Just a few weeks ago, developer Fire Hose Games, known for its work on 20XX and Catlateral Damage, announced its latest project: Techtonica. During PAX East, the studio's President and Founder Eitan Glinert presented an early, hands-on build of the game, giving us a deeper look into the planet of Calyx. I mined, I crafted -- and then I built some machines that would do all the work for me.
Exploring the Subterranean World in Techtonica
In Techtonica, you start on a rogue planet, which is a planet that orbits no star. The surface is too cold to live on, but geothermal heat keeps the underground caves at a livable temperature. You're unsure why you're there, but you soon find a companion who helps you start to unravel the mystery -- and the first step is to gather resources.
At the start of the demo, I found a pickaxe, which is pretty standard fare for lots of crafting sims. However, Techtonica makes it clear pretty early on that you'll want to use the pickaxe as little as possible. As you gather some ore and turn it into other resources, you get the ability to start building drills, smelters, conveyor belts, and a whole host of other machines. This is where the real game begins, and I'm pretty sure I barely scuffed the surface.
The gameplay loop in Techtonica simultaneously gratifies you while pushing you to be even more efficient.
You may think the most exciting part of Techtonica would be discovering new materials, but I found that what excited me most was finding a new problem. Every problem presented itself an opportunity to find a solution -- and often, you're manufacturing the solution yourself. This machine needs fuel; how do I get more fuel? Now it needs more fuel than I can find; how do I meet that demand? Now that machine needs to connect to another one to process materials; what's the most efficient way to transport those raw goods? Every challenge comes with new ways to create solutions, and every solution potentially created new problems. I can already see myself getting joyfully lost in a twisting web of logistics.
In the large caves I initially found myself in, I had the beginnings of a shoddily put together factory line. The system could mine for iron and copper ores, refine them into ingots, and transport them to an assembler, which I could program to make almost anything, including more assemblers.
But I knew if I had another five hours with the game, that early factory would be a distant memory, overwritten by a faster, more powerful system that processed materials better than ever. And a couple hours afterward, I'd be dismantling that iteration to make room for a third edition. The gameplay loop in Techtonica simultaneously gratifies you while pushing you to be even more efficient.
Digging into Techtonica's Narrative
As you hunger for better, more efficient ways to tune your factory, you'll need to discover how to build more machines. This is where the tech tree comes in, where you can spend resources to unlock all sorts of devices. You can build out the tech tree even further by scanning the already-placed tech in your environment.
Most of that tech looked decrepit and nonfunctional, which begs the question: How did they get there? Who left them, and for how long? Those questions feed into what makes Techtonica stand out from other factory-building simulators.
Fire Hose Games wants to focus on narrative as a core part of the Techtonica experience. In a previous interview, Glinert told us that the studio wants "to tell an exciting story in the process."
Within seconds of the demo, I was introduced to a floating cube that could talk, and it would act as your guiding light, providing tutorials within the universe. However, it would take things one step further, posing leading questions about the world around you while providing some color commentary. You're not just here to build a fancy factory; you're here to figure out what happened on this planet. You just happen to need a fancy factory to get to the bottom of it.
"That cube is the dead astronaut holding it. Or, maybe it just thinks it is? You'll have to play the game to find out," Glinert previously told us. "The talking cubes are the characters in the game that will help you uncover the story."
Those cubes aren't your only potential companions on this planet. There are plans to make Techtonica a cooperative experience, so you can hop into the caves with a bunch of friends and explore, build, and argue over logistics together. Of course, based on my time with it, I'm sure solo factory builders would have just as good a time on Calyx.
Techtonica is slated for a PC release via Steam.