You could play COD(n) or Yet Another Cashgrabbing Sequel of whatever, or you could play one of these games. Creative, engaging, challenging and rewarding; these titles are custom selected for Engineers at heart.
All will test your ingenuity to the limits.
Steam rating – 10/10
Teleported deep into the centre of an asteroid, the only way to survive is to mine resources, create technology and build yourself a self-sustaining colony.
The catch is, you’re in a closed system governed by realistic states-of-matter physics. Everything you do will have an impact on the gases, liquids and solids that make up this environment, which in turn affect everything within it. You’re going to learn the hard way that energy cannot be created or destroyed, only transferred.
E.g. our sims breathe O2 and turn it into CO2, so we’ll need oxygen generators which need power, but that’ll need fuel and produce hydrogen and more CO2, along with heat, which all needs to go somewhere. So we’ll need to mine coal and build CO2 scrubbers to lock that CO2 into water, at the cost of more heat output into the air.
That additional heat is going to cause problems if we don’t send it somewhere, killing our crops and raising the pressure till our gas exchangers stop working. Either means the end of our colony.
We could build a liquid-cooling loop that exchanges heat from the air into a water reservoir or surrounding bedrock – both have a much higher specific-heat capacity than air – but that will only work for so long, and its efficiency will drop as the temperature delta reduces, so we’ll need to monitor it with sensors and plan ahead. Water is also precious, so maybe we should use liquified chlorine or petroleum instead.
But those substances sound like an accident waiting to happen. Could we shoot that heat into space somehow? Mining all the way to the surface will need advanced tools and a powerful ventilation system to deal with all the poisonous gases and temperature variations we’ll encounter on the way. But isn’t radiation is a low-efficiency way of moving heat? Might we need the energy contained in that heat at a later date? Hmmmm…
The challenges continue into the fields of liquids, logistics, research, mining, construction, pathogens, power grids…
Oxygen Not Included has an incredible richness that’ll continuously test your ingenuity as an engineer, and perhaps even give you cause to dust off that thermodynamics textbook…
Steam rating – 10/10
Crash-landed on an alien planet, teeming with life and abundant in resources, your only way to survive is to leverage your skills as an engineer to create technology.
Factorio and CloudNC have a lot in common – the mission of both is to build vast, autonomous and eventually self-replicating factories, with doing cool things in space as a logical next step.
You start by hand-mining raw materials to craft into machines that can do the mining for you, so you can invest resources into more advanced machines that… craft parts for you.
Next you’ll design increasingly complex copy-pastable factory modules to make exponentially growing quantities of advanced machinery and products, till eventually your vast, automated economy can build rockets and shoot them into space.
That’s no small feat – your factory will cover hundreds or even thousands of square kilometers if you get that far.
My favorite Factorio past-time is designing complex automated rail freight systems to move material around the map, often to get past my poor initial factory layout choices.
Unfriendly local wildlife, attracted to and mutated by the immense clouds of pollution, provide a barrier to unconsidered expansion and a requirement for combat assets.
This is a long journey that’ll thoroughly test your skills as an engineer, or as a team – Factorio can support hundreds of players within its infinite procedurally generated maps.
It’s hard to do justice to the incredible span of engineering creativity this game offers, but the trailer will give you a taste. Watch it!
Steam rating – 9.7/10
“Kerbal is awesome” – Elon Musk
Space is hard, and what better way to learn than by shooting your endless supply of expendable Kerbins into the void?
It’s a good thing they’re expendable too – your rockets are going to crash/explode/run out of fuel in deep space a lot before you get to grips with this game. True frustration is making it all the way to the lower atmosphere of Duna (Mars) before realising you forgot to add a parachute. Bang…
It starts simple. A single motor, fuel tank and crew module, but that won’t get you far, maybe 100,000ft straight up. But we’ve got a orbit to achieve and a whole solar system to explore!
Each mission unlocks more modules, enabling larger, more complex multi-stage rockets and spaceplanes that’ll take you further and faster. But even the most powerful boosters can only take you so far – journeying out into the deeper reaches of space will need space stations and eventually lunar bases to get us the fuel we need without needing to bring it all up into orbit in one go.
KSP has exposed some psychological differences between my co-founder Chris and I. We’ll sometimes hold a Friday KSP race to Mars, for which my rockets need to be beautiful, streamlined and logically designed like NASA intended. Chris tends to just strap boosters together with girders and pipe till they fly. I’m not bitter that he usually wins, honest..
KSP is a great way to get familiar with the totally unintuitive nature of orbital dynamics and the cruel limitations of the Rocket Equation.
Steam rating – 9/10
HOI4 is an exquisitely complex World War 2 simulation.
History is in your hands. Want to play a Communist Great Britain? Pacifist Japan? Build a new Roman Empire or the United States of South America? Sure thing buddy.
While not strictly an engineering-centric game, it makes it onto this list for being a genuine intellectual challenge that rewards training and commitment.
It’s possible to play 300 hours and still be discovering new gameplay mechanics that would have made all the difference, if only you’d known, and that’s what keeps us coming back. The early choices you make will compound and gain momentum, driving the course of history and most often leading you to curse your own short-sightedness.
In an early playthrough, I rushed nuclear weapons as the US to have them ready by 1942, but that massive early investment meant I couldn’t afford the research or materiel factories to provide a meaningful lend-lease to the economically weak UK or Russia, or participate in the North African campaign against Rommel.
By 1941 Britain had been booted out of Africa, and the whole Mediterranean by 1942, meanwhile Russia had capitulated to Germany and the Empire of Japan. In addition, a failure to keep an eye on my political situation at home led to a 1944 communist revolution, while newly conquered Europe turned democratic before declaring a war of liberation on me. What!?
Many will find this one totally overwhelming, and that’s before we get into the alternate history expansions, or community mods like Black Ice which “tends to frighten casual players and demands a serious and mature strategy gamer’s attention.” Gosh.
HOI4 is ever so slightly let down by the AI, which will start to get too predictable as you hit the 200hr mark, so this is one best played with friends once you’re feeling competent. Despite this minor failing, it’s an absolutely incredible game that Paradox Studios is continually improving. Highly recommended.