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Niche: A Genetics Survival Game

Apparently we have evolved fire. NBD.

I’ve just been pottering with the Niche [official site] demo. It’s a hex tile evolution/genetics game which piqued my interest a while ago and then I forgot about it because of post-GDC backlog and so on. Then an email arrived to tell me that the game developers had “made great progress. We recently implemented procedural islands to game, added lots of new genes and came up with a system for incest.”

I… what? That sentence was one I read while jetlagged and confused so I starred the email to come back to and make sense of on the right timezone.

Niche is about breeding and evolving species. According to the Kickstarter:

“Niche is a game about creative problem solving that lets players evolve their own creatures. The main objective is to keep your animal tribe alive against all odds, such as hungry predators, climate change and sickness. Players can come up with tons of different approaches to survive in the harsh environment.

“How about evolving overwhelming strength for battle? Great camouflage for disguise? Or a skin that is toxic to eat for predators? The game’s mating system is based on real gene science, featuring mutation, dominant/recessive/codominant heredity and much more, because Niche’s game designer is a huge biology nerd. Niche even has a system to simulate incest between animals.”

Prime genetic material right there, hubba hubba

It seems that people are on board with ecology gaming as this has already reached its funding goal and then some. The demo version has you spawn in the middle of a sea of hex tiles, each styled according to the biome it represents. You can move, explore and collect food as your main basic actions. You get a few actions per creature per day and a shared food resource pile you are constantly feeding from and must top up.

The world in that demo version seemed to need some tweaking in terms of how resources were seeded (or it’s making a statement about the vagaries of nature). In one run I didn’t find any food but I did find other rabbity-foxy creatures who all started drawing on my food resources and we all starved to death. In another I managed to keep a population of 6 going for more than 20 days. There was sex, offspring, two weird carnivores who forced three of my rabbity-foxes off into the savannah before I worked out how to evolve claws from the genetics menu…

A full day.

The devs cite Creatures, Spore and Don’t Starve as influences, but it made me think of the boardgame, Evolution, where you evolve a creature as you play.

The plan is currently for an early access Steam release in July with a full release for PC in February 2017. The demo is available free of charge on the game’s official site.

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Philippa Warr


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