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L_K_M

Translating Evolution to a Game System

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I've been thinking about this game for a while. It seems to me that there is a fundamental problem with translating evolution to games. In the real world, evolution creates new things. You start with a single cell (or something even simpler), and you eventually arrive at fishes and ants and elephants and humans. Games can't do that; you'll always be limited by the parameters the game designers envisioned.

In the pitch, Devin mentioned that they were aiming for two species, and three traits. I think that approach - having a fixed set of species - might not be the best way of approaching the game, given that you'll already end up with a very limited system, compared to real evolution. Instead, a different approach could be to do something that's closer to real evolution. Don't have species (in the real world, "species" don't exist; they're a human concept that attempts to describe how nature works, but fails when you start looking a bit more closely). Instead, during mating, compare the genetic difference (i.e. the difference in traits) between individual animals, and then allow them to mate if they're not too different.

That way, you'll get "automatic" speciation without implementing the concept of species explicitly!

If you hunt for slow creatures in one place, and for fast creatures in a different place, you'll eventually create two different, incompatible species. This also allows for weird concepts like ring species (neighbouring individuals can mate with each other, but individuals further away can't mate anymore).

This would require increasing the number of traits to include purely cosmetic traits like eye color, and maybe even introducing some entirely hidden traits that aren't visible to the player, and don't have a direct gameplay impact, but do impact speciation. After all, that's how the real world works, too.

Since some of these traits wouldn't have any direct gameplay impact, and since this approach would remove the concept of "species" as something that's implemented explicitly in the game, it might not be harder to implement than the concept shown during the pitch, but might lead to a more interesting, deeper game that emulates real evolution a bit more closely.

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I like the way you think!

I love the idea of getting closer to real evolution than we're aiming for in this prototype. When I initially considered the approach of automatic speciation I was worried it would be too difficult to make stable in a two weeks. I also had concerns about making the process understandable and controllable by the player.

In the prototype we are considering different approaches to mating (random selection vs. finding a very similar mate). I think finding a similar mate and requiring a certain degree of shared traits would achieve the system you described without much new work. Maybe I'll have a bit of time to experiment with it and see how it plays out.

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As a biochemistry major with a focus in plant biology and genetics, your definition of evolution makes me sad. 8^(

First, "Evolution" is any shift in the genetic makeup of a population. There's a variety of things that can cause this, natural selection just happens to be the most talked about one. Genetic drift, which includes stuff like emigration, immigration, and bottlenecks, also plays a large role. You don't need to have a new species pop up: Population A can develop a hideously lethal poison and still be part of the same species as population B, and it'd still be considered an example of evolution. If there's a geographic barrier that trait might not spread to population B.

Second, pretty much all species are polymorphic- they have multiple variations of certain traits which stay in balance with each other. The best example for this is ladybugs- the different colors and spot patterns vary regionally, but they're still all the same species!

Finally, "Species" are best described as a set of populations which can and do successfully interbreed with each other from time to time. Species do actually exist in nature, they're just a bit more wibbly than a lot of people think. There's a lot of species that will produce fertile hybrids in captivity, but won't in the wild because of geographical or behavioral barriers, or are so morphological distinct that they'd be difficult to identify otherwise. There's also species complexes, which might be what you were thinking of.

The only way that rapid speciation would happen (which is the only way you'd see it in game, unless you are skipping like a century between each round) is if you had two species producing fertile hybrids in an environment where those hybrids' mix of traits would be advantageous. Plants do this all the time, usually between two similar species on opposite sides of an ectone- the border of two distinct habitats, like a meadow and a pine forest, or a river delta. However, plants have a unique mechanism to fix mismatched sets of chromosomes, so they tend to play fast and loose with species barriers.

And don't get me started on horizontal gene transfer.

 

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Also, judging from the concept drawing of the spaceship, I don't think you've modeled interplanetary travel accurately.

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21 hours ago, Feddlefew said:

As a biochemistry major with a focus in plant biology and genetics, your definition of evolution makes me sad. 8^(

Apologies. I think we all agree that, in the context of this game, we're talking about a caricature of actual evolution; I'm just thinking about how we can make it a bit closer to real evolution, and maybe make the gameplay loop a bit more unpredictable by allowing speciation to occur "naturally" (as a result of the simulation of "genes", rather than as an explicit in-game concept).

 

21 hours ago, Feddlefew said:

You don't need to have a new species pop up

Sure, but that's the fun part :-)

 

21 hours ago, Feddlefew said:

The only way that rapid speciation would happen (which is the only way you'd see it in game, unless you are skipping like a century between each round)

Since traits are explicitly modelled in the game (so small changes in the genetic makeup imply huge changes in an individual), and mutation can be modelled to behave differently from the real world, speciation could occur very quickly in the game, even after very few generations, without skipping time.

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