Specifically, I was reading through Flatfinger's Starship Operations in a Star Trek MMORPG. And I knew that if I read it, I'd wake up tomorrow with a gajillion ideas in my head for Limit Theory. But even in my extremely lethargic state, there's one I need to get out of my system right now, because I can't contain it.
From the article:
What I'm considering is that Josh creates a set of component technologies that are seeded throughout the universe as it's being generated. These components would be integrated into the ships of NPC's, they could be left in floating wreckage, they might be found on planets, they could be issued as rewards for completing contracts, they may be looted from the cargo of merchant vessels, etc.The key to letting players make new devices is for the developers to create basic components, to build the standard set of supplied devices (including starships) out of these components, and to give players a way to take devices apart and put them back together again in new ways and with new components for modified or new functionality.
Suppose you've just finished trading with a representative of the Kylari homeworld, and one of the things you picked up is a subspace phase modulator assembly. Your existing phase modulator is pretty good, but it looks like your subspace scans might be a little more accurate if you could figure out how to integrate this new device into your sensor system. At this point in a TV episode, your ship would get a distress call from somewhere in subspace -- wouldn't it be cool if you could save the day by analyzing the inputs and outputs of the old and new devices and work out how to replace the old one with the new one so that you can find the vessel lost in a subspace inversion?
Or maybe you pick up an improved phase capacitor lattice on an away mission. If devices are built from components, you might be able to field-strip your phaser to use the new capacitor lattice for (say) improved collimation (i.e., more thermal damage but at a significantly higher power drain). By being able to break down devices into components and using different components of the appropriate type to rebuild devices, players could use their ingenuity to solve technological problems just like characters in Star Trek.
Right now, I'm imagining research in Limit Theory to be along the lines of "research Enhanced Sensors and get an automatic +20% bonus to sensor range". I don't think it should be like that. Instead, I think that researching in Limit Theory should be more theoretical, where you research things like Quantum Mechanics, Nanoscale Construction, Genetic Engineering and these research areas allow the player to utilise certain types of the aforementioned component technologies. Since Josh has now got the NPC's able to do research themselves, it will only be natural for them to be interested in these components as well.
For instance, after destroying a ship, a player may scavenge a strange artifact from it. If the player hasn't yet conducted the appropriate research, this artifact may be of little value to him at that moment. However, as the player progresses through the research tree along the appropriate research paths, he may stumble upon the research that grants him knowledge about the artifact, allowing the player to practically apply it as a component in some way.
So if researching Enhanced Sensors no longer confers a direct benefit to my sensors, how do I upgrade them?
As you explore the universe, you'll find more and more of these artifacts/components in the game world. As you progress in the research tree, you'll develop the knowledge to practically apply an increasing number of these. Say the artifact you scavenged from the ship was some kind of artifact that detailed analysis revealed to be a component of an advanced scanner system. You don't know enough to practically utilise that artifact yet, but you know that it's involved in scanning, so you progress along that path in the research tree. One of these research items may be Subspace Imaging. You research that, and all of a sudden you can identify the artifact as a Subspace Probe. You can then try combining (read: crafting) this artifact with other artifacts that you've discovered (and can practically apply) to try and create different types of sensors.
Applying different artifacts in different ways will yield different kinds of sensors. Some might be flat out failures, some might be worse than what you already had, some might be equally as good but have different strengths and weaknesses, and some may be objectively better. Think of the way you can try to combine herbs in Skyrim to make potions - it will be like that, but more in depth since it won't be simply a binary "success" or "failure" event but a unique item that could have a huge variety of possible characteristics, and there could be multiple different ways of applying the same artifacts to generate different outcomes. These different methodologies of combining artifacts might also be dependent upon unlocking research within the research tree.
As you advance further along the research tree, you may even be able to start combining components/artifacts into more complex components/artifacts.
All of this is derived from inspiration that reading Flatfinger's post gave me. If I'm not articulating my idea well (due to tiredness or whatever), Flatfingers should be able to explain the idea better than me.
I've seen others mention about how the procedural nature of item generation will lend itself to making the player venture far and wide in the universe in hopes of finding constantly better weapons, shields, reactors, etc. This reinterpretation of research will lend itself to making the player venture far and wide to find different components to personally craft better weapons, shield and other items.
Referring to exploration in the sense that it's used in Bartle types, this offers immense "exploration value" along two different spectrums: exploration of the galaxy to find better and more varied components, and exploration of the "state space" of the crafting system as the player tries out different combinations of different components in different ways. This should have great appeal not only to Explorers but also to Achievers, who will be able to use this system to create better and better systems and ships and "win" more at the game.
Research will become theoretical and "fixed", but innovation will become procedural and lead to almost infinite variations of weapons, shields, drives, reactors, vessels, etc. that the player can craft after he has acquired the requisite knowledge in the research tree.