Holding My Breath for ‘Oxygen Not Included’

The promo picture for "Oxygen Not Included" showing a number of duplicants on a small asteroid carrying tools.
Image: Klei

The recent Klei Steam sale reminded me of something I got to see at PAX West: a demo of Klei’s upcoming game Oxygen Not Included. I’m really excited for this one.

Depending on how you like to pigeon-hole your games, you might call Oxygen Not Included a colony management sim or a world-builder. You’re responsible for leading colonists as they tunnel out and render an asteroid habitable. I say “leading” because you don’t have direct control over the characters. Instead, you create tasks, asking for parts of the asteroid to be mined, equipment to be constructed, or even for human waste to be cleaned up, and your colonists will do the work when they can. If they’re healthy and have the equipment they need, they’ll likely get on the task right away. But if they’re tired, sick, hungry, or if the environment is unhealthy for them, they may not follow your direction.

An unhappy duplicant in Oxygen Not Included, probably due to being too hot. He is standing between two machines that have fire coming out of them and he appears to be sweating and crying.
This guy doesn’t look happy in his work. Image: Klei

Speaking of unhealthy environments, Oxygen Not Included is setting out to simulate “absolutely everything” it can about the reality of living inside of an asteroid. Heat builds up, radiating outward from sources, such as machinery. Carbon dioxide will sink to the lower levels of your asteroid, creating places your colonists can’t work in for too long. Calorie expenditures are tracked and vary depending on what your colonists are doing. Even human waste has to go somewhere, and when left on the floors, can make your colonists sick.

A heat map showing the hot spots and movement of heat, with hotter areas being red, overlaid on the ant farm map of Oxygen Not Included.
This heat map shows where the heat is being generated and where it is spreading. Image: Klei

In fact, your colonists are actually duplicants, having been cloned into existence. That’s a good thing, because from what I saw in the demo, they’re going to die. Overheating, starvation, lack of oxygen: life inside of an asteroid is hard. And all of that can happen without even exploring too deeply, where radiation and perhaps even alien life await. Duplicants also have personality traits that affect how they’ll learn, how skilled they are, and how they perform under pressure.

The ant-farm view of a thriving colony in 'Oxygen Not Included'.
The colony is shown from an ant-farm view, and Klei has created a beautiful art style that fits the game perfectly. This picture lines up with the earlier heat map. Image: Klei

During my demo, I was shown how colonists could start creating a habitable space, producing electricity, bathroom facilities, and generating oxygen. All of these activities came with tradeoffs, specifically, the generation of carbon dioxide, heat, and human waste. While those were problems to be managed early in the game, as you progress they become assets that your colonists can harness. For example, excess heat can be directed to melt ice, and human waste can be used as fertilizer. Constructing a healthy colony will mean making the most of every resource at your disposal.

If you want to see more, you can! Klei has posted a video of them playing deeply into the same demo I saw at PAX. Check it out for more details and make sure to notice the great audio accompanying the game!

When can you get it? Around September Klei said they were hoping for early access “in a few months.” That makes me hopeful we can give Oxygen Not Included a try over the holidays. If you’re excited too, make sure to add it to your Steam wishlist! I’ll be back with more info once I can get my hands on it.

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