I still firmly believe that the Creatures series is the most realistic artificial life simulation out there, although I’m fully aware that I’m biased in its favor! No other game has really hit upon this genre so well, while allowing players to enjoy the game in countless ways. Yet the one aspect that is missing is the idea of evolution. Genetics and genetic mutations play a central role in Creatures, yet differences between generations are merely based upon chance. Indeed, mutations which make sense are fully celebrated! Or maybe I celebrate far too much… In any event, what would it take to have evolution occur in artificial life?
True evolution, at least in the sense I imagine, would take place in response to environmental factors. A population of Norns located in a region with a limited food supply might adapt to gain more nutrition from a single piece of food, or require less energy to survive. Alternatively, imagine a group of Grendels living near water where additional food sources existed. They might become amphibious over the generations, and perhaps even to the point where the water became their home! There are many, many different scenarios in Creatures where evolution could play a crucial role in shaping future generations.
Alas, this idea is beyond the scope of the current Creatures titles. I was excited when Spore was first announced, simply because the idea of evolution seemed so paramount. Could this game contain some elements that Creatures originally lacked? Sadly, I was sorely disappointed when I found out that a single generation could undergo massive changes. Evolution is a very subtle process, and should take many generations to achieve.
Fortunately, Creatures delivers a sort of pseudo-evolution. Take a look at populations of Norns, Grendels, and Ettins that have been around for multiple generations: Chances are, there are some unique aspects to them that first generation Creatures do not possess. Granted, some of us take the time to nudge along natural selection. Yet there is a great deal of unpredictability when it comes to mutations. And in the end, evolution itself is an unpredictable matter entirely! True evolution might someday be possible in an artificial life game, yet Creatures still sits on a level far above any other. In a way, perhaps we as players have evolved while enjoying Creatures.