PAX: Klei’s Oxygen Not Included is Incredibly Complicated and Awesome

Klei Entertainment is creating a space colony simulation game called Oxygen Not Included and it is cripplingly hard. Everything you do impacts you in some way and it is almost always bad. It takes a lot to keep your dumb little astronaut clones alive, but once you figure out how to use the your problems to your advantage, it all begins to make sense.

It doesn’t get easier, though. Solutions only beget more problems, and so the cycle is endless. You’ll have to craft housing, machinery, and make food for your colonists, but with food comes waste, with waste comes stench and toxic air, and with toxic air comes sick colonists. Even the CO2 they exhale has to be dealt with. And these are just two of the hundreds of problems you’ll face, but fixing them is all part of the fun.

Johann Seidenz, the design lead on Oxygen Not Included, ran me through a quick demo of what all of this looks like. Firstly, the art style is amazing, just as you would expect from a Klei game. Everything is adorable, which starkly contrasts the devastating situation that you and your colonists are in. It’s all procedurally generated, too, so anytime you fail, you’ll be put into a brand new world on your next go.

He said that the biggest influences for Oxygen Not Included were games like Prison Simulator, Sims, and Dwarf Fortress. It is unapologetically a simulator game, and a hard one. Compared to Don’t Starve on a difficulty scale, though, Seidenz said that the two games take different skill sets. Oxygen Not Included is methodical and planned, whereas Don’t Starve requires instinct. From what I’ve seen, though, this one is going to get comparably rough.

Your colonists will be good at certain tasks based on their stats, and these stats can be leveled up. You’ll want to choose wisely, though, because having a Jack of all trades colonist is actually kind of useless. Specialization is key in Oxygen Not Included, and there are tons of areas that a colonist can be an expert in. Don’t worry, though, you’ll clone yourself more colonists as your settlement grows. Another twist on this system, though, is that you don’t assign certain colonists to certain jobs. They will do what they are good at, and sometimes, if they’re not happy or they are too sick, they will refuse to the job altogether. Managing these guys is going to be rough, but in the end, when you have a successful colony built on some random space rock, it will all be worth it.

There are about a billion simulations running in the background of Oxygen Not Included, which means that it is keeping track of how much oxygen is in the air, the quality of that air, temperature, and a ton of other things. You’ll have to keep these things in check by keeping the waste cleaned up, soaking up CO2 with algae, and cooling down your machines either by creating air flow or a water cooling system of some kind. To help you with this, there are a ton of overlays that you can apply to the map of the game, which allows you to see where the CO2 is getting in, or how hot a machine is becoming. All of these things can create problems for you and you’re colonists, so using these overlays will help a lot.

The sheer depth of Oxygen Not Included is a marvel on its own. With all the simulations and variables, and the ability to look at and manage all of it, it will be a great game for people who love to dive deep into their simulator games. Casual players should not shy away from it, though. It can be played successfully without getting into the nitty gritty of it all, you just won’t have a booming city on your hands. Oxygen Not Included is charming, hard and looks to be up to par with any of the other Klei games.

Oxygen Not Included will go into early access sometime in December or January and then come out “when it’s ready.” Sounds like a plan to me.