Wot I Think: Odyssey – The Next Generation Science Game

Lots of people have tried to make educational games. Few have succeeded. Odyssey [official site] gets closer than most, in its efforts to teach about physics, astronomy and mechanics. It’s been in early access for a while, but comes out today, accompanied by a price drop. Here’s wot I think:

Odyssey, despite the rather bold choice of name, is about following in the steps of a family who recently explored the Wretched Isles – a fictional group of tiny islands in the Caribbean, once populated by Island Caribs until an invasion of pirates in the mid-17th century. Last populated by the US army in the Second World War, the Rao family has gained permission to visit the out-of-bounds rocks to do some research during the summer holidays. You, it seems, are brmming a boat somewhere nearby when you hear the distress call of the clan’s 13 year-old daughter, Kai, so stop off to see what’s what.

What follows is a first-person adventure-cum-puzzler that at first glance looks like a homemade version of The Witness. Odd boards and electric grids are rigged about around the place, and progress is gained by solving the puzzles thereon. But it soon becomes clear this is a lot less about esoteric brainteasers, and much more about exploring astronomy from first principles.

I love the ambitions behind Odyssey. It wants to educate, and not in a tiresomely deceptive way, but up front with books and diagrams and practical application through puzzles. It crafts a rather odd setting to do this, but hey, who doesn’t love exploring an abandoned island? But even so, there’s a point where it starts to feel too disingenuous. Sure, this family’s on an island during the holidays, professor parents wanting to explore some old world mysteries with their teenage daughter – your scribe – and her older brother Sid, brought along. And sure, science boff dad can’t help but want to feed his daughter’s curious mind as they go, fixing bridges, exploring pirate interference, directing her to keep a detailed journal about both the present adventures and the science she’s being taught. I’ll even accept the completely ridiculous conceit that the puzzles you’re solving to gain progress are there to prevent some unknown baddies from reaching the family, with pages ripped from Kai’s journal left nearby for – er – I guess me to read and solve.

But there comes a point where this utterly un-13-like 13 year old is dryly describing her experiments to learn why a disc and a ball are lit differently by a light source, in order to understand how ancient folks knew the moon was a sphere. And she explains that she does this using her “project supplies”, items “half stuff you get from a craft store and half salvaged from the junkyard near my house, including a bunch of these cool crank wheels that make gears and sliders go back and forth.”

“Cool crank wheels.”

That she brought along, on a boat trip, to a remote island that no one is supposed to have stood on since World War II. She just has those cool crank wheels and sliders with her, in her suitcase, like any 13 year old would.

Oh come on.

“I mounted a light on a track, to act like the sun, between the two moons so I could crank it forward and backward. I could have just held the models up to the light, but I wanted to be precise.”

Oh come on.

And it definitely isn’t helpful that the game’s opening monologue sounds uncannily like Vanessa Bayer’s SNL character Laura Parsons.

The larger mistake, beyond the stretched credulity of the format, is the balance of playing to reading. Just three or four puzzles in I’d already read 49 pages of journal. FORTY-NINE. And once I’ve finished reading the latest lengthy batch there’s then a puzzle relating to that sun/moon light machine that takes approximately thirty seconds, revealing the next wad of pages to read. Another eight pages of dense text. And four pages of this is, I swear, an aching justification for an impossibly complicated room-size combination puzzle to lower a ladder.

Solve it, and the ladder comes down with another twelve pages of diary.

Now, there’s nothing really wrong with these diaries. They don’t read like any thirteen-year-old who has ever existed, and I fear that lack of authenticity will do much to put off its target audience of inquisitive teens, but that’s not the end of the world. And in fact, the way the entries approach the subjects of how pre-enlightenment scientists and astronomers were able to identify the spherical nature of the Earth, and the orbits of the solar system, are brilliantly approached. It comes at everything from first principle, with Kia encouraged by her father to try to work out how the peoples of these islands could have reached the knowledge she’s been given.

Kia is smart, and likes to build models to process her thinking, and this all means as the player you learn alongside her. You, a grown up, have likely heard a good few of the reasons we can discern the not-flatness of the Earth, but it addresses the many arguments that were made over the last couple of thousand years in careful and precise terms, almost as if a primer for anyone wanting to make a flat-Earther idiot get out of their Twitter mentions in a hurry. The problem is, it does all this in text on pretend paper on your screen, rather than in what you do in the brief portions of actually playing.

Yes there are puzzles where you align the sun, moon and Earth such that you can see the shadows cast, but these always come long after you’ve done the reading and been given the conclusions, and usually not to demonstrate what you’ve been told, but instead to point an arrow at a picture so you can open a door. Go down a zipwire, and then… thirty more pages of diary to read.

In those thirty pages are two highlighted paragraphs, which hint to where you should position the celestial models Kia’s been writing about – 30 seconds later you’ve got another twenty-seven pages of handwritten astrophysics to read.

I absolutely did not know that ancient astronomers considered the Sun and moon to be planets, while the Earth not. I knew very little about the rationale behind the geocentric solar system, and it’s really interesting to learn about it. I’m tempted to say, “But I’d much rather have read about it in a book…” but that’s not really true. I love buying books, but I’m not so great at reading them – the reality is, I wasn’t going to have stumbled on this information were it not for this game.

The problem is, the failed potential for this as a game. A sentiment best captured by, er, the game. In one of those 30-page chunks, as I read about Kia’s practical experiments to try to disprove Aristotle’s geocentric model, she recounts a conversation with her father about how pleased he is she’s doing all this. As he introduces Copernicus to the story, she writes,

“Dad said I was retracing that debate, and he was extremely happy about it, because real science is about investigation and discovery, not just reading the words of a textbook author.”


The irony is a little sore.

There are exceptions. When it’s teaching about the retrograde motion of Mars, and how this can be proven in both geocentric and heliocentric models, you do get to play with (outlandishly complex) machines to see this in action. That makes a difference. But it’s still so dismissive, there to be a puzzle, rather than an application.

And so it goes on and on. I admit I’ve not finished it. I’m 200-something pages into this diary, and it’s getting into Aristotle’s mistaken beliefs about the speed of falling object’s, and Kia’s exhaustive experiments to prove him wrong. And still all the learning is taking place in the book, the puzzles really only tangentially related.

It calls itself “The Next Generation Science Game”, but the reality is this feels like something very last generation. Not just the somewhat clunky graphics (they’re nice enough, but look a good few years old), but the whole approach feels like something that misunderstands how games can really be applied to education. Just look at Minecraft, for goodness sakes, to see that it’s about experimentation and application, not book reading and tests. I think there will be kids who will really appreciate this, but I suspect it’ll be those who would have enjoyed being given a textbook about the subject almost as much. I really cannot see it drawing in the crowds to accidentally learn physics and astronomy while they play. Mostly because there’s almost no playing!

I love that it’s tried, and it certainly is no disaster. But I really can’t work out exactly who or what it’s for.

Odyssey is out today for Windows and Mac via Steam for $15.

From this site


  1. aircool says:

    Anyone know of any good games that teach calculus? It was a stumbling block for me and one of the few things with which I regret persevering.

    Bit personal, but there you go…

  2. poliovaccine says:

    This is exactly what I needed – a nice, simple, single-source item to gift to the flat-earther in my life… not that I haven’t gone over all this shit w him already, of course that stuff is far less about science than it is about being unable to compete socially or intellectually in the real world and so finding a community of similarly confused, ignorant, and self-righteous individuals w whom to co-validate and self-congratulate – but the format here precludes his number one most effective debate tactic, which is to simply annoy me until I give up and leave him to his little world. Frankly, I wouldnt be interacting w this genius at all if he hadnt taken it upon himself to single me out and attempt to “convert” me.

    I have a serious suspicion that the resurgence of the flat-earther “movement” was a big part of the inspiration for this game… given how maddening it is to someone who knows better, I could absolutely imagine that being the case. (Btw, I say “resurgence” there not referring to the middle ages, but rather just the 70s, which is when my dad recalls it was about as popular as it is now – people looking for alternative everythings as they were then – and now, as Brexit and Trump have shown us as well… just another moment in history where people were so hungry for change they didnt seem to care if it was a change for the worse..)

    Anyway, like I say, I damn well needed this game. Yeah, I know books exist to give this guy, but he considers watching youtube “research,” clearly he’s not going to read any damn book.

    In fact, I’m thinking I’ll come to him like, “Holy shit dude, you were right, I get it now! The earth IS flat! I just played this awesome game, it’s like a covert educational tool made by the REAL doers and thinkers of the world: the flat-earthers, of course – and it’s designed to systematically guide you through the science that *proves* the earth is flat! It’s incredible! There’s this whole big part where you’re doing experiments to try and disprove Aristotle and oh man, you’re gonna love it!” Kinda think I’ll have to do it like that, cus he maintains his echo chamber reflexively..

    • comic knight says:

      Im a flat earther. Its not worth trying to convert people. People that want to know the truth will do proper research and experiements, people that dont care or dont want to know arent going to listen anyway.

      • GeoX says:


      • treat says:

        Oh hey, that’s exactly the pocket ace my conspiracy theorist buddy uses after starting arguments with people. My only issue with it is that dicking around on the questionable side of the internet is not analogous with “proper research.” or maybe it is, I have no idea what the hell it is you people seem to think research actually entails.

      • Unclepauly says:

        I would love to know what type of experiments you can do that don’t involve satellites, rockets, or space shuttles. Flat Earthers believe that all those pictures from space are frauds then. Space flight is all a giant conspiracy. Crazy shit man.

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          Harlander says:

          Here are a few, one of which involves riding a plane but most of which can be revolved using little more than the ability to look at things, move and manipulate objects a bit.

        • comic knight says:

          First reason that earth is not a globe is that there are zero examples in nature of water conforming to the exterior of a surface.

          Second is on a globe the higher you go the farther down you would have to look to see the horizon line but since the horizon always rises to eye level even in amateur rocket launches proves a infinte plane rather than a globe.

          Other experiments you can do to prove flat earth. Setup a telescope on the shore and watch ships travel away. You will see that it was only perspective that makes them look like they go over a curve, once you zoom in you can see the entire ship again. Its actually just perspective and atmospheric conditions that cause you to lose sight of an object.

          • OnlyAnAlligator says:

            See, and there’s the reason that no piece of data or experiment you will ever convince a flat earther. They exist in a world where the all-powerful deceiver prevails and our every perception of the world is, in fact, wrong. Looking at the article, I could guess that a flat earther would just accuse you of failing to understand the REAL way that light works or the REAL way that gravity works for any of your examples. There’s no way of disproving them, and, frankly, no point in arguing with them, because they exist in a sort of weird reverse of Descartes’s universe, where the only thing that can be trusted is their own perceptions and beliefs.

          • John Walker says:

            Are the other planets in our solar system globes?

          • comic knight says:

            Insults will never get results. I am not opposed to a globe model. Practical and repeatable observations and experiments have shown me more evidence of a flat earth.

          • skeletortoise says:

            In ten minutes I could buy myself a series of flights which would take me around all of Earth in 4 or 5 stops. Do you think that’s done by turning around 180 degrees very sneakily? I could verify this with a compass, or are those also a hoax? (Why are there so many accounts of people navigating successfully with compasses? How did those people actually navigate? etc.) Wouldn’t one of the flights need to be about as long as all the others combined? Or do planes just deliberately go slower if they aren’t flights at the Earth’s edge? Where is the Earth’s edge? Why is the airline industry so willing to go along with all this?

          • comic knight says:

            Skeletortoise, this will answer that question and many others. link to youtu.be

          • poliovaccine says:

            Dude, make fun of em all you want. I have schizophrenia, and this shit is still ass-crazy to me. Mainly because my love of the scientific method has allowed me to remain intellectually high-functioning (I work in IT) in spite of the occasional hallucinosis. Mental illness is no excuse! Hell, if anything, conspiracists give schizophrenics a bad name…!

          • skeletortoise says:

            Sorry, I’m not going to invest two hours into listening to that. If you aren’t prepared to answer what seems to me the most obvious counterpoint, “Hey, what about the fact that people can and have traveled around the Earth, both North to South and East to West?”, without referencing a massive global conspiracy that goes all the way to the top, as well as pretty much everywhere else, then I don’t know how you can persist with this. Hell, my brother is a cargo pilot who’s flown from California to Italy from both directions (do you think he’s been compromised?).

            Anyway, listening to a few minutes of that I heard some of the things you said above. Much of their arguments seem to rely on not having a great understanding of the difference between velocity and acceleration, just how far apart everything is in space, and just how big the Earth is. This isn’t Super Mario Galaxy, it’d be weird if you could see the curvature of the Earth while on it.

            And it’s never great when your argument is contingent on observations which clearly aren’t at a high enough altitude to observe the effects you’re discounting, but every source that does have observations that high (and disproves your argument), such as every government space agency, is obviously compromised. Crazy that NASA has had such incredible CGI since the 60s!

          • skeletortoise says:

            FWIW, I’m not trying to be a dick. Trying being the key word. I’m genuinely curious about how/why you believe it and interested in convincing you to see things otherwise. I won’t assume you’re unwilling to see reason until you’ve demonstrated it here.

          • comic knight says:

            Skeletortoise. The reason is moat people will ask questions and when they get an answer they just switch to another question and it goes on and on and could easily go longer than 2 hours. Those people dont actually want to know anything they just want to “win” the discussion. If its about winning then its not even a discussion and a waste of both of our times. Lets assume you asked to actually gain knowledge this time. The earth is a disc. The center is the north pole. Compass direct to the center. When you go south you go away from the center toward antarctica. East and west are circular routes around the center. This is why planes fly northern routes becuase it is shorter to fly in a straight line than a curve and also why flights like australia to south america fly north instead of over south pole becuase its impossible.

          • Colthor says:

            Just to exercise my atrophied algebra abilities, I thought I’d dig at the “…the horizon always rises to eye level…” assertion.
            The basis for the maths can be seen on this horizon distance calculator (and I’ll use its same approximations), but we need to work out angles. If we call the angle from straight down to the horizon (ie. between OC and OH on the graph) a, then basic trigonometry of sin = opposite/hypotenuse gets you a=sin−1(r/r+v).

            Plugging numbers into this, at slightly over human head hight (2m) from sea level the horizon would be at a height of 89.95° from straight down. At airliner height of 10,000m the horizon is 86.79° from straight down, and I’d suggest that without an instrument to measure it, and with no basis for comparison, an observer wouldn’t be able to tell the difference between those three degrees and “eye level”. Ie. they see it where they expect it to be.

            Even at the ISS’s orbit of 330,000 metres, the horizon would still be 72° from vertically down, but of course by then the curvature of the Earth is readily apparent. I’m reminded of a YouTube video of a MiG-29 going from the ground to the edge of space and back, and how long it took before one could see the horizon curve. Turns out the Earth is pretty big.

            This comment presumably makes me part of the conspiracy, so I expect my badge in the post. I’m sure they know where to find me.

          • aepervius says:

            “The earth is a disc. The center is the north pole.”

            There is always a degree of rejection of reality needed to hold such opinion. If the earth was a disk, circumnavigating 45 degree north would be MUCH shorter than circumnavigating 45 degree South.The only way it is roughly equal is to be on a sphere. You can’t reject that without rejecting all the jets flying those regions or making up some giant conpiracy theory.

            And that takes only 5 second to think about it.

          • skeletortoise says:

            This still requires a vast conspiracy within the airline industry. Geometry dictates that anyone travelling around a circle would have to be continuously turning. So someone flying East or West would not be travelling in a uniformly straight line, or else their cardinal orientation would be continuously changing. I could see passengers not noticing this, but there’s no explanation for how a pilot wouldn’t. So they’re either all in on it or this is incorrect.

            And how do you explain varying daylight based on latitude?

          • skeletortoise says:

            Yeah, as above comments demonstrate, the biggest obstacle to this idea is simply geometry. While obviously not airtight, this is significantly more believable if you simply discount the southern hemisphere. But it’s obviously false if you do. The further you are from the equator the more substantial the difference in size of any given area on the opposite side of the equator. So travelling equal distances (as indicated by a globe based map) should be substantially increased. This would be so apparent that the idea that this wouldn’t have been proven in some way is ludicrous.

          • comic knight says:

            This was already proven than the southern hemisphere is much larger. During Admiral Byrds expeditions of antarctica they sailed something like 20k miles farther than expected due to the distance being way larger than the equator.

          • skeletortoise says:

            I have serious doubts about that*, but I don’t know anything about that journey and I certainly wasn’t on it, so I’ll give you the benefit of the doubt and say that’s a data point on your side.

            I want to put some perspective on this. Imagine you’re trying to “circumnavigate” the flat earth, by following single line of latitude and flying in a perfect circle west/east. You want to do it near the poles, to demonstrate that the world is flat. You arbitrarily decide to circle 100 miles (sorry, American) from both poles. The circumference of said circles is 2*pi*r, so that’s how far you’ll be travelling. Up north, that’s just 314 miles and change. Down south, however, the radius of the flat Earth would be one quarter the circumference of the Earth, minus 100 miles. Plugging that in we get about 38,801 miles as your total distance to travel. That comes out to 123 times further by the south pole than the north. Google tells me a 747 flies at 614 mph ground speed, so if you’re up north that’s about a half hour. Down south that’s 63 hours, or a little over 2.5 days.

            Now, that’s the extreme example, but what I’m interested in is the millions of little cases which should come up everyday that would support you. It’s not like people don’t travel in the southern hemisphere. There’s like two and half populated continents at least. I did the same math for 40 degrees latitude, which would put you somewhere in America and Brazil, for example, and any distance should be 3.5 times further in the south. That is, anyone driving west or east in Brazil from America would find the trip took 3.5 times longer than expected. I feel like this might’ve come up during the Olympics. And on top of that, going north and south there should be no change at all. You expect me to believe that Brazilians just take it for granted that a mile is three times longer when you do it west instead of south? Millions of people are experiencing this everyday, apparently, and they’re just so conditioned they can’t see it?

            P.S. I appreciate the fact that the above comment is the only one you responded to. Presumably the only one you had a vaguely relevant fact to reply with.

            *The circumference of the Earth, as given by those in the conspiracy, is about 25K miles, so assuming we’re agreed on the size of the Earth above the equator, there’s no conceivable journey that could possibly go for 20K miles more than expected.

            Edit: I realize I made a mistake with my math. I halved the southern radius both times. So really they both ought to be significantly higher proportionally than I said

          • Shinard says:

            “There are zero examples in nature of water conforming to the exterior of a surface”

            Wait wait wait. This brings up a lot of questions. Not about that – it’s gravity, mass is pulled towards the largest object around according to the inverse square law, and nothing on Earth is heavy enough to overcome the gravity of the planet so we can’t observe water clinging to the exterior of a surface because it’s too busy clinging to the exterior of the Earth. Think of a tug of war contest between a baby and 6 Schwarzeneggers – one team immediately falls over when the other team starts pulling, and we never see that team move the rope towards their side. But that doesn’t mean the baby’s not pulling.

            But questions – do flat Earthers believe there’s no gravity? Just… things go down because down is down? What happens when you get to the edge of the world? If it’s a flat disc, there has to be an edge, so has nobody reached it? If things go down because down is down wouldn’t people fall off? What about the planets in the night sky? How do we fit into that, or are they an illusion? Main question – what is beyond the Flat Earth?

            Fair warning – if you say it’s turtles all the way down I will punch you.

          • John Walker says:

            Yes, but, are the other planets in our solar system globes?

          • frenchy2k1 says:

            The curvature of the earth was first measured in late 18th century, this is the base for the metric system (a meter is 1/(10 millions) of the distance between pole and equator).
            This curvature was deduced by triangulation and measurement of an arc running from Dunkirk (northern France) and Barcelona.
            link to french-metrology.com
            link to en.wikipedia.org

            Basically, scientists in the 18th century measured with enough precision that curvature you claim does not exist because you are looking at too small a distance.

            This reminds me of this text by Asimov about error margins and improvements: link to chem.tufts.edu
            TLDR: your assumption (of a flat earth) work locally because its margin of error can be ignored. Once you get to larger distances, it falls apart.

        • poliovaccine says:

          In fact, between the work of Aristotle, Galileo, Newton, and the functionality of a sextant, there are tons of experiments you can do to demonstrate the roundness of the earth without any high technology. In fact, I recall a few from 9th grade physics class, and a few more from my extensive interactions w the aforementioned flat-earther who decided to convert me. As an intellectual and philosophical exercise, I decided to take him seriously, since hey, I’ve never been to space, and I think it’s valuable to challenge your most innate and deeply-held assumptions and assertions. So I did a process very similar to what this game describes – start at square zero, work forwards from there. That experience left me with no doubt as to the roudness of the earth – but of course I finished it all alone, for my own sake, cus my flat-earther buddy refused to continue with it once he saw conclusions stacking up against him. He chose to believe I’d somehow tricked him, or manipulated the data that was plainly available to us both.

          I realize there’s really no point in trying to convince these people, cus like I say, it’s far less about science than it is about their own self-identity and social orientation, but that’s exactly why I appreciate hqving the whole thing laid out in a single, accessible source – cus I get sick of doing all the typing.

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        johannsebastianbach says:

        Wait, what? Are you saying there are actually people out there who genuinely believe the earth is flat?
        I’m confused about what is real and what is a meme here. (Actually, this is kind of an appropriate description of the world we live in these days.)

        • OnlyAnAlligator says:

          The argument’s been around for about a century, with the International Flat Earth Society forming in the mid-fifties. It had it’s exegesis in Samuel Rowbotham, who was a terrible scientist, but a great polemicist, winning popular interest in his zetetic earth theories. Since then, it’s remained one of those scientific fringe groups that plays on the fact that scientific data can’t provide actual truth in the classical sense, as in the thing that must be the case, but instead point us towards the likeliest explanation for why the world works the way that it does.

        • Sin Vega says:

          I have long been of the opinion that “flat earthers” and their surge in numbers are one of those cases of the performative doublethink ushered in by the internet. People try really hard to convince themselves of something they know to be bollocks, and before long they have to believe it, and cling to the routines and stock notions like a reassuring blanket.

          It’s a sort of understandable reaction to the scope of the modern world, really. Just a shame they don’t pick something less cretinous.

      • ColonelFlanders says:

        Are you going to start bandying about the incorrect usage of the word ‘theory’ in a second as well? EVOLUTION IS JUST A THEORY MAN.

        I have one question for you to riddle me, since arguing the facts is pointless with you people: if the Earth truly is flat, and we’re being lied to – why? What does anyone have to gain from making us think it’s flat instead of round(ish)? And why does every theory (correct usage, not conspiracese for guess) fit with the round earth?

        • poliovaccine says:

          That was a big question I had as well. While peoples’ answers vary, the most enlightening response I ever got was, “There is no such thing as an atheistic flat-earther.” While the thing is so broad I doubt that’s true, the most common answers are either – “the whole world-spinning-real-fast thing never made sense to me when I was fivr years old, and lo and behold, looks like I was right all along,” or else, “the bible describes the earth as having four corners, and all my youtube research conforms with that.” In a broader, more secular sense, the answer is often: “because, if they can deceive you about the shape of the planet, they can deceive you about anything!” Wish I were joking. I’m sure other people have other reasons, but if you sit down w em and go step-by-step through their calculations and reasoning, eventually you’ll find someplace where their assumptions or their math are fundamentally wrong (i.e. tying a GoPro to a weather balloon, and being unable to see a curve at the maximum height a weather balloom can travel within the atmosphere – the people I saw doing that one on my own fb feed actually believed the weather balloon had risen all the way into space), and it’s at that point that the esoteric religious and/or conspiracist justifications come into play.

          For example – one meme I saw asked, if the earth is really spinning, how can a helicopter hover for an hour and then land on the same spot? They expect the earth to spin away beneath it, like a gyroscope. Maybe you try and explain how gravitational attraction is relative to the center of the body of mass to which gravity is attracted, or how, if a person is traveling in a car, they share the momentum of the moving vehicle – but they come back saying there’s no such thing as gravity. Some actually assert that the principles of density explain everything the hoax of gravity attempts to explain, but better. Which, of course, is why the moon hangs above us in the sky – because it’s as dense as a soap bubble, clearly. Again, wish I was joking.

          I’ve seen several people wonder if the flat earth thing is even real, or if it’s just a trollster meme. I regret to report that, no yeah, it’s totally a real thing.

          Their typical refrain, “Those who are willing to see the truth, and observe and experiment for themselves, without bias, will see in the end,” that irony explodes me so hard it’d be easy to imagine it’s just trolling. But look into it a little, and you’ll find it’s absolutely real. They’re just careful not to engage too much with “globeheads” if they can help it – anytime you get too specific in your queries or challeges – i.e. anytime you start quoting specific data and figures – they tend to withdraw with a comment about unwillingness to see the truth, and some youtube links which will “answer all your questions.” Actually watch those videos, if you want to get really upset about the future of the human race.

        • Colthor says:

          According to the Flat Earth wiki the conspiracy is so that the US can appear to have military control over space, and therefore the globe beneath it.

          Which means that the Russian and Chinese space agencies are part of a global conspiracy to support the US’s claims of military domination of a domain that, according to the Flat Earthers, doesn’t even exist.

    • Dinger says:

      I wouldn’t call it a “resurgence” of the “Flat-Earther Movement”. There never was a movement before the 20th century. The sphericity of the Earth has not been in serious doubt (at least to the African-Arabic-European scientific tradition) for two and a half millennia.
      To people like your friend, Aristotle would point out that there’s no point in arguing with those who refuse the principle of non-contradiction.

    • Marclev says:

      Are the people above arguing that the earth is flat being sarcastic or serious? I’m assuming sarcastic as anybody above about 3 couldn’t possibly believe such a thing (and certainly nobody that’s ever experienced jet lag), but some part of me wouldn’t put anything beyond people.

      • TheMightyEthan says:

        I think it’s a combination. There’s a core of people who really, honestly believe it, and have explanations for every argument you can make against it (the fact that the various explanations are frequently mutually exclusive doesn’t bother them), and then there’s another group who just think it’s funny and so they go along with it as a joke. Like TimeCube.

  3. ColonelFlanders says:

    “But I really can’t work out who it’s for”

    In short, me. This sounds like a perfect non-game game for me to have a go at. Now that ive finished Breath of the Wild I’ve been idly scrolling through my backlog of games wot are like all the other games, and I’ve been SO uninspired.

    Reading this review has made me think ‘cor blimey I’d love a go at that’, even with (possibly because of) all the reading and research you have to do.

    So thanks for the review John! I’m sorry that in some ways the game has fallen a bit short for You, but it looks right up my street so thanks for the coverage, and have a splendid day :)

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    phuzz says:

    I first thought the title picture was from the Talos Principle. Then I saw the panel and the part of my brain that was trained by The Witness woke up.

  5. iainl says:

    That’s weird. I’d happily claim that my time spent with The Witness, even the hour or two I put in to repeatedly failing the final challenge, was among the best videogaming I did last year.

    And yet the mere sight of a square interface in a jungle brought out a whole load of “oh hell no!”

  6. theyoungsocratics says:

    Thank you John for reviewing our game! I hope you won’t mind if we attempted to answer some of the questions you raised in your review here.

    1. Who is it for? We designed the game keeping in mind two kinds of audiences:
    a) Middle school students, who are required to learn astronomy and Newtonian physics.
    b) Anyone who wishes to understand how scientific ideas we take for granted today were constructed from scratch. Our focus in particular is on the ideas in astronomy and mechanics that lead up to the Scientific Revolution.

    2. The name: We called Odyssey “The Next Generation Science Game” because we believe it is very well aligned with the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS) in the US. One of the professors who endorsed our game was Jonathan Osborne, Professor of Science Education at Stanford University who was involved in drafting the framework for the NGSS. He wrote:

    “This game takes an innovative historical approach to teaching science. It asks the students to engage many of the NGSS science practices such as constructing explanations, developing and using models, and arguing from evidence. Perhaps more importantly, it illuminates how scientific reasoning has led us to build the understanding we have of the Earth’s place in the solar system. From this, a student will begin to get an appreciation of the creative achievement that science represents in an engaging and compelling manner.”

    3. About there being various fictional story elements that sound too far-fetched for a 13 year old girl to do: Yes, I’m sure there may be many other examples one could think of, in addition to the ones you’ve mentioned. But as someone who devoured a lot of children’s adventure books in my teenage years, such flaws could be found in all of those books. We don’t think that detracts from the purpose of the game, which is primarily educational. Other science education games like Galxyz’s Blue Apprentice, Kerbal Space Program, etc are completely in the domain of “science fiction”, where they can take a lot of liberty in what the characters can do. Virtually every aspect of their stories are unbelievable, even as they attempt to teach real-world science. We felt there is a fundamental inconsistency in employing a science fiction story to teach real-world science, because the boundary between reality and fiction is not well-defined for the learner. So we chose a scenario that is close to a real world scenario. In India, there are people we personally know like Arvind Gupta and Manish Jain that build toys from trash (literally). They carry all kinds of trinkets with them in suitcases when they travel, because they like “making” things out of them. A 13 year old girl may not do that, and that’s fine. We don’t consider that a big flaw in the game, given our purpose.

    4. The amount of reading: Yes, there is a lot to read in Odyssey. In fact, we consider the journal to be the heart of the game. In the Steam description about our game, we have taken care to issue a warning: “Players can expect a significant amount of reading.”

    The question is whether we could have taught the science without making the player read so much. We are firmly convinced the answer is NO. Games like Minecraft are quite different — in them, players can collect raw materials and food and build tools, weapons and shelter out of them. Human societies around the world lived and built things that way long before the invention of science. But no human being could possibly invent Newtonian physics that way. And that is the crux of the matter: science and engineering are two different domains. Odyssey is trying to teach science, not engineering. And unlike what most people think, the heart of science isn’t about playing and experimentation, it is about grappling with abstract ideas, evaluating evidence, arguing against competing hypotheses to establish one of them as the best. That is why science could not be invented by any society that couldn’t read and write. Here’s what the Framework for the NGSS says (link to nap.edu) :

    “Reading, interpreting, and producing text are fundamental practices of science in particular, and they constitute at least half of engineers’ and scientists’ total working time… Communicating in written or spoken form is another fundamental practice of science; it requires scientists to describe observations precisely, clarify their thinking, and justify their arguments. Because writing is one of the primary means of communicating in the scientific community, learning how to produce scientific texts is as essential to developing an understanding of science as learning how to draw is to appreciating the skill of the visual artist.”

    We are using Kai to model how to construct scientific ideas, and grapple with competing ideas by writing them down and arguing back and forth. The experiments she performs are meant to discern between competing ideas, not something she does just for the sake of experimentation. It is a huge and open challenge for educators how to teach argumentation and critique in science. The way we have tried to do so in the game is for the player to read and understand how Kai has constructed her ideas (which actually MATCH the way those ideas were constructed by the great scientists of the past), and then to manipulate models and configure them into a state that demonstrates that the player understands which of two rival hypotheses is correct. That’s how we translate an argument into a puzzle solution state. The solution state is one that helps discern between two different hypotheses.

    One way we could have reduced the amount of reading at a time is by having many more puzzles and models in the game. Unfortunately, we had zero funding. This game is almost entirely self-funded by us. It’s because the cost was so high for us that we had to release Odyssey with the first three chapters, and leave the completion of the story of science upto Newtonian physics to a sequel game. That sequel won’t be made unless we get funds of some kind. So we recognize that the game could have been much better, and with the budget we had, we think we have done the best we could. What we hope is that people find the attempt promising enough that someone funds us to produce a longer and better sequence of games that could actually change the way science is taught and learnt in classrooms and homes.

    We would be happy to address any further questions.

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      kfix says:

      “Readers of this comment can expect a significant amount of reading.”

      Seriously though, that’s an excellent explanation of the difference in attitude between those who are trying to interest the unengaged in science by highlighting the superficial cool stuff (IFLS) and those who are trying to engage the kind of person who might actually DO science (i.e. those prepared to read and read and read). I’d love to know if anyone is studying the empirical difference between the approaches, but my sympathies are with you. This looks great, I hope you get the budget to go further.

  7. manny says:

    Chill guys, the flat earth theory is just a plot by the elite to bring back ancient greek religion to presumably more easily rule us.

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