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TIGSource ForumsDeveloperDesignDesigning for a sense of wonder and discovery
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« on: October 21, 2018, 09:40:35 PM »

For a very long time i've wished to create a game with the ability to instill a sense of cientific discovery.
I have an almost half completed computer science grad course and i'm currently a chemistry undergrad, wich inpact very much in view of what in the world i'd like to understand and get to know. (And i also have a thecnical degree in chemistry from high school)

In general discovering how a game mechanic interact with the game's world is a thing that grabs my attention a lot into games. I think that one of the most memorable examples for me was with Magika, learning how to combine the different elements and seeing their effects upon the world.

I've tried to formulate ideas time and time again and i can never end up coming with something tangible. Mostly my mind focuses in the idea of creating different substances and items and interacting with them to discover their properties. Something like a alchemy setting for the game.

My last attempts were focused in trying to create more of a text-adventure tipe of deal like  Hadean Lands, but instead of everything just requiring set lists of spells and ingredients I would like the items having emergent properties from some basical qualities. For that i'd though of maybe using some atributes as mathematical functions or something in that way.

Recently i've been trying to look through a roguelike kind of view, simulating a world with some phisical properties for entities and adding a element of randomness to the alchemical compounds. For the emergent properties i've been thinking about maybe creating a ontology, in OWL or just creating something based on description logics, to create a domain, specifying what are the elements, compounds, what kinds of interactions, etc... and in the end just randomly generating elements and theirs connections. But i cant think much of some fun effects that could arise from the alchemy in a also emergent way and a gameplay arch to compel the player to discover and experiment new things.

How would you try to tackle the issue of creating a game that instills a sense of cientific discovery on the player?
Do you know of any games that try to tackle some similar issue?
Have any thoughs on my attempts? Or just on the topic in general?

I really would love to talk with other minds about this topic.
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« Reply #1 on: October 21, 2018, 10:26:27 PM »

Difficult. I also aimed for this "Sense of Wonder", but more in the sense of "Miracles of nature". And that was nearly perfectly executed in Subnautica. I loved to go around in the different biomes, holding my scanner up to anything and reading the entries, watching the interactions between flora and fauna. In Subnautica the illusion breaks apart soon, though. Barren landscapes which are supposed to keep a leviathan well-nourished. Huge beasts that awfully move around like a collision body. Clipping, static animations and everything. Subnautica is my main example whenever someone asks me about the pros and cons of using an engine vs. writing your own - they got really far, but you see the gaps in the basic understanding of how numbers work in every case.

And the game also tends to go for the survival route more and more, providing less and less things to observe and admire. Still I loved it, and I very much look forward to the addon.


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« Reply #2 on: October 23, 2018, 05:50:11 PM »

Well, I'm using chemical as example.  I would not use randomness because, I would prefer a conclusive discovery after searching for who knows how long.

I would start by allowing a player to do what they want, suggest a first step, with a predictable result. Scientists call that the controlled group.

Let them smash what's in front of them, and they explode, and melt their eyeballs before freezing, because you don't start unassuming in a harmless game with wimpy do-nothing chemicals, and you try to screw around.  Start with black powder and drums of subzero irradiated compounds, and make the player feel powerful. It's a good way to start.  Restart from that point, try to suggest the first step, and when they're done throwing tantrums...  they'll finish the tutorial and understand chemistry a little bit, I guess.
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« Reply #3 on: November 11, 2018, 08:57:28 AM »

To me I think the important part of giving the discovery genuine wonder is to make sure it has a fun gameplay function that it equips you with at the end of the discovery process. Unique and striking aesthetics for each outcome will also do a lot to add to that feeling.

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« Reply #4 on: November 16, 2018, 09:54:59 PM »

You just have to understand that fundamentally crafting systems boil down to this:
Input -> Process -> Output

The Output you want to be a unique element with its own special effect, to have discovery that effect should not be known to the player and its best to experiment to find its effect.

Where things can get interesting is where the Output element becomes another Function in the Process you can use to manipulate the Input.

The Input is more basic and basically is just a list of requirements needed for the Output. Of course you might not know what the requirements are needed for the Output.

If you put the Output into the Input that just means you unlock those possibilities. Be warned that things can get exponential and you need a way to filter what is viable that is known to the player.

As a developer you can make a spritesheet of the Outputs with all the requirements and processes to unlock them to keep track of them and make sure you limit them properly.

The best example of Process is Zachtronics games.
In Opus Magnum the Input and Output is set by missions but the Process where the game is has nice solutions that favor speed,complexity or space. If you can make the Process give those kind of results it will already be great.

What you can do to make things even more interesting is you can use multiple system not just one.
I already mentioned putting the Output in the Input or Process but you can put it in the Input or Process of a different system altogether.
Imagine you take the elements you get from Opus Magnum give them some properties and statistics and use them to create components and devices for engineering game Like From the Depths.
Or maybe the elements have properties of circuitry like Minecraft redstone.
Or create new machines and factories like in Factorio.
Even your basic medieval crafting and enchantment can use the tools and materials.

Now a big warning here. No matter how complex and interesting you make a discovery/research system like this it is very easy to wiki them. This is why it's good to focus more on the Process. People will inevitably be spoiled with not much you can do about it, it's up to the players to be part of the magic circle.

However where things can help is in more creative self expression. In From the Depths you build your own personal vehicle that is tested against other vehicles.

What this means is Output is Tested for viability. Its not exactly a sense of discovery but it is a satisfaction.
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« Reply #5 on: November 24, 2018, 10:32:09 AM »

I am not sure what makes scientific discovery different from just discovery. Finding out how something works is always rewarding, regardless of context.

So one possible approach is to design a large tree of possibilities and let the player explore it. There are many games that do this but they are not too exciting, in my opinion, and the sense of discovery is softened when we realize it's all scripted.

The ideal approach, in my opinion, would be to create a simple set of rules that dictate a large and complex system, that way you get emerging behavior naturally. Even you, the game designer, might not know all the possible states of the system. This leads to the kind of exploration and discovery I think you are looking for. I can't think of many examples that do this, because games with interacting systems and emerging behavior are mostly not on the 'scientific' mindset, but are using these emergent behavior to create deeper game mechanics. For example, in a game like Heat Signature, you realize that every ship/level has an infinite number of solutions because it has so many variables, and little by little you start to understand how these relate to each other. You develop strategies for specific situations and there are an overwhelming amount of possible situations. But there is very little sense of discovery in the way that you are interested because the basic rules that govern this world are obvious from the start; in this game you know what each guard does and what each tool does etc. The chaotic nature of these highly interacting systems are fun to explore, but the Eureka feeling would come from finally understanding what the basic rules are.

So here's my take on this: don't make a tree of possibilities, make basic rules of interaction. Add lots of basic objects with different properties. Hide these properties and the rules. In other words, what everyone here is already saying but with more words.

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« Reply #6 on: November 28, 2018, 11:15:42 PM »

If you're interested in creating a sense of discovery/wonder, you absolutely must play Cinco Paus:

I can't express in words how exactly literally perfect this game seems to be for what the OP is wanting.

The first several hours are a process of trying to understand the cryptic icons and language (well.. unless you speak portuguese) that explains cause and effect rules in the world, using only inference from the results of the player's actions. You do something, you observe the results, and you try to piece together (a) what happened, (b) why.

This process has plenty of moments of trial and error and miraculous discoveries as you finally understand why something happened, or correctly predict a result. It can be very frustrating, but it's one of the most rewarding learning experiences I've found in a game.

(And then, once you understand everything, the second phase of the game begins where you use your knowledge to progress further in the game -- but that seems less interesting from the POV of this thread).

Another game that's full of "sense of discovery" is Starseed Pilgrim:

This one is maybe a bit too cryptic -- but then again it perfectly emulates the process of being in a world of rules which are unknown, and trying to understand what they are and how they function. I just found that (unlike Cinco Paus) the feedback from the world wasn't so clear or easy to grasp, which led to a lot of confusion and frustration. But it *definitely* has some good moments of discovery, which I don't want to ruin -- if you keep playing you'll eventually figure this out and make the discovery for yourself.
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« Reply #7 on: December 12, 2018, 04:25:19 AM »

I can answer the part of scientific discovery. One way I did this was that I told the player all throughout the game that they had to get an item which people thought had magical powers. But when the player finally finds it then he discovers that the item is actually a very intricate circuit with relays to interact with the environment. Several thousand years of obscurity made people believe it was magic when they heard it's tales. Hope it helps. Smiley

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« Reply #8 on: March 20, 2019, 09:45:52 AM »

It sounds like you get what you need to do already and it's time to start prototyping it.

I guess the main thing that occurs to me is that the player needs to be able to use the scientific method. adrix89 makes a really good point here-- the more wikiable it is the less meaningful the premise is. I can see two approaches to that-- either making it  essentially a puzzle game, where players are aware that looking up the answers will make it boring and it's on them to give it a good-faith try, or randomizing the representation of qualities, like scrolls in a roguelike.

I can answer the part of scientific discovery. One way I did this was that I told the player all throughout the game that they had to get an item which people thought had magical powers. But when the player finally finds it then he discovers that the item is actually a very intricate circuit with relays to interact with the environment. Several thousand years of obscurity made people believe it was magic when they heard it's tales. Hope it helps. Smiley

This is such a bad and patronizing answer that it made me kind of mad.
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