fallout. Each time, my experience was very much the same: brown. Maybe role playing games and I don’t get along. My apathy for this influential title is shared among many slow paced point and click games for the era. Still, I’d hoped that at some point a light bulb would go on and the barren wasteland of Fallout would start to be more appealing.

Maybe it will this year?

Here are five other games I’ve never played that make my list for 2020:

The one that couldn’t possibly be as bad as everyone said it was: Diakatana

It can’t really be that bad, can it?

The one I watched my brother play but never got into for myself: Thief, The Dark Project

The one where you type to make robot drones do things: Duskers

The one with the five-hour soundtrack I’ve listened to dozens of times: Mirror’s Edge Catalyst

The shooty spaceship game I absolutely cannot believe I’ve never played: Descent Freespace

This is not about “clearing the backlog”. For the uninitiated, “backlog” refers to massive game collections that expand faster than anyone can reasonably play through them. No, attacking backlog conjures up feelings of obligation and makes gaming feel like work. It’s just not feasible for me, as a gainfully employed adult, to ever complete every one of the four hundred and thirty games currently sitting in my library.

However, I’d like to experience more of what I’ve missed out on. And that means treating games like a fun hobby instead of work to be done. This means it has to be okay to not complete or even start some of the games I already own. Therefore, I have two guidelines set up for my gaming habits in 2020:

  1. For every old experience, there has to be a new one. When I install a game I’ve played before, I need to also try at least one game I’ve never played.
  2. Games get two hours to to prove to me that they’re worth playing. If I don’t see the value in them after two hours, I can set any title aside and say that, while it might be good, it may not be a game for me.

That’s it.

2020 may not have more gaming going on, but it’ll have some different gaming going on. And that’s exciting to me!