Improvements to the Dropper aka Pipette tool (Q)

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Xiphoris
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Improvements to the Dropper aka Pipette tool (Q)

Post by Xiphoris »

Background: As of Factorio 0.15, you can mouse over an item and press "Q" to select that item for placement from your inventory. It's like the dropper or pipette tool used in paint programs for selecting colors, but for Factorio buildings. (This feature was originally provided by a mod, and is now in the base game.)

Problem: You can't use Q to select an item that's not in your inventory. If you don't have the item, pressing Q does nothing.

Feature Request #1: The Dropper tool (Q) should allow you to select items not in your inventory. When you do this, the Dropper should place blueprints instead. When you press Q, if you don't have the selected item, then the mouse cursor should enter a mode where it's as if you were placing down a single-item blueprint of the selected item.

This would be a really convenient base-building quality of life (QoL) improvement: it would enable players to order their construction robots to build and extend base facilities without having to carry those items personally. Players would be free to carry many fewer items in their inventory while doing construction within a robotport network.

Feature Request #2: When a player has just placed the last item from their inventory, the game should switch automatically to placing blueprints of that item. Perhaps this should always happen, or perhaps it should happen only when using the Dropper tool. This is a QoL improvement because it avoids disrupting the player's "flow" while designing their factory. Otherwise, running out of an item becomes an interruption, which requires the player to replenish that item, or pick up one of the items they just placed in order to put down blueprints of it.

Feature #3: Allow the Dropper to select a blueprint of multiple buildings using click-and-drag. Similar to capturing a regular blueprint, the idea is to extend the Dropper tool (Q) to support clicking-and-dragging a selection rectangle around a collection of buildings. After completing the selection, a temporary blueprint of that area is loaded into the cursor. I'm calling this Dropper Instant Blueprints.

This is a QoL change that makes it simple for players to select an area of their base and copy it or move it. Dropper Instant Blueprints makes it worthwhile to use blueprints even for "one-off" activities like moving a facility in your base from one place to another. For example, if I've realized that I built my early-game science labs in the wrong place, then I can quickly select them all, place down their blueprint somewhere else, and deconstruct the original. There are lots of times when I'd like to use blueprints for one-time activities like this, where it doesn't feel worthwhile to create a permanent blueprint, because I'll probably never use it again. Keeping these sorts of blueprints in a book feels pointless, and creating and then immediately destroying a blueprint feels kludgy and annoying. (And how do you destroy a blueprint again?)

Dropper Instant Blueprints avoid that friction and make it easier to use blueprints, especially at small scales or for one-off needs -- for example, you might quickly select a 2x2 rectangle of mining drills when tiling them over an ore patch; or you might select 1x2 or 2x2 big power poles at maximum distance to lay down a nice grid.

Even for permanent recurring structures, instant blueprints will improve upon the experience of blueprint books in many situations. For example, imagine that you need to extend your 2-, 4- or 8-wide belt bus. With Dropper instant blueprints, you can select a section of your bus and just "paint" along a line to extend it. It will select the correct belt type and width automatically. Or, imagine that you need to move a belt balancer from one place to another: just select it with the Dropper, create a copy, and deconstruct the original. These kinds of routine construction tasks will be faster and easier using the Dropper, since you can trivially copy any design that you see, instead of having to hunt for the correct blueprint within your blueprint book, to select the correct belt type (yellow/red/blue), correct bus width (2-, 4-, 8- ), or correct belt balancer (NxM). Comprehensive blueprint books will still be helpful, but players won't have to consult them or search through them nearly as often.

All in all, I see this "Dropper instant blueprint" feature being useful in a wide variety of situations. If implemented, I suspect that it may become the most common way that players use blueprints.

Feature #4: Change the Dropper to be a distinct cursor mode. Supporting Feature #3 will require some change to the Dropper to support both single- and multi-item selection. Rather than having the Dropper instantly select a building upon pressing Q, I propose exposing the Dropper as a distinct cursor mode. When you press Q, the mouse cursor should change to a dropper icon (like how paint programs work). Then, with the dropper icon, the player can either directly click on a single building to clone it (as in Feature #1), or can click-and-drag to select an area (as in Feature #3).

To make it easier for players to discover the Dropper, perhaps it should be given a dedicated place in the UI, like in the toolbar. There could be a small dropper icon in the toolbar that, when the player clicks it, switches their cursor into this mode. Along with the other features described above, this will facilitate players discovering the dropper, as well as players discovering blueprints.

Feature #5: Allow the player to create actual blueprints of selections made using the Dropper. When the player has selected a single building or group of buildings using the Dropper, provide a key that the player can press to quick-create a blueprint from the selection. Perhaps the "B" key could have this behavior when in the Dropper is active. Pressing this button would directly take you to the window where you assign a title to a blueprint, and if the player clicks the checkmark, then a permanent blueprint of their selection is added to their inventory..

This feature gives players a shortcut way to create blueprints that's well-integrated with the Dropper experience for cloning parts of the base. Regular use of the Dropper is like creating temporary blueprints that are destroyed as soon as the cursor selection changes; so it makes sense to provide a way to create permanent blueprints too. Players can quickly select an area, place several blueprint copies of it, and then finally decide, "Hmmm, maybe this is useful. I should keep a permanent blueprint of it", and press B to do that.
Last edited by Xiphoris on Thu Jul 13, 2017 9:43 am, edited 3 times in total.

IronCartographer
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Re: Improvements to the Dropper tool (Q)

Post by IronCartographer »

Interesting and useful suggestions. My only concern is for #2, switching automatically to blueprints when you run out of items could confuse new players. This behavior should probably be disabled by default, but available in the options menu.

As for #5, it would make a lot of sense for hitting B while in the Pipette (Dropper) Blueprint mode to put the blueprint in the cursor, ready to place into the blueprint library. That said, it may happen that all blueprints will be virtual instead of real items in the future, opening the possibility for an even more streamlined solution.

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Re: Improvements to the Dropper tool (Q)

Post by Xiphoris »

Thanks for the feedback! I agree that #2 could be confusing to players who are not expecting it. Gating it behind an option checkbox could be reasonable.

Honestly, #2 is less valuable a feature if the game supports #1, since a player who runs out of an item can easily use the Dropper tool to continue placing ghosts. However, I left the suggestion in for completeness, as part of a spectrum of potential improvements. We could re-evaluate whether #2 is valuable after seeing how the others feel within the game.

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Re: Improvements to the Dropper tool (Q)

Post by British_Petroleum »

i use the pipette tool religiously. It was one of my favourite mods, was happy to see it in vanilla. I like these suggestions. The devs talked about being able to ghost place items that aren't in your inventory in a recent friday fun facts, so i suspect they'll implement this soon.

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Re: Improvements to the Dropper aka Pipette tool (Q)

Post by Twinsen »

Solid suggestions and comments.
#1 and #2 are planned.

#3 made me realize that 80% of the time i use blueprints for simple copy paste. So I'm giving this some serious consideration.
I imagine it as a power-user-shortcut.
Tapping Q would work the same way, holding Q and dragging the mouse would select an area. This way there is no need for #4 which is a rather significant change.
It's still a bit iffy since the Pipette tool will always work with items when possible, but in this case it would be used to build only groups of ghosts(building items would be too overpowered), making it a bit unintuitive.


#5 is interesting but I would not fragment the way we create blueprints.

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Re: Improvements to the Dropper aka Pipette tool (Q)

Post by Nexela »

Until Factorio Adds these features the Picker Extended mod does most all of what you are asking for.

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Re: Improvements to the Dropper aka Pipette tool (Q)

Post by Xiphoris »

Twinsen, thanks for reviewing this and getting back to me! I really appreciate that the Factorio dev team reads and responds to ideas like this.

In the meantime, I'll explore what kind of features are available through mods like Picker Extended. I may try to prototype some of the concepts described above if I'm able, as well.

I've briefly installed and experimented with Picker Extended. Its Simple Blueprint feature works similarly to what I'm looking for with single-item blueprints. The most compelling change to the Pipette/Dropper tool will be the quick creation of temporary multi-item blueprints -- blueprints of an area that you can quickly create with a keypress, and that disappear once you clear your mouse cursor.

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Re: Improvements to the Dropper aka Pipette tool (Q)

Post by Odhrean »

I use the Picker Extended mod (the extended Q-Functions of it) for some time now and can't live without it any more.
+1 if this will be integrated into the base game.
Xiphoris wrote:The most compelling change to the Pipette/Dropper tool will be the quick creation of temporary multi-item blueprints -- blueprints of an area that you can quickly create with a keypress, and that disappear once you clear your mouse cursor.
For this there is also a mod which I use daily: Cut and paste
The Cut and paste selection Tools are nicely integrated into the Picker Extend "Picker additional Planners" Menu. Just hit SHIFT+B and select the needed tool and don't waste a slot for this items.

As a side note I also use the "Picker Dollies" from Picker Extend mod very much. It is extremly helpful to move entities with the cursor-buttons especially if they are combinators with many wires on it.
I would love if this function will be integrated into the base game aswell :D

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