The Tao of Gaming

Boardgames and lesser pursuits

Posts Tagged ‘Dyson Sphere Program

Dyson Sphere Program Redux

My old laptop blew up, so I got a new computer. This coincided with a few weeks between jobs (I’m part of the “Great Resignation“), so I decided to revisit Dyson Sphere Program (see my earlier thoughts). According to steam (which tracks these things, and also has an annoying overlay that sometimes interferes with my game despite the fact I keep setting it to “No overlay”), I’ve played 60 hours (at roughly real time), so my current game is ~40 hours. I’m close to “the ending” (which isn’t actually building a dyson sphere, but done by solving the “Universal Matrix” (grand unifying theory of science in your Little Prince Universe, I guess). I’ve started the research, but — as happened with my first game of Factorio — I wasn’t really setup to grind out that much science, so its a slog to finish. (I need 4000 white science, which needs 4000 critical photons, which I’m generating at the rate of several per minute).

That being said, more thoughts:

  • The devs added copy/paste and blueprint functionality, which greatly enhances the gameplay experience. It isn’t perfect (by any means) but its much better than it was a year ago.
  • There are still sharp edges. Fractionators don’t use sorters but you run the belt directly through them, which is unlike anything else (etc). That threw me …. off to Reddit to look it up. Why are logistics not working? Off to reddit! (etc etc)
  • There are a few ‘fake intermediate’ products. (An intermediate product serves no intrinsic purpose but is necessary for other items, so Factorio has Green Circuits, Red Circuits, Blue Circuits, Engines, etc. Engines are used to make cars, trains, some science, and electric engines, which are used in robots. Green circuits are used in all simple electronics devices, etc). But DSP has intermediate products that are used in only one product, which creates ‘false complexity’ IMO. There are also some alternate recipes, but you typically can’t find the raw ingredients until you are well past the point of caring. And there are some intermediates you’ll need to make massive production, and often you can’t tell until you’ve played the game once or twice which is which.
  • The science timing doesn’t really work. When you unlock a science you can quickly (over an hour or so) knock out all of the upgrades/sciences that requires it. Then your science sits stagnate because the bottle neck is setting up production of the next science type (which has several intermediate steps) and also taking advantage of the new perks of the old science. To be fair, Factorio also suffers from this. (My suspicion is that upping the cost would drive off new players, but old hands and automation have ‘solved’ this). My last game of Factorio I played with 3x research costs, which made the game feel nicer. Not nothing …. nothing nothing … mad rush of all the new sciences … nothing nothing nothing….
  • The early game is too slow even on my second play through. Your construction drones are tediously slow.
  • The Dyson Swarm/Sphere editor is esoteric, to say the least and how you calculate energy received from it is complex enough that even the “pros” like Nialus need plenty of time to explain it.

DSP is still a good sandbox game. Once I finally “win” I will likely start a new game and try to build more effectively and use a Dyson Swarm (which I skipped) and finish a sphere. It’s not bad. But it could be much better.

DSP feels like it needs another “Bomb” in the game design sense (I don’t have the link to that original article anymore ….). A bomb is a sharp breakpoint, a game changer.

In Factorio, once you have construction robots, the ‘time cost’ of building stuff drops drastically! (Hurray!) So you can just double (or 10x) your smelting by copy/pasting. Of course you pay other costs of (power consumption, etc). But now the game isn’t about running around as much, you can slap down blueprints and let the bots do the tedious work. You get to design. But in DSP you start with construction bots that are horrendously slow and can improve them (both in speed and number). Your bombs are intra planetary logistics (don’t need belts), interplanetary logistics (necessary to build a multi-planet system) and finally interstellar logistics (by adding warpers).

But you are still have to layout belts and miners to collect resources (just as before) and you are still limited by your (admittedly faster and more numerous) drones. You never get a “bomb” technology something that says “Oh, your logistic towers will automatically mine an area around them if you get it.” So even after constructing a Dyson Sphere you still personally run around to slap down iron miners? (Maybe you have a blueprint to speed it up, but still).

In this game you can mine gas giants. There is literally nothing to do but go to it, fly around and place orbital stations that suck up gas. Each gas giant can have a maximum of 36 (??) they only go at the equator and have to be 10 degree apart (and they have no terrain etc). Maybe you can have 72. But I still have to fly to the gas giant and place them by hand. Why not just shoot them off at some point? After all, I can do that with the Dyson swarm/sphere. It feels like another fake interaction.

And I still sometimes miss planets when I fly. (Or run out of fuel halfway, which is basically just a restart from last save level of annoying)> Yes, you can go faster and faster (and ‘warp” between systems, but you have to aim/remember to fuel up. Where’s the “autopilot/teleporter?” bomb? Setting up the first colony is a 30s-3m flight (depending on how your solar system is set up) and then laying out miners/etc. Once you go interstellar, its the same thing, but your flight is covering light years, but sheesh, after the 10th time give me something that makes it automatic (or at least less painful).

Anyway, if this sounds like I don’t like DSP, that’s not right. It’s fun, and clever, but it just needs that polish and oomph to make it great. I don’t necessarily want to fight aliens (ala Factorio) but I want the experience to feel like it grows over time, not just “OK, grind it out.”

Rating Suggest (assuming you have a good graphics card), but I hope it gets better. I’ll probably get to 100 hours on this by the end of the year.

Update — Finished at 51 hours. A few more things that crossed my mind:

  • There are production charts (by planet or system or total) which are nice, but it would be good to have a measure of deliveries (like, this planet exported X units of Coal in the last 10 minutes). It’s tough to trace the logistics. The main reason I’m restarting is that I have no idea where anything is and too many haphazard builds. I spend ten minutes looking for my Titanium Steel setup (on the main world).
  • The ability to label the map (even with just icons) would be great. It was a huge add in Factorio.
  • Logistics bots would be nice, or even a “provider” chest where you could just drop your excess trash and it would get sorted back into the system (like a supply only intraplanetary post). But eventually stuff is so cheap you just throw away that excess steel you spent an hour setting up rather than run around to recycle it….that’s fine from a game design perspective but a bit unsatisfying in a game about efficiency.
  • Found that article on “Bombs” in game design. Man, its nearly 20 years old….

Written by taogaming

September 21, 2021 at 4:46 pm

Dyson Sphere Program

So, as I mentioned before, I got Dyson Sphere Program. This is the latest in the (growing) line of Automation games, which I guess was started by Minecraft, but as far as I’m concerned, started with Factorio (which I’ve now been playing for 4 years). How much time have I spent playing DSP in the last few days? That depends on how you keep time.

Because it turns out … my computer doesn’t have a powerful enough graphics card to play it. Which is to say … my laptop has no graphics card. Unlike Factorio (which tries to run at a set speed, and sometimes drops frames if the graphics get complicated), if DSP slows down due to graphics issues, the game slows down. I first noticed this when I said “Huh, I’ve only been playing for 40 minutes according to the game, feels longer.” It was closer to two hours. So I’m either four hours into the game, or fifteen hours, or somewhere in between.

Look — this is a game where you start by chopping down some trees and rocks and eventually build a Dyson Sphere, so you have to scale up. If you already know you love/hate that, nothing will change. However, a few thoughts.

At the four hour mark (etc) I have literally just started my first Dyson Swarm and have unlocked (but not yet started) the third “Science” type (which you need to unlock more advanced technologies).

  • Its pretty. If you have a graphics card, its pretty and runs at a normal speed. I stood for a few seconds watching my EM rail guns launching solar sails over the horizon (100m away) into the setting sun. (There’s a reddit thread for prettiest screenshot, and some of the entries are amazing).
  • The twists (from Factorio’s POV) are threefold:
    • The planets are tiny little things (think “The Little Prince”) so the curvature of the planet matters. You literally cannot put more than twenty or so assemblers in a parallel line before one of the lines has to jog. (I don’t know the exact number). And they aren’t perfectly level either (apart from just water and crevasses).
    • You can build UP. Conveyor belts can stack at levels, some buildings can be stacked, etc.
    • You can (fairly quickly) unlock technology to sail between planets. Factorio has “outposts for resources” but here you can’t lay a conveyor belt back to the main base. You either have to literally hand carry everything back and forth, or build an interstellar logistic system. (If you are running at normal speed, a trip might take a minute or two).
  • It’s an early access games, so the controls leave much to be desired. No mappable hotkeys, confusing tutorials, etc. I almost uninstalled it before even landing on the starting planet, because how to navigate to it was not obvious, and I missed and wasn’t clear how to turn around. Right now this game is a dancing bear, because there so much of it works … sort of.
  • There are many … many recipes and ingredients. There are maybe 100 intermediate components (things that don’t do anything, just a step along the path to the next thing). Factorio felt overwhelming the first few times in this, but this is a level above.
  • You start with robots to build stuff, but its much slower than clicking to place (especially in my case). You have to tech up to make them fast. They really need blueprints though, because controlling everything by hand likely won’t scale well. Copy-Paste!

Anyway, I don’t think this will be a thousand hour experience, because I’m not zen enough, but I don’t consider my money wasted. I have little hope that the devs (a five person team) will make it fast enough that my laptop will suddenly be good enough, but I can while away a few hours here and there.

Written by taogaming

February 6, 2021 at 7:27 pm

The Line between Inspiration and Theft

I saw the announcement for Terraforming Mars: Area Expedition(aka TM: The card game) because someone commented something to the effect of “They ripped off Race for the Galaxy.” And — uh, yeah. There are some differences, but the five phases, simultaneous selection, etc. Its all there. (You can’t select the same phase twice in a row).

Last week I tried the Dyson Sphere Program video game and then returned it (because it was somewhat clunky), but after watching some Katherine of Sky videos I re-bought it. (KoS is — to me — the Bob Ross of Twitch. Simply a joy to listen to). Let’s be clear — DSP takes a lot from Factorio. But it adds innovations — you are in a universe where an Astronomical Unit is a 40 km and you can run around a planet’s equator in a minute or two. Factorio meets The Little Prince. The curvature of each planet and its orbital inclination matter! Its three dimensional in a real way, and that’s a huge change. (A beautiful, albeit clunky, game).

I guess the true test is — did you build something new? When you are standing on the shoulders of giants, is it so you can see farther, or are you just pissing on them? Perhaps TM:AE does something new. It’s easy to imagine. Race where you can’t repeat your role selection is a new game (and possibly a great variant). But the fact that this “inspired by” game is tacked onto an established property by an already established company makes it feel a bit dirty. Time will tell.

Full review of DSP later.

(Slay the Spire Update — 7 wins out of 24 games so far, and only two deaths in Act I).

Written by taogaming

February 5, 2021 at 9:59 pm