For anyone not following the Development Thread:
The planned 1.4.1 release is growing: what started out as a simple polish/hotfix release has become a pretty serious extension to the game. I’m not messing with anything particularly fundamental, so it still plays much the same, but the changes make an impressive difference to the general feel of the game. Everything is a lot more ‘alive’ now.
In addition, being able to import and export creatures will give the player some much-needed interaction capabilities, and the new “UltraTime” capability (currently mapped to the “U” key) will allow the player to turn off the graphics rendering and run the simulation at the maximum speed their computer can handle.
Oh, and the creatures are somewhat less idiotic.
I’ve been trying to work out what this next post should be about. I’m already recording my progress in the aforementioned Development Thread, so that’s out (curse me for stealing blog material and posting it on the forums!). I’ve got a bunch of fragmented thoughts about depth and complexity, thanks to Dwarf Fortress, but I’m still trying to work out how to package them: “depth” in particular is a hard concept to define, and I think I’m still using the word to refer to at least five different concepts at the same time. I’m also out of idea’s for denialist rebuttals and evidential arguments: I always try to take those posts in a unique direction, giving the denalists credit for a decent sub point or using it as a springboard to explore a valid criticism, but right now I think I’d just end up ranting about how they have a lower density of brain cells than the inside of the LHC tube.
So I’m going to talk about the back-story of Species. Because clearly a game like Species needs a back-story.
Okay, that was mildly facetious. What Species really needs, and where the back-story naturally comes from, is a player avatar.
I’ve given this quite a significant amount of thought, but note that this is all speculative at the moment. The current system, where the player is just an camera with a few unexplained abilities, is not much fun. I rather suspect it won’t matter how many tools I give the player: it’ll help, of course, but it won’t solve the problem. The player needs something to call ‘me’.
But what should this entity be? There are a number of choices…
– Native Creature. The player could be a creature in the game. There are a variety of reasons I don’t like this idea (‘controlling’, rather than ‘aiding’ the creatures, the fact that the player creature would be capable of things the others aren’t, etc), but I do like the idea of ‘seeing things through their eyes’, so that might have to be something you should be able to do in-game.
– Human. Similar to Minecraft: the player could simply be an unexplained, unnamed human wandering around, doing whatever they want. This is the simplest choice, but it doesn’t offer much in the way of explanation: why is there an immortal human capable of time acceleration capability walking about in the middle of nowhere?
– God. Something like Black and White: the player could be a deity, capable of interacting with the environment via unexplained means. I don’t mind the idea, but the unfortunate implications put this one well outside the realm of possibility.
– Alien. Similar problems to ‘human’, although it adds a bit more interest to the player avatar.
– Alien base/ship. Now we’re getting somewhere. Making the player avatar a ‘base’ gives it a few capabilities, including the ability to deploy/control multiple entities (aliens or robots) which return to the ship after some time. But making it alien implies Panspermia. Panspermia is an interesting concept, but it’s not quite the feel I want for the game.
– Human base/ship. Getting close. A NASA-style lander, with a series of rovers, captures the feel of scientific discovery and most of the game play elements that I want. We’re close, but I still don’t think it’s just right. I also need a way to define a nursery area.
… which leads us to the option I’ve decided on:
Derelict Artificial Intelligence Building Complex.
“Created by a (probably-long-extinct) native species (maybe human, maybe not, I don’t intend to clarify any time soon), the genetic AI was originally designed to study, protect and preserve the ecosystem, and had a suite of facilities and vehicles to use to that end. Eons later, the derelict structure is accidentally activated again. It sets about the task of repairing itself and studying it’s new environment.”
This idea is my favourite: it solves the ‘nursery area’ problem quite elegantly (the area inside the complex’s walls becomes the nursery), provides me with a variety of potential vehicles, tools and structures (the design I have in mind is an unholy mix of Jurassic Park and NASA), and also provides a motivation which makes sense: the AI itself is as undirected as the player, so even nonsensical attempts to artificially select the biggest head and smallest body are logically consistent with the character.
Back on the ‘vehicles, tools and structures’ front, I’d like to make them semi-autonomous and customisable. So outfit a rover with a health/energy scanner and a food bag and you can send it out to automatically (ie. without input) feed the starving. Likewise, give a rover an a ‘creature-head-size’ scanner and a pair of chainsaws, and you can send it out to “enhance the selection pressure” in favour of large heads. (both of these behaviours would probably require some sort of AI upgrade)
This system allows the player to exercise significant power and artificial selection pressure over the ecosystem without ever actually controlling it directly: the smaller-headed creatures don’t magically die because they had smaller heads, they die because a homicidal chainsaw-wielding rover attacked them. I also want to keep the vehicle cap small: this isn’t supposed to be an RTS, so there will probably never be more than 4 or 5 in your fleet. You’ll need to upgrade those rather than making more if you want them to be more efficient. If you want to make an army, that’s what genetically engineered superpredators are for.
As for structures, at bare minimum we’ll need a garage (vehicles), incubator (genetic manipulation and cloning), nursery (members of your personal species) and storage (food, possibly other resources).
That’s where all this is heading and I’m extremely excited about it: so excited that I need to keep pulling the reins tighter to keep myself from running off and programming them now. The simulation is the most important thing right now: these sort of game play aspects will only be fun while the simulation stay’s interesting.
Doesn’t make me any less excited, though!