Modelling the “Scientific Method” for our RPG

Modelling the “Scientific Method” for our RPG

We think of our game as an RPG but with no combat. So is everything a fetch quest? Or is it just a cleverly disguised point-and-click adventure? Hopefully, neither. We’ve developed a gameplay mechanic that we haven’t really seen developed elsewhere (at least not to this extent) and we think it’s one of the biggest innovations in our game… It is the “Reporting mechanic” or the “Scientific method mechanic” (however you want to call it). It consists of getting clues from various sources (dialogues with animals, books from libraries, evidence from locations et cetera), and then combining them in a way that forms a coherent argument. These clues+conclusions are sent as reports and published in the Kingdom’s newspapers and then reviewed by your peers for, hopefully, some scholarly reputation.

This mechanic fits well with the themes of our game which focus heavily on the science landscape of the Animal Kingdom and also the factions you can support in the brewing civil war and their worldviews.

So how does it work?

You collect clues as mentioned above and then choose which to include in your report. If certain clues are strung together, certain conclusions will pop out (or not), to be added in the report as well (or not), as seen here in this textual mock-up:

Charles trying to solve the Burrows Epidemic – the report itself is in the upper left, the possible conclusions are in the lower left, and all the clues he found are on the right

There are many but not infinitely many conclusions, so some clue combinations are just dead ends (for example combining the eating habbits of the rabbits with the history of King Vincent is not going to yield any conclusion). However, not all the conclusions are equally valid – some will give you a lot of scientific (or factional) reputation, and some will make you infamous. For example, citing from a source deemed disreputable by the academic community (a known fraud, for example) will get you negative scientific reputation, but using it to bolster a democratic worldview will nevertheless get you some reputation among that faction (and negative reputation from other factions). This will all be done behind the scenes and slowly over time so as to discourage players from treating the game as a score system, which breaks immersion and isn’t really the point (whether your reputation is high or low isn’t that big of an issue in terms of questing. It just changes certain options and the way people of certain factions or backgrounds treat you).

The sources also depend on the style of gameplay you prefer – do you often take the words of local animals (dialogue-heavy) or do you do your research by standing on the shoulders of giants (library-heavy with a lot of sifting through clues) or maybe you are more of a sherlockian detective diving deep in the case with evidence and using scientific equipment wherever you can (photograph, microscope, et cetera)?
Anyway, we received word that the UI was a bit too block-of-texty, so we decided to add a visual UI right besides the textual one, seen in this mockup here with icons instead of texts. Notice the tab “Textual | Visual” to switch between the two.

While the game is mostly agnostic to the “reality” of your research, and you can write your own conclusions on whether a certain king was historically great or terrible, sometimes the game does actually have the “right” solution (e.g. in the Burrows epidemic – something actually does cure the rabbits, and something else doesn’t). However, sometimes completely different paths can lead to similar conclusions (do the rabbits need to use activated charcoal due to the fact that they have gastric stasis, or because they got sick from using the new carbide lamps?), and both can’t be correct, but you’re going to publish and cure some rabbits anyway so – whatever! Just make sure you don’t conclude that they need to drink cyanide, that would be bad.

In terms of gameplay, an important thing to note is the “peer review” system. As mentioned above, there are ways to gain and lose reputation by publishing your reports and solving quests – the reports are published in the Kingdom’s papers and then there are other scholars who review your report and write short texts about you, which you can read in the next issue of the paper. These are combined from a pre-set large base of possible sentences and are a combination of flavor and hints to the player on what he did wrong according to these peers (as you can always re-publish with new evidence). An example would be a report on wildly coloured funghi in the colony where you write about how they are much more colourful than the ones in Kingdom Proper, but don’t really add photos to prove it so it’s just your word they have to trust. Also, let us say that you’ve been leaning heavily towards a monarchist stance in your historical reports so the more monarchy-inclined scholars will be more inclined to keep your back . Then perhaps you’d have this situation in the papers:

“Joccobano Rabbitese writes: This royalist drivel calls itself science? There aren’t even any photos! The masks are finally off and we see what is behind the hedge!”

“Greguri Claw writes: Charles did a splendid piece. The whole thing is spot on. Of course the son of Herbert never disappoints! I only wish there were more photos.”

Or, alternatively, with less important reports, we just give the player a summary as thus:
“The consensus reads: Charles has some solid points, but the lack of evidence is jarring. Also, it would benefit his scholarly writing if he didn’t meander so much.”

Of course this is mostly still a discussion on paper. However the prototyping (and later testing) of these ideas in the digital world is going slowly but surely, as can be seen by this picture here, using Godot Engine:

Godot Engine comes with nodes such as GraphEdit and GraphNode which are really useful for complex graph-based UI so it’s making our lives easier.

As you can see, the clues will be separated into tabs (there won’t be a Red Herring Tab, don’t worry), and thus easily searchable not only by source (book, person, location) but also by theme (medical, chemistry, timeline, et cetera – depending on the quest in question).

We hope this mechanic will be interesting to play and figure out, and we have a hunch that the best moments will come from outside-the-box thinking such as using clues from some old quest to help nail down a crucial conclusion in a later seemingly unrelated quest.

So let us know what you think of where we are right now in terms of gameplay UI and the reporting mechanic in general!

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