Crashlands is a recently released video game that combines the exploration and crafting element of games such as Don’t Starve with the action RPG goodness of games like Diablo or Torchlight. Although the questing, combat and crafting are all top notch, what tends to suck me in about these sorts of games is the exploration component.
As in similar games, the maps in Crashlands’ three biomes are procedurally generated and they are huge. According to the Crashlands developers, the maps in the game aren’t infinite, but it would take decades to reach a map’s edge. Although Crashlands has definite goals, it is often just as fun to spend hours wandering around the map uncovering new areas and collecting resources along the way.
In an article the developers wrote while working on the game, they do an interesting analysis of precisely why this sort of wandering can often feel so satisfying in and of itself,
The cause of exploration-boredom was how the player got to move through the space, not what was in that space.
So why is this the case? We discussed and Googled around, and in the process found something interesting: the answer could be found in studies of Spider Monkeys.
Spider Monkeys use an exploration strategy called Central Place Foraging. This term simply refers to the behavior of spiraling out from a central point to find food and then returning home via a different route. This kind of foraging maximizes the potential to discover things while maintaining a sense of “home”. It turns out that humans, by use of our villages, cities, and homes, do exactly the same thing.
According to Wikipedia, central place foraging is used by a number of species,
Central Place Foraging (CPF) theory is an evolutionary ecology model for analyzing how an organism can maximize foraging rates while traveling through a patch (a discreet resource concentration), but maintains the key distinction of a forager traveling from a home base to a distant foraging location rather than simply passing through an area or travelling at random. CPF was initially developed to explain how red-winged blackbirds might maximize energy returns when traveling to and from a nest. However, the model has been further refined and used by anthropologists studying human behavioral ecology and archaeology.
It is fascinating how systems that are so captivating in video games are call backs to ancient foraging strategies common to many species.