Sunday, January 29, 2017

Intelligent Design - The Friday FREE GAME Feature!

Create and modify plants and animals on an alien surface in this futuristic sandbox!

Intelligent Design is a sandbox simulation set in the future. Your job is to populate a distant body in space (which I assume is the crater of an asteroid or barren planet) with flora and fauna, with the goal of building a thriving ecosystem. Piloting a drone on the crater's surface, you direct the placement of everything from plant matter to force fields.

Starting out, you have a small amount of biomass (which is used to build and upgrade physical structures) and the ability to place random plants, herbivores and carnivores. Investing in research rewards you with genetic traits that let you start fine tuning the flora and fauna you deploy.

After reading about this game, I was initially hesitant to try it on stream. Based on the amount of detail from the game's description, I worried it might be a complicated mess of statistics and a maze of UI options. Thankfully, I found quite the opposite. The UI is far cleaner and simpler than I expected, and while numbers do play a large part in creating a custom species, it's all handled with easy-to-use sliders and drop-down menus. Likewise, the drone itself is easy to maneuver using either keyboard/mouse or a controller.

Graphically speaking, there's not much more than different polygons to represent plants and animals. While watching geometric shapes hunt each other was amusing, I would've really liked to have seen something more resembling creatures instead. It's a bit minimalist, but in the same way (and perhaps for the same reasons) that Minecraft is blocky and pixelated. As your ecosystem starts to grow, there's a lot for the game (as well as your system) to keep track of - life cycles, animal AI and stats at the very least. At about 1000 total entities, I noticed some framerate issues while streaming that seemed to decline once I was able to significantly cut my rapidly growing herbivore population. If the game used more detailed models, it would be difficult for lower-end systems to handle.

I would've appreciated a little more detail in terms of genetic traits, though. New traits are simply labeled with one or two words each, such as "Cohesion" and "Allignment" (spelled with two 'l's). Without a more detailed description, you're pretty much left to guess what properties some of the traits actually modify.

At the end of each game day, your score is tallied and placed on a leaderboard, which was a nice and unexpected touch. I feel this addition really encouraged me to keep playing, just to see how high of a rank I could achieve. I felt like I actually accomplished something by breaking into the top 120 on my first short playthrough (whether it really meant anything or not).

There's more to this game that I didn't experience during the stream as well. You can purposely turn off your force fields, allowing radiation to affect plants and animals in hopes of mutating them. I imagine there's a variety of outcomes when attempting that, which considerably increases the experimentation and replay factors of the game.

As it stands, I feel Intelligent Design is a great working model to demonstrate a fairly in-depth simulation with a lot of possibilities. In some ways, it reminds me of a rough version of Spore... minus the identity crisis that game so badly suffered from as it moved from one stage to another.

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