Friday Facts #106 - Brain satisfaction tool

Posted by kovarex on 2015-10-02


there is a sickness running around the office this week and I wasn't excluded so there is a growing pile of used tissues on the table while I'm writing this and when Robert talks, he sounds like a creeper from horror movies :)

0.12.10 released

The usual stuff, few old bugs solved, few bugs created by fixing other bugs solved as well. New bugs probably created. We obviously still need a few rounds to get it all right.

Factorio principles might be relevant sooner than we expected

You can read this convincing (and long and great) blog post that talks about Elon Musk and his plan to colonise Mars and it made me thinking. Well ... first I had to get over the fact, that game development might be cool, but it is magnificently less cool that actually working on colonisation of different planet. Once I did that, I realized, that the Factorio approach would really make sense there, mainly in the early phases, where food and oxygen would be rare and expensive resources. Automated factories don't need food nor oxygen, just electrical energy, and they can provide the people all the things they need in the beginning, so they can be used to build the infrastructure. Do you know what would make even more sense? Send these machines with the ability to build the automated production ahead before the first human gets there. Let it mine there and prepare the construction blocks of first buildings, let it prepare the solar panel factory and start first food production tests. There is no reason for the people to sit there and wait until it is all ready for them. With the advances of robotics and AI, it might be not only possible, but economical. We might actually see something like Factorio happening during our lives and I'm definitely looking forward!

Game as a brain satisfaction tool

I wanted to talk about this for a long time, as it is affecting the way Factorio was created a lot.

This is quite obvious to most of the people, but we don't usually think about it deeply enough to understand the perspective of a game developer.

These are the needs related to Factorio I can think of:

  • The general need to create and build.
  • The need to create something that works on it's own (hello programmers).
  • The need to do things my own unique way.
  • The need to understand the mechanics of processes.
  • The need to overcome obstacles and challenges.
  • The need to getting more powerful.
  • The need to explore.
  • The need to kill and overcome the enemies.
  • The need of collect (hoard) stuff.
  • ... and more

Every game has list like this, and you could use a number to specify how big part of the gameplay is related to individual things on the list, let's call it game-satisfaction-configuration.

I believe that the core (and most important) difference between individual games is the game-satisfaction-configuration. When I hear about a game, I don't want to hear details about the story or technical solution. I want to know the game-satisfaction-configuration.

Knowing what needs you want to satisfy is just a beginning. The important part is choosing the right and cheapest ways to satisfy these needs as best as possible. By saying cheapest I don't refer to development cost, but the cost of the player time and energy.

We are working with something that could be called energy/enjoyment/investment value, let's call it eei value. I imagine it as a paraglider flying through the air where the eei is his height above ground. Let's say, that when the player starts the game, he has some amount of energy he is willing to put into trying it, this is the initial height of the paraglider. The amount is very different for different people and depends on many things. Once he starts playing, this amount is slowly being depleted, and if nothing good happens, the player will close the game when it gets to 0 and he can't fly from this point anymore, even if there is the best termics in the world just one meter away. So we need to increase the height by satisfying these needs. Now we can go back to the meaning of the cheapest (or cost effective) satisfaction of the needs. Creators of RPG games based on endless grinding and collection of random generated loot know a lot about this. The need to collect better and better equipment is satisfied the better the more it took to search for it, but beware, as if it takes too long, the eei can drop to 0 before the player gets the item. This is why it is always very easy to get first few levels, and get through first tiers of gear in RPG. They need you to get some eei early on, to get you hooked, once your eei gets higher, you are willing to play longer, so another achievement can take more time to accomplish so it can give you bigger satisfaction when you get it, which allows to make it even harder to improve further etc.

This is obviously a simplification, as we are talking about satisfaction of just a single need and the trick is, that you need to switch from one to another. The waiting time to get something rare should be filled by doing something else that is actually fun. This is why the RPG is usually more fun when it has story, dialogs and quests.

Why are demos so unpopular these days? I strongly believe that the eei is related, because once you pay for the game, your starting eei is much higher as you are more determined to get the fun out of it, which gives much more operational space to the creators to get you hooked and teach you how to play before you actually start having fun.

Enough of theory, now to the real life Factorio examples:

Mining particles and effects

The mining can't be too fast in the beginning of the game, because:

  • The ores wouldn't be valuable
  • There wouldn't be really a motivation to start the automation.

But the problem of mining is, that you can't really do anything else in between, so you basically stand there and wait for it to be mined. In the early versions of Factorio, it looked like this

so changing it to this helped a lot, as watching the animation and the particles somewhat reduces the loss of eei per second while mining. These changes really help the game a lot, as the mining is done in the earliest part of the game, so a lot of players can lost interest due to the drop of eei at these stages very easily.

The menu background

The menu background also helps, as showing the picture of the factory gives the message of what the player can get to. If he likes the idea, it will boost his starting eei, so there is bigger chance he will actually get to the phase of having a factory before we loose him. This also applies to trailer and good youtube videos.

The blueprints and personal logistic slots

They help to

  • Reduce the time spent by boring activities, like repetitive building or getting supplies from a chest over and over
  • They also help to feel the progression and power as you can eventually do more things per click.

Both help to keep the eei high.

There are more complex examples, but I will keep them for the other time.

Let us know what you think on the forums.