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Refining Gameplay Ideas Mined

#1
SUMMARY

Limit Theory will offer mining gameplay, and (presumably) manufacturing gameplay... but how do we get from mined ores to manufactured products? Answer: refining!

This thread is to knock around ideas for how a refining sub-game might be implemented in Limit Theory in a way that's fun for production-oriented gamers and consistent with the rest of the gameplay of Limit Theory.

ORIGIN OF THESE REFINING IDEAS

In 2005 I started working on a design doc for a MMORPG. The key idea motivating this design was to build a game that carefully, and deliberately, provided gameplay content and rewards for what I see as the four most basic playstyles in roughly equal proportion.

One of the areas of play I worked out in that document was refining -- the intermediate step between the mining of ores and the production of objects. And I mention this here/now because it occurs to me that while the Mining Gameplay Ideas Refined thread has gotten a fair amount of interest, we haven't really talked much yet about that refining step to any functional level of detail. Josh has mentioned refining as possible gameplay. And the Procedural Alloys (or Smeltery Simulator 2014) thread by Der_Foe is a step in that direction, as are ThisIsJustMe's slightly more specific suggestions about a refining sub-game and McDuff's Commodity Classes. But I'm thinking maybe there's more we might consider for refining itself.

So what I thought I might do is unleash part of my design doc dealing with refining processes. I have mentioned it before, but now seems like a good time to lay out some of the specifics.

Please note that nothing here is intended to say, "Josh must implement this immediately in Limit Theory exactly as described" -- I'm just throwing out some ideas to see what people think. It's almost certainly going to seem like way too much for some folks (named Gazz :D). But my hope is that someone will see in these details the germ of an idea for getting from mining to production in a way that could be a good fit for LT.

Note: some of the stuff in my design doc, in particular the RPG elements, has been removed from what follows. I'm not giving everything away. ;)

I should also note that the game I designed was a bit more hard science than LT. Consequently it references actual, real-world minerals, ores, and elements, as well as real-world physical, chemical, and electromagnetic processes used in refining. But although these were right for the kind of game I designed, they might be too real-world-ish for LT. As always, proposed gameplay features should be a good fit for the invented world regardless of whether they are "realistic" or not. I mention this because my intention in publishing this stuff is not to promote specific real-world processes in LT, but to (I hope!) inspire a more enjoyable way of implementing refining.

OK, enough preamble. To the details of refining!

THE DETAILS OF REFINING

Refining is the general area of gameplay by which mineral ores are reduced to their chemical components for use in manufacturing processes.

Characters can create refining "schemas" (similar to what Josh has called "blueprints") by selecting material alteration processes from a list of applicable processes, and by defining the order in which those processes will be applied to the ore mixture to be refined. Because processes have both primary effects and side effects, and because different ores will react differently to various processes, some combinations of processes will work better than others for a given ore mixture. Figuring out the optimal schema for refining a given ore is thus meant to be an enjoyable mini-game. Once completed, refining schemas can be saved as factional assets which can themselves be sold to other characters or factions.

The initial step of the refining process is the selection of a refining schema for a given ore type input. Characters will then be able to set sliders for the following run-time optimizations:
  • yield (amount of minerals produced)
  • purity (% impurity of final minerals)
  • speed (time required for one processing cycle)
These sliders will be linked so that increasing the value of one optimization will decrease the other two values.

THE TWO MAIN TYPES OF REFINING PROCESS

Ores can be classified into two groups based on the processes needed to refine them: sulfide ores in which the metal has bonded to sulfur, and oxide ores in which the metal has bonded to oxygen.

There are five stages to produce a highly purified metal from an oxide ore:
  1. Initial separation of oxide ore-bodies
  2. Breaking apart ores to increase the surface area exposed to subsequent stages (crushing)
  3. Dissolving the valuable metal content of ores (extractive metallurgy)
  4. Recovering metals from solution (electrowinning)
  5. Purifying the metal (electrorefining)
Similarly, there are seven stages to produce a highly purified metal from a sulfide ore:
  1. Initial separation of sulfide ore-bodies
  2. Breaking apart ores to increase the surface area exposed to subsequent stages (crushing and grinding)
  3. Separation and flotation of valuable components of ores (concentration)
  4. Further separation of components through high temperatures (roasting and smelting)
  5. Dissolving the valuable metal content of ores (extractive metallurgy)
  6. Recovering metals from solution (electrowinning)
  7. Purifying the metal (electrorefining)
An important point to note is that refining oxide ores is generally less expensive than refining sulfide ores as oxides may not require grinding to a powder or concentration for leaching to be effective. In an even more simulated world, the cost of refining sulfide ores is also greater than oxide ores since sulfur by-products may require special treatment to minimize the release of toxic or hazardous compounds. Also, there are other potential processes that could be selected for refining a particular ore, including centrifugal grinding and magnetic separation, both of which might be more effective in low-gravity environments (as you might find in a space-based game).

EXAMPLES OF COPPER REFINING PROCESSES

To get an idea of what I mean by the process specified in a schema, let's consider copper refining. Copper refining provides examples of both types of process, oxide and sulfide, since copper can be found in mine sites in both sulfide and oxide forms.

Extraction Process for Copper from Copper Sulfides
requires sulfur-bound copper: chalcocite (Cu2S), chalcopyrite (CuFeS2) or covellite (CuS)
  1. mining - extract copper ore
  2. crushing - reduce ore to pebble size
  3. grinding - reduce crushed ore to consistency of talcum powder
  4. concentrating - copper rises in flotation machine as a froth of sulfur-bound copper (with some iron)
  5. roasting - copper concentrate is heated to drive off sulfur dioxide (note: this step is no longer common as SO2 is toxic to humans)
  6. smelting - multiple runs through oxygenated furnaces leaves 97-99% pure copper ("blister") plus molten iron oxide and gaseous sulfur dioxide (converted to sulfuric acid for use in electrorefining)
  7. electrorefining - solid copper in weak sulfuric acid forms copper sulfate, CuSO4, which is transferred from the positive anode to the negative cathode leaving 99.99% pure copper ("cathode copper"), recoverable sulfuric acid (with increasing metallic ion impurities), and "anode sludge" which can contain noble metals. [NOTE: The anode sludges from copper-refining cells currently provide one fourth of U.S. silver production and about one eighth of U.S. gold production.]
Extraction Process for Copper from Copper Oxides - Oxide Leaching and Solvent Extraction-Electrowinning (SX-EW)
requires copper oxide: azurite (2CuCO3・Cu(OH)3), brochantite (CuSO4), chrysocolla (CuSiO3・2H2O) or cuprite (Cu2O)
  1. mining - extract copper ore
  2. crushing - reduce ore to pebble size
  3. spreading - crushed ore is piled onto thick high density polyethylene liner
  4. leaching, bacterial - copper sulfide ores present in oxidized ore are oxidized by the application of copper-specific oxidizing bacteria
  5. leaching, sulfuric acid - weak acid solution sprayed on the oxidized copper ore to dissolve the acid-soluble copper in the ore
  6. extracting, organic solvent - copper-bearing solution ("pregnant liquor") is collected and pumped to an extraction plant where a copper-specific organic solvent extracts the copper from the solution
  7. stripping - acidic electrolyte strips copper from the organic solvent, which is returned to the extraction stage
  8. electrowinning - highly purified copper in solution is plated out to cathodes as pure as or purer than smelted and electrorefined copper
MORE COMPLEX REFINING PROCESSES

Copper refining, as refining goes, is relatively simple. Some materials need a bit more effort to condense them into pure forms, though.

As an example of a more complex ore refining process, consider the process used to obtain highly purified beryllium from bertrandite ore:

Extraction Process for Beryllium from Bertrandite
requires bertrandite: Be4Si2O7(OH)2
  1. mining - bertrandite ore obtained from open-pit mine
  2. milling - ore is wet milled to increase surface area
  3. leaching, sulfuric acid - silicate is removed from ore, leaving oxidized and hydrated beryllium
  4. extracting, kerosene-phospate - acid leachate mixed with di(2-diethylhexyl) phosphate in kerosene at elevated temperature
  5. carbonating - slurry is treated with aqueous ammonium carbonate to form an aqueous ammonium beryllium carbonate complex - NH4BeCO3・nH2O
  6. heating - produces beryllium carbonate as a precipitate - BeCO3 + NH4 + H2O
  7. heating - continued heating liberates carbon dioxide and beryllium hydroxide - CO2 + Be(OH)2
  8. filtering - beryllium hydroxide recovered
  9. Schenzfeier-Pomelee purification process:
    • 9a. fluoridation - beryllium hydroxide reacted with ammonium fluoride to form ammonium fluoroberyllate - (NH4)2BeF4
      9b. heating - ammonia cooked off, leaving amorphous beryllium fluoride - BeF2 + NH4
      9c. reducing, magnesium - reduced by magnesium metal at 900 - 1,300 EC to yield beryllium metal and a beryllium fluoride-magnesium fluoride slag
      9d. leaching, water - slag is removed by leaching with water, leaving 97% pure beryllium metal
  10. electrorefining - solid beryllium is electrolyzed to produce a higher purity material
Note that as this example implies, it might be desirable for schemas to be able to refer to other schemas as intermediate processes. For example, the Schenzfeier-Pomelee process for freeing metals from their metallic hydroxides could be developed as a basic schema (under a not-real-world name, of course). It could then be plugged into a larger schema as a sub-schema.

CONCLUSION

So the idea here is that characters would have a good-sized list of physical, chemical, and electromagnetic processes to choose from. They'd either mine or purchase a large amount of ore, then run experiments on small samples of the ore to figure out a refining schema for that ore that seems to offer good efficiency for either yield, purity, or refining speed. Experienced refiners would have an excellent selection of high-efficiency schemas to start with, which they could tailor to new ore types when encountered.

Once an input ore is selected and a schema has been assigned, the refining character would determine whether to optimize that run for yield, purity, or speed. Then they'd hit the "GO!" button to start that process refining whatever quantity of the selected ore is available as an input, and transferring the intermediate and final outputs as appropriate. (An obvious simplification here is to assume that intermediary materials like water and sulfuric acid are infinitely available and ignore reusing them.)

The final desired output from the refining process could then be sold, transported to a warehouse for future use, or moved directly to a factory where the manufacturing sub-game would begin. I'll let someone else have a go at that. :)

Meanwhile, comments about the notions suggested here are welcome. Again, though, please bear in mind that I am not suggesting that Josh should adopt the ideas above as-is -- all this stuff is just meant to encourage discussion about how refining might be implemented in Limit Theory in a fun way.
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Re: Refining Gameplay Ideas Mined

#2
Me likes.

Of course, keep in mind I'm the YYYYY Tycoon or ZZZZ Simulator type guy that likes these. While I think this might be overly complicated for what LT has in store, I would love to see some stuff like this in game. Of course, I'm also the type that wanted stations to take a day or two to be built instead of a few hours.

First thing; your sliders of Yield/Purity/Speed. It almost seems trivial to include both Yield and Speed. I realize that a high speed/low yield means I have faster cycles and ultimately generate a smaller number of units more frequently and that having a low speed/high yield means that I'll have slower cycles that generate a larger number of units less often. But unless there are a large enough variances between batches, this is almost not needed.

Or was the goal of this to be able to fine tune using small batches in high speed before ramping up the yield and sacrificing speed? If so, then that would also mean that a maxed yield and min'd speed would yield more than a maxed speed with min'd yield--and would lead to a better simulation of what goes on in the real world (test with small samples before ramping up production). The pro/con would be a large batch of usable material instead of a large batch of possibly wasted materials, while at the same time letting the layman not care if they don't wany a high purity/highly refined material.

Next, have you considered anything regarding alloys?

All-in-all, great document Flat! :thumbup: :clap:
Image
Early Spring - 1055: Well, I made it to Boatmurdered, and my initial impressions can be set forth in three words: What. The. F*ck.
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Re: Refining Gameplay Ideas Mined

#3
Hmm.

Josh has already said that alloys will need blueprints, which indicates that they'll be part of the research mechanic. Assuming that mechanic gets nailed to produce enough need for continuous investment in specialisation, this is a good thing, because it means mining, refining and manufactory industries will need to stay separated and trade between each other.

In game terms, what you want to end up with is something that takes an input of X and transforms it into an output of Y. The blueprints tell you what ingredients (or ingredient classes) you need, and what your outputs will be.

To make that variable within the game, I'm pretty sure we're overcomplicating things by thinking in terms of actual crushing and melting and whatnot. Either it will be all done but black-boxed, or done another way via a handwavium processor.

So, trying to look at what actual differences this makes to gameplay, it seems as if the suggestion is to have an "experiment" stage to determine the best way to refine ores into pure metals, and to base blueprints on the results of that.

Is that necessarily better than simply wrapping up research into the research mechanic?
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Re: Refining Gameplay Ideas Mined

#4
McDuff wrote:In game terms, what you want to end up with is something that takes an input of X and transforms it into an output of Y. The blueprints tell you what ingredients (or ingredient classes) you need, and what your outputs will be.
Hrmmm... Reminds me of a similar game...
Image Apparently "Smelting Mama" was too niche. :lol:
Image
Early Spring - 1055: Well, I made it to Boatmurdered, and my initial impressions can be set forth in three words: What. The. F*ck.
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Re: Refining Gameplay Ideas Mined

#6
Nice ideas, Flatfingers. I propose the idea of designing ViTheory programs to specify production routines in Additional Thoughts in Research and Production. The production steps I used to get from raw materials to pure metals is pretty placeholder though:
Image (Direct link)

(Edit: I think the axium/bexium/casium used in the above diagram would be pure metal, actually, so they are really Tier-1 materials. Nevertheless, I never put much thought into the Tier-0 -> Tier-1 step so my point stands)

If an infinite-variety crafting system were implemented (and for LT1 at least, it certainly won't), then it would be quite cool to see the intermediary step between Tier-0 and Tier-1 processes fleshed out in the way you propose. That would increase the scope of exploratory play pretty significantly.

I envisage that NPCs under your employ that you have researching different things in parallel should be able to utilise the results of each other's research to further their own. Imagine that you had a science vessel with two research teams aboard. Research Team A is researching into different production methods to refine axium whereas Research Team B is doing research into ship designs. Research Team A will try out different combinations and configurations of the kind of methodologies you suggest (grinding, smelting, electrowinning, etc.) and may eventually stumble on a higher purity of refined axium. Research Team B may examine this higher-grade axium and find that it could be used to produce a more powerful axium-bexium alloy, which can be used to produce stronger ship hulls (perhaps with an increase in mass as well).

Edit: And also, I really like the distinction being made between oxides and sulphides. What I think I'd like to see is made-up oxide, sulphide, silicate, etc. compounds, like "axium oxide" or "casium sulphide" (where "axium" and "casium" are just placeholder names).
Last edited by ThymineC on Fri Mar 28, 2014 11:26 am, edited 2 times in total.
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Re: Refining Gameplay Ideas Mined

#7
McDuff wrote:I have clearly missed a whole lot of references there because I don't understand what you're on about with that. I was just referring to the ways we've seen it work in game so far.
I was joking that with ingredients and the such is sounded more like a cooking gameplay mechanic, and that train of thought led to the comic.

Cooking Mama is a series of games for the Nintendo DS and the comic was about the main character trying to branch out, but Nintendo basically saying "Get back in the kitchen".

Obscure, I know. :(
Image
Early Spring - 1055: Well, I made it to Boatmurdered, and my initial impressions can be set forth in three words: What. The. F*ck.
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Re: Refining Gameplay Ideas Mined

#8
@ OP:

You listed some methods for refining minerals. How does this translate into gameplay?
If you just have to click the button to execute the one and inevitable processing method then this is an additional chore, not a choice.

How do you "smelt smarter / better" than the AI and why would the AI not be able to do this equally well?
The AI is generally better at judging cost / profit of any given operation so where does the creative power of the player lean on the balance?
There is no "I" in Tea. That would be gross.
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Re: Refining Gameplay Ideas Mined

#9
I wants it, I needs it, must have the precious. :D

I am not talking about inclusion in LT though. I just want this as a stand-alone simulator with, hopefully, numerous add-on packages to follow. Such joy!

So when is the KS going live Flat? Will it be available as a boxed game/simulator with a cloth map, a physical model of a futuristic smelting device, playing cards, dice and a tee shirt? ;) :thumbup: :clap: I cannot wait. :D :D :thumbup: :thumbup:

Errm... :shifty: Am I getting too excited about this Flat? :roll: I know it's a fairly niche product but isn't that what KS projects should be about?
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Re: Refining Gameplay Ideas Mined

#11
That's not what I said. =P
Complexity all by itself isn't bad just like heat or gravity aren't bad.

But if it's supposed to be in a game... how do you play this?
How do you win at smelting? How do you fail at smelting something? What do you do to make it happen?
There is no "I" in Tea. That would be gross.
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Re: Refining Gameplay Ideas Mined

#12
I find it strangely gratifying when a suggestion generates such strong views on both sides. :)

The first question is, is a refining sub-step useful for the overall Production ("Captain of Industry") gameplay mode? If so, then what should that gameplay look like? For the purposes of discussion, I'm assuming the answer to the first question is "yes."

A refining sub-game, I imagine, would do a couple of things. First, it would be an optimization game because that's a form of play that can be fun for both Achievers and Explorers, and because that form of play makes sense as the perceived point of "refining" a substance into a smaller amount of a substance that's more valuable.

Second, in addition to the refined substance, the product of the optimization process itself should be an economic product. By giving value to the creative effort -- the development of new and improved refining schemas -- the general economy is enhanced. What's more, the character who created the new process profits from it, which is satisfying to Achiever-type characters. This creative activity also generates happiness in NPCs and human players who enjoy discovering new things, so developing high-efficiency schemas also has gameplay value for Explorer-type NPCs and players.

I think the "schema" notion I described, in which processing steps can be selected and sequenced to extract valuable production elements from raw ores, satisfies both of those game design goals. Designing refining schemas is optimization gameplay that yields creative and tangible benefits in addition to the refinement product itself.

Of course I support including a "Refine" button for players who are happy to get some default amount of valuable materials (but no schemas) from raw ore. Though if they get bored by performing detailed steps in the process from mining to refining to manufacturing to distribution to sales, why are they playing the Production Game of LT in the first place?

Finally, as I took pains to point out, this is just a very rough first cut at what a fun refining sub-game -- for those who would enjoy a refining sub-game -- might look like. It may be too complex; Josh might be thinking of having only ten or fewer elements in the entire universe for building pre-defined objects, in which case "schema-crafting" is overkill. Or it may be just complex enough; if components can be crafted from some meaningful number of basic elements, maybe an enjoyable and valuable process for optimizing the extraction of usable elements from raw ore needs 15-25 material conversion actions that can be sequenced in different ways, in which case the examples I described are in the "fun" ballpark for Production game players in LT after all.

As for NPCs creating refining schemas, I'd like to see clever NPCs be able to create efficient schemas for their organization as that would contribute to a dynamic economy. But I wouldn't shed any tears if schema-crafting were something only human players could do as long as NPCs, like players, have the default "Refine!" button.

I hope this helps explain why I posted this suggestion -- again, just as a starting point for discussion. Other ways of implementing a refining sub-game are welcome. "I don't see any value in a refining sub-game" is also a valid belief, though in that case I hope you won't mind if the rest of us talk about it. ;)
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Re: Refining Gameplay Ideas Mined

#13
Flatfingers wrote:Of course I support including a "Refine" button for players who are happy to get some default amount of valuable materials (but no schemas) from raw ore. Though if they get bored by performing detailed steps in the process from mining to refining to manufacturing to distribution to sales, why are they playing the Production Game of LT in the first place?
I don't want to see a literal button to handle default refining, but there's something you can do that's pretty similar. Allow the player and NPCs to sell their schemas on the market, and then the player (and other NPCs) can avoid having to use the system themselves by just buying a schema off of the market. I'd hope that schemas would be marketable, but they're basically just a set of information, so you'd need some kind of copyright system to ensure that the inventors of schemas get rewarded for their efforts and therefore have an incentive to provide. You could perhaps have a system whereby an agent can create a schema and pay to have copyright protection on it within a given region of space. You create some kind of similarity measure for schemas, and no other agents are (legally) able to distribute schemas within that region whose similarity to the original schema exceeds a certain threshold. You could extend this kind of system to accommodate for all forms of information-based products that might appear in Limit Theory (e.g. astrometric data, wormhole locations, general blueprints, etc.).
Flatfingers wrote:Second, in addition to the refined substance, the product of the optimization process itself should be an economic product. By giving value to the creative effort -- the development of new and improved refining schemas -- the general economy is enhanced.
In addition, this allows for a natural means through which the average ability to refine ores can improve over time. At T=0, all agents have simplistic, poor methodologies for extracting metals from ore. As time progresses, some of these agents will discover slightly better means of refining ores, and perhaps market them. Other agents will buy these schemas and perhaps try to develop them further. If they succeed, they will be able to published their refined refining schemas back onto the market. Over time, refining schemas will become increasingly sophisticated and efficient.

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