Factorio: Being the Villain

Last Updated on August 28, 2019

Every soul that knows me can tell you that I’m obsessed with Factorio. I play it for hours whenever I have some free time. I’m not sure what it is about this game that resonates with my tastes so much. It’s been months since I got the game, and I haven’t yet gotten to every aspect of it.

One thing is for certain: the game made me obsessive, addicted, and drove me into a meticulous craze for machinery and logical interactions between machines. The deeper I got into my meticulous craft and the bigger my virtual factory got, the more I realized the game has a darker subtext to contrast with the innocent presentation.

Factorio, made by Prague development team Wube Software, was released in its present early access format in 2016, but the project started in 2012, and went through many phases in development, including a crowdfunding campaign in 2013 on Indiegogo.

It’s a construction and management game, not far away from games such as Rimworld. It has crafting, resources, and managing your base’s defenses against foes, all of that jazz. But Factorio has a special place in the realm of base building games, with a very heavy emphasis on industrial machinery (as the title suggests) and the overall logistics to make it work.

The game also has a beautiful 2D retro graphical aspect that will make any nostalgic player of the original Fallout games or Diablo II smile. The machines are beautifully animated, and it is very satisfying to watch the various machines work for hours.

From Coal Mining to Space Travel

The game, as many base builders do, has a simple plot: you are a terrestrial worker and you live on an uncharted planet. There are resources all around you, and you have an array of tools to start your journey. From that simple point onwards, you can build a near-infinite industrial base from scratch. The essence of the experience is to find more and more advanced ways to harness those resources, and craft new materials, new tools, and new infrastructure. 

It goes on until you have a convoluted base, and the goal is to keep it running without any problems in the factory chain and keep it evolving to be more efficient over time. The game can be played in online co-op.

The game can actually be formally “won” by building a rocket and launching it into space, which needs an insane amount of resources and time to achieve. The open-world nature of the game and the scale of the gameplay can keep you on board for as long as you like.

The scale of the game is awe-inspiring. The game rewards you for solving problems in your factory chain. You will have to think out how every piece of the puzzle fits into one another to make the whole base more productive and efficient. Scientific research introduces more and more aspects and possibilities that will feed your curiosity every time you achieve a new part of your base.

Any challenge is satisfying to achieve, from building a long railroad to get access on some rare resource far away from your base, to finally unlocking new machines through scientific research.

I had such a blast with this game, but after playing for many hours, I slowly realized something quite peculiar on the themes it offers. The more resources you get, from coal and silver to oil and uranium, and the more you will build intricate infrastructures with refineries, chains, railroads, and a vast concrete ground to assure efficiency, a red shadow will loom over the mini map, and red dots will start appearing all over the place.

Greed isn’t Good

The uncharted planet actually has inhabitants. Arachnid-esque monsters, reminiscent of Starship Troopers, will attack your base in giant hordes on a regular basis, and you have to build defenses. They start with big concrete walls, turrets, tanks and laser beams and go all the way up to atomic bombs.

That red shadow on the map indicates air pollution, and it will inevitably grow larger and larger because of you, which attracts the planet’s inhabitants (the aforementioned red dots) in hundreds of hordes all around your base. They will do anything to destroy it and to stop you. No need to really go too far to understand that you are not just a survivor, or a simple working man on a strange planet, you are actually the villain.

Your character is an uninvited alien, sent to a planet to harness its resources and colonize it slowly for humans to call it home in the long term. To do this, you’ll have to use armed violence for its protection, a slippery slope towards mass murder. This political subtext would be just a little tacky if it were intentional.

Dehumanizing the inhabitants, shown as weird monsters living in nests, makes for a disturbingly racist commentary on struggles against colonizers and industrial monopolies. As the plot doesn’t go further than its basic premise, the intentions of the development team are unclear except for the pollution design element and its role in the mid-game events that it triggers.

The thing that actually works with this dark undertone is that the game is very, very addictive. The game drives you into an obsession for new resources, developing more and more machines, to have the satisfaction of seeing all of these convoluted machines interact with each other for hours. It will make you willfully destroy everything around you just to protect your interests. It will suggest the importance of building military grade equipment to suppress resistance. Anything will feel necessary to protect your hard work.

In a way, the game shows you what being a powerful man of industry. It shows you how strangely pleasant it is to have control over nature and to use every resource for your desire. It basically shows how attractive it is to  overproduce and accumulate.

It is, in retrospect, a disturbing experience, especially in this day and age, where capitalistic production drives us to extinction and monopolies will do anything to get strategic resources and build infrastructure. Maybe the only difference between reality and Factorio is that powerful capitalists never work in their own factories.

My love for Factorio as a game stays unchanged. It is a great base builder, probably the best around today, along with Rimworld. I cannot recommend it enough to get into the genre. I feel like this strangely dark undertone is questionable and deserves a second look while you go down on another playthrough.

To learn more about Factorio, the official website will give you hindsight into the development process. Factorio is also available on steam.

All screenshots sourced from the official website.

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