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S0ckrates's picture
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Hey folks,

It's been a wonderful experience livestreaming Foldit for almost 2 years on Twitch now, and it's led to opportunities I couldn't have dreamed of. I owe a lot to this community and especially those who have tuned in when I'm live and said hi and supported me. So thank you. I don't plan on stopping any time soon, so please, feel free to keep recommending my stream if you see it appropriate.

With that said: I've started a side-project.

In the little pockets of free time and inspiration I've had, I've been working on producing my own video series on the intro puzzles with guided commentary, since I wanted to make a good, future-proof, video resource for future players that I didn't have going into the game. I say "future-proof" in the sense that even if the intro puzzles get re-worked or redesigned, the commentary and reasoning behind the old examples used will still prove useful as the core gameplay should hopefully not change.

Most of you know that I don't often spend a lot of time in Global/Veteran, since Discord has effectively spoiled me from using IRC clients, and I don't always keep the game open in my idle time on the computer with an eye on chat. To this end, I wanted to pick the brains of those who do have a hand on the pulse of Foldit's chatrooms for a little insight:
- Which puzzles do new players get stuck on?
- What do you usually tell players who are struggling? Do you link to the wiki often, or do you try to explain in your own words?
- Do players ask for any specific hints?
- Are there any other big bugbears that seem to pop up that's worth taking a look into?

Thanks for your input in advance. I don't have a release date for this side-project of mine yet, but I will definitely take good feedback into consideration as I produce this series.

LociOiling's picture
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QTTN intro puzzle

The Quest to the Native intro puzzle can take a lot of time, as some people from the BIOC420 class noted yesterday. (Don't know where they're from, they don't have a group, just BIOC420 in their user names.)

The wiki page had some weak advice from a while back, but it's been updated: Quest to the Native intro puzzle.

I also found there's a better way, where banding only four sidechains can solve the puzzle. I'm calling it the LOTR strategy.

I also found that the QTTN intro has a real protein, PDB id 2ERW. It's an anticoagulant from the "kissing bug", the critter that spreads Chagas disease. Charles Darwin had the pleasure of meeting kissing bugs on his travels.

Based on the responses yesterday, the problem on the QTTN puzzle was that people weren't disabling the bands at the end.

I do refer people to the wiki, on the theory that it's always there, even if I'm not.

Some of the articles may be a little out of date. At one point, there was a too-easy version of QTTN that required just align guide, shake, and wiggle. The current one requires a little more. There may be similar issues with some other puzzles.

For the most part, people just want to solve the puzzle, so the question is "how to I get to 8000?".

GenGF's picture
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On of the problems with some

On of the problems with some of the tutorials is the lack of explanation during (or even after) the puzzle.

The lack of explanation shows in 2 questions I often get during tutorials (I redo them every once in a while to make sure I don't forget small but essential parts of the game):

  1. What did I just do?
  2. You want me to do what? With what?

First, "What did I just do?"

In Hydrophobic Distaster, after learning a bit about hydrogen bonds between sheets and using tweak to get them to align properly, one of the messages states "Use all the skills you've learned to beat this boss level!". For starters, it's hardly a boss level. But one of the sheet structures looks wrong, and with the recently acquired information you immediately try to tweak it. Except they disabled the tweak tool on this puzzle, so you start aligning them by hand, rubber bands and wiggle, leaving you in doubt about whether or not tweak should be used, when and what it actually does.

Second, "You want me to do what? With what?"

Take for example the "Quest to the Native". It starts with the following explanation (keep in mind this is the first time a beginner sees something shadowy on the screen.

"In this puzzle, the natural folded state of the protein, called a NATIVE, is known. Use the tools available to match the protein with the guide."

For starters, dragging something 3D using 2D input (mouse) on a 2D plane (monitor) is hard. I vaguely remember it being more trouble years back, but it's still not intuitive. So just pulling seems out. That leaves rubber bands (and a wiggle), which are hard to place in empty space for the same reasons. Shake is not going to fix my problem since it won't move the backbone. That puzzle takes a lot of time, not because it's difficult to understand what should be happening (here's a shadow, put the protein right over it) but because at this time you don't have the required experience with the tools available to get it done within a reasonable amount of time.

The "Hello Blueprint" tutorial suffers from both problems. Here, they decide to overload you with information and it's filled with remarks that are obvious instead of actually helpful hints. It even has the following ending if you don't do it right:

"Looks like your selected building block did not fit well with the protein. Don't worry this is good enough for now, just wiggle to finish this level. You can also reset the puzzle if you want to find the perfect fit."

This is a tutorial. Don't tell me it's barely adequate, tell me how to do it right! Yes, it still nets me 12k out of 10k points required, and I don't mind it's giving me a way out to move on, but at least give me the possibility to learn something here. It doesn't fit well, ok, why? What went wrong, and if it's so wrong, why does it still give me a lot more points than required?

Perhaps the main problem with the tutorials isn't even the tutorials themselves, but the lack of explanation that goes on either in them or afterwards. When you hope the next tutorial is going to alleviate such concerns, it just introduces new questions instead of providing answers.

Providing questions is good, if there's at least some method to figure out how to get the answers without becoming a bioinformatic-expert first.

Joined: 03/05/2015
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Loci and GenGF hit on the salient points

When I started playing the tutorials in 2014, I was confused and frustrated and left... for almost a year. The tutorials seemed very hard to understand. When I came back to give them another try, I persisted until I made it through, but still had very little understanding as I don't have a science background. I never "got" the QTTN or ED beginners' puzzles (or were they tutorials?), for example, in any meaningful way.

Given my training background though, the way that the tutorials and beginners' level puzzles "scaffold" the learner (slowly revealing essential information in bite-size bits then giving them time to digest before moving their skills and knowledge higher), at least when I went through them, had gaps that left things unclear or seemed to jump too far between the tutorials and the beginners' puzzles.

There is a notion that experts who design training often "suffer from expertise" - and this is often what we see in tutorials and I think this is what GenGF describes. How would an expert realize that a non-expert has no clue what they're looking at and particularly without a science background, don't even have a base vocabulary that matches what the expert now innately knows? And how do you balance the tips and information in a way that doesn't make the untrained newbie's head explode?

This is why "micro-learning" has its uses... little snippets of the right information delivered at the right time. This helps utter newbies learn just what they need to succeed at the task at hand. The tutorials really are micro-learning, so I guess the question is as S0ckrates says above - how to "future-proof" them and get players started and keep them playing without giving up before they ever really get to the gameplay.

Joined: 03/18/2019
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Sockrates' side project, a newcomer's view

Not sure if you want feedback from a total newbie, don't even know how I ended up here, LOL, but here goes: I've just started on the tutorials, literally tonight.
I don't consider myself as stupid, but for someone with a limited background in organic chemistry (I suppose?) it's hard going.
The first 4-5 are easy peasy although I didn't have much of a clue as to what I was doing. I would have liked to understand what I was doing more. I think beginners in general would like that, makes one feel less dumb.
Also the learning curve is very steep: after the few first tutorials which take a max of 10 seconds to finish, by the time one gets to 8 or 9 they take an hour of fiddling, trying to find out what the rules really are. I can imagine many folks giving up at that point...
for instance: I was an hour into the game when I figured out the colour red had something to do with the strands being too close.
I couldn't figure out why the orange thingies in the first tutorial easily bend towards the middle, and in all subsequent tutorials they didn't want to
What are the bending rules? What makes the blue and orange stubs grow? Basic stuff like that would make beginner's lives easier.
I was very glad to discover the rubber bands, and then two tutorials further where you have to align the sheets they're unavailable for no good reason I can fathom. If there is one, it could bear explaining.
I'm still gonna hang in there for a while, mainly because I like puzzles. But I think lots of folks are thrown off by the learning process. I certainly would like for the learning process to be smoother, more fun, less frustrating.
Just my two cents,

S0ckrates's picture
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Thanks, this is valuable!

I'm incredibly glad you spoke up, and thank you for sharing! It's honestly refreshing to hear the same complaints that I had a couple years ago from someone else coming in. Feel free to check out my livestream for videos of my gameplay if you're feeling lost by the way (Links are on my Foldit Profile)! The last Foldit stream I did, me and one of my regular viewers reopened the tutorial and absolutely tore into it. Parts of it are outdated, and while I know that a rework is under development, it's probably gonna take a lot of thought and feedback to make something really good, so here's hoping.

Oh, and trust me, once you're into the main science puzzles, they're not as bad as the tutorials. Revisiting puzzles are really good ones to practice on since they're already real proteins with structures you can look up!


Developed by: UW Center for Game Science, UW Institute for Protein Design, Northeastern University, Vanderbilt University Meiler Lab, UC Davis
Supported by: DARPA, NSF, NIH, HHMI, Amazon, Microsoft, Adobe, RosettaCommons