Designing Evolution


Species was a lot of fun to design for several reasons. The most obvious is because it’s quite unlike most other genre’s of game: the level of freedom and creativity a “life simulator” offers is on a level tenfold above that offered by the more generic game genres I’ve worked on.

The second is because I started it as a very small, unambitious project. That made it open season for creative ideas, no matter how out-there or inane: I didn’t much care what people thought of it, I had no deadlines or stress, so I recorded anything that sounded fun to me. Kinda like this blog. It was only later, building the project and asking other people their opinions, that I started filtering and quality assuring my idea’s. Quite unlike this blog.

As already mentioned, I’d been designing Species long before I started with XNA: back when I was working in 2D with Adobe Flash. This didn’t make too much of a difference to the game design as a whole: it would have simply meant a top-down or isometric camera. But it did make a massive difference to the creature design: if implementation followed design exactly, creatures would have been a combination of a set of pre-built items, with a finite number of ways to be combined.

For example, each leg would have been a predefined object, providing the creature that owned it with a bunch of (again, predefined) stat modifers. During the move to 3d, this sort of thing became more ambitious: we still have predefined legs, but the width of the tricep and bicep and the size of the leg as a whole are all variable. This allows us to modify the speed and strength of the legs based on it’s morphology, making the creatures more interesting and creating an infinite number of slight variations of each leg type. And because of the nature of 3D animation over sprites or vector images, it’s possible to achieve these sorts of things easily. Well… fairly easily.

Well okay, so it took me a couple of months and a whole load of matrix mathematics (oh dear god the matrices. Matrices… EVERYWHERE! OH GOD WHY WON’T THEY LEAVE ME ALONE!?!) to implement fully, but the point is that it was possible, albeit terrifying. And with such possibilities now open came the potential for other, even more interesting changes to the design.

These sort of possibilities are the third reason Species was fun to design and build: an evolving project is so much more more entertaining than a static one, and if you find a change to the design that is easy to make, you are free to implement it.

If there’s anything to take away from this experience, it’s that: don’t ever stop designing a game, even as you build it. A project that comes out exactly as it appears in the design document is no fun at all.

Haunted by undead matrix operations,

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