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Refining Resources

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"Technological advance is an inherently iterative process. One does not simply take sand from the beach and produce a Dataprobe. We use crude tools to fashion better tools, and then our better tools to fashion more precise tools, and so on. Each minor refinement is a step in the process, and all of the steps must be taken. "
Chairman Sheng-ji Yang "Looking God in the Eye" , Sid Meierís Alpha Centauri, (itself not a game that follows the actual trope)

The bigger and more complicated brother of You Require More Vespene Gas. In a game with this trope there will probably be a lot of resources... Probably some that are "basic" and some that are more "advanced", the "basic" resources will then be used to create the "advanced" ones, which are usually needed for more advanced units or a considerable economic boost.


  • Victoria: An Empire Under the Sun has 47 different types of resources. A lot of the basic ones are required to create the more advanced ones. (culminating in something like 4-5 steps for the most "high tech" stuff like Radios and Tanks) Due to the highly complex market mechanic, and to represent the situation in the time-period depicted, it's not always most profitable to immediately produce the high-tech stuff though, since demand for basic resources like lumber and Iron will be very high at the beginning of the game.
    • Its sequel retains this system, albeit with a smoother market simulation. The "POP Demand Mod" for this game adds even more resources, as well as far more ways to produce them.
  • At least the older The Settlers games, 1 to 4 runs on this trope, first games added complexity by requiring roads to connect workshops. The player has to produce long chains of resources, and every stage needs special buildings and special tools which require special resources to be made. The entire chain reaches its apex in military and religious production.
  • Imperialism, similar to Victoria above had resources that needed to be gathered, then in factories refined to better stuff.
  • Dwarf Fortress
    • Let's assume a long-winded example: Pig Tail/Rope Reed Seeds (Farm plot) → Pig Tail/Rope Reed (Farmer's Workshop) → Thread (Loom) → Cloth (Clothier's Workshop) → Bag; Wood (Wood Furnace) → Ash (Ashery) → Potash (Kiln) → Pearlash; Wood (Wood Furnace) → Charcoal; Bag (Glass Furnace) → Sand-filled Bag; Sand-filled Bag, Pearlash, Charcoal (Glass Furnace) → Clear Glass.
    • And that's ignoring the complex process to create the axe used to cut the tree to get the wood in the first place (requiring coke (made from lignite); an anvil (made from iron and coke); and a metal bar. All these have to be dug up with picks (made in the same process as axes), and the metal has to be refined at a smelter. Yikes. Needless to say, a pick, an anvil, and axe rank very high on what resources to bring with you when you start a new fortress.
    • Most examples are somewhat less extreme, however. Nearly all the basic metals are relatively simple: Wood (Wood Furnace) → Charcoal, Charcoal and Ore (Smelter) → Metal bars, Metal bars and Charcoal (Forge) → Metal weapons, tools, furniture etc. And you can leave out the charcoal entirely if you have access to a handy magma vent, though that has its own logistical issues. It's also possible to trade for any resources you can't produce yourself; cloth in particular is easier to import if you use a lot of it.
  • In Minecraft, the Cake has one of the most complicated crafting procedures in the game. The end result is a food item that can almost fully heal you. It requires 3 buckets of milk, 2 sugar, 1 egg and 3 wheat. While some ingredients are, although somewhat uncommon, relatively simple to obtain (i.e. eggs are laid by chickens, sugar is refined at the workbench from sugar cane, which grows near water), others are a bit more complex:
    • Wheat - Grown using dirt, a source of water, a hoe, and seeds. The last one is initially obtained by smashing tall grass.
    • Milk - Mine 9 pieces of iron ore with a stone pickaxe, smelt them in a furnace with a fuel source (coal, wood) to get 9 iron ingots, craft them into 3 buckets at a workbench, then finally find some cows to obtain 3 buckets of milk.
    • Keep in mind that these steps assume you start with nothing, therefore it does not include the steps taken to gather the materials and craft the prerequisite tools.
    • Turned Up to Eleven with certain mods. Industrialcraft is particularly brutal here. Want the top-tier energy storage device? Here's how you do it: Extract rubber from sticky resin, create wire with copper ingots, combine the rubber and the wire to make insulated wires. Make four of those. Now take 4 diamonds and surround them with redstone to make energy crystals, put 8 iron through the furnace again to make it refined iron. Use the 8 iron to craft a machine block, then put the crystals and the insulated wires around the machine block to make the second-tier energy storage device. Now combine 6 insulated copper wire, 1 refined iron, and 2 redstone to make a basic circuit. Make 13 of those. Add 4 redstone, 2 glowstone dust, and 2 lapis lazuli to one of the circuits to make an advanced circuit. Make one of the aforementioned machine blocks again, then craft 3 refined iron, 3 bronze, and 3 tin to make two mixed metal ingots, then put them into a compressor to make alloy. Take 16 coal dust, craft that into 4 carbon fibers, make that into 2 carbon mesh plates. Combine the machine block, the alloy, and the plates to make an advanced machine block. Now, make 6 more of the previously-mentioned energy crystals, then combine 6 lapis lazuli and 2 of the basic circuits on each energy crystal to make it a lapotron crystal. Combine your 6 lapotron crystals, advanced machine, and advanced circuit with your second-tier storage device to make the top-tier energy storage. If your eyes went cross-eyed reading this, you probably shouldn't play this mod. This, of course, doesn't count all of the stuff you need beforehand, like macerators and compressors and a power supply worthy of this top-tier storage.
  • A Kingdom For Keflings has the basic resources - wood, stone, etc. These can be delivered to certain buildings, where they are converted to improved resources - planks, cut stone, etc. Different building components require different types of resources.
  • Kingdom Hearts II has a little of this: towards the endgame, you can now regularly battle Nobodies, which drop Dusk- and Twilight-type synthesis materials. These can then be used to synthesize Mythril materials, which before that point are only in limited supply from treasure chests yet are needed for many (if not most/all) other synthesis items.
  • To make Depleted Grimacite items in Kingdom of Loathing, you first need to smith a Chunk of Depleted Grimacite with the Meat-smithing hammer you've been using to make a Depleted Grimacite Hammer.
  • Industry Giant is nothing but this, while food resources can be sold immediately, to make any refined products, you first need to build the raw material industry from two different groups, then refine the good to a semi-usable item and then again to make the final product.
  • Practically everything in the Cultures series is treated as a resource, and most resources can be refined at least three times (I.E.: quarrystone→masonry→marble.)
  • In the original Capitalism you need so many expensive resources that full vertical integration of car or consumer electronics production chains is halfway impossible. As an example, if you want to own the chain of production from raw resources to a car, you need to start with an iron mine, an aluminum mine, and a cattle farm. You'll need factories to process the raw iron into steel, the aluminum into aluminum sheets, and the cows into leather. Then more processing to turn the steel into engines and the aluminum into car bodies. Then a third factory to turn all three into cars. Oh, what's that? Cars have computers and electronics now? Guess you're going to need to invest in a silicon mine to harvest silicon to turn into computer chips.
  • Stronghold and its sequels. To make bread you need a wheat farm to grow the wheat, a mill to turn the wheat into flour, and a baker to turn the flour into bread. Other resources also have their own chains. The resources need to be stored at every stage and can be bought or sold at the market at any stage as well.
    • There are shorter processes, such as meat (hunters kill wild deer, turn them into meat automatically), but to keep happiness up while simultaneously raising the money you're going to need for your army, you'll need all four food groups (hunter → meat, cow farm → cheese [takes longer], orchard → apples [longer still], wheat farm → mill → baker → bread [longest]). And some maps prevent you from gather specific food groups.
  • Deadlock has quite a number of resources, including things like art (which has an effect on settlement morale). In addition, basic construction resources can be further refined (iron into steel and endurium into triidium). Although not a required step, refining makes more efficient use of your resources and makes shipping them to other settlements cheaper.
  • EVE Online. Dear god, EVE. A list of all the various production processes would be a page of its own. Things are only going to get worse when Planetary Interaction goes live...
    • You get what you ask for. Brace yourself. EVE Online's production system provides three basic modes of production, and then combines them into a long production chain that may require up to five to six steps, depending on the end product. Of course, the maker also has to haul resources and end products now and then either by oneself or by commissioning courier contracts. Minerals don't have feet (or in EVE, engines), y'know.
    • Gathering. You gather the raw materials required for intermediary/end products. Activities such as Mining(basic minerals), Moon Mining(moon minerals), Gas Harvresting(Booster/Wormhole Gas), Salvaging(Rig components), Planetary Interaction fall into this category. This is often delegated to specialized miners/gatherers so that the guys running the production chain can concentrate on factory operation and logistics.
    • Assembly. You gather basic resources and assemble them into an intermediate/end product. The assembly process requires a blueprint of the product, which may be an original(infinite uses) or copy(expires after a certain amount of uses). Assembled products can often be disassembled into component parts. The assembly process can be conducted both in stations and mobile starbases(POS).
    • Reaction. You put the basic resources into a reaction facility and receive an intermediary product. Reaction can only be done in systems with security rating of less than 0.3, making the reaction process either a risky business(for small scale manufacturers) or a profitable, monopolized industry(for large alliances).
      • Tech 1 ships/modules: Gathering(Mining) → Assembly. (Basic Minerals + Tech 1 Blueprints → End products).
      • Rigs: Gathering(Salvaging) → Assembly(Salvaged components → Rigs).
      • Mobile Starbases and Facilities: Gathering(PI) → Assembly(PI) * 4 → Assembly(P4 components → End product).
      • Boosters(Combat Medication): Gathering(Gas Harvesting, PI) → Reaction(Gas + Base Materials → Raw Booster) → Reaction(Raw Booster + Catalyst → Stronger Raw Booster + Catalyst)...(Repeat up to three times, depending on target potency) → Assembly(Raw Booster + Megacyte + Blueprint → Usable Booster).
      • Tech 2 ships/modules: Gathering(Mining, Moon Mining) → Simple Reaction(Moon Minerals → Tier 1 Moon Materials) → Complex Reaction(Tier 1 Moon Materials → Tier 2 Moon Materials) → Assembly(Tier 2 Moon Materials → Tech 2 Components) → Assembly(Tech 2 Components + Tech 2 Blueprint + Tech 1 base module/ship → Tech 2 module/ship).
      • Tech 3 ships: Gathering(Mining, Gas Harvesting, Salvaging) → Reaction(Wormhole Materials → Hybrid Polymers) → Assembly(Hybrid Polymers + Wormhole Salvage → Tech 3 Components) → Assembly(Tech 3 Components + Tech 3 Blueprints → T3 Subsystems/Ship hulls) → Assembly(T3 Subsystems + Ship Hull → Functional T3 ship).
      • Capital Ships: Gathering(Mining) → Assembly(Basic Minerals → Capital Ship Components) → Assembly(Capital Ship Components → Capital Ship). (Process looks simple, but requires THE most hauling effort. Each capital component takes about 2000 times more space than regular modules, and you need more than a hundred of them to make the smallest fighter carrier. Before you start the assembly you also need the blueprints for the components, about twenty sets per race.)
      • ... That's about it.
  • Outpost 2 had a fairly realistic version: mines produce ore, which must be hauled by truck to a smelter to be refined into metals, which are then used to build everything.
  • Anno Domini. The iron cycle is rather similar to the Outpost example, with wood or charcoal added for fuel. Alcohol can be made directly from wine or with a still from sugar. Food can be made from fish, deer, cows (with a butcher) or grain (with a windmill and then a baker). And so on. There's some nice diagrams in the manual.
  • Achron has a strange variant of this trope. All three factions can convert QP (Quark-gluon Plasma) into LC (Liquid Crystal), which is tantamount to converting the more "advanced" / rare resource into the more "basic" / common one... inefficiently to boot. This has less to do with game balance and more to do with realism, since it stands to reason that a player should be able to convert a more refined version of a resource into a less-refined variant in case of an emergency.
  • In Sid Meier's Colonization, the economy is built on this trope. In theory you could just sell raw materials to and buy manufactured goods from Europe, but it's much more beneficial in the long term to build your own industrial base in your colonies, especially considering you'll have to fight your mother country in the endgame. Of course, advanced resources mostly are still traded away, but for a greater profit. The only refinements used up by your own colonies are Lumber → Hammers , Ore → Tools Muskets , and Food Horses .
  • The Hearts of Iron games require refining of crude oil into refined fuel. Metal, rare materials, and energy are also "refined" by your industrial capacity into supplies, based on how much of the IC is allocated to producing that resource.
  • Rock Raiders features the Ore Refinery, which uses Ore to create Building Studs, a building material which substitutes for Ore in construction and is valued at five Ore per Stud. Upgrading the Ore Refinery allows Building Studs to be generated from fewer and fewer Ore pieces, significantly increasing their value in construction.
  • Knights and Merchants plays it relatively straight mostly, up to the point you realise your warriors are also some kind of resource. It may not be easily seen by beginner players because they are supplied with some initial resources though. For example, getting an axe chevalier requires a horse, an axe, a leather armor, a wooden shield and a recruit. Axes and shields are made of wood, which is made of logs. In order to get a leather armor, you need a piece of leather, which you get when you kill a pig. In order to get pigs and horses, you need wheat farms. Finally, if you want to get the recruit, you need to pay him in gold, which is made of gold ore being burnt with carbon. Every conversion presented here requires separate building and worker, which you need to build or hire...
  • City-Building Series:
    • A key feature of Pharaoh, which has a large number of different resources representing both raw and processed materials; which ones you collect/export and which you must import depends on the local natural resources of the map you're playing. The processed goods are the ones your citizens want, of course, and each one has a specific industrial building dedicated to producing it from the appropriate raw material. It's also possible (and recommended by the game) to make a profitable industry out of Refining Resources; importing flax, building weavers and exporting linen, for example.
    • Zeus: Master of Olympus follows in the same vein with a Greek flavor: copper is mined to make weapons and statues, wood is needed to make ships, chariots and build temples, etc.
    • Emperor: Rise of the Middle Kingdom's resources actually evolve along with the timeline: at first tax records are kept on wooden slats, but once paper is invented (made from hemp) that's all they'll use. Weapons are made from copper, then iron, then steel (requires wood and iron).
  • The Lord of the Rings Online has 9 different crafting trees. Any individual character is able to do three of these things, but you don't get to pick them directly... instead, you choose a profession, which gives you a particular set of three. Most craft trees are at least somewhat dependent on another one, and it's very likely that at least one of yours will require either raw materials you can't harvest yourself or semi-processed materials that you can't process yourself or both. You may also be able to partially process materials that you then can't use. On top of this most of the crafting skills have "guilds"; progress in the guild allows you to use guild recipes to create some items in bulk lots or make items that non-guild crafters simply can't make at all. You can only be in one guild at a time, even if you have two skills for which there's a guild, and while you can switch guilds you start over at the bottom level of guild reputation each time you do so.
    • All the professions include at least one skill you can't use without getting partially-processed materials from another character and/or at least one skill that produces partially-processed materials you can't use. It takes at least four characters to make a self-sufficient cooperative, and even that will still leave you unable to produce some of the guild items (you need seven characters to cover all the guilds).
  • Tropico: basic resource buildings like farms and mines allow you to collect food, wood, or metals. Building an industrial factory allows you to turn those resources into industrial goods, which sell for much more than the base material but require more educated workers and a steady supply of the raw resource and produce more pollution than the resource-gathering building.
    • From Tropico 4 on you can import those raw materials from elsewhere, refine them, and sell them at a profit.
  • In the X-Universe series, there are three basic resources - foods, ores, and energy. All resources require energy to be produced and refined. For example, to produce a Flail Barrage Missile in a Flail missile fab, you need to set up two mines - one on a silicon asteroid, another on an ore asteroid, a basic bio factory (i.e. a Chelt Aquarium), a foodstuff production factory to refine the bio into food or oil (i.e Rastar Refinery), and then finally, a Solar Power Plant to produce Energy Cells to power the complex, but (non-NPC) solar power plants require Crystals, which on their own require Silicon, Energy, and foodstuffs. Creating a self-sufficient space station capable of producing all of the resources required for the Player Headquarters ship production facilities is one of the end-game goals for many players.
  • Factorio tasks the player with building a massive factory to set up defenses for a colonization fleet, using only local materials. All building materials are refined from ores and other useful materials; iron, copper, coal, stone, wood, and crude oil. Ores need to be processed into plate metal, which can then be used for a variety of construction tasks. The electrical engine unit for logistics drones, for example, require a standard engine unit (built from steel refined from iron, iron pipes, and iron gears), lubrication (refined from heavy oil), and circuit boards (using copper wires and iron plates). Factories often have enormous furnace areas for processing ore shipped in via train from distance mines.
    • Naturally taken further, and then even further, in mods for the game, because there's always someone who isn't satisfied with the level of detail in the refining and production processes.
  • In Space Engineers you must mine the basic minerals from asteroids, and then process them in the refinery to create Iron Ingots, Silicon Waffers, etc. From there, only 1 resource can be directly used (Uranium ingots as fuel for the Nuclear Reactors) and all the other resources must go to an assembler where they will be processed into either tools, weapons and ammunition (which can be used directly) or block components like the "Computer components" or "Bulletproof Glass". And then, these parts must be used to create the actual ship blocks, like the reactors, turrets, or the refineries/assemblers themselves, which takes quite a lot of time (As an example, building a nuclear reactor can take up to 20 minutes running back and forth, since it requires lots of heavy components. For one, it requires 1200 Reactor Components and the player can only hold 40 at a time, and thats only if he drops everything else in inventroy). Because of this players spend a big chunk of the beginning of a game trying to accelerate this process as much as possible (by building mining ships, conveyor systems, ships equiped to build other ships, etc).
  • Don't Starve has grass, logs, reeds, and rocks, which can be refined into rope, boards, papyrus (paper), and cut stone respectively using a Science Machine or Alchemy Engine. The Prestihatitator and Shadow Manipulator allow blue and red gems to be refined into purple gems and dark flower petals to be refined into nightmare fuel.
  • In Fallout 4, the player never seems to have as much adhesive as they need, since it's used in almost every armor and weapon upgrade. Enterprising players will find that corn, mutfruit, tatos, and purified water can be refined into vegetable starch, which can then be refined into adhesive. The vegetables can all be grown, whereas purified water can itself be refined from dirty water.
  • In From the Depths, ship components are made from resources that are simply pulled right out of the ocean in resource zones, though fuel, ammunition, and repair spare parts must be fabricated. Both ammo and spare parts are generated by simple components that turn metal into ammo and scrap into spare parts. Oil to fuel is more involved, requiring a refinery which can be augmented with catalysts and cokers, and requires gas vents to prevent a buildup of dangerous explosive gas.
  • In Colobot, titanium ore needs to be refined into titanium blocks before it can be used for building. Also, uranium ore can be refined into atomic energy cells.
  • Zombidle's Item Crafting system relies on villager ghosts, which can be picked up once you get the right item and are used in the highest-level items such as shards, which multiplying DPS or money gained by 3. Three ghost items can be refined into a more concentrated one (ghost->ectoplasm->ectoplasm ball->ectoplasm cube->ectoplasm prism), for a total of 81 ghosts and 1 hour per item. This took a ridiculously long time before upgrades were added that allowed creating multiple items at once and harvesting several ghosts per villager.
  • Dungeons Of Dredmor uses this with its Item Crafting system. For example, copper and zinc ingots can be smelted out of chunks of their respective ores, then smelted together into brass. The brass is then crafted into Brass Mechanisms, which are either used as-is or used to make more advanced components like Spring-loaded Power Cores for use in high-end Clock Punk equipment.