One of the things I’d love to make is a crafting system based on real, basic chemistry; something that would secretly teach the player real-life skills, without beating them over the head with it.
How about balancing equations? Place items from your inventory into reactors, in the proper quantities, to make new items.
Twist: There’s no chemical/empirical notation, no actual equations to view. The idea is that as the game becomes harder, the player resorts to making their own notes… which, hopefully, would end up resembling regular empirical notation. Sounds complicated, but it’s simpler than you’d think.
How to do this?
(not a formal design, obviously, just a quick glimpse into the current thought process)
First Recipe – Introductory:
“Put water into the nuclear reactor (separates elements) to create hydrogen and oxygen.”
Player is given 5 water flasks. They have a reactor window with a number of slots.
Player puts 1 water into the reactor. Doesn’t work, steam shoots out or something. Lose 1 item per type put into the reactor (they only used water items, so they only lose one of the water they put in).
Player: “WTF. Okay, I’ll put 2 water into the reactor.
“You now have 2 Hydrogen flasks, 1 Oxygen flask.”
Player is also given a “recipe,” so they always know how to do it again later. “2 Water –> 2 Hydrogen, 1 Oxygen” (Notation would be 2H₂O –> 2H₂ + O₂, but that isn’t shown to the player… they just know that for some reason, two water flasks makes 2 hydrogen, 1 oxygen).
Player has 5 Nitrogen flasks. They keep the 2 Water, 2 Hydrogen, and 1 Oxygen left over from the previous crafting.
“Put nitrogen and hydrogen into the fusion reactor (combines elements) to create two Ammonia.”
Trial and error.
“Crap, I’m out of hydrogen.”
That’s fine, go back to the nuclear reactor and turn more water into hydrogen/oxygen.
Eventually (hopefully) they figure out that 1 Nitrogen, 3 Hydrogen makes 2 Ammonia.
But that’s too hard. So, some consumable item they have could allow them to “check” their solution before turning on the reactor. It shows them a scale that represents whether they’re using too many or too few items overall, then for each item they’ve put in the reactor, it’ll tell them whether they need more or less of it.
But no actual numbers; it’s still a bit of guesswork, at least for new players. More adept players will have figured out that each item has a “secret number” (or numbers, for molecules composed of multiple elements) associated with them. Hydrogen has some magic number of 2. Same with Oxygen. Wow, so does Nitrogen.
I’d love to use different names to represent each element… will tackle that later.
Eventually, players should be able to figure out the ratios of items. For harder recipes, they’ll need to take notes. Hydrogen items actually have a 2:1 ratio… they’re actually H₂. Same with Oxygen. Reactors can never have “remainders” of elements, that’s why each side (the components and the products) must result in whole-numbers of items. The equation must be balanced.
Writing down those ratios would eventually result, hopefully, in some form of empirical notation, and the realization by the player: “Wait a second… I think I may be engaging in some actual form of chemistry, here.”
Of course, you have recipes scattered about your “main game” to get players on the right track with some basic items.
The challenge will be in simplifying the system further, while remaining true to the “balancing equations” theme.
Hope to have a prototype up in a couple weeks.