Alt-F4 #22 - Blueprint Rant
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For today’s 22nd issue of Alt-F4, Conor_ wanted to share his rather strong opinions on blueprints with us, and why they might prevent you from having the most fun while playing Factorio. We’re sure he’d be happy to hear your take on this, so please feel free to share it in the comments!
Well, blueprints mostly suck. First added in version
0.9.0, they allow us to create ghost copies of all sorts of machinery and place them anywhere in the rest of our sprawling factories. I have no issues with this ‘copy and paste’ functionality, and I particularly enjoy the direct copy- and paste-buttons and shortcuts that were added with the quickbar overhaul in
0.17.10. What I cannot endorse however is the blueprint library and string import features. I think Rseding91 said it best in his recentish AMA on Reddit where he was asked what the one thing he would change about Factorio is:
I would never have added the blueprint library :) Not a popular opinion but I’ve had it ruin a few multiplayer games I was enjoying; someone comes through with a ’base in a blueprint’ and all the creativity and fun is now over; it’s just ’build that’.
The goal of Factorio is (spoiler alert) to build a factory, but it’s also so much more than that. It’s about iteratively optimizing and improving your production setups, whether it be to produce more of the final product, to make the bare minimum required in the tiniest space possible, or to keep that UPS at a smooth 60 while you keep building onwards. Each and every time you build a green circuit maker for example, you get to use your experience to make it better than the last one. Maybe this time, you’ll use productivity modules. Or maybe you’re going to try a centralized approach to production, with only basic tiers of machines. These kinds of choices are the challenge of Factorio in my opinion; designing within the constraints of the situation and making the best of it.
By just importing a blueprint every time you need to make something new, you aren’t problem-solving and designing, you are a construction bot placing down racks of machines, and plumbing up the inputs and outputs. To me, that really doesn’t sound very fun.
I will concede that in some RARE situations, importing blueprints can be handy to avoid several minutes of monotony. The perfect example of this is solar setups, generally tiling tons of solar panels and accumulators in the hope of one day cleanly powering your factory. Spending five to ten minutes faffing around, trying to perfectly fill the space around a roboport may sound like fun to some people, but this is a problem that doesn’t particularly change depending on the game scenario. Whether you have just researched solar panels or are several hundred hours into maximising the SPM of a save, your solar panel setups are gonna look basically the same. Often, the main difference will be the size of the blueprint placed at a single time and how quickly the construction bots can get it built.
Balancers, those truly mystical creations, are another example of something that most players want to use, but don’t want to bother understanding the maths and mechanics behind them. Figuring out the exact combination of belts, splitters and undergrounds to make the ratios perfect may sound like a fantastic Sunday afternoon for some people, but many would find it dull and unexciting. Allowing the import of blueprints will likely improve the player’s enjoyment of the game as they won’t get stuck making monotonous blueprints or diving into the maths of balancers.
Once you have built a thing once in a world, its pretty common to need to build it again later, be it miner setups, train stops, train tracks, solar setups, bus layouts, et cetera. This is especially relevant in multiplayer games, where each player using their own rail standards will cause chaos and destruction. In these situations, being able to copy, paste and share blueprints using the blueprint library allows a much smoother and less chaotic experience. I believe the key difference here is that you are recreating something you have already built in the given save, not importing something from somewhere else. As mentioned by Rseding91 earlier, the ability to use blueprints can also so quickly ruin a multiplayer save, so the trade-off here is important to think about.
Even with a multiplayer game, you can fall into the trap of using other people’s designs blindly, without thinking about potentially better ways of doing things. Maybe the green circuit maker in your current world is outdated since new modules have been unlocked? Maybe that furnace bank blueprint you’ve been using for the whole save could be a better size? These are the types of questions Factorio allows us to ask, so we can iteratively improve each module we build, and dominate this darn planet we’re stuck on.
As a final note before my conclusion, I’d like to highlight just how much space for creativity there is in this game and the missed opportunities arising from blindly importing blueprints, using the Kovarex enrichment process as an example. This late-game uranium processing method allows you to increase the quantity of useful Uranium-235 using a cyclical process. I believe that it is probably one of the more blueprinted processes in the game due to the initial complexity it appears to have.
Recently on the r/factorio subreddit, there was a flood of different Kovarex enrichment setup photos, each one trying to one-up the last in creativity, efficiency and all-out weirdness. I’ll share these to highlight the opportunity for creativity when you take the time to design something new and interesting, even if it isn’t the most efficient or most compact solution.
The beauty of Factorio of course is how free you are to do whatever your heart desires. The ability to use these simple building blocks to build sprawling factories and compact megabases is truly fantastic. The blueprint import feature will never actually be removed, so I instead implore you to give designing your own layouts a shot, and to avoid looking at other people’s designs as much as possible. I’m sure that if you take the time to design something, it will be much more rewarding than searching for blueprints for twenty minutes, trying to find exactly what you want. Next time you go searching for blueprints, ask yourself: ‘Why aren’t I designing this myself?’
As always, we’re looking for people that want to contribute to Alt-F4, be it by submitting an article or by helping with translation. If you have something interesting in mind that you want to share with the community in a polished way, this is the place to do it. If you’re not too sure about it we’ll gladly help by discussing content ideas and structure questions. If that sounds like something that’s up your alley, join the Discord to get started!