I am far from a scientist, but when Mark Watney utters the words, “In the face of overwhelming odds, I'm left with only one option: I'm gonna have to science the shit out of this,” I get a little weak in the knees. There’s something about the story of “The Martian” that has reignited my love of the crafting game genre that has been extremely popular since Markus "Notch" Persson created “Minecraft.” Essentially, each time I start a new game in “Don’t Starve,” I’m taking the role of a character whose only weapon is his (my) brain. Survival is dependent not only on the ability to kill stuff, but also on the ability to find food and prevent serious mental illness. Crafting games also tap into that weird area of the brain that has been prewired to enjoy building things—there’s something endlessly satisfying about looking upon the blank, carpeted area of your bedroom floor and saying, “Let there be Legos!” only to create something cool that wasn’t there before.
In this Indie Game Double Feature, we’re going to explore two new crafting titles: the industrial-exploration game “Factorio” and the brutal, FPS title “The Culling.”
Wube Software LTD.
Available on PC
“Factorio” is an odd little game. Upon starting a new free-play game and opening the upgrade tree, it’s very easy to feel discouraged. The end goal of a given game is to construct a rocket and use it to get back to your home planet. Your starting resources? Coal, iron ore, and wood. Believe it or not, all of those things can be used to create automated factories that will eventually put you on the right track—but getting them up and running is one of the most psychologically draining tasks that you will face in a video game.
Part of this comes from the fact that “Factorio” is currently part of Steam’s Early Access program, so a lot of the game mechanics are still being tweaked by the folks at Wube Software. The retro graphics are quite beautiful, but occasionally they can prevent the proper placement of a robotic arm or the direction of a conveyor belt, which can throw your well-planned factory out of whack pretty quickly. Once you’ve gotten confident enough to let the automation totally take over, one small glitch can cause all sorts of rage quitting.
To help create those glitches, “Factorio” occasionally launches waves of hostile aliens at your factory, which often requires the player to deal with them individually until they have developed the know-how to build automated defenses. Combat is fun, and works well within the game’s parameters, but man is it frustrating to see those little bastards infiltrate your defenses and start wreaking havoc on your base.
Overall “Factorio” is like a more intricate and science-based version of “Don’t Starve.” The more time that you dedicated to pinning down its moderately high learning curve, the more complex structures that you can build—and it is satisfying to ravage the landscape, leaving a barren planet in your wake as you struggle to find a way back to your own point of origin.
Available on PC
I’ll never know why none of the triple A studios have jumped on this idea, but props to Xaviant Games for seeing a genre-bending niche that has yet to be explored. “The Culling” is an online, PVP bloodbath that takes place within the confines of a televised arena—think “The Hunger Games” or, for our older readers, “The Running Man.” In order to survive against your competitors, you must create primitive knives, spears and traps from the sticks and stones around you.
The crafting element of this game is pretty minimal—each time you build something, it consumes a resource called FUNC (Flexible Universal Nano-Compound) and calling in airstrikes or opening hidden supply caches requires more FUNC. While it’s possible to survive based on your sweet spear-throwing skills, these earlier weapons are only there to bide time until you can call in supply drops that offer body armor and automatic weapons.
Gameplay is surprisingly fluid and frenetic for an Early Access title, and the physics engine makes you feel every explosion or knife to the gut. There are many PVP games that claim to be a “battle royale,” but none of them have really jumped on that concept in the way that “The Culling” does. Your supply drops are not guaranteed to go to you—other players can shoot them out of the sky and collect them for themselves—and, with a bit of jungle cunning, it’s entirely possible to use a spear to dispatch a player armed with a gun.
There are a few Early Access bugs that pop up every now and then, but even in its infancy, “The Culling” is one of the more enjoyable PVP games on the market. It offers cooperative game modes in case you want to form an alliance with a friend, and it’s got a pretty well-designed level-up system that gives players some options to get creative with their character builds. I’m currently working on a solid melee-based character—sometimes it’s fun to just beat others to death with your fists.
Both games are available on Steam, and are sure to give you some new ways to interpret the crafting genre.