TL;DRAn integrated suggestion, consisting of two distinct parts: 1) a new item that modifies belt gameplay, 2) new buildings that satisfy a niche role in transporting materials and items.
What ?What do factories do? They package stuff. Some factories even package stuff to move it around inside the factory, or between different production plants. Really friggin' huge factories even sometimes use bundles of underground tunnels with conveyors to link distant parts of a factory. Why can’t Factorio have this too?
The package crate
At the core of this idea, is to introduce the package crate. The crate in-and-of-itself is a complete idea, but it gets better. Package crates would come in seperate tiers/varieties - each requiring unique materials to build.
- -Wooden packing crate: capable of containing 8 stacks of items; subterranean speed of transfer (SSoT) is 100% (← will make sense in a bit, just keep reading); costs 2 wood to produce
-Steel packing crate: 24 item stacks; 100% SSoT; costs 2 Steel plate
-Plastic packing crate: 16 item stacks; 140% SSoT; costs 2 Plastic bar
-Advanced packing crate: 32 item stacks; 180% SSoT; costs 1 Low density structure OR 2 plastic bars and 1 Advanced circuit
- -Assembling machine 1: can load crates with one to two types of items
-Assembling machine 2: can load crates with one to four types of items
-Assembling machine 3: can load crates with one to six types of items
The next part of this suggestion are Package terminals, and Package depots. This is the good stuff.
A crate’s journey
Once items have been packed nice and cozy into crates, crates of different types and contents can ride belts into 5x5 structures called Package terminals. I imagine each terminal has 8 input/output outlets; with two evenly dispersed on each of the four sides (these can be configured in the structure’s settings). These lanes act as Underground belts, except they intake, or output crates. Once a crate has entered the Package terminal, it is slotted into one of 40 storage slots within the terminal. Here, it will be held until another terminal requests said item via player settings for other terminals (selectable request/output in structure options).
Terminals transport crates via unseen (virtual) underground tunnels to any other terminal, or Package depots (3x3 structure). These depots act as intermediate nodes for the Subterranean Logistics network, and cannot be used to load/unload crates… think of them being like electrical poles for boosting network range.
However, there is a catch to this entire system (as to prevent this from becoming an item teleportation scheme). Unseen from above ground are the service routes running between nodes. These are the limited underground tunnels that go between terminals and depots alike. Package terminals are limited to four proximate linkages (other buildings it can connect to). Each linkage consists of 4 simultaneous conveyor lanes (2 outbound, 2 inbound); each with a 50 items per game-second throughput. Package depots, on the other hand, can only utilize two (so they are essentially range boosters; without the materials/space cost of placing another terminal… but without loading utility).
Like Roboports, terminals and depots have a range in which they need to be placed to reach out to other structures. I imagine this range somewhere between 80 and 160 tiles.
Summary: Buildings that act as glorified underground belts, but with omnidirectional nodes to supplement utility.
Why ?Chests take up 1 tile, and so do belts. Why should belts be limited to carrying so little, when anyone can rationalize: put thing in container, put container on belt? Players should at least have packaging crates as an option.
Lots of people see bots as cheating, but in many ways belts are antiquated by the utility afforded by out little mechanical buddies. This underground package system, although complicated, is a hybrid of both belts and bot logistics. I’m not under the impression that this is a complete/final idea. Some details have to be polished out:
- -Is there a method to automate package addressing via circuit? Also, how will this interact with circuits?
-Should Assemblers + packages really be used, or just terminal transport with raw item input?
-Should crates with same contents be stackable, or should crates remain single items?
-Should depots be eliminated as a supplement, with just terminals being implemented?
-Should robots be able to hitch rides inside crates?
-Should the Underground inlets be kept, or should inserters be used for item input/output in terminals instead (much like other buildings)?
-Should this system be mid, or late game; will things like wooden crates be an early unlock for use in isolation until logistics systems tech is unlocked?
-What is a good number of internal storage slots for both terminals and depots?
-What is an appropriate energy consumption (flat, or per crate)? Will this method beat out trains/bots for energy use at similar distances, or should it be inferior?
-What is the balance for distance/material costs (as to be scaled with alternative logistics methods, and options already in the game)?
-What is the construction costs of both terminals and depots?