Idles and Arms

The first thing your factories produce in Factory Idle is iron. An iron factory is the simplest sort possible, having only three components: one to buy ore, one to process it into iron, and one to sell it. After sufficient research, you get access to steel, which has two ingredients, which have to be kept in the right ratio for optimal production. The next step in complexity is plastics, followed by electronics. That’s as far as I’ve gotten, but I can already see the next stage in the research menu. It’s called “gun parts”.

I assume that the gun parts can eventually be assembled into guns. Apparently there are rockets and tanks to come later. This is a sudden change in the character of what was previously a game about peaceful industry. Or is it? Possibly this is the point of the whole thing, that this is where industry inevitably leads: to the military-industrial complex. If so, this game is a cousin of Brenda Romero’s Train, aiming to shock the player with the realization of what you’ve been doing all along, and asking if you want to keep on doing it, if your desire to see numbers increase, together with the sunk cost of the time you’ve already spent playing, is strong enough to make you rationalize the fiction.

Alternately, maybe it’s just a matter of the developer thinking “Guns are cool” and not anticipating any negative reactions. And in fact there’s good reason to believe that: the cost of the areas I haven’t opened up yet indicate that there’s a lot of game left after this point, which I wouldn’t expect if I had already seen the whole point of the thing. Games in general are full of guns, after all, so why wouldn’t I expect them here? All I can say to that is that somehow we have this cultural idea that arms manufacturers are more suspect than soldiers, despite being parts of the same system.

Anyway, I really don’t know enough about the developer to interpret intention here. But I will note that Reactor Idle has something of a similar trajectory, starting with nice clean wind turbines and working its way up to thermonuclear reactors. That much is sort of given away by the title, though.

5 Comments so far

  1. matt w on 3 Jun 2016

    “All I can say to that is that somehow we have this cultural idea that arms manufacturers are more suspect than soldiers, despite being parts of the same system.”

    I can think of a few reasons for this:
    –soldiers take on personal risk, which arms manufacturers do not
    –soldiers are not likely motivated by the desire to earn great wealth, while arms manufacturers are
    –soldiers in a democracy are ultimately bound by the will of a democratic government, whereas arms manufacturers are bound by the profit motive (and I think we are somewhat suspicious of soldiers in a non-democratic society, at least high-ranking ones)
    and perhaps most important
    –soldiers are expected to fight for one country, whereas it is a rare arms manufacturer that does not sell to many different countries, often delivering weapons to some quite unsavory types and helping to destabilize areas
    Though not much of this applies to the way guns are used in most games, AFAICT.

    On a more game-related note, it seems to me that a building note of dread (often parodic) is a part of a lot of idle games–Cookie Clicker (that’s the parodic one) and The Monolith (perhaps semi-parodic because it’s easy to see where it’s going from the start). A Dark Room (spoilers, in case you haven’t played it) starts out grim, and there isn’t really any dread building in the expansion of your village, but there was a moment (at least for me) when you wind up raiding a village of innocent civilians. It’s mechanically identical to the raids you carry out on soldiers (and the fights against people who attack you while you’re minding your own business), but the descriptions are different and the enemies all have negligible hit points and damage.

    Nothing like this in Candy Box, though (and not in Kittens Game, I think). Also, I’m inclined to count Candy Box/Dark Room as a slightly different genre, but I’m not sure why.

  2. Carl Muckenhoupt on 4 Jun 2016

    In a way, Candy Box and A Dark Room are more like Frog Fractions: games based on surprising shifts in genre. The fact that they start off as idlers is almost incidental.

  3. matt w on 4 Jun 2016

    Ha, they were actually the first ones I encountered so I thought that was what idlers were like. Then in the other idle games I played I was twiddling my thumbs waiting for the genre shift.

    Actually I have a grand theory about this:
    Games that you play a while can exploit a gradual increase in your sense of scale. Osmos does a good job of this in a way that emerges from the a simple mechanic; in the impasse levels, for instance, the motes that begin as obstacles you must maneuver around eventually become the things you will absorb (I usually have a moment where the camera zooms out to show most of the level and I go “Whoa, I’m that big now?”) I guess this probably comes from Katamari. Hadean Lands apparently has something like this where you can move to higher- and higher-level commands as you master the lower-level stuff and it becomes irrelevant (apparently, because I haven’t got very far).

    Idle games seem like they should be able to do this–you start out clicking to build something, and you build up enough that your clicking effort is irrelevant, and eventually you’re getting numbers every minute that previously took hours. But in fact this just winds up as an illustration of Jon Blow’s (?) point about enemies scaling with your level in RPGs–as you get more and more stuff per second, the amount of stuff you need for new things scales up, so the experience is really the same. Really all you’re getting is an illustration of the power of exponential growth, or something (and a bit of a feeling of cynical manipulation, because whatever effort you put in earlier seems rather pointless now that only the new-level stuff matters).

    So the genre-shift is necessary to give a real sense of scale–you save up to reach a new objective and now you’re actually doing something different. But it’s important that the previous levels of the game continue alongside the new genre, so you can see that you really are piling up a lot of wood per second or whatever as part of the support system for the new thing you’re doing. And it puts a limit on how long these games last, because it’s a lot more work to put in a new genre than to just add a new rank with more cookies per second. (But the limit is a good thing!)

    I wonder if it’s related that you can’t just overwhelm the games by leaving the tab open and piling up stuff; in Candy Box you’ll need to brew a lot of potions, and in A Dark Room which I just replayed it seemed as though a lot of things I most wanted cost scales and teeth, which come from traps, expeditions, and events rather than the villagers–the exchange rate for fur being so ridiculously high that you can never hope to farm much.

  4. matt w on 4 Jun 2016

    Looking back at the first Factory Idle post, it seems likely that I have completely conflated idlers and clickers.

  5. Carl Muckenhoupt on 5 Jun 2016

    I guess they’re not really distinct genres. If the essence of a clicker is clicking something as fast as you can to make numbers go up, and the essence of an idler is waiting for numbers to go up, then most clickers transform into idlers before long. Perhaps clickers should be regarded as a sub-genre of idlers.

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