Goals for the Goal-less

One of the things I have always said about Species (as of now) is that I am programming the environment, not the evolution. So the creatures in Species have no goals or aims: they’ll eat, and they’ll breed, and that’s it. Anything that comes out of that, like behavioral or physical adaptations or developing sentience and migrating onto the internet as beings of pure code from whence they will engineer the downfall of humanity, is not something I put in there. It’s emergent.

But I, and humans in general, are goal-orientated creatures. If something is aimless or pointless we automatically consider that to be a flaw, without even stopping to consider whether that thing should have a point. We’re weird like that, so this is something I have to work around. A pointless game is realistic, sure, but it’s not all that interesting and it’s certainly not fun, and I’d like Species to be both.

Thankfully, there is something else I can use on. We humans have this amazing ability to overlay our own goals on things that are inherently goal-less. If you’ve ever played Minecraft, or Kerbal Space Program, you know what I mean. So I don’t actually have to write big, obvious goals into the game: I can sit back and let the players make their own. But that doesn’t mean I’m completely absolved of responsibility: I still have to facilitate the players ability to make goals.

Before anyone gets worried: I am not, under any circumstances ever, going to sacrifice an accurate simulation to make the game more “fun”. I’ve seen where that leads, *coughsporecough*. The ancient abyss calls to me, luring me into it’s grim tentacled embrace with soft clicks and chirps from it’s many beaks and teeth, promising love and fans if I’ll only tone down the science, even just a little… but I will not give in! D’you hear me?! I will never give in!!!

… *ahem*

Anyways, because of aforementioned facets of your our species psychology, it shouldn’t be too hard for players to be lured and manipulated into imposing their own goals onto the simulation. And the way to to this is easier than you’d think: give them ownership. Not over everything in the world… that’s too broad, unless you’re Minecraft. But if players are told at the start of the simulation that a single creature and all of it’s descendants are “their species”, or better yet are allowed to apply a modicum of control and personalise their species, even just a little, then they will immediately apply their own goals to them. Maybe they’ll want their species to out-compete everything else on the map, or to develop flight or sentience, or to be able to best everything else on the map in mano-a-mano combat, or just to share their personal overwhelming hatred of pink things.


It will be this emergence of goals that will make Species more than just an interesting simulation. They will make it a game.

Plus I might as well add: there are plans for another, more conventional storyline and goal-set in there, making more tools, more stats and more control available to the user over time as the simulation advances and their species evolves. That will be more like an achievement-and-reward system, though, and will run in parallel with the players own goals. It won’t be in the alpha release though: the alpha will be a pure sandbox.


“He’s still a little bitter about Spore…”

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