First of all, let’s go over what we won’t be focusing on. I’ll keep making tweaks in these area’s as we go on, but the central feature of 0.9.0 won’t be any of the following:
Not Simulation Depth
Species has a viable simulation in it now. It’s got a long way to go yet, and there’s still lots and lots of neat features to implement, but in it’s current state with the new AI, it works. That’s probably the first time I’ve personally felt able to say that about it. It feels good.
If I could say the same about the rest of the game, I’d have no hesitation driving the development straight for even more complexity and depth… but I can’t. There are other area’s that don’t quite reach my idea of “viable,” so I feel like I ought to to address them first. Simulation depth won’t be the focus for 0.9.0.
Performance is also viable. It’s not great: much like simulation depth, there’s a lot of room for improvement. But it covers a large enough number of creatures on a wide enough variety of machines to be functional, and thanks to the new in-game world options, the player can take measures like reducing food efficiency to control the population and recover their fps.
In truth I tend to agree with the species forum users (there was a poll) that these elements of the game are very important, probably the Most Important, but the fact that they’re in a viable state while other elements are still half-arsed and placeholdery makes me think they need to take the back seat for 0.9.0.
So, with those off the table, which elements do I consider worth focusing on in the upcoming months?
Species has a ‘semi-viable’ UI system. From the user’s perspective, it mostly works (there’s some design flaws, like the 3 modes, but it’s not too difficult to use). But from the programmers perspective, it’s a pile of crap: difficult to change and extend, impossible to modify without recompiling, and easy to break. It needs some work. A lot of my time between now and 0.9.0 will be taken up with overhauling it.
But that’s kinda boring.
So, to reveal the far more important focus for 0.9.0:
I consider Species current gameplay cycle completely non-viable.
This is a major problem, because gameplay cycles are a central pillar of game design. They’re everywhere: in X-Com you cycle between base management and field operations, in KSP you cycle between build and launch. Even in non-simulation games: shooters like Half Life cycle between puzzles and shooting, sandbox games like Saints Row switch between doing story missions and generally faffing about.
Species has some implicit gameplay cycles (most notably, observing the world 1x speed and running the simulation at 10x) and a load of disparate features (creature tools, ecosystem tools, gene editor), but none of it is tied together. It’s just a bunch of toys to play with, with no central thread.
So the foundation of 0.9.0 will be an attempt to give Species a proper gameplay cycle.
The centerpiece of this evil scheme will be Nursery, a small walled-off area where the player can keep their own Species.
Within the nursery, artificial selection will be far more efficient, relying less on the rovers somewhat indiscriminate feeding/culling and more on directly controlling which specimens get to reproduce (and culling those who don’t, if you’re impatient). This will allow you to rapidly customise your species through artificial selection, at least in comparison to the selection rate in the wild.
When you’re done customising, you can choose to release a few members of your Species into the wild. And it will be your species, too: the moment the population in the nursery speciates from the wild ones, the game will start tracking them and their descendants as the Player Species, and they will be highlighted on both the clade diagram and sat map.
This should generate two things: an implicit goal for players (create a species that can survive in the wild) and a gameplay cycle directly related to that goal (customise and release). Still no explicit goals, of course: the game is still fundamentally a sandbox. But it will provide a mechanism for implicit goals and player-imposed challenges: create a sustainable carnivore, create a sustainable herbivore, drive every wild clade extinct, create creatures that can do X, etc.
It also cements the rovers as more than just a game entity you can use to muck with things, like the creature tools and ecosystem controls are. The rovers and nursary belong to the world of Species, and have a history in it. We won’t be exploring too much of that backstory for 0.9.0, but I’ll try to remember to include a few hints in their design…
I’m actually fairly excited about all of this: the nursary and player species ties together a number of existing features and turns Species from a toy you play with into a game you play. Throw in the UI cleanup and maybe a few Clade Diagram improvements on the side, and we’ve got ourselves plenty of scope for an update.
All images shamelessly stolen from google images to prevent this post from being a boring wall of text.