Research and Technology


  • Ideas/explanation for how the reseach for new technologies will work? Will there be a dedicated scientist with a research skill who researches new technologies at random, in an order decided by the government(or the free market), or will a miner be responsible for researching mining technologies and a farmer responsible for researching farming technologies?

    What will the actual research process be like? Will I click a button when I have the required resources to research a new tech (from a (visible/partially visable/only what's discovered is visable)tech tree) instantly? Or will I feed a research machine materials constantly with a small chance of a new technology at random/based on the materials I fed it? A dedicated research skill would make these processes more efficient.


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  • To perform research you basically have to 'craft' a new knowledge object, and that object takes tons of resources. Once one is made, you can share it infinitely if you want (with the ability to sell access without selling the research object), but other people can spend the same resources and do it again, which would be a waste, but the kind of thing that happens in a society regularly in reality.



  • My intuition is that it doesn't happen that way in reality at all. I think most games that feature "research" tie it to wealth or effort exclusively, and in a rather predictable way, for the sake of the game, not to mirror real life.

    I don't know if this is feasible, but I would suggest changing how advancement occurs in two ways:

    1. Differentiating between lengthy, ongoing, expensive, gradual research and sudden, unexpected (but not random), revolutionary breakthroughs
    2. Introducing theoretical flaws that contribute to the revolutionary breakthroughs

    I'll explain.

    I'm partial to Thomas S. Kuhn's theory on the evolution of science, which he elucidates in his book: The Structure of Scientific Revolutions. This is a hotly debated topic amongst historians, scientists and philosophers, so feel free to disagree or even completely ignore my opinions. I promise not to take it personally :) .

    Basically, his theory is that most scientific progress is painstakingly slow and builds on theories the scientific community mostly agrees upon. Most research tends to add a few details, solve corner cases, fix irregularities, simplify algorithms and processes. There is progress, and people feel it, but most of it is not truly revolutionary.

    For example, improvements to the design of the lightbulb are the result of decades of research (perhaps hundreds or thousands of man-years overall) and really do make it cheaper, safer and brighter, but that's about it. A more flamboyant example would be the newest smartphone or tablet: a lot of research went into its development, and people really really really like the new gadget, but it is not in any way truly revolutionary. Both of these improvements make our life better, but they don't change our understanding of how things work or overturn everything we've always known or open new directions of research nobody's ever thought about.

    Instead, most research is expensive and scientifically trivial. By trivial, I do not mean that it is not important; I mean that it is not revolutionary. The ebola vaccine is extremely important because it saves lives, and it represents a lot of research but very smart and devoted people, but it is trivial in the scientific sense because it doesn't change our understanding of medicine.

    One thing that's important to mention is that this ongoing research also reveals inconsistencies in the underlying theory. At first, the inconsistencies are misunderstood or appear insignificant or even relegated to error. Many of them are resolved and the theory is improved just a tiny bit. But some of them become important but things don't work "the way they should", receive more scrutiny, and are discovered to be real flaws in the underlying theory. They basically disprove the theory, but not totally, so scientists realize that they need to find a better theory that describes everything the old theory described well but also the new phenomena.

    So every so often we come across an idea that really changes everything. And the funny thing is that the idea, the discovery, so often turns out to be free or ridiculously cheap. Think of Einstein discovering relativity as he ponders the faults in Newton's amazing research while he approves and rejects inconsequential patent applications. That's not always the case - a lot of revolutionary research is remarkably expensive. But the point is that expense is not a predictor of how revolutionary the research will turn out to have been. There is no formula.

    Expense is more likely a predictor of how wealthy the research backers are, and how much wealthier they are likely to become. In other words, the investment is financial, and the tie to revolutionary breakthroughs likely insignificant (though I can't prove this).

    So if you want to mirror the real world more closely, you'd probably have to distinguish between minor progress and revolutionary discoveries. Minor progress is ongoing, and can be tied to investment, education of the researchers and available materials (silver, bronze, tin, platinum, etc.) and processes. Also, war and the years after wars tend to be pretty productive as well.

    I have no idea what the predictors for revolutionary discoveries are. However, I'm guessing that the likelihood increases as a society becomes wealthier and more educated (particularly higher education) because individual brilliance is more appreciated and cultivated and therefore easier to actualize. I believe that a culture of exploration and innovation also contributes. However, and most importantly, revolutions tend to appear to happen suddenly, but turn out to have been building up gradually as flaws in older theories surface.

    So an interesting approach to advancement might be to introduce the idea of flawed theories. Newton's theories were mocked in some circles when they were originally published, but could not be disproven. It took a few hundred years of experimentation to disprove parts of it, and one brilliant thinker to hypothesize a better theory without so much as a real lab.

    As for the spread of knowledge, which was also mentioned, the distinction I'm suggesting might also offer a few ideas. For example, a lot of ongoing research goes on in universities and is published, so the spread of ideas is pretty quick for the most part. It may take a decade or two to reach the far corners of the globe, but the important stuff usually gets there eventually.

    A lot of ongoing research also happens in companies, who tend to prefer to protect their investment by preventing the spread of knowledge. The advancement elsewhere is not quick, but it does speed up because now everybody knows it's possible, and because the first implementation can always be reverse engineered. Buying the research is faster, but not always cheaper.

    But revolutionary breakthroughs spread like wildfire. They are usually theoretical and capture the mind. It may require a lot of ongoing research to apply the breakthrough, but once it's been discovered and published, you can't really stop its progress. I think the case can be made that revolutionary breakthroughs should be considered public goods.

    So that was long. Kudos for reading this far. I really hope this little essay will help introduce a new mechanism for research in Eco that isn't as boring and stale as the ones employed in every game since Civilization hit the scene 24 years ago. Any chance this ideas will be a revolutionary breakthrough for research in games?



  • Great write up and the idea of a distinction between revolutionary and incremental advancement is an interesting one. I would like to posit that all scientific advancement is incremental, but sometimes that curve is so steep it feels revolutionary. Most of the time research is taking place in areas where the only way forward is some really difficult, resource intensive labor by large groups. And then there's the 'breakthroughs', such as Einstein's as you mentioned, but even that doesn't come from nothing; he's seeing things in a different way and unlocking a secret of the universe, but he's doing so using established maths, and in response to the the experiments and theories of others that, (even though they are in correct) had they not existed, would have prevented his breakthrough. So he's able to make this really rapid advancement that I would agree should be called revolutionary.

    So the question is how to represent this in the game, a random chance to make a breakthrough, see things in a new light? I think having some unpredictability to the cost of research could be interesting, but game wise randomness is less satisfying, and avoids the focus of the game which is community efforts to generate community results. Perhaps players have research skill, that makes them particularly better at performing a certain kind of research. But in general, I think research needs to take place by 'standing on the shoulders of giants', putting in a lot of hard work (which are represented in Eco via resources) and applying your own skill and labor as a group to it.

    Good points and I think this is something we can continue to evolve as we go!



  • @shovavnik Long post, but very intersting and great ideas so fine with me. My only issue with adding this to the game is that considering that a whole game playthrough takes a month (I think I saw that somewhere), it would be kind of hard to make progress the slow and resource intensive way. Also, if implemented as I first imagined, it would seem research (the non-breakthrough kind) would depend on how much time a person puts in. This would mean that the success of the game now leans to depending on only how much time players put in, rather than the decisions that they make. It doesn't have to be in-game time based though, it could be real-life time based. Which I think would work well. I support this idea, I just beleive it needs to be tweaked from the real world a tad to fit a videogame.



  • @JohnK In my personal opinion, I think that there should be a research skill in addition to like mining and logging, and that this skill is linked to the skill you are researching. So if you were researching mining equipment, your research would be affected by your research AND mining skill.



  • I want to apologize for the length of that post. It was much shorter when I started :) .

    @Tenminer117 I would suggest that general progress should always occur, though it can be guided and sped up when the player is active (the boss is in the building...). I think it would be difficult (though perhaps not impossible) for revolutionary breakthroughs to occur when the user is offline because a breakthrough would usually trigger a domino effect that would require the player to intervene. For example, if I discover computers, I'd want to quickly run through pretty much everything to see it if can benefit somehow and if I can "reroute" resources to more relevant computer-dependent research.



  • @JohnK Kuhn believed that breakthroughs are very strongly influenced by incremental progress, but there's also another part. The thing about the revolutions is that they're unexpected and usually go against consensus. They kind of come out of nowhere, usually as an idea (like the double-helix or table of elements) or accidental discovery (like penicillin) and represent a different way of seeing things.

    But I think the more interesting part of Kuhn's theory has to do with the theoretical flaws.

    Say you discover calculus, which is a breakthrough because it changes our perception of everything. Now you can plot more accurate trajectories, build stronger bridges, invent better cryptography, protect the market better, etc., all smaller progressive discoveries that depend on calculus (and possibly other discoveries).

    All those little advancements require investment, and initially everything works great. But then you research firing a rocket into space, a small progression, with the intent of launching satellites or defending against the meteor or whatever. Sometimes, but not always, the rockets fire but fall short or explode in the atmosphere. Accidents happen, but these reflect holes in the theory. The more advanced the technology and the further it gets from the breakthrough, the more significant the holes. Maybe your calculus does not adequately model gravity, a breakthrough which has yet to be discovered. Or modern meteorology, if parts of the rocket freeze, so it explodes or falls in certain weather conditions.

    So I have no idea how complicated any of this stuff is. Obviously it has to fit the game. I'm not making any demands, just offering a few ideas! I just think it would be really cool to shake up the common technological advancement paradigm, and Eco sounds to me like a really great platform to test these kinds of ideas.



  • @Tenminer117 said:

    @JohnK In my personal opinion, I think that there should be a research skill in addition to like mining and logging, and that this skill is linked to the skill you are researching. So if you were researching mining equipment, your research would be affected by your research AND mining skill.

    Yeah that's the plan! The time it will take to do research will be weighted both by your skill in research, and the related skill of that research.

    @shovavnik said:

    @JohnK Kuhn believed that breakthroughs are very strongly influenced by incremental progress, but there's also another part. The thing about the revolutions is that they're unexpected and usually go against consensus. They kind of come out of nowhere, usually as an idea (like the double-helix or table of elements) or accidental discovery (like penicillin) and represent a different way of seeing things.
    So I have no idea how complicated any of this stuff is. Obviously it has to fit the game. I'm not making any demands, just offering a few ideas! I just think it would be really cool to shake up the common technological advancement paradigm, and Eco sounds to me like a really great platform to test these kinds of ideas.

    Faulty research would be interesting, I feel like when done right the research includes the aspects that shows its efficiency. Perhaps the way to add complexity to research is to require a lot of different skills contributing to it, meaning that multiple players will need to collaborate to finish the research project, and each contribute time (online or offline) and resources to it.


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