For most of the last month, my weekday routine has been close to identical. I finish work by five-thirty, and before six o'clock I'm absorbed in Satisfactory. The only reason I stop playing around eight each night is that my co-op partner lives on the east coast, three hours ahead of me. Time zones are the only thing standing between me and an unhealthy obsession with building bigger and better factories (unfortunately they work against my friend, who's having dreams about optimization every single night). I'm still obsessed—it's just not ruining my life yet.
Satisfactory is a game about building things. Or, rather, it's a game about building things that build things. Or maybe it's a game about building things that build things that build things. It is a vessel for the experience of saying "I have an idea," picturing an elaborate series of machines working flawlessly once you've set them in motion, and then making it happen. What those machines are building doesn't matter, because the joy comes from imagining a design and then following through.
When Chris wrote about Satisfactory last year, it was promising but clearly somewhat limited in scope. A year later it's still in Early Access (and just recently out on Steam), but three major updates have added new types and tiers of technology to unlock. And each time my friend and I unlock something new—a new resource to mine, a new type of power plant, a new, faster conveyor belt—we're tempted to tear everything down and start over again.
Our first big project in Satisfactory, once we'd worked through the early game of producing basic resources like iron plates and copper wire, was building a proper power facility. We were running our meager, scattered assembly lines on biofuel, a plant-based resource that we had to manually keep topped up. That was not efficient, so we set out in search of coal, leaving our fairly tame starting area to find a coal deposit near a large lake. We had to dodge some aggressive alien fauna and build an elaborate conveyor belt from the coal deposit up on a cliff to the water below, but once we did, we could start producing enough power to support our entire operation. For awhile, anyway.
The smartest thing about Satisfactory is that it places you in a big, wide open alien world to explore, with the freedom to build wherever the hell you want. The freedom encourages creativity in how you make use of the land around you. It also lets you tackle different sorts of efficiency challenges every few hours. When I got tired of laying out assembly lines of constructors and storage units for the parts we needed to build, I grabbed an inventory full of concrete and started building roads in the sky, safely connecting our base to other valuable resources.
Eventually, we unlocked pneumatic tubes to travel from place-to-place, and building those over and through hostile terrain became its own challenge. My favorite thing to do is create curved pipes and conveyor belts that add majestic arcs to assembly lines, even if they throw off the neatness of a perfectly square design.
We still haven't unlocked the highest technology tiers, but after building several bases across the map and connecting them with tubes and power lines, we decided it was time to unite all our production into one single monstrous factory. Three weeks in, that's now our big, all-consuming project, which we began following a several day detour to build a massive oil power facility which vastly surpasses our coal power output.
Our other bases lie abandoned, two of them producing power for our new factory, another one spitting out steel parts into the few containers that aren't yet overflowing. Our steel assembly lines are now almost impossible to navigate, with crisscross conveyor belts turning it into a bit of a maze. There are some useful encased steel beams in there somewhere, but good luck finding them. I can never remember what parts are in what storage containers, and at this point it feels like a knot that's easier to throw away than it is to untangle. I love looking at its ludicrous mess. But using it? Not so much.
This new factory will be different.
The problem with our other designs is our needs for them quickly outstripped our compact layouts. It's easy to efficiently create three or four parts and feed some of them into more manufacturing machines to create more advanced components. But if you don't plan ahead for the space you'll need when something calls for a couple different parts you aren't yet making, it starts to get cramped and messy in a hurry.
With our centralized factory, our goal is to separate out the production of every single component with ample storage for each, and lots of room to split production lines off so we can scale up later. Earlier in our tech progression we only needed screws for reinforced metal plates, but when we started trying to make reinforced metal frames and computers, common high tech parts, our demands vastly outstripped our supply. This time we want to have parts easily accessible to casually grab out of storage, with conveyor belt splitters already in place so we can spin up new assembly lines in just minutes.
I've found this scale of planning way harder to wrap my head around, but it's been extra rewarding to see our megafactory start to take shape. I also got to build my single favorite creation so far, a mile-long trio of speedy Mk. 4 conveyor belts that pipe far-flung resources to our central location. Behold:
It's progressed since then, gaining two more floors that are still mostly empty as we tiptoe our way towards true mass production.
By the time we finish this facility, the dream is to have assembly lines and storage units for every part imaginable, so we don't have to make a single thing by hand. People sometimes joke about games where success means you don't really have to do anything anymore, and that does feel like the goal in Satisfactory. But it's a lot of fun to try to get to that point, and I don't think it'll truly be the end. Because by the time we get there, we'll realize how we actually could've done the whole thing so much better. Good thing we have plenty of space.