How Science can help your game design (seriously!)

Tagged under SORS science game design

Arguably one of the most challenging aspects of game design is adding that ‘spark' that makes the game interesting and unique.By ‘spark' I really mean anything, from enemy behaviour, to music, to dialogue/story - all these things can make a great game.

Science can't help with all of them, but it can provide some really unique and interesting ideas for your game. Don't believe me? Check out some ideas below - they're all inspired by science!

1. Never smile at a crocodile (in a survival game)

Survival games are becoming more popular these days. How about including several species of crocodiles in yours? Each of these species could vary in their aggression level towards players (so players must learn which species they must avoid). Each species could also have its own attacks - tail-sweeping, side-head striking, and push-downs (using head and neck to push down on victim).

All these behaviours are seen in real juvenile crocodiles during agnostic encounters.

Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

The Nile Crocodile. Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

2. Hey buddy, would you die for me?

This paper found that the response to helping someone in mortal danger was often intuitive rather than a wilful response. They did this by interviewing Carnegie Hero Medal Recipients.

If you've got AI controlled team members in your game, maybe their decision to help you when you're close to death will come down to their individual personality. So maybe the player needs to pick good people for their team, rather than ‘good shooters' - or it can be a tactical decision. Do I want more competent people who may not risk their lives for me or teammates who will save me?

3. You can't heat-shock me!

Got an upgrade system? Have environmental hazards? Why not have a ‘heat-shock' upgrade? A character with this upgrade can resist the environmental pressures for longer.

‘Heat-shock' is the name given to a biological process where, under stress of extreme environmental conditions, new proteins are created to help repair and organism's cells under this stress.

This study found that soybean pod borers in China had various levels of heat-shock proteins depending on where they lived and how cold it was. Nature's upgrade system!

Heat shock protein hsp82. Image credit:"PDB 1hk7 EBI" via Wikimedia Commons

Heat shock protein hsp82. Image credit:"PDB 1hk7 EBI" via Wikimedia Commons

4. Sting me and make me smarter

Scorpions in games are generally bad news. However, this early study in mice indicated that a component of scorpion venom can help neurogenesis (the generation of neurons).

Perhaps in your game, being stung by a scorpion can be a tactical decision - lose some health, gain some intelligence, or brief ability boost?

5. Wasp death and a random power?

Everyone likes a bit of randomisation / gambling, in fact, games are built on them (Destiny engrams, anyone?).

Parasitoid wasps inject their eggs into silkworms, but they also inject small viruses to lower the victim's immune reaction.This study found that these viruses have actually caused the silkworms to incorporate some wasp dna into their own genome.

Maybe parasitoid wasps, an enemy type, can kill you but, when you respawn, you've gained a random power of theirs? This would certainly ‘inject' an element of random fun into the game!

6. Migration and hidden prizes

Building a world populated by wildlife? Lots of species perform migratory activity during certain months/seasons, for example bullsharks. Maybe areas that these predators inhabit during the summer can have hidden gems that players can only get to once they've migrated for the winter?

Image credit: "Bullshark" via Wikimedia Commons.

Image credit: "Bullshark" via Wikimedia Commons.

7. Different height, different game

This study found that the topology of a surface affected the behaviour of stem cells. Taking this to a logical extreme, what if, in your game, the player being at a different height compared to enemies opened up new abilities, or removed some? That would make for some interesting gameplay and tactical decisions.

Imagination + Science = ???

With those 7 examples, I hope it becomes clear how much potential there is when you include a bit of science mixed with some imagination into your game. Why don't you try it next time you're wrestling with a game design decision - how does the natural world do it, and can this be adapted into the game? If there's one thing we know, nature has come up with some pretty ingenious solutions to the problem of how to stay alive.

The aforementioned studies were found by searching through PLoS One, a great, free open access site where anyone can view new scientific papers.