Archive for June, 2016

Factory Idle: Clog

I keep thinking “Tonight, I’m going to pay minimal attention to Factory Idle and resume playing Munch’s Oddysee“, and I keep spending all my gaming time on Factory Idle anyway. It’s just a more interesting game! This is largely because Munch’s Oddysee wears every aspect of its gameplay on its sleeve, while in Factory Idle, I keep discovering non-obvious twists.

The latest revelation came in with bullet makers. These are devices that, in their default state, periodically use 3 steel and 2 explosives to produce 2 bullets. The novel thing about them is that they’re exactly 1 tile in size. Most things are 2×2 or larger, except buyers, which tend to be skinny — 2×1 for a coal buyer, 1×3 for oil. My first thought about the smaller size was that it would be a tremendous convenience, because most of my struggles with the factory layout were about fitting things into small spaces. But a 1×1 building has only four units of edge, which greatly constrains the placement of conveyor belts. In particular, I try to keep my inputs separated, because mixing multiple items on a single belt tends to create clogs whenever production isn’t perfectly balanced. Well, if the steel and the explosives are on different feeds, the inputs and output from a bullet maker use up all but one side. This makes it no less tricky to place than a larger item.

In fact, as I upgrade production, I’m starting to have input/output problems all around. Each belt can only convey one item per tick, so if a building produces items faster than that, it needs multiple output belts to carry it all. This eats into the space you want to use for buildings. One thing I’ve been doing to mitigate this: where possible, criss-cross the belts. Belts can meet at right angles without affecting each other. I had avoided doing this at first, because the result was ugly, and made the flow of items less comprehensible. But now, I see it as a way of getting two beltsworth of conveyance out of a single tile.

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.

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