Welcome to Species ALRE
What is this, what even is this?
"Species: Artificial Life, Real Evolution, is a realistic evolution simulator and a sandbox video game. It simulates a large population of imperfectly replicating organisms, in an environment that offers a variety of food sources, and then allows darwinian evolution to take over from there.
It also provides you, the player, with tools to interact with and observe the simulation. You can help or harm particular pheneotypes, perform your own experiments on the populations, or just observe as the Tree of Life builds itself through genetic drift and natural selection."
"Species: Artificial Life, Real Evolution" is a heck of a mouthful. Why such a long name?
"The tagline was necessary to distinguish the game from the 1995 horror/sci-fi movie under copyright law. We generally shorten it to "Species", or "Species ALRE" if you want to be specific."
"Species simulates large-scale, 3D organisms in an ecosystem that provides rapid, darwinian evolution. All of these features have been simulated in the past, but not in the same program:
• Primordial Life, Biogenesis, Darwin Pond and Swimbots all simulate natural selection and provide an accessable simulation, but do so amongst microscopic organisms in an abstracted, 2D petrie-dish style environment.
• Karl Sims Evolved Virtual Creatures and 3DVCE simulate large macroscopic organisms, but they do so in an environment which provides a predefined selection pressure, by only re-combining the fastest or highest jumpers for the next generation.
• Steve Grands Creatures and his current project Grandroids provide large-scale intelligent creatures affected by their genomes, but they live too long and their populations are too small for evolutionary mechanisms to be visible in real time.
To the best of our knowledge, this is the first time a simulation has combined all three of these features: rapid, macroscopic, darwinian evolution."
How is Species different from other evolution games, like EA/Maxis' Spore?
[involuntary muscle spasms]
Uh... are you all right?
"Fine! I'm fine! Totally fine. Ahem.
The aforementioned belongs to an entirely different genre of game. To borrow Will Wrights description it is a "Third Person Eater", or in more general terms a Role Playing Game.
RPG's are naturally centered around the player's experience, which has to be tailored towards something polished, consistent and fun. Unpredictable, emergent behavior makes it harder to do this, and can cause bugs or force players into unwinnable situations.
Species, meanwhile, is a Simulation Game. Unpredictable, emergent behavior is not just beneficial, but necessary: seeing and falling victim to those unexpected consequences is one of the major appeals of the genre. This fundamental difference means Species will never have the opportunity to go down the same path that Spore did, even if we wanted to.
If you're looking for a game more like Spore, our friends at revolutionary games are slowly but surely advancing their open-source prototype for Thrive, an evolution-based RPG. It's still a long way off, but the early prototypes are promising.
Also, it's worth noting that Species was under construction a year before we even heard about Spore, and the basic concepts and gameplay were fully fleshed out by that stage. Any similarities are purely co-incidental.
Species sounds kind of like edutainment. Is it?
"No nononononono. No. Noooo. Nope. No.
Edutainment as a genre failed because, rather than making games that educate, they tried to wrap educational material up as games.
Species on the other hand is a simulation game. This genre includes a variety of other games: things like Simcity, The Incredible Machine, From Dust, Kerbal Space Program and Universe Sandbox... anything where there is a semi-autonomous simulation that runs independent of the players input.
And simulation games do educate: land on the Mun in Kerbal Space Program and you will almost invariably have more understanding of orbital mechanics than when you started. But that's tangential: it's a side effect of playing a simulation game, that you learn how the game works and thus learn about the real-world phenomena the game mechanics are based on.
Species will be much the same. We don't plan to teach the players about Darwinian evolution. We plan to teach them how to play Species, which happens include an accurate simulation of Darwinian evolution.
What sort of gameplay are you planning to implement?
"For now the goal is to build a simulation that is realistic and fascinating in it's own right, before we focus too heavily on gameplay.
In the long term we hope to base gameplay in Species on the scientific method. It will focus not on 'controlling' or 'overseeing' the in-game evolution, but on interacting with and analysing it. The two gameplay paths will compliment each other: interaction will provide you more to analyse, and analysis will unlock better interaction tools.
In more specific terms, we hope to include...
• arena mode, to pit competing species against each other,
• fighting against "feral" species and aiding endangered ones,
• artificial selection,
• genetic manipulation and research,
• ecosystem management,
• basic terraforming,
• fossil hunting,
• tree-of-life building."
What future features are planned on the simulation side of things?
"Among other things...
• improved weight and volume physics,
• complex dietary chemestry,
• additional food sources,
• flight, swimming, climbing,
• hearing and communicative calls,
• emotions and planning,
• social behavior,
• procedural, heirachial limb animation,
• base-4 genetic code,
• egg-laying and viviparity,
• nesting and burrowing,
• rock-paper-scissors style damage/armour relationships,
• horrific cthulhoid abominations,
• damage wounds, blood and gore (where appropriate),
• perception-based threat/benefit analysis,
• scripted sim-city style 'disasters',
• ... and so on.
In short, we currently have a whole load of idea's and no upper limit when it comes to simulation features. We plan to implement as many of these as we possibly can."
What future features are out of the question, then?
• Individual Learning. The creatures don't live long enough to make this worthwhile. As a result, all behavior and intelligence will be instinctual and genetic: populations can learn, but individuals cannot.
• Civilisation/Technology. There's no way to simulate this without taking some pretty extreme liberties with the simulation's realism. We don't plan to go further than social behaviors and possibly basic tool use.
• Rigid-body physics. There are too many creatures being simulated to make realistic physical movement viable. With that said, we plan to do 'fake' (precalculated) limb physics, and to take the stat-based physics as far/deep as material density and volume calculations."
What about Multiplayer?
"One of the most ambitious plans we have for Species is the ability to directly connect the edges of your world to the edges of other people's world over the internet, combining your CPU power and opening the way for a massive online 'world' with far more space for evolving creatures than a single computer could handle on it's own.
If this can be achieved, Species will potentially go from being the virtual equivilent of a petrie-dish to an evolutionary simulator on a planetary scale. Naturally, we're eager to eventually see this happen.
How often do you update the game?
Species is an ambitious, long-term project being made part-time by a small team, so it has an understandably slow update cycle compared to other Indie Games. So far, we've managed about 2.5 updates a year.
As a rule we don't announce the next release date until we can be sure of making it, but you can follow our day-to-day progress in the Development forums and read more detailed articles on the Species Development Blog.
How much does it cost?
"Now into it's closed Beta period, the game will be made available through the Steam Store for $19.99 USD.
Once the game reaches it's Full release, it will increase in price one more time."
I love this idea. How can I help out?
"Wishlisting/purchasing the game is the biggest help: we've gotta eat, afterall.
Beyond that, the biggest motivator for us is an interested (and interesting) community. So join the forums, discuss the game on facebook and twitter, and if you own a blog or frequent a forum which might be interested, spread the word." 🙂
I'm a programmer/artist/sound developer. Can I help you make the game?
As of April 2017, yes! I am looking for fellow programmers and artists to help keep me motivated, speed up development and ultimately make the game everything it deserves to be.
However, in the interests of complete transparency, I'm not offering paid work. Species is a hobby and a passion project, not a commercial venture.
If that somehow didn't turn you off then please, get in touch! You can contact me via facebook or twitter, but you'll probably have the best chance of reaching me if you register on the forums and send me a private message.
Species doesn't perfectly model genetics/chemistry/development/physics/intelligence/etc, and thus cannot be considered "scientifically accurate".
"The part of Species that aims to be scientifically accurate is it's simulation of evolution from first principles: with imperfectly reproducing organisms in a simulated environment, we believe we have achieved that. Although we plan to keep the other elements of the game as scientifically-founded as possible, and even use them to explore the scientific method through gameplay, they will have to be simplified in order to make the simulation both visible in real time and CPU-viable on modern machines."
This simulation isn't proof of evolution.
"This is correct. It isn't proof.
It is however a good test of the fundamental mechanics. If the basic principle of random mutation and natural selection causing progressive development was not accurate, Species would consistantly fail to produce results distinguishable from genetic drift.
Species relies on the theory of evolution: if the theory was as fundamentally wrong as many anti-evolutionist arguments make it out to be, then Species would never have been a viable project in the first place."
Species says absolutely nothing about the creation of life.
"Evolution takes place only after self-replicating life comes into being: thus, Species starts from this point. The theory of Abiogenesis is beyond the scope of this simulation."
Evolution can't be true because of [anti-evolution argument]!
"Why not visit our debate forum? Bring your best arguments and an open mind, and we'll do the same."
Who do we blame for this?
"Quasar, aka. James Schumacher: I'm a scrawny mid-twenties programmer from Brisbane, Australia. I have delusions of competence and a self-deprecatory sense of humour. The sense of humour is probably also a delusion.
Species has been my project for a long time, so I'm in charge of/to blame for the game design and all aspects of coding."
Other people who have been involved in the project include:
Jade, Graphic Artist, who designed the UI and did quite a bit of the modelling work...
Brain Sugar, Audio Designer, who created the soundtrack for the game.
Mike Stankiewicz, Marketer, who is currently helping bring Species to steam.