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Do we really want science in games?

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Embassy of Time

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I finally got the fundamentals working on star, planet and moon generation in my project to make a procefurally generated universe. Hooray for me! But with the basics out of the way, I am facing the next step: Making it better than 'basic'. And that leads me into some thinking...

It was always my intention to get the basics running, and then start applying real sciences to get the ball moving from there on. Geology for planet formation, astrophysics for stars and orbits and such, eventually biology for life. Even chemistry, at some point, for allowing the generation of substances that I would not think of on my own. But standing here, almost ready to dive into that, I can't help but think... Should I?

Don't get me wrong, I want to. I love science and I studied up on all (aaaaall!!!) the sciences before diving into this project a few months ago. I have notebooks full of scribbles about fault lines and convection cells and more. But there are two issues that have begun to bother me.

The first issue is simply one of time. It will take a lot of time to get proper scientific stuff integrated into the code, not just because there is a lot of science, but because despite all the mathy stuff, there is no predefined way for me to integrate it. Sure, physics engines can give me an idea of how to do basic colission things, and maybe some games or scientific papers can help me on my way to implement other sciences here and there, but overall, this is not territory that others have seemed to bother with. Either they make games and therefore use shortcuts (or just ignore the whole science issue and slap in something weird. Hello, No Man's Sky, funny seeing you here!), or they are running big simulations that only get used to produce a model of some kind, not something that can actually be interacted with like a game. It seems like I need to reinvent the wheel to get rolling (pun kinda intended).

But second and even more importantly, do we want actual science in our games?! Sure, science-y stuff is neat. I love SpaceChem dearly, but let's be honest, that's not how a chemistry course would show it all working. We all know about the Uncanny Valley for how things look, but from various chats with people both online and off, I get the feeling that scientifically accurate (okey, let's be realistic, scientifically approximated) content might be upsetting to some. Games offer a false sense of simplicity, removing a lot of the distractions of the real world. Minecraft takes a lot of flak for how huge slabs of stone can hover in mid-air, becomes only some substances have (very simple) gravity effects. But is it maybe a benefit to have things be this unrealistic? Minecraft sure has not suffered for it, sales-wise.

I want the science in there. I love the idea. But it keeps nagging at me if just making landscapes form at complete random isn't better than designing ways for geological forces to mold worlds. If a few basic animals with some simple variations aren't better than a system for approximating actual evolution.

For once, I really have no extensive rant on the matter (sorry if you like my rants). It's just a thought that keeps bugging me...

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What if.. instead of an all-encompassing math-based world, you chunked it into several projects?

For instance, I kind of like the idea of a series of games where you are a god who has to use science to manipulate the world. If you think about it, the game mechanic of "crafting" already exists, but instead of throwing a bundle of wood onto a candle to get a torch you maybe move magma and plates, tweak pressures, model erosion and rock formation and such to get a volcanic explosion to decimate your followers' enemy. (if anyone makes this I want design credit!)

And another project is about chemistry, another about rigid body physics, etc. Maybe over time these ideas can be combined.

Meaning, maybe it's not so much about the game being the science as it is using science to create the fundamental rules of the game.

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I like your planet.  One question about tessellation, you had mentioned that as someone zooms further in the detail increases.    With your build, if someone zoomed in and out repeatedly from near max to near min on the same object, let's say the planet, would the detail remain constant? or is the detail dynamically generated each time creating a variant of the planet?  If the former, that's impressive and I'd like to learn more.

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Science in games is how you get Outpost.

Don't be a Bruce Balfour. Just make a fun game.

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[quote name="Khawk" timestamp="1492035036"]What if.. instead of an all-encompassing math-based world, you chunked it into several projects? For instance, I kind of like the idea of a series of games where you are a god who has to use science to manipulate the world. If you think about it, the game mechanic of "crafting" already exists, but instead of throwing a bundle of wood onto a candle to get a torch you maybe move magma and plates, tweak pressures, model erosion and rock formation and such to get a volcanic explosion to decimate your followers' enemy. (if anyone makes this I want design credit!) And another project is about chemistry, another about rigid body physics, etc. Maybe over time these ideas can be combined. Meaning, maybe it's not so much about the game being the science as it is using science to create the fundamental rules of the game.[/quote] Technically, I am making a game -engine-, so this might be a way to implement things one by one. Hmmm.... This gives me ideas!

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[quote name="Awoken" timestamp="1492063970"]I like your planet.  One question about tessellation, you had mentioned that as someone zooms further in the detail increases.    With your build, if someone zoomed in and out repeatedly from near max to near min on the same object, let's say the planet, would the detail remain constant? or is the detail dynamically generated each time creating a variant of the planet?  If the former, that's impressive and I'd like to learn more.[/quote] Right now, it is a weird mix. I will soon do some optimization, and then detail increases and decreases dynamically based on distance. The planet would likely have the shown detail at the shown distance, though. And thanks for the compliment :-)

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Science in games is how you get Outpost.
Don't be a Bruce Balfour. Just make a fun game.

Never played Outpost. Is it bad? Also, who is this Bruce Balfour, I get a lot of odd results on Google for that name (Wikipedia gives me an old Scottish lord!!)

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I like your planet.  One question about tessellation, you had mentioned that as someone zooms further in the detail increases.    With your build, if someone zoomed in and out repeatedly from near max to near min on the same object, let's say the planet, would the detail remain constant? or is the detail dynamically generated each time creating a variant of the planet?  If the former, that's impressive and I'd like to learn more.

Right now, it is a weird mix. I will soon do some optimization, and then detail increases and decreases dynamically based on distance. The planet would likely have the shown detail at the shown distance, though.
And thanks for the compliment :-)

Um. I'm not sure if I got my question across as intended.  Let's say by chance on one close up zoom the planet looked like earth, and then on closer zoom yet, I saw what looks like Manhattan Island.  Then I zoom back out to space and back in on the same region of the planet.  On the second zoom, would it still look like Manhattan Island?

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[quote name="Awoken" timestamp="1492096239"][quote name="Embassy of Time" timestamp="1492072518"] [quote name="Awoken" timestamp="1492063970"] I like your planet.  One question about tessellation, you had mentioned that as someone zooms further in the detail increases.    With your build, if someone zoomed in and out repeatedly from near max to near min on the same object, let's say the planet, would the detail remain constant? or is the detail dynamically generated each time creating a variant of the planet?  If the former, that's impressive and I'd like to learn more. [/quote] Right now, it is a weird mix. I will soon do some optimization, and then detail increases and decreases dynamically based on distance. The planet would likely have the shown detail at the shown distance, though. And thanks for the compliment :-) [/quote] Um. I'm not sure if I got my question across as intended.  Let's say by chance on one close up zoom the planet looked like earth, and then on closer zoom yet, I saw what looks like Manhattan Island.  Then I zoom back out to space and back in on the same region of the planet.  On the second zoom, would it still look like Manhattan Island?[/quote] Ohhh.... Then yes. Totally identical.

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Oh nice.  O.k so then... I'm trying to wrap my head around this.  let's say I wanted a coordinate on your planet.  and I wanted to calculate a path along your planet's surface to another coordinate, is that doable with tessellation?

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My thoughts on math's an physics is this: you should only do the very basics.

Most math and physics used in games are at high school level or lower, working out velocity, finding the direction between two points etc.

Collision is needed for games, so having some kind of basic physics helps with that and gives flexibility. In fact you could make things easy on yourself by using a physics library.

 

Oh nice.  O.k so then... I'm trying to wrap my head around this.  let's say I wanted a coordinate on your planet.  and I wanted to calculate a path along your planet's surface to another coordinate, is that doable with tessellation?

I think what Awoken is stating here is that at some point you will run out of numbers.  This of course isn't a problem with a coordinate system like this:

[yottameter, zettameter, exameter, petameter, terameter, gigameter, megameter, kilometer, hectometer, decameter, decimeter, centimeter, milimeter, micrometer, nanometer, picometer, femtometer, attometer]

All that is needed for this to work is that there should also be a local coordinate system, a system that will stay around the player so that you can use libraries without a translator.

A other way to solve this is by having a dimensional system. Dwarf fortress uses one, where a map is generated with tiles in a 2D coordinate system, then each tile holds it's own 2D map. This is easy to store however removes the seamless transition.

Math like this isn't new and has been used in games for decades.

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[quote name="Awoken" timestamp="1492100475"]Oh nice.  O.k so then... I'm trying to wrap my head around this.  let's say I wanted a coordinate on your planet.  and I wanted to calculate a path along your planet's surface to another coordinate, is that doable with tessellation?[/quote] If I understand the question right, yes. The tessellation and any other details form around the camera, and (in very soon versions) dissapear when the camera leaves.

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[quote name="Scouting Ninja" timestamp="1492111369"]My thoughts on math's an physics is this: you should only do the very basics. Most math and physics used in games are at high school level or lower, working out velocity, finding the direction between two points etc. Collision is needed for games, so having some kind of basic physics helps with that and gives flexibility. In fact you could make things easy on yourself by using a physics library.[/quote] A few years ago, I would have said the same. But with the backlashes against games like Spore and No Man's Sky for skimping on tje science, it seems like things have changed. For now, I keep the science pretty simple. But it seems like science is becoming one of those almost 'hidden features' that really grab people more than one would expect!

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A few years ago, I would have said the same. But with the backlashes against games like Spore and No Man's Sky for skimping on tje science, it seems like things have changed. For now, I keep the science pretty simple. But it seems like science is becoming one of those almost 'hidden features' that really grab people more than one would expect!

That is a really interesting observation.  I thought the opposite, there was backlash because at the end of the day there wasn't much game to either of them.  However, like you pointed out, there are people who are hungry for the science and that was what drew them to those titles in the first place.  They were let down because the games weren't rich enough in scientific content.  Interesting...

My personal read on No Man's Sky is that the came creator had a lot of fantastic ideas for what he wanted his game to be and wove into the game bits and pieces of many different ideas; but at the end of the day when push came to shove and the audience was demanding a game, the studio realised they didn't have a cohesive experience.  So they stripped the content like stripping a plane so it can take flight.  Then they forced content onto it to create some semblance of cohesion, but alas it wasn't much fun.   

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I think it's safe to say that I want the appearance of science in my video games. I want planetary formations that would be vaguely possible in the real world. I want rocks and trees and erosion that follow reasonably natural rules. I want a deep chemistry-like crafting system.

 

I also want to be able to jump 12 feet in the air, and be able to base-jump from low orbit wearing only shorts...

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A few years ago, I would have said the same. But with the backlashes against games like Spore and No Man's Sky for skimping on tje science, it seems like things have changed. For now, I keep the science pretty simple. But it seems like science is becoming one of those almost 'hidden features' that really grab people more than one would expect!

That is a really interesting observation.  I thought the opposite, there was backlash because at the end of the day there wasn't much game to either of them.  However, like you pointed out, there are people who are hungry for the science and that was what drew them to those titles in the first place.  They were let down because the games weren't rich enough in scientific content.  Interesting...

My personal read on No Man's Sky is that the came creator had a lot of fantastic ideas for what he wanted his game to be and wove into the game bits and pieces of many different ideas; but at the end of the day when push came to shove and the audience was demanding a game, the studio realised they didn't have a cohesive experience.  So they stripped the content like stripping a plane so it can take flight.  Then they forced content onto it to create some semblance of cohesion, but alas it wasn't much fun.   

 

There is no doubt that both games suffered from a range of problems, most of them related to overhyping early concept versions and promissing too much. But the problem of lacking gameplay is an old one, many games have been pummelled for that over the decades. What struck me was the lists that were made, especially for NMS, citing things like "realistic planetary rotation and orbits" or "authenticity in the craafting system". I.e. science. In the old days, people would have laughed at that. But we live in the time of stuff like SpaceChem and increasing demands on the accuracy / believability of physics engines, so I guess it was just a matter of time!

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I think it's safe to say that I want the appearance of science in my video games. I want planetary formations that would be vaguely possible in the real world. I want rocks and trees and erosion that follow reasonably natural rules. I want a deep chemistry-like crafting system.

Exactly. I hear more and more wanting those things, or some of them. I think a lot of it is the lust for more detail-rich experiences, but also not wanting technobabble mumbo jumbo that is clearly bogus. So the closer to sciences it can get...

I also want to be able to jump 12 feet in the air, and be able to base-jump from low orbit wearing only shorts...

Well, we have this litle experimental club where we work on...... oh, wait... you meant in the game, didn't you??

 

;)

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Another note on appearance of science. Kerbal Space Program is a good example of that. It's very sciency-focused, but all the physics are very simplified (yet still detailed) and distances and forces gameified for it to become a fun game.

Don't fall in the trap that it has to be scientifically _accurate_ to appeal to the crowd that wants science in their games.

I don't agree with the assumption that No Man Sky mainly failed because of too little science, I think it failed because of too little game, and an experience that quickly became repetitive and uninteresting. Maybe more science would have helped to create a game, but if it didn't address the interactivity of the game, I don't think it would help.

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Another note on appearance of science. Kerbal Space Program is a good example of that. It's very sciency-focused, but all the physics are very simplified (yet still detailed) and distances and forces gameified for it to become a fun game.

Don't fall in the trap that it has to be scientifically _accurate_ to appeal to the crowd that wants science in their games.

I don't agree with the assumption that No Man Sky mainly failed because of too little science, I think it failed because of too little game, and an experience that quickly became repetitive and uninteresting. Maybe more science would have helped to create a game, but if it didn't address the interactivity of the game, I don't think it would help.

Kerbal is actually a bit of a benchmark for me, it seems to get just enough SCIENCE (biatch) to make it a good game and yet also scientifically credible. But transfering that concept to something other than rocket simulations is harder than expected. It's a lot of evaluation, and I don't think there is much material to study on what the best decisions are :-/ But yes, KSP is a very good benchmark to fixate on in this!

As for NMS, again, yeah. It 'failed' (I think sales are actually picking up?) on weak gameplay. But I never before saw that many complaints on scientific content. Weak gameplay drove the problems, but people focused a surprising lot on the science, too, which caught me by surprise!

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