I have been thinking a lot about supply chains recently. It is a marvel of science that more than 1.7 billion doses of the coronavirus vaccines have been administered globally as of 27 May, just a year and a half after the virus was first discovered, but it is also a triumph for logistics.
Getting jabs in arms has meant boosting manufacturing capacity for everything from fatty nanoparticles to glass vials, and we have had to ensure that everything is exactly where it needs to be at exactly the right time. It is amazing that we are managing it, though much more must be done to get vaccines to lower-income countries.
What does any of this have to do with video games? Well, this month, I have been playing a few games that boil down to managing supply chains, and that is more fun than it sounds.
First, there is The Colonists, recently released on consoles. The premise is simple, if a bit daft: a bunch of self-3D-printing robots decide to escape humanity and set up their own colony. For some reason, they need food, water and shelter just as humans do, meaning you have to build a civilisation from scratch.
It starts simple – you land a colony ship that is capable of producing a few basic resources, then begin expanding. Make a logging outpost and the robots will start cutting down trees that you can use to build a mine to gather stone. As the game progresses, the supply chains become increasingly complex.
All the resources are distributed by robots following paths you lay out, which creates traffic jams if, like me, your town-planning skills aren’t up to scratch. Thankfully, there is a percentage meter at the top of the screen that tracks how efficiently your robots are transporting resources, compared with a theoretical perfect journey.
“Perhaps your apples are having to travel across half the map to reach a cider press, so you should move it”
You can drill down and see which routes are the worst performing – perhaps your apples are having to travel across half the map to reach a cider press, so you should move it closer to your orchard. If all of this sounds like work, I guess it kind of is – but it is fun, I promise!
The other game I have been playing that is along these lines is Subnautica, which has more of an exploration element to it. You crash-land on an alien world that is covered by a huge ocean, and must scavenge to survive. Starting out with a limited toolset, you mine ore, harvest plants and catch fish, but eventually you will be able to build underwater bases and submarines, allowing you to expand further into the creepy ocean depths. It has really sucked me in, and I am looking forward to checking out the recently released sequel, Subnautica: Below Zero.
There are now loads of games in this supply chain/factory simulation genre – the 2D Factorio is one of the most expansive, while the 3D Satisfactory splits the difference between Factorio and Subnautica by allowing you to wander around your ever-growing factory. One I haven’t yet played, but have my eye on, is Dyson Sphere Program, which gives you entire star systems to harvest in the service of building a Dyson sphere, a megastructure that can capture the energy of a star.
Of course, there is another reason I have been thinking about supply chains. The global computer chip shortage, caused in part by the knock-on effects of the pandemic, means PlayStation 5s are in short supply. Thankfully, after months of trying, I have finally managed to get my hands on one.
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Read more at New Scientist