Q&A: Goals, Gameplay, Invertebreates, and Scavengers
For this update and the next, I thought I would cover some of the questions I have received from backers and interested people in other parts of the internet.
1. What will the player be in direct control of in Ecosystem? What kinds of goals are there?
Players can modify creatures directly through built-in editors for their bodies, nervous systems, and high-level behaviors. Players can also artificially select creatures, breeding or culling them to shape the future development of the species. It is also possible to alter the topography of the land, carving out caves and crevices and adding mountains, reefs, coasts, and vents. Lastly, the player can adjust the location and amount of algae and plant life as well as abiotic factors like sunlight, temperature, current, minerals, and water clarity. All these factors influence each other and shape the nutrient cycle and energy flow among all the creatures that make up the ecosystem. As a player, you make changes, but also have to remain alert to avoid chain reactions that could lead to extinctions or a loss of biodiversity. I hope that this will give a sense of responsibility and ownership: that it's genuinely your ecosystem that you are directing and protecting. I plan to support specific achievements, but I view the main draw as developing a rich, interesting ecosystem with unique animals that no one else will have, and also sharing or competing with those creatures online. However, if in the course of play-testing it seems that more concrete goals would improve the game, I am open to adding them. I learned a lot from player feedback while developing Enemy and I'm sure that Ecosystem will be no exception.
2. Is it possible to make invertebrates, like lobsters and shrimps, or possibly even sea urchins and starfish? Is there only predator/prey behavior, or can there be parasitic or scavenging behavior as well?
It's possible to both create invertebrates, and for them to evolve on their own. While all creatures do have a kind of loose skeletal structure, any such structure that makes physical sense is considered valid by the game, so there's no requirement that creatures have a backbone or fit any kind of prefab skeleton. I hope to support the evolution of a carapace, as in lobsters and shrimp. An extremely soft-bodied creature like a jellyfish may be tricky to create in game, though with many small parts linked together, a very good approximation of soft features like tentacles can be created, and I have seen those kinds of shapes evolve on their own in testing. Simple forms of parasitism, like small organisms feeding in small amounts from larger ones (as mosquitoes do) should be possible in the game, but more complex forms would need special code support; once the beta is running, I may see what kind of features players think will add the most to the simulation and target those that will do the most good. There will definitely be scavengers! Creature detritus carries energy and nutrients in Ecosystem and is definitely both a viable food source and an important way for nutrients to be cycled back into the ecosystem.
I'll have more questions and answers next time. Thanks to everyone who asked, and thank you for reading.