(This is a guest post written by our very own commenter Fish!)
Oxygen Not Included is a comical survival game by Klei similar to Don’t Starve. You are some sort of manager in charge of (to begin with) three Duplicants (hereafter, dupes) who have just been printed inside a moon or an asteroid or…whatever. A message pops up which seems to signal that something has gone wrong and that’s how we’ve ended up inside this moon/asteroid/whatever and part of our dupes’ responsibilities are to discover clues as to what happened.
Once you acknowledge the above message, the game begins. Your three dupes are standing underground in a pocket of air in front of the Printing Pod from which they’ve just emerged. Your only assets are the Printing Pod from which more dupes can be printed at regular intervals, a food box containing around 20,000 kilocalories of food, and the tools your three dupes carry which are capable of digging, picking up raw materials, and building things.
To begin, you’re given two tasks: generate some oxygen so your dupes can continue breathing and grow some food so your dupes have something to eat. To do either of those things, your dupes need resources. To get those resources, your dupes need to dig.
The starting Biome, the Temperate Biome, contains sandstone, copper, sand, dirt, algae, some coal and fertilizer, water, and oxylite. Other Biomes include Frozen, Volcanic, Oil, Swamp, Caustic, Electrum, and Space. Each of them contains their own minerals, gasses, plants, and animals. Contrary to the name of the game, some oxygen actually IS included as oxylite gives off oxygen as it is exposed through digging and decays. As your dupes dig, they begin accumulating resources which they can use to build the things they need to survive, such as walls, floors, beds, oxygen generators, batteries, electrical wires, computers upon which to do research, toilets, and so on. And this is where the heart of the game lies.
You’re no doubt familiar with the tale of the man who has a mouse problem in his house, so he gets some cats. Well, the cats certainly take care of the mice, but now he has a cat problem. To solve his cat problem, he gets some dogs. But now…dogs…so he gets lions…you get the idea. In Oxygen Not Included, each solution presents its own unique set of problems. You want to use terrariums to generate oxygen? No problem! Build some terrariums, pile in some algae, add some water, and you’ve got a process for generating oxygen without consuming any electricity. However, the byproducts of your environmentally sound terrariums include polluted dirt and water. No problem! We’ll just build a compost pile for the polluted dirt and dig a pit into which we can dump our polluted water once we bottle it up and carry it to the bottle emptier. But polluted water and compost piles give off polluted oxygen, which can be toxic and cause disease. We’re going to need a solution for that, too.
The game continually throws challenges like this at you. You can build a bunch of batteries to store electricity generated by dupes running on treadmills, but those dupes can’t perform any other tasks while running on treadmills so we should try to automate this process. How about coal generators? Great! That frees up our dupes from the tedious task of running on treadmills, but coal generators put out a lot (A LOT) of heat and carbon dioxide. How will we deal with that? And our list of problems seems to grow in pace with our list of solutions.
Want to grow some food? Great! We all need food, and dupes are no different. We can start out growing meal lice in planter boxes. Once we get a little better at generating electricity, we can string up some lights and start growing bristle berries and maybe upgrade our planter boxes to farm plots. Trouble is, now we have to dedicate dupes to hauling dirt and water to our crops and harvesting those crops. Hydroponics can lessen the workload, but now we need to collect our water into a centralized location and install a water pump with all the necessary plumbing and some electricity to run the pump. Great! But now we need more lights and another coal generator and I guess we’d better start digging for more coal and maybe start looking into hydrogen generators or maybe some natural gas but I understand that natural gas produces byproducts of polluted water and carbon dioxide. And all this time, we still need to care for our dupes.
Two things matter for dupes: Morale and stress. Morale can be improved by building them medical bays, dormitories, great halls, greenhouses, bathrooms (and tastefully decorating these rooms) and using the job board to assign jobs to our dupes. Stress can be controlled by keeping our dupes warm, fed, dry, and clean, and when all else fails, giving them a good massage or throwing a good dance party.
So now here you are keeping all these balls in the air: keeping your dupes happy, making sure they have food, water, air, and a pleasant environment, digging and expanding your buildings, acquiring new resources and conducting research to build better, more efficient machines (and learning how to deal with the problems that come with those advances). Things are going well.
This is a trap. It’s a trap I happily walk into Every. Single. Time.
When things start going well, I start tinkering. Experimenting. Undertaking huge public works projects to improve the lives of my dupes. The sandbox-y nature of this game preys on my inattention to detail and couples this with my love for goofing around and “trying things.” This is typically when I get too focused on a project on one end of the map and fail to notice how the wheels have started wobbling on the delicate cart that is my dupes’ ecosystem on the other end.
I’ve had my dupes starve to death because I failed to plant enough crops to feed them all. I’ve had them asphyxiate because I ran out of algae and could no longer produce enough oxygen. I’ve had them all contract slimelung from digging in Swamp biomes and one-by-one weaken and die. My best run lasted 160 cycles (hey, I never claimed to be any GOOD at this game; I only claimed to enjoy playing it!) and one even ended because I failed to notice the pink haze descending over my base and reacted too slowly to save my dupes from choking to death on the hydrogen gas which had infiltrated my base while I was off doing…whatever. But that’s ok; we’ll just go back to the start screen and start a new game, using everything we learned in our previous game (and from google—oh boy, google is a life saver) to make my new set of dupe’s lives better.
Even if it kills them.
So… what are you playing?
(Featured image is “Oxygen discharge tube” from Alchemist-hp. Used under a Copyleft Licence Art Libre license.)