Return to Dyson Sphere Program

Steam has me clocked at a few hundred hours on this game, across multiple playthroughs. Probably the game with the most time outside of an MMO. I took a break after that, given that it was (and still is) in Early Access. There is a veritable sea of garbage games in Early Access… Dyson Sphere Program is an absolute gem.

Since the last time I played the game has added:

  • Improved blueprints (my last playthrough had blueprints, but they were still quite wonky)
  • Way more variety in terms of planets / systems.
  • Ability to customize the mecha (Syp could probably spend days in this thing)
  • Pilers to stack items on belts
  • Improved belt controls and warning systems when things stop working (supply chains that are 9 steps long are insanely complex to troubleshoot)
  • Proliferators, which allow for a boost to productivity for a material/energy cost
  • A rather astounding amount of bug fixes/optimization so that your CPU doesn’t melt.
  • A new Dyson Sphere construction interface
  • Achievements / milestone structure. Some of the achievements can be considered “hard mode”, which require a gas giant with fire/ice in the local system to beat the clock.

DSP is a graphical spreadsheet designed for solo play. That may not sound interesting, but if you like solving number and logistical issues, holy cow. Factorio is the gold standard in this field, but now in 3D and a much larger toybox to play in.

When I last posted about the game, I mentioned that there was a lack of clear content for the end game, as well as a significant “stall” period just prior. I would say that those issues are partially resolved, and it’s primarily related to the concept of scale.

Imagine you’re running a small bakery. It’s complicated enough, managing the ingredients coming in, the production of the goods, the building/lease, employees, and financial portions. Small business owners have it hard, because they usually need to manage it all themselves. That step to franchise or company, where you expand to more locations is where things turn sideways. You simply don’t have the time to manage the details, so you delegate and set out rules. Shortages at one store may impact the other, and so on.

DSP has this similar issue. Your starter planet has everything but Titanium, an absolutely essential component to enter the mid-game. It’s not a choice, you need to leave the planet to find it, then transport it. Technically, you could manually mine and transport, but the scale needed means you need to automate – or build another mini-bakery. You need the mining tools, smelters, power, and a transport hub.

Once that part is sorted out, you live in the mid-game, where it’s about scaling up your production lines to build more. A batch of solar sails takes 25 elements, that need to be harvested and refined a half dozen times by tools that require those same elements to construct, transport of material, and power. And you need well over 10,000 sails to “complete” the game.

The game does a great job to get you to the mid-point, then the scaling/optimization challenge really comes into focus. Finding material and the mechanisms to transport is one challenge (the materials to build a hub are not cheap), but the real kicker is powering the whole thing. Power, at scale, is dramatically improved from prior versions, yet still a massive hurdle. Prior, you were putting in piecemeal progress, adding production and then power, and then production. There are now more and better balanced options for power, and the odds of a cascade power failure are dramatically reduced.

Scaling + the QoL changes to production allow for a relatively quick view into production chain issues. If you’re not producing sails, you should be able to quickly point to where that is breaking down (like circuit boards). This smooths out the transition from mid-game to late-game and reduces the need to simply wait it out.

Late-game… this portion is not fully improved yet (well, the sphere design interface is a lot better), though there are more options with stacking and proliferating to improve the logistical capacity. You do more with less space, which is a good thing, though the power / moving stuff around issues increase exponentially. Where you’d love it to be viable for say a production planet, the reality is that it’s just not doable until you have more power than you need with a complete Dyson Sphere. Focusing on boosting research is really the only change I see right now, which is certainly of benefit, but really quite hard to fully manage.

The good thing about DSP is that it encourages experimentation, especially with the advent of blueprints and QoL design tools. It is very hard to paint yourself into a corner… you could certainly slow down progress, but to cancel it outright… I don’t quite get.

If I had recommendations it would be to reduce the cost of Energy Exchangers so that they are more accessible in the mid-game. That single change would improve the ability to move energy sources between planets at some level of scale, which is the primary cause of frustration for expansion. The time between having a working starter planet and then a minor form of production elsewhere is still too long. I’d also recommend that Planetary Logistic Stations have 6 slots of material instead of 3. In their current form, they serve zero purpose as their upgraded form (Interplanetary) has 5 slots and the ability to leave the planet, and the cost upgrades are negligible.

Without question the game is better now than it was nearly a year ago. The next big update will be a combat function, which I understand to be the last significant item before full launch. Combat will be entirely optional, so in that context, the game is about as “feature complete” as you can think if you want to avoid that piece altogether.

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