Current Research system is too similar to Milestone system. Most Research items transition into blueprint milestones when research transfers from the M.A.M. to the Hub terminal. This blueprint phase should be included in the Research process and not require interaction with a second terminal.
Here's a quick synopsis of Research right now to highlight the best parts of the existing Research system. First great research item is Alien Carapace. You discover these via exploration, and initial carapace research prompts you to go find more. Suddenly, your quest is to go out and taze aliens and find even more research items in the process. The final product from the carapace line is a surprise reveal; everyone expected to get armor, but you still get something cool. Other than that, Research is more or less unlocking a series of scanner items, culminating in the Mycelium and Caterium research chains. Mycelium and Caterium represent lucky, alien finds that weren't part of the original plan for Project Assembly, but are put to productive use anyway. Cloth exists back on Earth, but boy howdy we never expected to make it this way.
Milestones represent steps required for Project Assembly, things that Fixit put you there to do. Milestones introduce layers to gameplay (occasionally with tutorials) and then force you to demonstrate some level of mastery over them. The journey from Iron Ingot to Heavy Modular Frame is my love letter to the Fixit corporation's plan for what my player is supposed to be doing on Massage-2.
- Research is exploring the alien and exchanging materials for science.
- Milestones are irregular demonstrations of productivity as you limp towards the completion of Project Assembly.
Blueprint Milestones Ruin My Science
Most Research is currently tied to the Milestone system via blueprint unlock milestones. After the mystery of putting items into the M.A.M. and hoping something wonderful comes out, I have to now put things into the hub terminal after there is no mystery about what I'll get out. Every blueprint unlock is essentially a multi-step Research process with the excitement removed from the stunning conclusion.
I have this quiet suspicion that the best way for the devs to track player progress and grant access to blueprints is via Milestones. But... can't the M.A.M. ping the Hub terminal and be like "Yo, Hubby, she already gave me all the ingredients during the mystery of Research, just unlock the Milestone right away when this Research is complete" to save the player the step of waiting around for the Dropship flight schedule because you can't unlock a blueprint while the Dropship is gone (even though the Dropship doesn't take off when you fulfill a blueprint Milestone). Players will have more fun if Research is more mysterious and immediately rewarding. Make blueprint milestones a back-end process (and not a player interaction required redemption process).
Research Costs Should Make Sense
I need a dead animal shells to make the right gun. This isn't immediately obvious, but I can grok it. I like it when blueprint unlock requirements are more than just extra old junk from my factory, when the requirements require me to explore or expand. A lot of the current blueprint Milestones don't make a lot of sense, and that's not necessarily a bad thing. Like the Parachute blueprint Milestone: 100 Iron Plate, 100 Iron Rod, 250 Wire. If I turned each of those in individually not knowing what was going to come out of it and had ADA telling me all about aeronautics findings the whole time till the finished product is revealed to be a parachute and her explaining that the project went overbudget and was cancelled, that would be a hoot. The requirements are the same but the mystery is meaningful. Most of the costs of blueprint milestones should probably get a second pass before incorporating these into the upfront research materials.
Better Milestones Through Better Research
Milestones and Research are more than resource busywork, they are both logistical challenges available to players that want to meet them. Some existing Milestones can be a wall of unfocused content at unlock (instead of marker of what successful players should begin to build next). The Tier 1: Utility milestone is a great bad example, it's essentially a bunch of building supplies and Biofuel. Biofuel is a totally different part of gameplay than factory organization and Biofuel would probably be better off converted to a Research item available after any Tier 1 Milestone is unlocked. Milestones can trigger Research because Research is fun and discovering Research requires progress, either via exploration or by production complexity. Game content probably only belongs directly inside a Milestone if the player is required demonstrate a mastery over the content in order to proceed. Make almost everything else for sale a la carte as Research.
P.S. If you're worried players might not be able to navigate a more mysterious Research system, consider something like this:
- Alien Carapace -- unlocks further Alien Carapace Research opportunities
- Alien Carapace (Defense) -- unlocks the Rebar Gun
- Alien Carapace (Energy) -- unlocks Biomass recipes
(Research entries could be the item you are required to provide and the category of return the Research is expected to yield)