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Wavinator

Minimum Needed To Evoke Sense of Exploration

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Can you evoke a sense of exploration with a single screen? Pardon the somewhat dumb question, as the obvious answer feels like no. But I'm tackling the idea of "how much can you take away" when trying to get to the core of a game mechanic. Let's say that you have an overworld map like an old school RPG which shows sites that you can visit. Purely for the purposes of exploration I'm trying to determine the minimum I'd probably need for each and every site in order to evoke a sense that you're exploring. If the site graphic, for instance, says "ruined alien temple" and you move your avatar to it, does a popup screen have the power to make you feel that you're exploring it? I think not because exploring a site seems to me to be about layers of revelation and some sense of trepidation. If you just click, say, and you're told that your exploring party "has vanished!" or is "swarmed by a strange, massive blob!" it's too abrupt. If vanishing or being swarmed is the ultimate fate of going into a place then would it be better to have small, incremental hints of this, such as having one team member disappear or seeing strange, amorphous shapes? On the other extreme end, each site could be a procedurally generated environment of interconnecting rooms, similar to a Rogue-like, with cell by cell exploration (this is the intention for the overworld map across multiple planets). But as the game I'm working on is somewhat abstract (with a "room" being a cell or two) this could easily get exhaustive. Thoughts?

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Well when I used to play Hero Quest we were definitely exploring dungeons, even though there's only one board for the game.
Exploring the board was kind of like solving a puzzle (finding the doors & hidden passages), but each step of "solving the puzzle" involved opening yourself up to threats (monsters, traps) and along the way you might find something unexpected.

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Original post by Wavinator
Can you evoke a sense of exploration with a single screen?

Small Worlds

(It's actually 5 screens, if I remember correctly. But you should quickly realise why I linked it here.)

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Beatiful game. It touched me in a way I didn't expect. Thanks for sharing!

In my opinion exploration is to learn something new. When I send a scout to a distant solar system and upon arrival see a little message box showing me the system and it's habital and resource levels, I'm satisfied. It's the game mechanic relevant information that interests me most. In a first person game I'd want to see more before I feel satisfied... can't say, why, though. When I open up a little chamber in an RPG, a strange new glowing plant would be great... even more when I can take it and brew a little potion from it. Or a little node from a former inhabitant... even more when it's connected to a little follow-up story in the village nearby. By contrast, a couple of coins wouldn't be enough. I wonder why.

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I can think of at least three kinds of exploration:

Visual Exploration: With high quality art, seeing new regions can be rewarding in and of itself. The player is searching for beautiful vistas. You're drawn along from the steamy jungle to the icy mountain peaks not so much in search of narrative resolution but just because each subsequent regions gives you a slight sense of awe. This seems to work best in first-person, as it's slightly more immersive. To pull this off you need stylistically distinct regions, with lots of small details for the player to notice. A single screen per area could arguably convey this sufficiently, but they'd be little bite size visual snacks: you'd need lots of them.

Narrative Exploration: Giving the player control over how they experience a game's story is a form of exploration. Maybe they can return to a battle site and speak to the locals who were impacted by it. Or if an army was defeated by a traitor you could search that traitor out and find out what his motives were. This sort of exploration is based on missing information: you get a self sufficient plot arc, but motivations and small details are withheld for the player to find on his own. There's a certain satisfaction we experience when a key fact suddenly gives us a whole new perspective on an event. This sort of exploration could certainly occur on a single screen, all it really needs is text.

Gameplay Exploration: two examples of exploration in games came to mind: Civilization and Rogue. As you send your scouts out in Civilization there's a sense of exploratory excitement as the terrain is revealed. This will be the home of future cities. You start to see the resource rich and poor lands, where populous metropolises will be and where your industry will be centered. Similarly in rogue-like games you come across items and monsters as you walk around, and in particular treasure vaults. You know there will be tough monsters but artifacts as well. This arguably is just the same old slot-machine appeal of video games where an unknown space becomes either a reward or a penalty. As dopamine apparently gets released in response to predictions of rewards, this sort of information of delayed reward works better: you see a vault so you know you should get an artifact soon. You see gold in the hills, but won't get that bonus until you've built and sent a settler over. Thus giving hints of what to expect is better for this sense of exploration then just randomly presenting the player with the result.

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I think not because exploring a site seems to me to be about layers of revelation and some sense of trepidation. If you just click, say, and you're told that your exploring party "has vanished!" or is "swarmed by a strange, massive blob!" it's too abrupt. If vanishing or being swarmed is the ultimate fate of going into a place then would it be better to have small, incremental hints of this, such as having one team member disappear or seeing strange, amorphous shapes?

For some reason the way you did research for X-com came to my mind. Essentially all you were doing was allocating a few resources and then waiting awhile to get a result window. It had a certain satisfying feeling of research being completed I think because of the anticipation of the result. And waiting wasn't to tedious because you had other things to do.

Maybe you could try something similar, if you're trying to eliminate the need to drill down to fot level maze exploration type of gameplay. Allocate people to the archeology team and then wait awhile for results (I'm guessing probably a procedurally generated history with discovery of a few artifacts). Perhaps even you could radio in partial results over time. I think the key would be the wait. You'd probably want to find a way to occupy the player while waiting but it'd build a certain amount of suspense and accomplishment.

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I think even the bare minimum of a single screen and a simple popup is sufficient to evoke the sense of exploration. Is it satisfying? Well that's up to the game creators. If before you entered this single screen you were given a long and detailed pre-story of the world and its inhabitants and it was successful in creating an evocative narrative, then yes maybe this simple popup screen is sufficient.

Looking at the old school games this pretty much was all they had. The graphics of those days were limited and by their very limitation they were forced to use the bare minimum. Games like Nethack which was played on a single tty screen had nothing more than this basically and it continues to this day to be one of the deepest game of the genre.

The question then becomes what is compelling the player to explore? Is it the back story? the quest? the loot? the visuals? maybe a reward?

Looking at Diablo, it was the rich narrative and the compelling pack rat loot gameplay. Even though in Diablo after a play through you will have seen the levels, their procedural nature and more importantly the loot generator kept you replaying it (didnt hurt to have the social element with battle net too).

-ddn

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Quote:
Original post by Kylotan
Small Worlds

(It's actually 5 screens, if I remember correctly. But you should quickly realise why I linked it here.)


Very nice, although technically it's cheating. [grin] While it uses zooming to stay on a single screen it's more akin to level / maze navigation rather than a somewhat static screen that displays the results of exploration. I think it more proves the point that you need anticipation driving minute choices (which all the little jumps and route choices basically equate to).


Quote:
Original post by Schrompf
When I open up a little chamber in an RPG, a strange new glowing plant would be great... even more when I can take it and brew a little potion from it. Or a little node from a former inhabitant... even more when it's connected to a little follow-up story in the village nearby. By contrast, a couple of coins wouldn't be enough. I wonder why.


Hmmmm.... maybe it's satisfying because it's creating the sense of a larger world? Coins, for instance, don't really do that-- they're common, anyone could have left them there, they don't lure you into speculating about the game world itself. But say you were exploring a windswept, barren world and found strange reading coming from a cave. You explore down and encounter a shaft leading deep underground. At the end is a vault, obviously carefully constructed, and within it is a submerged chamber laden with thousands of pallets of ornately formed gold bars.

Now you have a mystery, and I think the pattern matching part of our minds wants to try to figure out what happened and why.

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Original post by Polama
I can think of at least three kinds of exploration:


Of these three I think gameplay exploration is what I'm after. Visual doesn't last and is likely beyond me for now, and narrative I'm not so sure of either. But that you find things that have a gameplay use is very appealing.

It's interesting that both of your examples involved some sort of embodiment of physicality-- the map in Civilization, the dungeon in Rogue. I haven't played much Rogue, but I can't imagine Civ exploration without the map.


Quote:
Original post by kseh
Allocate people to the archeology team and then wait awhile for results (I'm guessing probably a procedurally generated history with discovery of a few artifacts). Perhaps even you could radio in partial results over time. I think the key would be the wait. You'd probably want to find a way to occupy the player while waiting but it'd build a certain amount of suspense and accomplishment.


Hmmmm... you may be right about this. It could work for the idea of a remotely guided team which reported information to you and then asked for input. Each transmission could reveal a bit more about the environment which hint at risk/reward, things like "we've reached a vast underground lake, but this stuff doesn't appear to be water" or "we can make it into the next chamber but we'll have to leave our reserve supplies behind.", etc.

I can imagine instances where transmissions don't come to be worrisome, and there could be a whole litany of possible events ranging from obstacles requiring reinforcements to team members having to be left behind. It could be quite the adventure.

I'm still not sure if this sort of thing would work if you personally could go into the environments, though.

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Original post by ddn3
The question then becomes what is compelling the player to explore? Is it the back story? the quest? the loot? the visuals? maybe a reward?


I think the end goal has to depend on the environment, and I imagine a sharp division between safe and dangerous environments. Dangerous environments games do all the time, but say that you dock at a well policed space station. Is there any exploration to be had? Discovery of hireable characters or shopping/services really seems to be about the only point of exploration when there's no risk.

Because of this the most sensible approach (if you're not aiming for immersion) is to use a menu screen, but I HATE that idea. It's too dry, too static and really doesn't feel like getting out and roaming.

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