Making the Familiar Foreign With Factori

Making a good game is hard. That's a totally undisputed fact. But I think when we talk about games that are particularly hard to make, we tend to think of huge ambitious projects with dozens of interconnecting systems. What we don't always talk about are the tiny, focused games. Because while big games can dazzle and wow us with big graphics that may hide some flimsy ideas, small games have no such cover. When you're entirely focused on one mechanic, one simple concept, there is nowhere to hide. So when a game nails it's simple concept and creates a really enjoyable game, like Factori does, it's truly a feat of great game design.


Factori is an automation game, sort of like Dyson Sphere Program or Satisfactory. You'll connect resources to machines that alter them, fuse altered materials together, and mutate those to ultimately produce a unique material to "solve" the level. Only instead of strip mining planets or harnessing energy, you're making letters. This inventive take on the genre creates a foundation for an extremely engaging puzzle game where the bulk of the challenge comes from having to uncouple your feelings about letters from their actual forms.


A screenshot from factori where the word "ox" is being formed
Mining "O"'s instead of ores.

Gameplay


Factori's core conceit is that every letter can be made from a sans-serif letter "I". Some letters, like "L" make intuitive sense - that's just "I" rotated 90 degrees and glued onto another "I". To get from a plain bar to something as extravagant as a "G" though, you'll need to put it through a series of transformations. There are machines that bend, rotate, and flip the bars, so the first stage of the puzzle is figuring out what pieces go together, and what order of the transformations happen in. Where this game feels most like its genre counterparts is the next bit: efficiency.


While there isn't a specific benefit to making your factory more efficient, the people who these games appeal to will tell you it's half the fun. Each machine can output to multiple sources, so you can streamline the production line by combining lengthy processes into one flow that then can be transformed later. This comes in handy when you move on from just letters to building words. Astute readers will notice that in "DOG", each letter has a curved piece. So instead of setting up a pipeline to make each piece of each letter, you can save space (and get a higher score) by reducing inefficiency and making a bunch of curves and transforming them from there. But maybe the time it takes to make each curve means that you're actually better off with two separate streams? More experiments are (always) needed.



screenshot of Factori showing a completed solution for the "dog" level. "D" and "O" share resources.
The newest in efficiency tech: sharing a backwards "C".

Difficulty


There's definitely a reason these types of games are so popular with programmers, since the logic is so similar. If that's your jam (and it's definitely mine), you'll really like this game. I think it's a great way to try out these kinds of games too, since instead of dealing with lots of systems or overbearing concepts, Factori is very straightforward. In fact, I'd argue that the difficulty really comes from taking the familiar and making it foreign. Because we're so familiar with letters, reading and writing them most days of our lives, it can be really difficult to think of them as just piecemeal shapes in a given order (unless you've seen my handwriting). When I started to struggle with a certain letter, I found it incredibly helpful to just write them on a piece of paper and dissect them with lines to break them into solvable chunks - as soon as they weren't the forms I knew, they were just shapes that I could recreate.



Screenshot of factori, where the machines are set up to build the word "face"
Is it the most efficient? Probably not. But it's definitely very organized.

Engagement


I found Factori to be the perfect level of engaging but easy to put down and come back to. There's a recipe book filled with each way that you've successfully created a letter (most will have a few permutations) so you can refresh your memory if it's been awhile. I do wish that this book was visible while building your factories, but you can see what word you'll be making before you get into the level so you can check it out before you jump in. The visuals are super clean and the lo-fi music is a great accompaniment to problem-solving, both of which are really nice to bask in when you're trying to figure out what the hell a "K" is anyways.



Screenshot of factori showing the recipe book, which shows every way you've previously created a letter
The letter "B" requires advanced cooking techniques

tl;dr


Factori pays great homage to its game jam roots with a perfectly focused concept executed super cleanly. It has a great amount of challenge, much of which stems from turning familiar shapes into puzzles and nailing down the most efficient way to get from "I" to "Z". It's a great puzzle game with a lot of room for experimentation through daily challenge words, community-submitted problems, and the never-ending drive for optimization. If those things sound appealing to you, you'll love this unique spin on the automation genre.


Factori is available now through itch.io. There's even a free demo if you're not ready to commit just yet.