What is Species? Give us the Overview.
Species is an artificial life/evolution simulator, in which evolution is simulated from first-principles: Mutation, Variation, and Natural Selection. This means that the evolution side of things is entirely emergent: none of it is preprogrammed.
Species is also a game, and we’re making every effort to keep it as fun and interesting as possible, but the simulation comes first. Gameplay will consist of interacting with the simulation, not controlling or changing it.
Currently under heavy development, we’re getting ready for our alpha release in the next couple of months!
How can the evolution be emergent if you’re programming it?
I’m programming the environment, not the evolution: a real world analogy would be to say I’m setting up the laws of physics, then leaving those to create stars and planets.
Within the context of their preprogrammed environment, the creatures then go on to evolve by natural selection.
How does this compare to other evolution simulators?
The majority of other evolution simulators out there implement a fitness function: a target or goal, for which artificial selection is applied. In Dawkins Weasel Program (BTW: I programmed a copy for fun a year ago. You can download it here), the fitness function is how closely the string resembles the phrase “METHINKS IT LOOKS LIKE A WEASEL”. Other simulators use different fitness functions, like how fast they can solve a specific problem, or how well they do at a board game.
Species has no fitness function: how ‘fit’ a creature is is determined entirely by it’s environment. The selection process in Species is the natural result of it’s environment: not an artificial force.
This isn’t an original concept by any means: Primordial Life beat me to it and provided the inspiration for this project (honorable mention to it’s spin-off, Biogenesis, which improves on it’s predecessors functionality). But Primordial Life was an abstract representation of cells in a petrie dish.
As far as I know, Species is the first time an open natural selection simulator has been attempted on a macroscopic scale.
What about Spore?
Oookay moving on… who are you?
My name is James: I’m a scrawny mid-twenties programmer from Brisbane, Australia. I have delusions of competence and a self-deprecatory sense of humour. The sense of humour is probably also a delusion.
What’s your background in biology?
A keen interest and altogether too much time spent debating denialists on the internet: ie. nothing official. I like to think I have a fairly good grasp of the subject, but I would really like to get feedback and suggestions from actual biologists.
How long has Species been in production?
The idea has been floating around in design notes and what passes for my mind for seven or eight years: the game itself has been in on-off production for five years, and in the last year production has accelerated significantly, in part because of that’s when I started writing this blog.
So when is it going to be released?
The alpha will be released soon! We’re aiming for June 2012. Maybe even sooner…
You’re not being funny this time around, I notice.
I had my sense of humour surgically removed for the sake of doing a concise FAQ that doesn’t ramble on mindlessly about eldritch abominations, timecubes and orbital weaponry.
I don’t like it. It’s creeping me out.
Shut up and keep asking questions.
How much will it cost?
All Alpha releases will be free, and will serve as a demo for later releases. We’re not sure yet what it will cost to preorder the beta and full releases, but we’ll try to keep it down.
Can I donate to the project?
We’re trying to set up some sort of crowdfunding platform, like Kickstarter, for Species. The project has gotten surprisingly far given that it’s just been me working on it in my free time with zero budget, but I simply can’t do everything on my own. I’m trying to get a proper graphic artist involved and I’m pretty sure you’re supposed to pay graphic artists in the blood of the innocent.
Uh… I thought you weren’t being funny?
I’m not. Do you have any idea how much the blood of the innocent costs on the black market? It’s not cheap.
Anyway, once the crowdfunding thing is set up I’ll be sure to let everyone know. It will likely also serve as a way to pre-order the game.
Species sounds kind of like Edutainment. Is it?
No. Hell no.
Edutainment is a thin veneer of interactivity wrapped around a boring as hell classroom lecture. Species is a game, wrapped around a simulation. Any learning that happens while you play the game is your own fault. There will not be a test at the end of it.
That’s my story and I’m still sticking to it. That’s why I copy/pasted it from the old FAQ. Obviously. Nothing to do with laziness at all.
Will the environment evolve as well?
In the alpha release, not much. The billboard forests can be completely eaten, but they grow back, and they don’t expand or contract.
A complete overhaul of the vegetation/biome system is planned for a later alpha release, however. The concepts we have for the newer version are… ambitious, to say the least, and should be very dynamic and versatile when they’re implemented.
What about water? Will there be aquatic animals?
Again, not in the first alpha, or the second. But it is a planned feature, and will likely be implemented at the same time as a flight system.
What about fli- oh.
Already in, in the form of curiosity, aggression and amorousity values. But the AI will likely improve gradually between each release: currently the creatures are… uh… not the brightest. By which I mean they’re dumb as shit.
What about player interaction? Who will the player be?
During the alpha stages we will be spending our time on improving the simulation side of things: the player will just be a camera, and player interaction will be limited to a few relatively simple actions, like ‘move’, ‘feed’, ‘kill’… that sort of thing. Most of the player UI will be oriented around observation: retrieving stats, graphs, histories and averages.
When we get around to the beta, however, we will hopefully be implementing a player avatar of sorts (it’s probably not what you think), and some sort of ‘what happened here?’ back-story, as well as opening up a whole new swath of player options, including genetic manipulation and artificial selection. I can guarantee, however, that player interactions will continue to be indirect: this game is will never be about controlling the creatures and simulation, but about aiding and interacting with them and it.
Modding? Will the community be able mod the game?
Yes, absolutely! Assuming I’m capable of building a community without turning everyone in it into my mind slaves and attempting to take over the world (oh crap the brain surgery is wearing off. Wait, how does that even work?).
It’s worth noting that XNA isn’t the easiest framework for allowing modding, and I’m not making the code open source, but I will do my very best to manually open up every game element I possibly can to modding.
For the alpha release, it will be possible to create and add custom heads, features, legs and feet, as well as body covering and colour textures.
Okay, one last question. Same one as last time, actually. The comments in italics at the end of your posts…
The result of a deranged personality fragment that splintered off from latent aspects of my subconscious several years back and has been developing independently ever since. Entirely fictional and not at all real. In any way. At all.
“So says his psychiatrist.”
Shut up you.
“Pff. Yeah, that’ll happen.”