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For as long as I can remember I have found comfort in the escapism of video gaming. Since receiving a Spectrum ZX80 some 30 years ago I’ve regularly found the time to sit down, forget all my worries and just game. I didn’t have a prom at school, but if I had I most likely would have taken my Dreamcast.
Quite recently I’ve been obsessed with a game currently in Early Access (a beautifully modern concept where you buy a game before it’s finished) called Satisfactory. During an especially long playing stretch, at around 1 am, I came to a halt with a particular realisation: ‘this isn’t a game, this is just maths in make up!’. This was my reasoning:
Satisfactory is a game described by its makers as a ‘first person open-world factory building sim’. For the most part, games in the sim (simulation) genre try to adhere to realism as much as possible (within the boundaries of what may be considered fun, of course) and this is no exception. Everything in this game is bound by very specific rules and requirements. This game puts the ‘factory’ in ‘satisfactory’: your factory creation starts off in rather rudimentary fashion by simply discovering an Iron Node, building a Mining Machine, and then using a Smelter to convert the ore into an Ingot. After this you can use a Constructor to turn the Ingot into, for example, an Iron Rod. Each of those steps requires a Conveyor Belt to transport the product from machine to machine. Simple right? Well, not necessarily.
You see, Miners can only mine X iron ore per minute; a Conveyor Belt can transport Y items per minute; the Smelter converts X ore into Ingots. The Constructor then requires Z Ingots to create an Iron Rod. So if my Constructor isn’t getting enough Ingots per minute…well, no problem – I can use a Splitter to separate the ore export into two lines, which each feed into a Smelter. These then head into a Combiner which sends one combined line into the Constructor. Phew, sounds good.
‘PPPnnnnnnnnnnn,’ the game loudly screams at me.
This is letting me know my Generator has blown a fuse. It would be a good time to mention perhaps that all these machines require power, of which you need to ensure you’re producing enough. No problem, I’ll build another Generator and get everything going again.
Multiple Constructors being fed Iron Ingots to produce Iron Rods
Right, what’s next?
Let’s create some Iron Plates. Well, I’m going to need a Splitter again so some iron ore can be used here…but my Rods need two-thirds of that which the Miner can produce, so let’s use a Splitter from the iron source so one path goes to the Iron Plate production and two paths go to the Iron Rod production, which the original Splitter then splits into the two Smelters. Ok, so my Iron Plate production now has its Smelter and Constructor, all Conveyor Belts are in place and I’m ready to produce my next product.
‘PPPnnnnnnnnnnn.’ Ah yes, I may need a few more Generators at this point.
10 minutes and four new Generators later, I’m ready to produce my next product.
This process goes on for a little while as you create even the most ‘simple’ processes – until you end up facing machines called Assemblers, which require two input products to create a new one, or, heaven forbid, Manufacturers which require being fed four source products! Time for a visual to help illustrate some of these rules:
Image source: https://www.reddit.com/r/SatisfactoryGame/comments/b7zv8h/satisfactory_production_flowchart_with_alternate/
This image shows some of the algorithms or ‘recipes’ required to create items. The item that looks a little like a brown box near the bottom right is a Computer, which requires Circuit Boards, Plastic, Cables and Screws.
To build a Computer you will need the following processes:
As explained earlier, iron ore is mined, sent through a Smelter and the Ingot sent to a Constructor.
1 Iron Ingot = 1 Iron Rod
Screws are made by running Iron Rods through a Constructor.
1 Iron Rod = 6 Screws
Creating Wire is a process similar to creating an Iron Rod as explained above. Find Copper Ore, build a Miner, smelt the ore into an Ingot and send that to a Constructor to create Wire.
1 Ingot = 3 Wire
This follows on from the Wire: simply send the wire to a Constructor which creates Cable.
2 Wire = 1 Cable
To get Plastic you need to find an Oil Well, which you can then build a Pump on. Crude Oil is then sent through a Refinery to create Plastic which you can then transport to the Manufacturer.
4 Crude oil = 3 Plastic
These are created by combining Wire and Plastic in an Assembler.
12 Wire + 6 Plastic = 2 Circuit Boards
By combining some of the items above in a particular ratio, we can create a Computer.
10 Circuit Boards + 12 Cables + 18 Plastic + 60 Screws = 1 Computer
A Manufacturer can create approximately 2 Computers per minute, provided we ensure the following are created:
2 Manufacturers being fed the required materials to create computers
By the time you start creating Computers, it is fair to say that this is no longer a simple process. Splitters are used everywhere: for instance, a Constructor producing Iron Rods splits its export into two paths – one to a storage container which stores Iron Rods, and another sending those Iron Rods into another Constructor which uses them to creates Screws. The Screws then face the same splitting process, where some are stored while others are transported to the Manufacturer which is assigned to create Computers. Your Plastic is being used to create Circuit Boards, but the Computer also needs it in its raw state, so you need to create a Splitter there. But you only need X Plastic to make Computers, compared to Y needed for Circuit Boards, so you need to split that into multiple paths and combine back again to ensure Circuit Boards are getting the Plastic ratio required against the amount of Plastic needed for Computer. And of course you must ensure your Conveyor Belts are able to transport the required amounts too. Oh, and don’t forget about...
It’s 3am. My Dorito-crusted hands wipe the crumbs off the notepad on which I’ve been jotting sums; the calculator is put back in the drawer after a long shift. This is the longest and most complex maths I’ve done in a while, but it is very pretty and I have enjoyed every minute. I turn the computer off and drag myself into bed, checking my emails before slumber – there’s one from the games developer where they’ve announced Uranium and various other new recipes. My eyes feel heavy, but I’m not counting sheep: I’m counting Ore.
Is Satisfactory helping me dust off my rusty mathematics skills? Undoubtedly. And it’s most certainly not the only one of its kind – I can think of many video games that have profoundly mathematical mechanics, through which I and likely others have found maths again.
You can find out more about Satisfactory here.
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