So, a topic that keeps coming up, on YouTube and elsewhere, is the concept of civilisation.
Now I’ve always said a ‘Civ Stage’ isn’t in the games scope, but I’ve never really explored in detail why that is. So let’s explore that concept, shall we? What would it take, hypothetically, to create a civilisation stage in Species? And even if we can’t do civilisation, what can we do?
(the usual disclaimer applies here: nothing I say is in anyway a promise to deliver future features. I’m just hypothesizing out loud)
First of all, in order to program something like Species we need hard definitions for terms. So what is “civilisation”? What marks it as different from just a bunch of smarty pants creatures living together? Keep in mind every definition from here on out is arbitrary, and provided purely for the sake of argument.
For civilisation, I’d say you need three things, which all start with an “s” BECAUSE REASONS: settlements, social heirachies and sapience.
Settlements are the simplest and easiest to define of these: they’re semi-permanent communal nests. Plenty of creatures build these: loads of different birds, bats, all hive-based insects, some species of spider…
The trick with settlements, of course, is feeding their population. You can effectively divide settlement species into two groups based on how they achieve this. Humans and bees do this with agriculture: ‘farming’ a renewable resource to sustain themselves on a (relatively) small territory. All other settlements consist of creatures capable of travelling great distances to find food, hunter-gatherer style: creatures like bats and penguins.
Since the latter strategy means the creature has a lot less free time to develop complex social heirachies and sapience, it seems unlikely earth will ever have sapient penguins. This makes me sad. I feel like birds deserve a chance to be the dominant life form: penguins doubly so. On the other hand, we might well end up with sapient insects, which is…
Of the three requirements, settlements would be the easiest to implement in Species. We already have a few plans for a mechanism called “nests”: this would simply be an extention of that concept, either by allowing ‘improved’ nests to hold more than 1 creature or making creature’s build their nests in close proximity to each other. Bringing food they can’t immediately eat back to a nest, to store for later or share with other members of their species, fits beautifully into the existing game mechanics and could prove to be a winning behavioral strategy.
*Social heirachies* are trickier. See, one of the ‘rules’ of the game’s development is that there are no external constructs. You can see this in the species algorithm: it is entirely passive. You could remove the “Species” category from the game entirely, and it would make absolutely no difference to the simulation. From the simulations perspective, “species” don’t exist. They’re merely a category superimposed on the game for the benefit of the player.
The same goes for social constructs and behaviors. If they do form, it must be entirely contained in each individual creatures mind, which means any one creature’s perspective of the “tribe” or “pack” could very well differ from any other creatures perspective.
This means decisions can’t be made on behalf of the pack. Every creature is an individual. Even if they have a ‘pack leader’, there’s no guarantee that all creatures in the pack will be following the same leader, and no guarantee that if the leader starts doing something like hunting that the rest of the pack will follow it.
Naturally this gets even worse in a ‘civilisation’ format, where there can be multiple groups, and group relates to each other group in different ways. Without external constructs, managing these groups and their relationships becomes a matter of every creature having their own arbitrary perception of every other creature and what group they belong to, which would be incredibly CPU intensive and extremely unintuitive.
So we can’t actually have a complex social heirachy without external constructs. Frowney face. But… that thing I said before about “pack leaders”, and creature’s deciding on an individual level whether or not to follow them? That sounds like an AWESOME gameplay mechanic. Seriously, somebody write that down.
And finally, Sapience. The hardest one of them all.
(terminology note: all animals with brains are “sentient”, defined as the capacity to experience and “feel”. “Sapient” is the correct adjective for intelligent creatures like humans (which is called “sophonts”, a term I learned from Mass Effect. Who says games aren’t educational?)).
How do you define sapience? What even is sapience? “Intelligence”, “Judgement”, “Wisdom”, “Learning”? Fuzzy definitions. None of these help!
Since a realistic first-principles neural-network simulation of intelligence is well beyond our scope, we’d need to distil sapience down to something workable within the simulation. But how do you do that? What does a sapient creature do that non-sapient creatures do not, and how do we simulate that?
The truth is, I don’t think sapience is a description for any particular thing. Plenty of creature’s we don’t consider sapient use tools, build homes, develop social hierarchies, experience emotions, think through the consequences of their actions, and even empathise and grieve. Every time we think we’ve found something unique to humans, to sophonts, the animal kingdom proves us wrong.
We are animals, and not even particularly remarkable ones. Sapience is just a collation of different traits. It’s nothing special. (see also: “the universe doesn’t care about you”, “your hopes and dreams are meaningless”, and “one day you and everyone you love will be dead”. Yaaaay!)
Of course, this just makes our achievements even more remarkable. We as a species took a bunch of mental faculties that developed to hit each other over the heads with rocks, and with those we discovered the physical laws of the universe, uncovered the history of our planet, walked on another world, put a friggin’ car on mars. WITH A ROCKET-PROPELLED SKYCRANE.
Where was I? Oh right, simulating sapience…
… we’re not going to try to just dump sapience on Species with some sort of tech tree or an all-encompassing “intelligence” stat. That goes against our development goals.
Instead, we want to simulate the things that make up sapience. Each of those things I mentioned before: Tool use, Construction, Emotions, Forethought, Empathy: each of these is something that we can, at least conceivably, simulate.
We may never manage to do all of them. Not every feature is viable in a simulation being run on ordinary PC’s, afterall. And there is such a thing as being too ambitious.
But that’s no reason not to try. 😀
So, in conclusion: there’s definitely not going to be a ‘civilisation stage’ in species. That would effectively be a second game on top of the first, and the truth is I have no interest in making an RTS.
But we are going to try to allow for the components of civilisation: buildable nests/colonies, a level of social interaction, and as much intelligence as we can cram into their tiny heads before their beady little eyes pop out (and the CPU explodes).
These are all long term features, of course, but all of them can be implemented as emergent, evolvable behaviours, which is ultimately the entire point of Species.