Factorio's final form revealed: an enormous machine that plays Sandstorm by Darude

For the average player, Factorio is a complex RTS about building factories to produce resources while protecting them from attack. There's a heavy focus on automation, turning your complexes into a labor union's worst nightmare as you build a machine empire that efficiently exploits the map's resources. But, like Minecraft, players use Factorio's building blocks like a crude programming language to design incredible displays of engineering. That's exactly what David McWilliams did when he turned a massive grid of factories into an in-game display that acts as a functional video player.

 Apparently the only thing worthy of showcasing such an impressive feat is the music video for the song Sandstorm by Darude. When first watching the video, it's hard to get a sense of what you're seeing. McWilliams' rendering of Sandstorm looks like it was shot with a Gameboy Camera, but that only masks the complexity of what's really happening. As McWilliams details in his post to the Factorio forums, each "pixel" of the image is actually a factory equipped with colored lights. With thousands of those factories arranged in a grid, they're capable of rapidly displaying 100x178 resolution images.

Factorio is a complicated game to understand, but I spoke with McWilliams to get a bit more information on how his build works. Essentially, he's created an 'import script' that takes videos up to 4800 frames long and breaks them down into a series of inputs that are fed into each factory, telling it which colors to display at a given moment. The 'display' is broken up into 10 sections, each with its own memory bank and decoder for interpreting the original video's signals and relaying it to the proper factories. In simplest terms: It's a computer inside a game that you play on your computer. The future is now.

But, oh god, why Sandstorm, you ask? "I picked the Sandstorm music video because of its heavy use of primary colors—it looks great even with a limited palette," McWilliams says. 

"The map took 21 hours to build," McWilliams adds. "I spent another 21 hours making the import script and doing video processing."

Theoretically, his creation should be able to play videos at 60 fps, but due to limitations with Factorio (which is in Early Access) the game can only output at 1 fps. McWilliams used a mod to take screenshots every second and then pieced them all together while adding the original music back in to create the finished video you see above.

That's an amazing amount of effort to put into this project, but it didn't surprise me to learn that McWilliams is actually a software engineer in real life. "My main inspiration was to prove it's possible to build a color display in Factorio," he tells me. "This is not the first Factorio music video, but with the introduction of colored lights in a recent patch I wanted to one-up them." 

McWilliams linked me to an older project from this summer by a player named 'Extrien' and uploaded to YouTube by 'DemiPixel.' It's easier to grasp what's happening in this video since you have a much closer look at the factories. There's also this recreation of the infamous Nyan Cat, which I really recommend watching (and not at all because I secretly enjoy that song).

If you play Factorio, McWilliams has made his project freely available so you can load your own videos and give it a try. If you do decide to see what other memes you can turn into Factorio vids, do the right thing and share them in the comments. 

Steven Messner

With over 7 years of experience with in-depth feature reporting, Steven's mission is to chronicle the fascinating ways that games intersect our lives. Whether it's colossal in-game wars in an MMO, or long-haul truckers who turn to games to protect them from the loneliness of the open road, Steven tries to unearth PC gaming's greatest untold stories. His love of PC gaming started extremely early. Without money to spend, he spent an entire day watching the progress bar on a 25mb download of the Heroes of Might and Magic 2 demo that he then played for at least a hundred hours. It was a good demo.