A little over two years ago I took a look at a game called while True: Learn(). That game combined puzzle and programming mechanics to create a game that taught players about machine learning as you created a system that would help sort data. Today I am taking a look at the next game from the developers Luden.io, Learning Factory. This game is trying to take a similar approach to teaching machine learning, but doing so through a factory building style of game. As I liked their previous game as well as factory building games in general, I was interested in seeing what Learning Factory could become. Learning Factory has a solid framework in place to create a compelling factory building game that might also teach you something along the way.
In Learning Factory you play as an engineer who has one main goal in life: understanding what is going on inside your cat’s head. To accomplish this task you go on an adventure with your cat to find the answers. This ultimately leads you to travel to Mars where you find an abandoned factory. To truly understand what a cat is thinking you need to run a factory to supply the goods that cats truly desire in order to gather information on their buying habits. Can you run a successful factory with the ultimate goal of finally figuring out what is going on in your cat’s head?
At its core Learning Factory is a factory simulator. When you land on Mars you will encounter the remnants of a long abandoned cat factory. Your goal is to turn the resources and land into a fully functioning factory that will provide the goods requested by your cat customers. Throughout the landscape there are a number of different resources that you can gather. Some of these are single objects while others are veins containing unlimited amounts of the corresponding materials.
You could theoretically go around the planet’s surface harvesting the resources by yourself. This will become boring quite quickly though. Instead of doing it by hand, why not create machines that will do the work for you. You can build machines that will extract the resources. You can connect these to conveyor belts which will transport the goods to either be further refined into other goods, or they can be brought to a store that you are running for your cat visitors to purchase. Your ultimate goal is to turn the resources of Mars into finished goods that your customers want. As you sell goods to cats you will be able to research new buildings to further automate the process.
As a fan of the automation/factory genre of video games, I was intrigued when I first saw Learning Factory. There is just something really satisfying about being able to create a well oiled machine of interconnected machines and conveyor belts to turn raw resources into final products. If this doesn’t sound all that interesting to you, Learning Factory is not going to be for you. Those that generally like this genre of factory games though will likely enjoy the game quite a bit. I will say that a lot of these mechanics are pretty similar to other games from the genre. Based on the premise alone you can’t really deviate too far from the other games from this genre.
Even though many of the gameplay mechanics aren’t highly original, Learning Factory already has a strong foundation in place that should lead to a really satisfying automation simulation game. Like most games from this genre, it is just really satisfying building a well run factory. The game is sort of a puzzle as you try to find the best way to get a good/resource to either the final customer or the machine that will further process it. There is a decent amount of planning that goes into creating an efficient factory. As your factory grows you likely will have to redesign it from time to time as you add more products and machines to the process from raw resources to final customer. Those that find games like Factorio, Satisfactory, Dyson Sphere Program, and other similar games to be enjoyable; should also enjoy Learning Factory. While it has a ways to go before it is finished, Learning Factory already has what is most important: a satisfying gameplay framework.
Learning Factory is similar to a lot of the other games from this genre, but differs from them in two main areas.
The first is that like its predecessor, while True: Learn(), the game has an emphasis on education in addition to being an enjoyable game. This is one of the elements that I found really interesting about the previous game as I think it is clever trying to teach players something while playing. This game is also out to teach players about machine learning. This mostly comes into play with how you ultimately figure out what products to make and how to price them to please your customers. At this point the game only utilizes linear and polynomial regression, but many others are expected to be added as the game gets updated. Like the previous game it tries to teach players about these topics through more straightforward wiki articles/videos, but also through the actual gameplay. This element of the game is a little limited at this time, but I am really curious about where it will end up as the game progresses through the Early Access process.
The other main difference is the game’s theme. I have to say that I am a little surprised that Learning Factory is utilizing a pretty similar theme/atmosphere to while True: Learn(). Once again you are trying to be able to read your cat’s thoughts, but this is done through analyzing other cats buying preferences. Like the previous game, this is kind of a weird theme. I don’t mind it even if I am not a huge fan of cats. Fans of cats though will likely really like the theme. The story is pretty limited at this point, but I am curious about where it will end up. As for the game’s artwork style, I think it works well for the game. While the world itself is kind of bland, you are on Mars after all; the various machines, characters and other aspects of the game look quite good. The player interface could use a little work, but otherwise there really isn’t anything to complain about as it comes to the game’s art style.
At this point I would say that Learning Factory has two main issues. The first is that it has a decent learning curve. If you have played one of these automation/factory games before, you probably already have a pretty good idea of what you are supposed to do. Some of the specifics of how you accomplish this in Learning Factory can take some time to learn though. As the game just entered Early Access, there isn’t much of a tutorial at this point. Therefore you mostly have to learn how the various mechanics work on your own. Between how each machine works and how to build an efficient supply chain there will be some trial and error as you learn what works and what doesn’t.
I am not all that surprised that the game doesn’t have much of a tutorial as most Early Access games don’t have one. It is better that the game focus on getting as many of the actual mechanics in place to create a functioning game. Outside of some wasted time, there isn’t really a cost to making mistakes either. You can remove any building or conveyor belt with the press of a button and it will go back into your inventory. You can then just place it somewhere else. I am especially thankful for this as it is hard to tell which direction conveyor belts are moving so I can’t remember how many I had to remove to turn them the opposite direction.
The other issue with the game is just that it doesn’t have a ton of content at this point. That is not all that surprising for a game that expects to spend at least a year in Early Access. At this point the game has a truncated technology tree which gives you the buildings that you can add to your factory. Most people could probably unlock the entire technology tree within four to six hours. You could always build a more efficient factory, but the gameplay otherwise won’t change all that much.
Learning Factory doesn’t have a ton to do at this point, but I have faith in the game’s future. The developers did a great job with while True: Learn(), and I think the same level of polish will be added to the game as it moves through the Early Access process. The game is expected to be in Early Access for at least a year, and the developers have a pretty lengthy roadmap of future planned additions for the game. The game already has a good foundation, you just might not get a lot out of the game at this time.
As a fan of automation/factory games I was intrigued with how Learning Factory was going to incorporate cats into the equation to bring something new to the genre. At this point I would say that the game has a pretty strong foundation in place. The gameplay basically boils down to figuring out how to turn raw resources into the final products that your cat customers want. This plays like a sort of puzzle as you try to find the most efficient way of transporting resources and goods around your factory. I found this to be quite enjoyable like most of the games from this genre. I am also intrigued by the learning element that should be expanded as the game is further developed. The game does have somewhat of the learning curve at this point as you try to figure things out on your own. It also doesn’t have a ton of content at this point.
My recommendation basically comes down to how much you typically enjoy these automation/factory games. If you hate the genre or don’t really care for the cat theme, it likely won’t change your mind. If you like the idea of building a factory for cats though; I think you will enjoy Learning Factory quite a bit and should consider picking it up.
Buy Learning Factory online: Steam
We at Geeky Hobbies would like to thank Luden.io and Nival for the review copy of Learning Factory used for this preview. Other than receiving a free copy of the game to preview, we at Geeky Hobbies received no other compensation for this preview. Receiving the preview copy for free had no impact on the content of this preview.