Sunday, February 21, 2016

What Happened to Artificial Life Games?

I am a huge fan of simulation and strategy games, and one of my favorite subsections of this was the alife genre. Some of the better examples of this genre were SimLife, which came out in 1992, and the Creatures series that came out in the mid to late 90s. Yet, once we got into the 21st Century, the genre seems to have mostly melted away, and this leaves me fairly sad and wondering why.

Perhaps it was how horribly executed Spore was, and seeing that blow up with Will Wright behind it scared people away.

Even ignoring the large studio produced games, I remember in the 90s seeing and playing tons of simple freeware alife sims. The study of alife was at least a not completely ignored facet of academia. I found a lot of my way into it through that, reading books about complexity theory. See Conway's Game of Life,  Boids and Sugarscape. Even from that face of things, I have not seen much new come out. I suppose The International Society for Artificial Life is still doing things, but as a non-academic I don't see much evidence of this in the pop-science press. Even the /r/alife subreddit is mostly dormant.

And so I remain curious as to why. There seemed such an opportunity for growth in this field that simply turned to dust. Maybe I just haven't been keeping up in the right corners of the internet. If people could point me in a better direction that would be wonderful. I certainly can't speak for the potential for academic advances in the field, but simply as a toy, as a game, there is so much more that could be done. Processing power has expanded dramatically, and we have gotten tremendously better at making software.

Likely it is lack of demand, which is frustrating, if believable. Many people don't like the same things as I do. Yet, we have amazingly better simulation and strategy games these days, and not just because of Paradox Interactive. I would assume there would be enough range in the simulation genre for the alife subset to eke out some sort of existence.

Perhaps I need to better articulate what it is I loved about those games. I loved that you could have what was in effect a terrarium, that you could build with whatever configuration you wanted and restart at a moments notice, all at no cost. You could observe, and learned a good deal about how systems worked, about biology, evolution, neural networks, physics, genetics, and more. They were beautiful to simply look at.

If I can't find these programs already out there, I should write them myself. Just give me a thousand hours of free time or so.

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