This’ll be fun post to write: I’ll outline the things that are ready for the alpha release (ie. bragging), and then I’ll start talking about what needs to be fixed, and then go on to where we’re heading after that. And then… well, we’re now officially in testing-and-bug-fixing mode for the alpha, so I guess it’s time to announce the release date. Ahem.
Where we’re at.
Species 0.4.0 is a functional and apparently stable evolution-from-first-principles simulator. It’s possible to spot natural selection in action with the Species Average statistics, and I’ve seen things like convergent evolution (creatures consistently become more amorous, for example) and punctuated equilibrium (evolution starts off quite rapidly, but slows down after a number of generations). There’s plenty of neutral, beneficial, and harmful mutations, and a variable mutation rate (you can set it when you start a new map).
We’ve also implemented genetic recombination (mating) and the possibility of predator/prey relationships (attacking and eating dead creatures).
We also have a small variety of observational functions. It’s possible to analyse most of the creatures statistics, watch the progress of their energy and health bars over the course of their lifetime, and read their genetic code (which, admittedly, is somewhat indecipherable).
We’ve got a built-in speciation detector, that works out which populations can and cannot interbreed, and allows for the retrieval of stats and averages. We also have a real-time population history, which doubles as a tree of life.
Oh, and we’ve got a variable map generator, that you can use to customise the map before you enter the game, as well as entry-level save/load functionality.
And moddable body parts, too. 🙂
What we’re missing
Playing the game at the moment reveals a few… not so much ‘bugs’ as ‘things that aren’t much fun’. They’re things I’m aware of, but haven’t had time to fix and/or expect to fix with a planned, later feature.
Constant environment. The environment at the moment is a fairly constant variable: tree’s always regrow in the same area’s and the temperature never changes. This means that creatures have a tendency to adapt to their environment and stagnate.
Highly variable survival rate. A less-than-fertile map has a good chance of killing off the starting creatures, while a fertile one will cause a ridiculous population explosion once they adapt to be more efficient.
Lack of carnivorous incentive. Creatures rarely become predators because vegetation is plentiful and easy to find in comparison to meat.
Unmapped Mutations. I still need to add a mutation map for feature, limb-tip and body covering mutations. At the moment they find an ‘ideal’ far too rapidly.
Not enough Homogenizing. Species currently don’t visually distinguish themselves very well: you end up with a large crowd of highly variable creatures. Reducing the mutation rate helps, but I’d like to amplify homogenising forces like mating to make individual species more visually distinct from each other, as well as implement some sort of herding behaviour to make them congregate into discreet area’s.
Stupid creatures. They’re really pretty dumb sometimes. I expect their AI to improve slowly, a little bit with each release.
Incomplete Statistic Mapping. The UI allows you to track which statistics affect which other statistics, but the mapping is incomplete and doesn’t take into account all the effects (it’s a big list, and I’m tweaking it all the time. Nevertheless, I’ve managed to include all the major effects).
Performance. Is absolutely terrible on less-than-modern machines. My development laptop struggles to keep it going at better than 10fps once the simulation reaches more than 500 creatures.
Where we’re heading
Here’s the fun one! (Note that everything I say from here on out is tentative. I can’t make any promises, this is just what I’m planning)
The Big Feature for Species 0.5.0 will be a complete and massive overhaul of the vegetation system. It will use dynamic biomes based on a temperature/humidity map (which will change over time based on the actions of the creatures), instanced models, and a rewritten terrain shader.
It will also separate vegetative energy into two sources: fruit tree’s (point energy-sources, similar to the tree’s in the current system but rarer and more valuable), and grazing (idle, herbivorous creatures will graze, very slowly and inefficiently gaining energy but reducing the local fertility).
This system will solve the first two problems I have with the alpha release (mentioned above), and will have an as yet unknown effect on the third. But it’ll probably make the performance issues worse, so I may have to shrink the default world-size and creature-cap to compensate.
0.5.0 will probably also feature a top-down map view, with coloured icons for creatures and food sources, and another real-time phylogenetic tree of life. Unlike the current population history graph, though, this tree will encompass the entire history of the simulation, and will record morphological data about extinct species. It will form the basis for an extensive ‘fossil record’ in later versions.
One apparently minor inclusion to the vegetation system will be a ‘height’ value for fruit tree’s: creatures will need to hold their head (or hands) at a particular height to eat from particular tree types. While this might not seem like much, it sets the stage for a creatures vertical position to influence their actions and survival. And that sets the stage for another Big Feature: flight and swimming.
And of course, I’ve already mentioned a third Big Feature in a previous post: multithreading to improve performance. Not to mention my extensive plans for player interaction in the Beta… I may or may not be too ambitious for my own good.
But pulling right back from my deranged ramblings about the future, the figure you suffered through that entire post for is here. Without further ado:
Species 0.4.0 (alpha) will be publically released on the 27th May, 2012
(one way or another)
“… assuming the Old Ones don’t return before then and consume us all. You know, the usual disclaimer.”