Transition Gap

Sometimes gaming progress does not happen smoothly. Instead of one thing immediately leading into another, there is a sort of gap that must be leapt across. While not insurmountable, this break in progress can become a source of resistance to continuing to play a game at all.


Oh, an Iron Volcano in my Ice biome. That’s gonna be a Future-Me problem.

I am playing Oxygen Not Included (ONI) again. As I have described before, the game is deceptively easy at the start, but there are disasters looming in every detail. Some things are obvious, like your Dupes running out of Oxygen. Other things are much less so, like the fact that your Dupes just dug out a section of rock – which you told them to do – and then placed the 40°C (!!) rock in a storage container in the middle of your base, and now everything is heating up. Oops.

For the most part, it is generally easier to start a new game with a new map than it is to try and fix a disaster in progress. Plus, it’s fun seeing what goodies the RNG fairies might deliver to you. Cold biome nearby? Natural Gas Geyser ready to be tapped? Awesome.

Nevertheless, there is a specific transition gap that I inevitably reach and often quit playing rather than make the jump. In ONI, that gap is the Electrolyzer. This is a device that turns water into Oxygen and Hydrogen, and is pretty much the solution for breathable air for the rest of any ONI run.

It’s also a pain in the ass.

Up to this point, you make air by burning Algae, and it’s relatively straight-forward. With the Electrolyzer, you have to worry about piping the Hydrogen somewhere else, as otherwise it will clog the ceiling of whatever room you are in.


Pictured: mythical SPOM

In ONI-land, there is the mythical SPOM, or Self-Powering Oxygen Module. This is a solved solution for creating an effectively infinite air source with no maintenance or upkeep aside from water; a Hydrogen Power station powers the Electrolyzer, which supplies the station with fuel.

Despite there being a ready-made solution to the problem, or perhaps in spite of this fact, I typically end my ONI runs here. The SPOM is not particularly intuitive, so I basically need to copy it part-by-part from a Youtube guide. Even if I don’t create the SPOM specifically, the Electrolyzer still necessitates your base to account for mixed gases. Ignore the problem long enough, and it’ll be even more a pain in the ass later.

Finally, even with a cut-and-paste SPOM, you still need a ton of water at the ready to feed the beast. Where will all that water come from? Typically, the only long-term solution is to find a Steam Geyser somewhere on the map, but that could take a while, and possibly be nowhere close to you. If you set up a functioning plumbing system, you can technically harvest some additional H20 via that route. Of course, that will also require extensive planning of your base, and how you’ll be handling the hot water that comes out of a Water Sieve.

Good times. Or, maybe not so much.


Made the leap, not sure I’m enjoying the other side.

I have bridged the the Electrolyzer gap before. It’s not an insurmountable problem, especially considering the ubiquitous of the SPOM design in guides. It just takes a lot of mental headspace at a very specific moment in an hitherto casual colony management sim. Or rather, it is at this moment that Oxygen Not Included reveals itself to be a more complicated beast than you have imagined.

Many games have these transition gaps. The best designed among them either shorten the gap, or get you in the habit of hopping long before you reach the gap that matters. Otherwise, the devs risk players landing on their face. Or perhaps worse: practicing to make the leap, doing so, and then being bored on the other side.

Posted on February 25, 2019, in Commentary, Philosophy and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 7 Comments.

  1. Is this a game issue, or is this more about you trying to find or justify the fun in a game that no longer entertains you? It just sounds like a lot of ‘work’ for a questionable payoff.


    • Kinda both? Someone with zero knowledge would have ran into a number of game-ending disasters by this point: smothering their Dupes with CO2, running out of food, running out of Algae for Oxygen, etc. The Electrolyzer is technically just another step on the road to failure, but it’s a bit more insidious – you might notice water reserves going down, but you’re less likely to realize how painful removing Hydrogen from your base might be, plus the heat factor. It becomes a significant engineering problem.

      Well, until you set up a SPOM. Which you’ll want Wheezworts to complete, which require finding/cracking open a cold biome or two, etc. This part of the game becomes very rote, and occurs regards of what RNG might happen during world creation. I might never use Natural Gas for power (if there’s no geyser), I might try to tame a volcano depending on the location/what type it is, but the SPOM is universal. It happens every time in every game and any deviation from the design is inefficient and all-around worse. We may as well just copy & paste a blueprint on the map somewhere.

      Basically, in the early game there can be a lot of fun RNG that dictates how your base is set up and how you transition into the mid-game. But once you get there, you are doing the same thing every time (SPOM). That gets boring to me, which leads me to starting over multiple times to enjoy the more interesting early-game stuff.


      • In that case is more bad game design than an issue with you not enjoying the game as intended, which makes sense. I’m trying to think if this scenario ever happens in Rimworld, but I can’t think of one. Closest is maybe once you are established, the early game worries (food, treating people, general lack of hands to do everything) fade away, and the game kinda transitions into big project focused stuff…?


      • Yeah, Rimworld avoids pretty much all of the pitfalls. Well, almost. There is still a heavy reliance on killboxes and turrets and such to survive relentless attacks. But you can still do outlandish things like train a Boom Rat army to attack your foes, give everyone grenades, or even just make an easily raided treasure room and hope the raiders steal shit and then leave without murdering anyone.

        Meanwhile, the whole rest of the game is wide open. Steam Turbines aren’t the only rational source of power. You can make money selling crops, drugs, animals, slaves, human leather hats, or raiding settlements. RNG is also there in force ensuring that each run is different pretty much from start to finish.


  2. Except that really isn’t true.

    I think you got suckered in a bit by forum mentality and read to much praise on the merits of a SPOM.
    Yes a SPOM has many advantages, but also a huge disadvantage (it is wasteful in resources and energy). The reason it feels unintuitive is because the forum designs use fiddly optimised setups to maximize space-usage and use gas dynamics and weight of gasses to make it work. Thats not complicated per se, but certainly not obvious at the start, nor should it necessarily be.

    You can make a pretty decently working ‘spom’/electrolyser setup by just using pumps with filters to move gasses etc. The base concept of the electrolyser is pretty obvious and intuitive. Add water, use power to split the water in to Oxygen and Hydrogen(a real life process btw) and pump up the gasses and split them through a filter.
    The water usage is indeed a bit of a trap, that said, you can use a bunch of different geysers to generate water and it is not that difficult to manage, although before you have that setup, you do need to pay attention to not overconsume. Then again, without those pitfalls, the survivability aspect of the game suffers quite a bit, since the only danger in the game is overconsuming or being careless.

    A natural gas geyser and some kind of water geysers are guaranteed to spawn, so you’ll always be able to set that up.


    • You do indeed lose surplus power in a traditional SPOM setup, but I find it difficult to believe that a non-SPOM Electroylzer setup would be less wasteful. I tried building one back in the day, with a sort of bell-tower cap at the top of my base to hold the Hydrogen. That worked for a bit, but there was never enough Hydrogen to keep all the necessary pumps running, so I needed Dupes/Coal to power the Electrolyzer, and only had Hydrogen intermittently. Plus, you know, all the heat in the middle of your base.


      • A regular electrolyser creates the same amount of energy as a spom, in the spom it just burns some of it. I don’t know what you mean with not enough hydrogen, there is no real difference in power usage between a spom and what I described. Don’t put the spom in your base, or any machinery really. You might not have encountered it yet, but heat management is a thing, and insulating your base and keeping machinery outside works really well.

        Regardless, the spom does work really well, if you are fine with how it wastes certain things. My point is, you don’t need or would use a spom while learning. Using endgame optimised contained setups will always feel off and unintuitive, as you havent learned what you need to understand yet.


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