Odyssey Hands-on Preview – Science Meets Gaming

In Articles, Gaming by Xardas0 Comments

Whoever said that you can’t learn science simply by playing video games has clearly not heard about Odyssey – The Next Generation Science Game. While mostly aimed at young inquisitive minds, the game does a great job at introducing players of all ages to a number of very important scientific concepts pertaining to astronomy and classical mechanics. Odyssey is currently still in development but there are already plenty of people interested in the title as evidenced by its successful Kickstarter campaign that managed to raise over $46.000 with the help of 1000+ backers. The game was also recently Greenlit on Steam in just four days and is scheduled to launch for PC and Mac in May 2017.

Odyssey is a Myst-like game that puts a lot of emphasis on problem-solving, as the player is tasked with navigating a veritable labyrinth of barricades and contraptions left behind by a very clever 13-year-old girl named Kai and her family. To make things even more interesting, the whole action takes place on a remote exotic archipelago known as the Wretched Islands where the family in question was besieged by pirates and is now relying on you for help. Unlike most games, you’re not heading into the fray with guns blazing here because Odyssey doesn’t feature any combat mechanics and relies entirely on solving puzzles. Armed with only their wit and Kai’s journal, players will have to figure out on their own how to overcome the plethora of obstacles and uncover the mysteries found on the Wretched Islands.

Gameplay-wise, Odyssey is a first-person puzzle adventure game created by The Young Socratics, “an innovative educational program in Math and Science education, geared towards middle and high school students.” The game is being developed in Unity 5 and is still a bit rough around the edges judging by the preview version I was able to test these past several days. Even in its current state, however, Odyssey shows a lot of potential and was a very enjoyable and unique experience for me. Having never played any of the Myst games (I’m a pretty lousy gamer, I know), I can’t really draw any comparisons between the highly acclaimed series and Odyssey, but what I can do is give you a pretty good idea about what to expect from the final version of this title when it releases next year.

Odyssey is a story-driven experience that uses a comprehensive journal as its main mechanism of delivering the narrative. The journal was written by young Kai herself and was created to document her family’s adventures as they attempt to unlock the secrets of the Wretched Islands. More importantly, however, the journal documents all the experiments that resulted from her desire to better understand how ancient philosophers and scientists managed to discover so much about the universe in spite of their limited technology. Much like Kai, the player also delves into the origins of scientific inquiry simply by reading the girl’s extensive journal. The journal itself is far from being complete when you first find it, though, as its pages were scattered all across the Wretched Islands in an attempt to help potential rescuers solve the many puzzles that were put into place in order to dissuade the pirates.

The Young Socratics really went out of their way to make the journal in question as genuine as possible by writing pages upon pages of interesting science facts combined with mundane stories and personal confessions. After all, this is still a young teenager’s diary not a scientific paper and the game likes to remind you of that every now and again. Speaking of the journal, it’s worth mentioning that this game features a whole lot of reading, which may or may not be a good thing for some people depending on how much you like to read. That said, you probably won’t be able to progress very far without reading, as the journal contains important instructions on how to solve the various puzzles. On the other hand, the journal does tend to highlight the most crucial bits of text so you can simply skip a lot of the reading if you’re not interested in the whole backstory. I suggest you don’t skip too much, though, because Odyssey is just as much a science history book as it is a video game. As for the actual puzzles themselves, they’re not too complicated but they do require at least some basic understanding of astronomy and physics more often than not.

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The main purpose of Odyssey is to provide an accurate representation of how our understanding of the natural world has evolved over the ages. Therefore, instead of filling your head with generic textbook data and overly complicated information, Odyssey puts forward an investigative technique that’s very rarely used in video games. Namely, the scientific method. Kai’s journal is a surprisingly good depiction of how the scientific method has been used by great minds (and the girl herself) to make observations, form a testable hypothesis that can be verified using empirical evidence, and draw a sound conclusion based on the collected data. If that sounds a bit intimidating don’t worry because you won’t have to use this method yourself to progress in Odyssey. Instead, the game encourages players to follow Kai’s train of thought in order to understand how the puzzles were created and how they can be solved.

At the moment Odyssey’s campaign is comprised of only three chapters, mainly covering astronomy and classical mechanics. As described by The Young Socratics on Kickstarter, the developers plan to work on three additional chapters that will cover Newtonian physics as well as a few important mathematical principles. Even with only three chapters, though, this game looks extremely promising and should be a must-buy at launch for anyone interested in science. On a personal note, while the gameplay is already pretty solid, I feel like there are still a number of technical aspects that can be improved, such as the lighting, some of the textures, and, in particular, most of the hitboxes because there are quite a few collision detection problems right now. Given that we’re still months away from release, however, there’s plenty of time to polish up the game and deliver something truly special next year.

Odyssey is scheduled to enter its early beta access phase in February and will launch in May 2017 for PC and Mac.

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Xardas thinks that gaming is the best thing that ever happened to mankind and he wants you to know it, too. Sure, you'll sometimes find him writing about some other stuff as well, but at the end of the day he always come back to check on what's been happening in the gaming industry, and to share his findings with you guys.
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