I Love It When Games Don’t Tell Me Anything

I Love It When Games Don’t Tell Me Anything
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Oxygen Not Included plays like trying to make a baking soda volcano in middle school. Instead of following any instructions, you dive in, make a mess, and hopefully learn something along the way.

Don’t Starve developer Klei’s latest game is all about building a self sufficient base. Your workers, called duplicants, are stranded on an alien planet. You have to build a base that provides them with food, water and oxygen to breathe using the resources around you.

I play a lot of games like these, like Rimworld and Dwarf Fortress. Oxygen Not Included is a little trickier, because it makes me deal with gases.

Gases mostly behave like they do in real life. They have different weights and will dissipate in a room accordingly. One of the first things you learn when playing this game is to build your bedrooms on an upper level, because carbon dioxide will sink. If the bedrooms are too low, your duplicants won’t be able to breathe when they’re sleeping.

Making sure your base is full of oxygen is a huge part of this game, one I’ve messed up numerous times. Once you get the hang of producing oxygen, though, you can use the other gases in your base for stuff like producing power.

I know very little about science, but the way this game forces me to experiment brings out the Bill Nye-obsessed eight-year-old in me. Oxygen Not Included doesn’t tell you the weights of the gases in your base; you mostly figure it out by observation. The pink clouds of hydrogen rise to the top, the black carbon dioxide sinks to the bottom, and the blue oxygen hovers in between. By allowing you to discover these interactions for yourself, the game feels like a sandbox for experimentation.

Everything you need is there, and if you pay attention and think creatively, you can make an efficient system for food, water and power.

This set up didn't quite work

Last night, I decided to try something out that I’d seen done before but never perfected: creating a hydrogen generator that was supplied with gas by electrolyzers.

In Oxygen Not Included, you can produce oxygen with an electrolyzer, which splits water into oxygen and hydrogen. You don’t want to pump that hydrogen gas into your base, though, so a lot of players opt to funnel it into a hydrogen generator, which will convert the gas into power. Until you run out of water, this is a pretty efficient way to run your base.

The basic setup is simple – set up some electrolyzers, a hydrogen generator, a gas pump and a gas filter, and a water pump to pipe water into your electrolyzers – but there are still curve balls. Hydrogen rises, so you should orient the gas pump and filter high up, which I discovered after I pumped a shit ton of hydrogen into my base.

Eventually I ended up with a setup that kinda, sorta worked. I was producing oxygen and hydrogen, and the hydrogen was being pumped into my generator. I just didn’t have enough hydrogen, which would require me disassembling and rearranging my little power plant room to squeeze in more electrolyzers.

Hiding some of the information from you and allowing you to figure it out yourself makes even failures feel like accomplishments. Oxygen Not Included can be intimidating, but I like that it trusts me to learn something from it, even if I screw up.


  • Yup. Tutorials are the literal bane of video games.

    I really cannot stand it when people complain that a game didn’t include a tutorial.

    Instead of a static tutorial, the game should intuitively teach you, while allowing you to explore and find logical solutions.

    • Tutorials aren’t the bane of video games, badly done tutorials are. A good tutorial will let people learn at their own pace and in their own way because people have different methods of learning. It’s why you hate static tutorials and other people hate not having them.

    • What @germinalconsequence said. For some games, a tutorial is a must, because the nature of the game is complicated and not easy to pick up easily. That doesn’t mean its a bad game, nor does it mean the tutorial kills the experience. It just means certain games need some hand holding to get the basics out of the way.

      For survival games, I think you might have more of a point though. In a real world survival situation, all you’re going to have is your experience and whatever you arrive with. If that includes a complete set of Encyclopaedia Britannica or Bear Grylls, jackpot, but its not likely.

      So I can see that survival games should be less tutorial focused, and designed in a way where experimenting is obvious. This sounds like such a game.

  • Hmm that’s a tough one. On the one hand I don’t like my hand being held and do enjoy discovering game mechanics on the other I hate feeling like an idiot because a games system is deliberately obtuse and I didn’t realise I needed to look up a wiki to play properly.
    I think the best representation of the former is breath of the wild. Where as the latter would probably be ark.

  • Worse than tutorials are those games that persist to offer “hints” throughout the entire game. Assassins Creed is often pretty guilty of it, throughout the entire game mission prompts still pop up telling you how to do basic attacks, movements and maneuvers.

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