|Supervisor:||Prof. Gudrun Klinker, Ph.D.|
|Advisor:||Dipl.-Inf. David A. Plecher, M.A.|
Games with a crafting or gathering aspect tend to help the players remember the processes and recipes after a while. This paper attends the development of a serious game in which this concept is used to convey real-life knowledge about the chemical elements. The rather simple goal is to collect all 118 elements, but the processes of obtaining them are closely based on the real world. The players can discover all elements, their sources and usages, and a number of chemical compounds, materials and ores on the way to complete the periodic table in this UI-based serious game.
This thesis attended the development of a serious game called "Elementary" about chemical elements, conceptualizing a specific idea for a passive serious game. Stemming from learning experiences within crafting games that use chemical processes, the aim for this game was to have players passively gain knowledge about the elements, their facts and uses, and most importantly the sourcing and processing required to obtain each element in the real world. By portraying these real-life processes and correlations as accurately as possible and using them as features for progressing in the game, the idea is to have players automatically extend their knowledge by understanding the game mechanics and just playing. Due to this subtleness and passive knowledge, "Elementary" does not present itself as a serious game and focuses strongly on the 'game' aspect.
The goal of this user interface-based game is to collect all 118 chemical elements and complete the periodic table. Starting out with nothing, players have to gather some materials from the world map to build basic machines, which in turn allow for the processing of a few ores. The elements obtained from the first steps open up more possibilities to build more complex machines and process other resources, all according to realistic industrial sourcing methods. This forms a cascading system of discoveries, as elements, machines and processes depend upon each other, and each newly obtained resource uncloses new progressing options.
"Elementary" features an interactive periodic table, functioning as both a place to explore and learn about the elements, as well as a progress tracker towards the end goal of the game. Similarly, a lexicon showcases all already unlocked resources other than the 118 elements. In order to portray realistic processes, the game contains a number of ores, selected from the most commonly sources for elements extracted from minerals; as well as several other resources, including chemical compounds, natural materials, alloys, special isotopes and byproducts, all of which can be viewed in the lexicon, once produced or otherwise obtained.
In order to set up production chains, the necessary machines for each step have to be built. As the crafting requires both a monetary and material cost, processing machines and energy infrastructure act as a way to utilize the acquired resources. The production processes for resources and elements have been somewhat simplified for the game; as such each step has been fitted to one of 16 machine types, for example reduction furnaces, distillators, oxidizers, or neutron activation reactors. These machine types often have different tiers to provide upgrading options, resulting in a total of 32 processing machines in the game.
Setting up production chains is done with a blueprint system. Once a certain blueprint is unlocked, for example by analysing the process of a specific ore in the research center, the blueprint allows for the entire chain of processing steps to be displayed at once. After adding all necessary machines and providing all needed resource inputs, the production can begin. This system was intended to make it easier for the players and reduce the complexity of real life, while still maintaining realism.
As it became apparent in the later stages of development, a few features of the game pose issues to the general concept. The blueprint system was intended as a level of abstraction to avoid overwhelming the players with complexity in details, but the extreme hand-holding procedure of setting up entire complicated processing chains with one click is alienating players from the purpose of the game, to learn about these processes. Furthermore, the approach of using user interface only was deemed not suitable enough for the scale of this game.
In order to adequately achieve a game environment to explore the complexity of elements and their processing methods, the motivation to learn by progressing in the game needs to be supported by involvement and immersion. Embracing the complexity of real life is necessary to impart this knowledge, but in achieving smaller steps by own, detailed work, the immersion should create enough motivation to not be overwhelmed and provide a more thorough learning experience. For this the best way would be to create an actual 3D game world, have the players craft and build the machines in production chains on their own, and as such understand the coherence in more detail.
The utilization of the database built for this thesis about the sources and processing of all elements in a passive serious game like "Elementary" requires a great act of balance between complexity, fun, realism, learning effect and motivation, into which a lot of valuable insights have been gained.