Posts Tagged Evolution


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.

I couldn’t find a good “disobedience” demotivator

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.


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Species 0.6.1 Release Date

The code’s finally in a stable enough state that I feel justified in announcing a release date. So here goes nothing…

Species 0.6.1 will be released on the 1st February.


This update includes a lot of the cleanup and polish elements originally planned for 0.7.0. A lot of the changes are background

improvements to the underlying code, but that’s not to say you won’t see some changes to the game itself…

Stability Improvements

A variety of major 0.6.0 bugs have been addressed, most notably:

  • several fatal crashes have been fixed (‘System.OutOfMemoryException’, ‘CladeDiagram.CollideBranches’, ‘UIManager.Paused_Export_Update’),
  • the method for addressing problems when the game is minimised or graphics card is lost has been improved,
  • built-in troubleshooting for some start-up problems (running from the zip file, running from Program Files, running on computer with unsupported graphics card) has been added

(Of course, it’s entirely likely we’ve added our own set of new errors to replace them, so don’t get too comfortable)

Aesthetic Adjustments

Quite a few visual improvements:

  • Procedural texturing: creatures now have different top, side and underbelly textures, giving them a more distinct appearance and more recognisable body covers.
  • Custom textures: beaks, claws, teeth and mouths now have their own (appropriately horrifying) textures, blended into the triplanar texturing.
  • Fur: Fuzzy wuzzy was a bear, fuzzy wuzzy had no hair, but the creature’s in Species do now. And they find bear meat tasty.
  • Water reflections: They only reflect the skybox, but they significantly improve the appearance of the game nonetheless.

Plus a number of subtler ones, like adjusted tree shaders, a better wasteland texture and we got rid of that weird blue shading on trees when you pause the game.

Content Additions

It’s not been all about code and shaders: we’ve also overhauled the content in some of the less-developed area’s of the game.

  • Body coverings: fur, feathers, scales and skins. Also octopus suckers, toad warts and Quasars forearms (ewwww…), but we’re probably better off not mentioning those.
  • Leg shapes: from 6 to 20, meaning a much greater variety of knees.
  • Heads: a number of additions (and of course, the existing heads had to be adjusted to provide beak and mouth textures and fur polygons).

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BPVCT – Round 3!

Welp, Round 2 had a three way tie (roughly… it depends when you take the count) and people took my comment about merging the headtypes seriously, so it looks like we’ll be modelling something lovecraftian, similar to the image below, for 0.7.0. Yay!

That’s a poor precedent to set though, so in the future ties will be broken by some (hopefully fair) means, rather than putting the parts through another horrific bioblending. Sorry guys, but I think it’s gonna be more fun this way. I reserve the right to perform horrific bioblendings for special occasions, though. Like weddings.

Round 3 offers up four beautiful insectoid head pieces, because nothing says “we love our fans” quite like a massive dose of entomophobia. Your options are:





*Praying Mantis*


Go here to vote before the 13th:




“More weddings should be accompanied by horrific bioblending.”

(Edit) You can now suggest your own idea’s for Head Types for future Voting Competition Rounds! I’ll pick out my favorites and/or the most popular ones to use as the Poll Space for Round 4!

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Colourful Creatures and Genetic Drift

If you played Species 0.5.0, you may have noticed an evolutionary bias towards brightly coloured creatures over grey, black or white.

If you’re thinking entirely in terms of natural selection, this might seem odd: colour is a completely neutral mutation in 0.5.0. There is no selection pressure related to colour. No, not even a hidden special one I haven’t told you about. Colour does not affect their survival or reproduction in any way.

And yet the creatures consistantly evolved from grey to bright colours. Why?

This is where an evolutionary mechanism known as Genetic Drift comes into the picture.

For a value that randomly mutates or ‘wanders’ in a single dimension, Genetic Drift has a fairly negligible influence. As you can see below: the wandering line hovers around it’s original horisontal position. It can still wander fairly significantly, but simple statistical pressure mimimises the effect of drift:


The same does not apply for a value that wanders in two dimensions. A value wandering in two dimensions is unlikely to return to it’s starting point, because when it does both the wandering x and wandering y co-ordinates have to be there at the same time. This rarely happens.


This effect increases with every dimension of wandering: if you allow the point to wander up and down as well, it’ll will move away from it’s starting point even faster. And for a creature in Species, with a genome of almost 100 different values or ‘dimensions’, this statistical bias exerts is a very strong pressure.

And this is where things relate back to colourful creatures. Colour is represented in computing terms by 3 values: red, green and blue. Each of these values mutates randomly. In order to get a monochrome colour like black, white or any shade of grey, these three values all have to pass through the same spot at the same time. As said before, this rarely happens.


So the end result is that even with no selection pressure applied, genetic drift causes continual change towards brighter, more distinct colours.


Genetic drift doesn’t get the attention that natural selection does in textbooks and introductory curriculum (afterall, ‘things diverge statistically’ is hardly as memorable a concept as ‘survival of the fittest’), but in reality a lot of the biodiversity in the world is likely more attrituable to genetic drift than to selection pressures. Selection pressures only provide traits that are strictly functional in the creatures niche: simpler neutral mutations like differing plumage and skin colours, facial features, fur growth patterns and so on are almost certainly the result of genetic drift.

The two aren’t so easily distinguished from each other, though. They’re intertwined: genetic drift is a statistical effect of random mutation, which means it provides the raw material for natural selection to work with. If Evolution were a games industry, genetic drift would be the indie developers who put out loads of crazy original idea’s, while natural selection is the AAA industry who rarely contribute new idea’s but do take the best idea’s and refine them to be even better.

Genetic drift also provides an interesting counter point to the common anti-evolutionist claim that “natural selection reduces information”. The common answer to this claim is that mutation increases information, which is true, but doesn’t tell the whole story: as you can see in the first example above, is mutation was a simple, 1-dimensional measure it would only provide small amounts of new information. Genetic drift makes up the difference by providing new combinations of information, and is a major contributor to rapid evolutionary effects like Punctuated Equilibrium.

Oh, and a note about Species: Genetic Drift in Species has a tendency to drown out Natural Selection. If you reduce the Mutation Rate, you’re likely to see much more in the way of selection pressures.

With all that said…

The bright colours looked garish and kind of ugly. They didn’t look natural at all. But as I said in the comment thread this came up on, it would be go against my design philosophy to ‘fix’ the issue. The bright colours are a valid result of Genetic Drift: applying counter-biases towards less bright colours would amount to me preprogramming my own preferences into the simulation.

There’s another option, though:

The RGB representation is unnatural in and of itself. In nature, pigmentation is handled by chemical compounds of certain colours that are pushed to the surface of the skin. A chemically-accurate pigmentation simulation is beyond even my level of bio-programming masochism, but the point is that there is more than one way to represent colours: we’re not necessarily locked into using RGB.

An alternative solution is storing colours as Hue-Saturation-Luminosity. This would mean the genetic drift would seem less directed: similar numbers in HSL would still be less likely than differing ones, but they don’t have any sort of correlation to a specific tone or shade.

[On the left: RGB Randomised Colours. On the right: HSL Randomised Colours]

As the test above shows, randomised HSL colours have a much higher incidence of desaturated black, white and grey’s, and in general look a lot less circus-y and a lot more natural than the equivalent randomised RGB palette. HSL randomisation can still generate bright colours, but they’re less common.

Of course, there are always going to be problems. The increased incidence of black makes it difficult to make out body texture on quite a few creatures in the game, for example. But that’s something we can deal with via graphical upgrades, like gloss mapping.

0.6.0 uses a hue/sat/lum shader, and even though the difference is subtle, it’s noticeable if you’re looking for it.


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A friendly creationist left a comment on one of the old posts. I thought I’d respond to him or her in more detail here. Here’s what he or she said:

“Am I missing something? This article said nothing about how all life on earth could have evolved in only 4 billions years… NOTHING! But hey, if you want to believe everything arranged itself from a goo or a rock – GO AHEAD!”

That sounds to me like a CHALLENGE!

I certainly don’t believe “everything arranged itself” from a rock, and I’m pretty sure “goo” is only a singular noun in World Of Goo (worth taking a look at)… but I’ll try to explain what I accept as the most likely hypothesis about abiogenesis (which I guess is a synonym for “believe”? eh, close enough).

I’ll also try and simplify it as best I can, but I’m no expert so everyone else can feel free to correct me on this if/when I get it wrong.

Y’see, young earth was a very active place. Volcano’s and meteorites and lots and lots and lots of rain. Imagine the plot of Armageddon combined with the Yellowstone caldera erupting combined with a British Public Holiday, but everywhere.

Anyway, all this activity meant that pretty much every body of water, especially the shallow ones, would have been filled to the brim with volatile chemicals and minerals, like the floor of a chem lab after a shrapnel grenade. And combine a situation like that with an energy source (the sun) and earth would have been home to a whole host of interesting chemical reactions, including those that result in organic compounds.

Note that this isn’t speculation. The famous Urey/Miller experiment might not have been a particularly good simulation of early-earthian conditions, but it demonstrated that if you dump a load of inorganic components together and apply energy, you can get organic compounds easily enough. Besides, it’s successors have done a far better job of simulating early-earthian conditions, with even better results.

But back to early earth. This mix of organic compounds in shallow water, across an entire planet (that’s a lot of space for a microscopic experiment) provides the perfect environment for the formation of more complex chemical reactions, including those involved in abiogenesis.

Now, the exact mechanism of abiogenesis isn’t known, but this isn’t because it’s difficult to make happen. Turns out there’s loads of ways to make a self-replicating molecule. We’re spoiled for choice: there’s so many that it’s hard to pick a “most likely” option. Personally, I like the idea of catalytic cycles.

A catalytic cycle isn’t a self-replicating molecule. A self-replicating molecule is something that builds copies of itself out of whatever molecules exist in it’s environment: so Molecule A takes 2 Molecule B’s and combines them into another Molecule A. A catalytic cycle, on the other hand, is a molecule that builds another molecule, which in turn builds the first molecule. So A builds copies of B, and B builds copies of A. It’s chemical symbiosis, and the component molecules can be even simpler than self-replicating molecules (which are already fairly simple).

Anyway, once you’ve got reproduction, these molecules quickly take over their environment, converting all the “building block” molecules. If one of these cycles changes slightly to use a different mineral to make itself, it will be able to spread further than the original and become dominant where there’s none of the original food. This process can then continue until all the worlds oceans are teeming with catalytic cycles or another variety of chemical self-replicator. From there they become more and more complex, to use more and more ‘food sources’ and fill more and more niches. This is the base for evolution: random mutation + natural selection. It leads to more versatile molecules, to RNA and to DNA, and later to single celled organisms. Since you’re all undoubtedly familiar with evolution, I’ll skip that for now.

As you can see, this process isn’t the creationist misrepresentation of “the components of a cell rolled together by chance”. You might be able to say “the components of a catalytic cycle rolled together by chance”, but that wasn’t so much chance as chemistry.

Of course, the biggest stumbling block for public acceptance of the science behind abiogenesis (well, apart from people desperate to believe the universe as a whole cares about them) is that all this would have happened nearly 4 billions years ago. We don’t even have many *rocks* that old, and even if we did it’s not like molecules fossilize  So there’s no way to know what the exact structure of the early self-replicator/catalytic cycles may have been. Maybe aliens did seed the planet with their dandruff, maybe God did look at a barren rock and think “you know what this needs? SINGLE CELLED ORGANISMS!”, maybe space bacteria from Mars surfed an asteroid here. Maybe all of these things happened at once and God got smacked in the face by an asteroid carrying martian head-lice  We’ll never know for certain. All we can do is try to work out what the most likely scientific hypothesis option is. And that’s abiogenesis.

This isn’t enough for IDists and creationists, though: for some reason (I’ll avoid speculating on motives) they can’t accept that abiogenesis is even a possibility. But since it obviously is (and the research in that area just keeps on confirming this), they need to misrepresent it as something absurd in order to make their arguments from incredulity.

Which brings us back to the comment that sparked this post.

But hey, if you want to believe everything arranged itself from a goo or a rock – GO AHEAD

I don’t want to believe that because it’s a ridiculous misrepresentation. But hey, if you want to believe that the scientific alternative to your own beliefs is blatantly stupid, a fact which has somehow miraculously escaped the attention of every atheist chemist, biochemist and biologist on earth despite them spending their lives researching this stuff… go ahead.

“Or maybe it’s a CONSPIRACY!”

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This post turned out ramblier than expected. Sorry about that: it seems to be happening more and more lately. My forum posts tend to be a bit more coherent.

Alright, let’s present some more evidence for evolution: in this case, the evidence that Darwin used to convince his peers. Back in the 19th century, there was a very sparse fossil record, no understanding of genetics, and organisms changing over time hadn’t even been observed, yet Evolution still had enough evidence behind it to convince the scientific community and smack down the existing dominant theory (Intelligent Design: 150 years out of date).

What made up the shortfall in other areas, and what Darwin spent much of his book outlining, was biogeography: the relationship between biological life forms and the area’s they inhabit. Explorers were in vogue at the time, so there was a lot of data available on the distribution of various types of creatures across the globe, and of course Darwin got the chance to witness it first hand in the form of the Galapagos finches (Dude spent 7 years of his life studying oysters, but somehow it’s the few weeks watching finches that everyone remembers him for).

What Darwin noted was the fact that, as geological separation increased, so did biological separation. The animals close to each other would be more similar than the animals separated by hundreds of miles. Animals separated by water or desert or mountain ranges would diverge even more extremely.

Australia’s marsupials are the boring textbook example of this, and everyone’s heard that one before, so to mix things up let’s go for a more interesting and complicated example. Besides, small furry mammals are overrated: there are equally adorable creatures amongst the other families.

Who’s an adorable blind fishy? You are! Yes you are!

Some fairly recent DNA analysis determined that the closest relative of a species of blind Australian cave fish isn’t another type of Australian cave fish at all: it’s a species of (equally blind) cave fish found in Madagascar, on the opposite side of the indian ocean.

At first glance, this hardly seems like evidence for evolution: quite the opposite, in fact. These fish aren’t built for travelling: swimming across the Indian ocean isn’t a simple proposition when you’re less than 10cm long and blind, not to mention adapted for freshwater. So how do two closely-related species of effectively-immobile organisms end up on opposite sides of the ocean?

That’s where geography comes in: specifically, plate tectonics.

I assume we’re all familiar with Gondwanaland, the supercontinent that split apart in the cretaceous? As you can see by this map, Australia and Madagascar were connected by Antarctica, implying that the common ancestor of these fish lived at least 100 million years ago. This matches up with a load of other biological evidence for the Gondwanaland split: the few marsupials that survived the rise of placental mammals outside Australia are all on other subcontinents of Gondwanaland, the Jurrasic-era dinosaur species that lived in South America are identical to those in Africa and Antarctica. On a less charismatic scale the pattern still holds true: all of Madagascar’s freshwater fish groups, exhibit relationship patterns related to the breakup of Gondwana (some are related to groups in India/Sri Lanka, and others to groups in Australia) including our cave fish.

It’s this culmination of evidence that makes Evolution such a certain thing, but also makes it so hard to convince denialists of its veracity. The evidence for evolution often can’t be summed up with soundbytes or images: with moon-landing denialists you can show off photos from the lunar reconnaissance orbiter, with cryptozoologists you can point out that the requirement for a stable population means at least 100 sasquatch individuals wandering the mountains. There’s very little like this for evolution, because the evidence is strongest when taken next to all the other evidence, giving denialists an easy out: by picking holes in a single element at a time, they never have to confront the overwhelming mountains of evidence behind them.

HERV’s are one of the most concise and definative arguments for evolution I’ve found, and even they depend on a pattern, rather than an instance. Fossils like Archae and Tiktaalik help, but are also easy to dismiss: “there are no transitional fossils” makes for a better soundbite than “the term is misleading since all fossils are transitional to one extent or another, but several fossils display transitional features including…”.

Screw it, here’s a chainsaw rover:

And you thought the Terminator was scary

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Bill Nye is not appropriate for Creationist Blood Pressure

Recently, Bill Nye [the science guy] produced a video called “creationism is not appropriate for children”. It’s fairly short and he doesn’t go into much detail: mostly a bunch of assertions on Bill Nye [the science guy]’s part. From what I’ve seen it shouldn’t be difficult to support those assertions with evidence (they’re nothing particularly controversial), but Bill Nye [the science guy] doesn’t bother: he simply presents them as is. Really, it’s more a presentation of an opinion, rather than a particularly detailed or thorough takedown of creationism.

Now I’m Australian, so until recently I’d never heard of Bill Nye [the science guy] (Note: I have been assured that “the science guy” is a mandatory part of his name and that if you don’t use it he magically scientifically appears and beats you over the head with a Bunsen burner). I understand he’s a science communicator and used to have his own TV show, but the remainder of my understanding of who he is and what he does comes almost entirely from Randall Munroe.

So what I find interesting about this case isn’t Bill Nye [the science guy]’s opinions on creationism. I don’t know the guy, and his opinions are really pretty standard stuff amongst people with any understanding of science: the video itself is about as controversial as a NASA engineer saying the moon-landing hoaxers are a bunch of loons. What I find interesting has been the denialsphere’s reaction to Bill Nye [the science guy]’s opinions on creationism. It seems like every creationist of note suddenly went critical.

There’s enough atomic energy stored in creationists to melt the crust off the earth. (it’s funny ’cause it’s true)

Various creoblogs have been tearing ineffectively at him, and there have been more than a few video responses, including white-background parody’s from groups as well known in the misinformation sphere as Answers In Genesis.

“… the complete lack of a genetic mechanism that allows organisms to gain information”? If this blog was a drinking game, I’d be insisting everybody take a shot right now.

So what I want to know is: why is it that this particular video of a guy on a white background garnered such a reaction? There are plenty of more vehement, more eloquent, more thorough and more fact-oriented video’s on YouTube condemning creationism, some of them from well known and popular people. But it’s Bill Nye [the science guy] that gets all this attention. Why?

It can’t be the format: a YouTube interview is hardly anything new.

I think it might be partly the content. Bill Nye [the science guy] provides an emotional argument: a plea to get back to real science in America. This is in many ways more persuasive than a step-wise, fact-based argument… but it’s also the creationist community’s home turf, which allows them to engage on their own terms. Since Bill Nye [the science guy] didn’t provide immediate facts to back up his assertions, the creationist responses can be simple denial: they are under no burden to prove otherwise, and the audience for all their exposure to “both sides of the argument” is no more informed than they were before.

Mainly, though I think it’s a matter of the source. Bill Nye [the science guy] is well known, and not in the same way that evolutionary scientists like Dawkins are well known. He is a scientist, yes. But far more importantly to the denialists, he’s a TV personality.

Bill Nye [the science guy] isn’t an authority on scientific matters: one of the “experts”. Denialists have done a fine job of slandering the very concept of expertise over the years, to the point where amongst their audience scientific experts are less trusted than weathermen (and in the case of climate change, I mean that literally). But Bill Nye [the science guy] is more than just one of the faceless experts: he’s someone that introduced people to science, showing them how it worked and that it worked. He showed people the side of science that wasn’t the dry academia we’d seen in school. It’s easy to accuse a faceless consensus of experts of lying to you, but Bill Nye was someone people came to know and trust. And that, I think, is why the denialists are so apoplectic about Nye: they have plenty of experience denying facts, but it’s harder to combat the opinions of someone your audience knows and trusts.

Interestingly, this hypothesis means it’s Bill Nye [the science guy]’s status as a science communicator, not his status as a scientist, that so scares the denialist community. This makes sense: almost all scientists in relevant fields support evolution without hesitation and have done so for a long time, but this means very little to the denialists: they are far more concerned with convincing the public than convincing the scientists. It’s the science communicators who are in direct competition with them for the trust of the public.

In some ways, science communication is a science unto itself (or maybe an art?) but communicating science is certainly not the same thing as teaching it. Successfully communicating science…. hmm… actually, there’s too much down that damn rabbit hole to go into in the last few paragraphs of this post, so I’ll leave Communicating Science as a topic for a later blog post. Suffice it to say, I think that at the point our society is at, science communication is almost as important as science itself.

Certainly science communication makes me hope that my work on Species will create something more lasting than an interesting game. Plus, if I can piss off the denialist community by even a fraction of the amount Bill Nye has done with his video, I’ll be laughing.


“Serious Question: in a fight between Bill Nye and Adam Savage, who would win?”


Dammit, now I’m wondering just how much energy really is contained in creationists. Let’s find out:

(We’ll confine ourself to American creationists since the statistics are better and, as Bill Nye [the science guy] says, modern creationism is a primarily an American phenomena)

Average Human Weight (male, US) = 88.6 kg
Average Human Weight (female, US) = 77.2 kg
Average Human Weight (US) = (88.6 + 77.2) / 2 = 82.9 kg

US population = 314,289,000 people (2012)
Creationist Percent of the US population = 43% (2007)
Number of US Creationists = (314,289,000 * 0.43) = 135,144,000 people

Mass of US Creationists = 135,144,000 * 82.9 = 11,203,440,000 kg

c = 299,792,458 m / s

E = mc^2 = (11 203 440 000) * (299 792 458) ^ 2
= 1.00e+27 joules
= 239 000 teratons

For comparison, the Chixlub impact that wiped out the dinosaurs has been estimated at a mere 100 teratons (a teraton is one million megatons). So for the sake of a comprehensible mental image, imagine more than 2000 “world killer” meteorites hitting America at the same time. (And in case you were wondering, this math puts the energy yield of a single person at 1780 megatons: our largest nuclear weapons (the full-yield tsar bomba) don’t even come close at 150 megatons).

Clearly there is only one sensible conclusion to draw from this: creationists are the power-source of the future. Somebody get those buggers running on treadmills!

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Who wants an insight into the debugging process? Nobody? Well you’re getting one anyway.

‘Meatpiling’ was a survival strategy, caused by a bug which was fixed in hotfix 3, where hundreds of giant carnivorous blobs would converge in a small location and survive by eating each other. The name comes from the gigantic corpses that served as the food source for the entire mass. It was a horrific conglomeration of living and dead biomass: the pinnacle of evolution!

Which can only be defeated by a ragtag group of Very Attractive Scientists and a firetruck full of Product Placement!

Logically, this shouldn’t be possible. Carnivores can’t get energy without eating herbivores, who in turn can’t get energy without eating plants, but The Mass was almost entirely carnivorous, and stationary. There was no way should have been able to feed itself, yet it was such a viable survival strategy that almost every simulation seemed to converge on this end result. The logical conclusion was that there was a bug in there somewhere.

And thus began the bug finding endeavour, a heroic tale heroism and courage, uniting the world and saving the- no okay it was long and boring.

I started by studying the creatures. In addition to being giant fat carnivores with an energy capacity that would rival a medium sized star, they were social and amorous, and had a very high attack damage.

“Aha!” I thought, excited and slightly aroused by the prospect of solving the bug simply by looking at it, “Clearly The Cause Of This Problem Is Attack Damage! Onward, To Victory And Pie!”

My assumption was that when a creature attacked and killed another creature, the corpse was accidentally gaining energy. The logic behind this is simple: when a creature attacks another creature, any health lost is converted to biomass (meat).

Attack Damage = 100
Health Before Attack = 10 Biomass Before Attack = 0
Health After Attack = -90 Biomass After Attack = 100

Since hP is no longer used when a creature is dead, the resultant corpse has 90 more energy than the original creature.

I checked the code for attack damage, and sure enough it was subtracting the full amount of attack damage, without regard to how much was left. So I fixed this by subtracting/adding whichever was smaller of Attack Damage and Total Health, dislocated my shoulder trying to pat myself on the back, and loaded up the simulation just to make sure it was fixed.

Guess what happened next?


After a bit more research, I determined that not only was Attack Damage not the problem, it was never a problem in the first place. You see, when a creature dies, any remaining health and energy is dumped into biomass. So the negative 90 health in the above example was being added to the positive 100 biomass, resulting in a correct value of 10 biomass. My actions hadn’t actually made any difference.

This still left me with a problem: if it wasn’t attack damage, what was it? Where was all the extra delicious meat energy coming from?

I adopted a new approach, one I’ve used in the past. I have a function called “RecalculateGlobalEnergy”, that generates the Mega joule statistic next to the ‘environment’ by adding together all the creatures health, energy, biomass and all the tree, corpse and ground energy. By peppering the game code with this function, turning off photosynthesis, and watching for when the energy content increases, I can spot exactly when positive energy leaks like this one occur (negative energy leaks are harder to find, but are also less dangerous: you can’t make a survival strategy out of losing energy).

This should have worked. It really should have. Unfortunately, things are never that simple.

See, floating point digits can store 7 unique digits. This can be expanded to store numbers with more digits, but you lose precision at the lowest level to rounding errors.

The environment The Mass lived in had an energy content with 8 digits.

This meant that, due to rounding errors, the lower end of the energy content number would jump up and down by a few units, resulting in loads and loads of false-positive increases. Separating the genuine increases from the false ones was more difficult than it should have been.

I experimented briefly with reducing the number by only looking at meat energy, and turning off eating plants entirely. Unfortunately, the number was still more than 7 digits.

So I adopted yet another new approach: reduce the energy content the nasty way. I already had a genocide button (“K”, for anyone wondering), and I went and added some new functionality to clear the corpses (“L”).

For anyone keeping count: by this stage the game runs at less than 1 fps due to recalculating the Global Energy dozens of times each frame, hits a breakpoint a couple of times per frame in debug mode, the creatures can no longer eat or interact with plants, and I was holding down K and L to make them die and erase their corpses from existence.

I managed to get the energy content down to 7 digits and save the map, then I reactivated debug mode. The game barely-ran for quite some time, before hitting the breakpoint with a positive increase of more than 400 energy. Got you.

(And yes, I’m aware I could have filtered out the false positives by only looking for larger increases, but I didn’t know at the time how large an individual increase would be. For all I knew, the false positives were the increases)

The end result: it had nothing to do with carnivory, energy content or attack damage. The energy increase happened during reproduction. When a mated/non-virgin creature reproduced, I’d forgotten to subtract energy from the parent when giving it to the child. Effectively, mated creatures could give birth for free.

The meatpile was an orgy.

I didn’t want to google for an appropriate image, so here’s a creature looking unimpressed.

The worst thing about this particular comedy of errors? If I’d paid closer attention at the start, I could have worked it out myself. Amorousness, the behavioural tendency that makes creatures decide to mate, was extremely high in every creature in the pile. I mistakenly assumed it was a side effect of being in such close proximity to each other, not the reason they were converging.

So quite often, that’s what Species is for me. A comedy of frustrating, painful errors that, at the end, results in a nothing more than a slightly more accurate, slightly more interesting, simulation of evolution.

And you know something? It’s totally worth it.

“There are things in this world: dark, terrible things, that should never be googled.”

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Mocking Richard Gunther

Okay, so normally I approach the slightly more difficult denialist arguments and try to give them the benefit of the doubt, so as to constructively critique them and address the fundamental misconceptions that resulted in them, as well as to comment on actual concerns in science communication and on some of the more unintuitive and interesting results of the theory of evolution. [deep breath] But

… sometimes I read something that breaks the stupid barrier so hard the air-molecules in front of it fuse with it and cause a multi-megaton explosion, and I just have to laugh at it, and share it with friends so they can laugh at it, and broadcast it via gravitic waves from a repurposed orbital EMP cannon to finely control the vibrations of every smooth surface on the planet so every sentient being on earth including the reptiles that live thousands of kilometres under the earth can laugh hysterically at it. This is the sort of stupid to which the only real responce is snark: snark so dense that it collapses into a snarkularity and causes the snarkpocalypse, which I’m proposing as an ending for a Darker And Edgier cover of Dr Seuss’s The Cat In The Hat. So here’s an article from Richard Gunther of Living Waters Ministry, Ray Comforts official cartoonist and easily one of the dumbest creationists I’m aware of. Seriously, this guy puts Comfort, Hovind and Ham to shame. He’s in a whole league of his own.

Fair warning, the following makes no attempt at being constructive, persuasive, unbiased or even fair. It is written solely as an exercise in sadistic mockery of the eminantly mockable. And I am going to thoroughly enjoy writing it.

I will, however, refrain from commenting on the HTML layout of his site. Some targets are just too easy.

HeaddeskCount = 0;

A while ago I drew a cartoon as a joke, with the picture of hairy primate and the words to the effect: “If we come from apes, and if apes were “fitter”, then how come there are still apes?”

That would be this cartoon:

Richard Gunther is a professional cartoonist.

(Attribution: Richard Gunther, Living Waters Ministry)

Have you ever wondered what you’d get if you gene spliced an orang-utan, a horse, and a goldfish? Well now you know.

And in answer to the question, an analogous question: “If Australians are descended from Europeans, why are there still Americans?” (The answer, of course, is “Because We Find Them Amusing”)

It was a rather confusing question, unless you followed the assumption followed by Darwin, that the “fittest” would survive – as opposed to the “unfittest” which would become extinct.

HeaddeskCount = 1;

Firstly, Mr Gunther, Thomas Huxley came up with “Survival of the Fittest”. Darwin wasn’t too keen on the term, and would probably have used twenty times as many words anyway.

Secondly, SotF is a 150 year old oversimplification. Everyone else moved on, why didn’t creationists?

Thirdly, Microsoft Word says “unfittest” isn’t a word.

This joke was drawn and written for its humour, not its accuracy, because of course it is downright silly to argue this way.

Alright, fair enough. I suppose it was pretty funny, in a “laugh at the mentally disabled creationist” sort of way… wait, no, that’s not funny at all. But then again, since when are cartoonists expected to have a sense of humour anyway?

Just because one thing came from another does not mean the originator must be gone – just because humans are “fitter” than apes does not mean that apes ought to be extinct. A simple illustration of this is found in dog, or cat, or rabbit, or hen, or pigeon, or horse breeding. The original stock is still with us, while the offspring, hybridised and modified through careful breeding, is also with us. There are also many examples of very “unfit” plants and animals, such as the panda which lives almosty exclusively on bamboo, or the koala which likes mainly eucalyptus. Most unfit” yet they survive.

HeaddeskCount = 2;

There’s a pretty big difference between “specialised” and “unfit”. I’d like to see you survive solely on Eucalyptus, Richard! (Actually, I really would, that would be awesome)

The only reason panda’s and koala’s are ‘unfit’ these days is because we’re destroying their natural habitat faster then they, as extremely specialised animals, can adapt.

Unfortunately, when this cartoon about the humans and apes was posted on a website, it drew a great deal of flak, as several people took it as a serious comment. On the one hand I am pleased to see that there are some intelligent people ‘out there’ in etherland, who know some facts about breeding,

“Breeding”? I assume he meant to say something like “ancestry” or “population dynamics” (or, azathoth forbid, “evolution”), but… “breeding”? Now I’ve got a mental image of Zombie!Gunther staggering about moaning “breeeeeedddinnnnggg”…

(I suppose it makes sense: he certainly has no desire for brainz)

and I must admit I was slightly flattered that anyone would even notice my little cartoon, but on the other hand I was disappointed that the humour in the work was not taken as just that. Humour, satire, irony and other forms of amusement are not supposed to be taken as seriously as, for example, a scientific statement, or a statistical comment.

“If the world is really made entirely from cheese like creationists believe, then what type of cheese is it?”
“Ummm… creationists don’t actually believe the…”

HeaddeskCount = 3;

It reminded me of a joke I read, where a little kid asked his Dad “If God made us, and we are apes, then God must be an ape too!” Very logical, and based on the original premise being true, quite consistent, but funny, because the whole question is based on a silly premise.

Alright, so if we assume Gunther is claiming this joke is analogous to his, then the “silly premise” in question is… what? A rediculous caricature of the theory of evolution?

Something doesn’t add up here. Why would a creationist make a parody of a strawman caricature of evolution? I could understand a evolutionist making that parody to mock creationists, and I can understand a creationist making a parody of evolution itself, but in this case we’ve got a creationist parodying a creationist strawman?

Or maybe Richard is just backpedalling because he realises his original cartoon was somewhere between neurodeficient-tapeworm and concussed-housefly on the IQometer.

So taking up this view that it is a good thing to be logical, and consistent with an original premise, let us see where the Darwinian view leads, if we follow it through: Darwin saw Mankind as the product of millions of years of slow development, an increasing trend, from lower to higher levels of intelligence and complexity – a development which he claimed was a normal part of living things.

Well, leaving out the ‘lower to higher’ aspect, which is just silly, (increased complexity and intelligence are merely byproducts of our improved ability to survive), yes. Evolution progresses slowly, over millions of years.

Apply a logical progression to this: If this premise is true we should see:

A continuing improvement in average human phisique, health and resistance to biological opposition over time,
A continuing increase in average human intelligence, and technology,

HeaddeskCount = 4;
HeaddeskCount = 5;
HeaddeskCount = 6;

Okay, see, the one part I left out, because it was silly? That’s the part you’re focusing on, Richard. Also, you seem to have forgotten the ‘millions of years’ part.

Also, when did human technology start reproducing biologically? You’ve been holding out on me, technologically industry! I want my biotech!

We do not see any of these things. The trend is the other way. Darwin’s theory of evolution upward doesn’t fit the real, observed world.

False Attribution: “Darwins theory of evolution upward” actually refers “Richard Gunthers utterly moronic caricature which he thinks is an accurate description of evolution.”

HeaddeskCount = 7;

Health? Humans are increasingly beset by new diseases (small pox, malaria, cholera, ‘black death’. etc)

Black Death? The black death is a new disease? BWAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA!!!

The other “new diseases” there would still be lol worthy even without the black death, but… oh my goodness, that’s hilariously idiotic.

I’m subtracting a Headdesk just for that.

HeaddeskCount = 6;

How[sic] Intellect? Increasingly discoveries of ancient civilizations are revealing that those people were actually brighter they we are in many ways (i.e. huge monuments made of incredibly heavy stones, the antikathera, astronomical knowledge, metal-work, more complex languages, etc.

Yep. The people who built great big lumps of triangular rock to bury their dead leaders in were totes smarter than the engineers and experimental physicists who built a perfectly circular tunnel of vaccum under france and italy and just used it to discover the Higgs Bosun. And the zodiac is waaaaay more advanced than hubble. And metal work? I’ll bet the engineers who just landed a rover the size of a mini on another planet with a parachute/hovering VTOL skycrane combo would never have thought of heating up iron.
Any more insights, Professor Gunther?

No, seriously, is he seriously arguing that our intellectual level has followed a downward trend since the bronze age using examples from technology to prove his point? I would understand it if he was using writing and philosophy: that would at least make a certain level of sense, albeit sense not backed up by evidence. But technology?

HeaddeskCount = 7;

Are humans improving ‘morally’? Not at all – we have had more than 5000 years of continuous war, raging at least somewhere on the planet, including the more recent two world wars, a holocaust, and many examples of genocide – some going on right now. Peace on earth? Right now there are millions of people living under oppressive military regimes, or dying of sickness, hunger and/or are in the grip of poverty.

Yeah, and a large percentage of the world population now believes that war, slavery, racism and discrimination is wrong and lives in peaceful democratic countries, where our opinions, beliefs and freedoms are protected and we are all (theoretically) given equal ability to influence how our countries are governed. WE’RE WORSE THAN WE’VE EVER BEEN.

HeaddeskCount = 8;

So this is the opposite to the path set by Darwin’s theory? According to him, evolution for humans is all up and up,

Also according to Darwin according to Gunther: the moon is an eyeball of yog sothoth’s pet unicorn, humans are secretly being controlled by the koala-bear hivemind (but it’s okay because they only want hugs), and germs are actually the tears of fairies who have lost their wings.

HeaddeskCount = 9;
HeaddeskCount = 10;

but the reality is down and down. Humans are not smarter, healthier, better. They are either much the same or much worse. Darwin was dreaming.

HeaddeskCount = 11;
HeaddeskCount = 12;
HeaddeskCount = 13;
HeaddeskCount = 14;
HeaddeskCount = 15;

All I can think of right now is that quote from The Castle: “Tell ‘im he’s dreamin’!” It’s possible I may have just given myself a concussion.

But there is one last thing to note: one huge and obvious difference between that ape I drew and the average modern human is that apes don’t have an inherited sinful nature.

Bonobo’s have sex for pleasure and chimps eat each other.

If humans really did come from primates, they too would be sinful, but they are not. They have no moral awareness at all.

Several species of apes grieve for lost loved ones, and are capable of altruism.

That makes humans more likely to be special creations, by a moral God, than merely animals – something Darwin apparently refused to notice.

Yep, because Darwin was absolutely incurious about the natural world and didn’t spend decades of his life studying every detail he could find prior to publishing his theory. No, instead he “refused to notice” basic creofacts and wrote On The Origins Of Species after a drunken night on the town, during which he proposed to a 200lb dock-worker and accidentally set fire to his beard. Twice.

HeaddeskCount += 8986;

Although, credit where credit is due, it can’t be easy for Richard Gunther to transmit these essays to us across the 5th dimension from the parallel universe he apparently inhabits.

“Pro-tip: never try to hug a koala. Seriously. Furry bastards have claws and a temper.”

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Species 0.4.1

… is Released!


Download the game here: Species ALRE Official Website

From the Development Thread:


Gene Splicing
Radiation Gun
Highlight Colour Filters (basic implementation)
Ultra Time Acceleration (deactives rendering, runs at the maximum speed the computer can handle)
Q/E to make the camera Rise/Fall. (It’s like maaagic)
Head animation and movement. (To make them look like they’re actually thinking. Makes them seem a lot less brain-dead)
Eye animation and movement. (as above)
Animated Cloud Plane.
Tree’s waving in the breeze. (These two should make the Time Accelleration actually feel like Time Accelleration, as opposed to simply putting all the creatures on meth)
Better Looking Corpse/Meat Models (Steaks! Delicious bloody raw steaks! How can they resist evolving into carnivores now?)
Fake Shadows
Basic Ambient Noises (placeholder sounds: check back for a hotfix for them later this week)
Export Creature function
Import Creature function
Mutation Map – Feature Model
Mutation Map – Feature Texture
Mutation Map – Body Covering
Mutation Map – Colour Pattern
Update the Mod Maker to acknowledge new Mutation Maps.
Mark Perception Target. (Head animation already made the creatures a bit easier to read: showing the player what the selected creature is targeting should improve that even more)
Remake the Eyes (Eyestalks and eyelids and light sensing pits!)
Remake the Eye textures (Lenses and Compound Eyes!)
Autorestart option for Mass Extinction (in the Options Menu)


Creatures not wandering even though they say they are. (LIIIIIEES!)
Creatures spinning endlessly in circles around tree’s. (Clearly they’re attempting to rob the planet of it’s rotational momentum. They must be stopped)
Game crashes at some point when you set the population cap to 2000.
Autosave closing any open UI tabs. (My bad guys, I should have fixed that one before release)
Creature’s heads rotating into their own bodies (mostly fixed, still happens occasionally though)
Creatures looking in the wrong direction in the Creature Details Panel.
Fake shadows visible through cliffs.
Fake shadows not orienting to ground properly.
Remove Creature Thumbnails. (currently they’re being taken at birth for every creature on the map, which costs performance. It would be better to take one solely for whichever creature is currently selected)
Deforest the area outside the border
Automatically detect if the player’s graphics card can’t handle Pixel Shader 3.0 and/or > 2048×2048 textures
Deal with all of the AI problems that Mark Perception Target made painfully obvious
Bind the Up, Down, Left and Right keys as secondary movement controls for people who don’t have qwerty keyboards.
Option to save as BMP files, for systems that don’t support saving to PNG (assuming that’s what’s causing the loss-of-terrain problems some people are reporting)
Check Biomass Bar for possible Memory Leak (No way to test it, but I have made sure it won’t try to draw more than 150 scale sprites)

Report any bugs here. (or leave a comment below)
Discuss the release here.
Make suggestions for 0.5.0 here.

You think you know me? You know nothing.

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