As players become engaged in the problem-solving in Petri Dish, they are going to want to design their own challenges for their peers and use Petri Dish to explore and analyze their own “what-if” scenarios. Supporting this kind of open-ended play was important to us because it transforms the experience for the player from learning how to use a tool to using a tool to do the things they want.

Because it is built on top of a robust cell model, Petri Dish has an open-ended design. The player basically has access to the exact same tools that we do for creating different problems and scenarios.

Players are already able to do anything they can think up using the local mechanisms built into their cells. And you’ve seen how many complex behaviors those mechanisms can generate. The primary restriction is in the metabolic network. Cell’s are limited to a subset of the metabolic network that we provide; there is currently no way for the player to add new molecules or pathways.

In terms of designing new problems or scenarios, that is simply a matter of setting up a goal or hypothesis and then designing the appropriate environment for the cell to live in. The environment (or petri dish) that a cell lives in is defined by its chemical composition. Players are able to select which chemicals are present in the environment and in what concentrations, define if individual chemical resources are finite or infinite, set chemical gradients or concentrations to change over time, and establish different zones within the environment. Cells can be dropped into the environment at either pre-determined or random locations, and the outcomes can be recorded.

We plan to enable players to share their problems and solutions online, eventually even posting results from their own research using Petri Dish.