Anyone up for an organic chemistry mod?

By | April 25, 2014
For those who've missed the news yesterday – this game is a superb example of good gamification. Play it a bit, and you'll have fun and be able to recall the fusion pathways afterwards.

I've been playing around with the game yesterday and have an addition mod for my son, just some finishing touches tonight and then I'll post it. But I think what would be even more valuable is to build up the subjects which are despised by many, many students… such as organic chemistry. 

My first thought was to pick a few metabolic pathways and see how things go. But, probably most courses don't start with cellular metabolism. So, I'd like to humbly ask you for your opinion:

1) Would you be interested in playing / testing such a game?
2) Which reaction groups would you be interested in seeing first?
3) Are there other subjects that might be interesting and worthwhile – for example, particle physics, raising awareness to the problems of ozone depletion, etc?

This Stellar Fusion Game is Shockingly Addictive
Stars are colossal fusion reactors, burning hydrogen into helium. As the nuclei fuse lighter elements into heavier elements, massive amounts of energy are released. A new game sets you the task of nucleosynthesis, building hydrogen into iron, and it’s surprisingly fun.

17 thoughts on “Anyone up for an organic chemistry mod?

  1. Sophie Wrobel

    The reason why I am thinking of a distraction is because a good game needs to be challenging when you play it again and again. I have a frozen bubble mod for doing arithmetic (also made for my son, but he had trouble with the aiming aspect – aiming isn't easy when you're four. he likes the 2048 arithmetic mod, though), and frozen bubble works as a game because the compressor moves down to eventually make you lose if you don't hurry up. Likewise this game needs a challenge which you could lose as well – without the challenge, the game is boring (even if the reaction pathway is complex).

    To answer your question: Mostly linear progress, along predefined cyclic pathways. Given a particular state along a particular pathway:
    (0..n) inputs: compounds which are involved in the chemical reaction other than the compound which is your 'spaceship',
    (0..1) enzyme: compounds which are involved but released immediately after reaction,
    (0..n) outputs: compounds which are produced by the chemical reaction other than the compound which is your 'spaceship',
    (1..1) nextState: the next compound that is your 'spaceship'.

    the trouble, of course, is that inputs and enzymes are two different concepts and need to be handled that way. that is why i've been thinking 'shoot the enzyme' but 'collect powerups' (bullets with inputs) to represent the two concepts.

  2. Isaac Kuo

    +Sophie Wrobel I think option 1 is more intuitive, but either option seem to be an unwelcome complication compared to just sticking to the basic idea of collection compounds in the right combination.

    I think that simply dealing with the complicated graph of chemical reactions is plenty to deal with, mentally. In 2048, the game was based on a simple set of reactions along with a complex method of control (well, at least it's complex until you figure out the "trick" which usually simplifies things). You want to have a complex set of reactions, so I think you need to scale back the complexity of control.

    The thing about 2048 control that makes it complicated is the fact that each move acts on everything; it's hard to just move only the things you want to move. For your game, it would make more sense to give the player finer control. Being able to "shoot" a single item at a precise location would be good, I think.

    I'm still curious what the reaction graph is like. Is it something that can be mostly described as linear progress toward a desired end product? Does each reaction involve exactly two reactants and 1+ products?

    See, I'm wondering if it's possible to display the relevant parts of the reaction graph in the game itself. When you said Space Invaders, I was imagining columns of targets, where each column is a vertical list of chemicals you wish to hit it with. But I don't know if that even makes any sense, without knowing the reaction graph.

  3. Sophie Wrobel

    +Isaac Kuo It is a combination of both. The learning goals are turn-based, but there are non-turn-based 'distractions'.

    Basic idea (turn-based part): The 'spaceship' is assigned a particular compound, and you need to 'collect' the appropriate combination of falling compounds. Once you have the appropriate compounds, you advance to the next 'turn'.

    There are a few options for the 'aliens' (non-turn-based) – as they are mostly distractions to the learning goal, and they don't shoot you. However, shooting the aliens has an impact on how your game progresses.
    1) The 'aliens' they gobble up any byproducts that you produce – and require your byproducts at increasing frequency per 'alien' each time you advance in your 'turns', and game ends when you can't 'feed' the 'aliens' anymore. Here, shooting the aliens has a positive effect as they allow you to 'live' longer.
    2) The 'aliens' represent different catalysts, and rather than have the catalysts fall from the sky, you need to shoot the correct 'alien' to advance to the next turn. The 'mothership' replenishes the 'aliens' at regular intervals – if you shoot the wrong 'alien' you will not be able to advance until the mothership comes and replenishes your supply of catalysts. Here, shooting the aliens has a negative effect, as it impedes progress. To make the game end, the 'mothership' also drops 'bombers' once you have achieved the learning goals, which are 'normal aliens' that try to shoot you with increasing frequency with each progressed 'turn'.

    Of course, I'd guess there are other models. I'd appreciate what your thoughts on these ideas are, or if you'd like to share what you've been thinking about!

  4. Isaac Kuo

    +Sophie Wrobel Is your new idea still turn based? I have been thinking a lot lately about turn based versions of games which are traditionally action based. A turn based variant of Space Invaders was one of the first things I pondered along these lines (it involves surprisingly rich tactics).

    My current project is a turn based platformer, but a turn based Space Invaders style shooter is still fascinating to me.

  5. Sophie Wrobel

    +Isaac Kuo I'd initially taken cellular metabolism / respiration / photosynthesis concurently. The problem is that there isn't enough focus, and too many catalysts involved. That said, I'm currently thinking of changing the gameplay completely and making it more akin to space invaders than 2048, and taking one cycle at a time. Might work, will see… need another weekend 🙂

  6. Isaac Kuo

    What are the "rules" for the 20 base compounds, that you have so far? It may be more playable than you think, depending on how the reactions are organized and how it is visually presented.

    I have thoughts on this from a design perspective, but I'd have to see what the reaction graph is like before figuring out how to present it.

  7. John Poteet

    +Sophie Wrobel Sadly, no. It was something on the order of 15 years ago and those notes are probably in my storage unit. Also I believe I scraped by with a C in that course. I also recall how central it is to the biological sciences and how difficult it was for so many students. 

    Thanks for your interest and effort. 

  8. Sophie Wrobel

    +John Poteet Thanks for asking. It's a bit more complex than I initially expected, but the reason is more sociological than technical – the primary reason being that gameplay has to be challenging enough to be fun, yet simple enough that a new player grasps it right away. (Having 20 different base compounds does NOT make it simple enough for a new player). Struggling with that at the moment. 🙂

    That said, perhaps you have an excellent set of organic chemistry notes or slides somewhere that you'd be willing to share, and that may provide some ideas on what the starting reactions should be, to put all the "units" into the right order?

  9. John Poteet

    I had a wretched time with organic chemistry in college. I'm actually here flipping through your backlist to see if that had progressed. 


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