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October 17, 2018, 07:04:25 AM

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TIGSource ForumsCommunityDevLogsPond Water - A visually rich artificial life simulation game
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Author Topic: Pond Water - A visually rich artificial life simulation game  (Read 1712 times)
Fuzzy Branch
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« on: March 30, 2018, 12:09:13 PM »

--------------------- LATEST UPDATE: -----------------------
New Species Emerging (Tree of Life UI):




-------------------------------------------------------------------
===================================================================



The Game:
An ecosystem simulation game set in a dynamic 2D liquid environment, where you can take control of an individual creature or sit back and observe the world evolve over time.



Video of some gameplay:
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8X9wWjCQuBo&feature=youtu.be

Currently in an early prototype stage, building out the core systems.  Right now the gameplay is as simple as possible -- the player must eat enough food to avoid starvation, and avoid running into deadly spikeballs. I think there are a ton of directions I can go from here so I'd be interested in hearing people's thoughts.







After much deliberation, I decided to scrap my previous project, Planet Crawlers:
https://forums.tigsource.com/index.php?topic=63424.msg1366833#msg1366833

My original strategy for transitioning into Independent Game Dev from working at a bigger studio was to start small and build up momentum and knowledge quickly. Somehow I managed to completely flub that by underestimating my underestimate for the scope of Planet Crawlers. It was always intended to be a <6 months (1 year max!) project and I made conscious decisions to keep the scope smaller, however I still ran afoul of that common pitfall. Also, I didn't feel like the end result would be worth it in the end, and I wasn't leveraging my strengths well enough. Maybe I had to make those mistakes in order to learn, but what's done is done.

Anyway, I'm refocusing and taking another serious stab at this indie-dev stuff by ruthlessly pursuing the goal of shipping a finished game! -- even if it's tiny and has almost no content. The idea is to keep gameplay scope essentially locked until all other areas (UI, localization, audio, menus, quality settings, controller compatibility, etc etc) are "complete", and just focus on making those simple elements highly polished. Once everything else is set and accounted for, and published on a smaller online storefront, I can resume building out features or developing the game's successor with expanded scope, drawing on lessons learned taking the first micro-game from start to finish. This should also help build motivational momentum and start building a community/following which is essential nowadays in order to keep a studio afloat. This was actually the plan originally, but I didn't take it seriously enough and succumbed to the allure of feature creep and ambition.
« Last Edit: October 08, 2018, 04:16:47 PM by Fuzzy Branch » Logged

Fuzzy Branch
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« Reply #1 on: April 02, 2018, 04:45:34 PM »

Had trouble getting youtube clip to embed, so converted to gifs/screenshots:

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PetSkull
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« Reply #2 on: April 03, 2018, 07:17:44 AM »

You can imbed youtube, by giving the full link, as in

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8X9wWjCQuBo&feature=youtu.be

And I really like your idea of letting it play out on its own, but you have the oppertunity to take control Smiley
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katastrophic88
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« Reply #3 on: April 03, 2018, 10:26:38 AM »

Looks like a relaxing game for the most part. I also like the idea of allowing things to play out -- as I like to have some kind of moving image on my other screen while I work (helps me focus). Also think it's cool that you're doing your own thing as an indie dev. Good luck on your dev journey!
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SparseGameDev
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« Reply #4 on: April 03, 2018, 12:16:12 PM »

I love the visuals and how the liquid flows and smears around when things move. I'm traveling and only have a laptop with an integrated card right now but when I get back I'll be sure to try out the prototype! I love these sort of games and it looks like it has a lot of potential.
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Fuzzy Branch
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« Reply #5 on: April 03, 2018, 03:47:04 PM »

You can imbed youtube, by giving the full link, as in

And I really like your idea of letting it play out on its own, but you have the oppertunity to take control Smiley

Thank you! Much better than a bunch of blank space!

Looks like a relaxing game for the most part. I also like the idea of allowing things to play out -- as I like to have some kind of moving image on my other screen while I work (helps me focus). Also think it's cool that you're doing your own thing as an indie dev. Good luck on your dev journey!

The evolutionary simulation stuff is definitely something I want to have in one form or another, so it's good to hear that you'd be interested in that, at least as an option. It might get less relaxing in places if/when I add predator-prey dynamics though...

I love the visuals and how the liquid flows and smears around when things move. I'm traveling and only have a laptop with an integrated card right now but when I get back I'll be sure to try out the prototype! I love these sort of games and it looks like it has a lot of potential.

Awesome, thank you! Please let me know how it goes -- any playtest feedback at all is super helpful. Let me know if you have any issues running it and I'll work on getting it fixed for you.
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Fuzzy Branch
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« Reply #6 on: April 13, 2018, 06:06:30 PM »

It's probably evident from my forum name/pic that I've been working on setting up an LLC, website, social media, branding, marketing blah blah blah the past week or so.

Definitely not my favorite aspect of indie game dev, but the reality is that it's essential nowadays, so I've got to play the game a little...

While I was going through old files, I decided to put together a little timelapse of the last ~2 or so years learning Unity and most of my dev experiments showing the path to where I am now. Hopefully it's interesting for other people to see, but it was cathartic to look through all of it. Working solo can get demoralizing when it doesn't seem like you're making any progress:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GGwFAYmz0P0&feature=youtu.be
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Fuzzy Branch
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« Reply #7 on: April 24, 2018, 01:15:18 PM »

How It Works Part 1: Creatures!

All creatures (and plants) in the game have a genome which determines its appearance, attributes, and behavior.

Creatures’ genomes are split into two main parts: Body & Brain

The Body Genome:
The body genome is currently purely cosmetic, but eventually will control physical attributes that will affect its abilities. A body genome codes for the following:
-Size of creature
-Primary & Secondary Color
-Body Pattern
-Eyes shape and colors

The final appearance of a creature's body is determined by using a pattern mask swatch combined with its primary & secondary colors. Its eyes are created similarly. Eventually these patterns will be generated procedurally, but for now this is a simple way to create visual diversity:



The Brain Genome:
The brain genome codes for the structure of the creature’s brain and determines its behavior.
Brains are artificial neural networks which take a collection of numerical inputs, do some math to them, and spit out a few output values [between -1 and +1] which are interpreted as controller Inputs for the creature. AI creatures and the Player share the exact same control scheme so that they are interchangeable. Creature outputs (Actions) are the following:
-Move Left/Right ( -1 means move left, +1 means move right, 0 means stay still )
-Move Up/Down
-5 extra channels that will be used for special abilities and communication

Creatures are given a bunch of sensors and other input information:
-XY Position & Direction of nearest food object
-XY Position, Direction, & Velocity of nearest friendly creature
-XY Position, Direction, & Velocity of nearest spike hazard
-XY Own Velocity
-Collision Forces
-Current Health
-Current Hunger
-8-Directional sensors for distance to nearest wall
-Extra placeholder inputs for water pressure, sounds, smell, etc.



The creature’s brain genome codes for which neurons are connected to which others and the weights between each of them. Different weights and wiring will result in different decision making.

When new creatures are born, they are created by copying an existing genome from the previous generation and slightly modifying it. The more successful genomes are passed on while weak ones are discarded, leading to the improvement of the population as a whole.
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Zireael
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« Reply #8 on: April 25, 2018, 01:10:23 AM »

The visuals are amazing and I love any project that has some sort of genome/breeding going on. Unfortunately my PC is not beefy Sad
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Fuzzy Branch
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« Reply #9 on: April 27, 2018, 12:22:12 PM »

The visuals are amazing and I love any project that has some sort of genome/breeding going on. Unfortunately my PC is not beefy Sad

Thank you!

I finally have been able to get back to working on the actual game itself, and just implemented a quick and dirty Game Options Menu so that machines with lower specs should hopefully be able to run it alright.

Windows Build with performance/graphics options: (still super basic gameplay though)
https://drive.google.com/open?id=137YBBXhWnMfS-Qq4TqTwEYALJNFke0vJ

I wanted to get Game Controller support into this build but unfortunately haven't been able to get the XBox One controller to work on Windows 7.  It sounds like for Windows 7 I should get an xbox 360 controller instead? Has anoyone else run into controller issues on PC with older OS?
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Fuzzy Branch
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« Reply #10 on: July 18, 2018, 03:11:00 PM »

It's been a long time!

I had to take a bunch of time off from this the past couple months, but I'm ramping back up now, working on upgrading the prototype I had before by complexifying the underlying evolution simulation, as well as writing a new render pipeline.

There is a ton of work left but I wanted to share some work in progress capture to give everyone a rough idea of where it's at.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3-3Y9-UK7cE&feature=youtu.be
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ActualDog
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« Reply #11 on: July 24, 2018, 06:45:36 PM »

This looks so good! The painterly 3D style you have going on is really nice; that water is gorgeous.

I'm really curious to see how the gameplay comes together.
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PetSkull
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« Reply #12 on: July 24, 2018, 10:55:11 PM »

I really love it! Gimme more!!!  Well, hello there!
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« Reply #13 on: July 24, 2018, 11:18:00 PM »

This.
Looks.
Stunning.

I'm impressed by your dedication and the ammount of work and passion you pour into your games. A+!
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Fuzzy Branch
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« Reply #14 on: August 03, 2018, 03:51:24 PM »

This looks so good! The painterly 3D style you have going on is really nice; that water is gorgeous.

I'm really curious to see how the gameplay comes together.

Thanks! I'm really curious how the gameplay comes together also Smiley

That's an area that's continued to defy me -- I have a basic idea of where I'd like it to go but i'm not sure if it will actually work out well. I'd like to have the player assume the role of 1 species of critter as a whole. The gameplay would be punctuated into sections (one per individual critter's life cycle) where the player controls an individual from birth to death, trying to find enough food/energy to survive and reproduce. (all other critters in player's species are AI controlled) After death, depending on the previous life's performance, the player chooses upgrades/mutations to customize the species' abilities, appearance, social behavior etc.
You would continue until all the player's individual critters die & fail to reproduce, and the species goes extinct.

Right now I'm trying to focus on tightening up just the core simulation mechanics, as well as atmospheric world-building, and hoping that the gameplay will naturally evolve from a good foundation *shrug* hoping for the best!

I really love it! Gimme more!!!  Well, hello there!
This.
Looks.
Stunning.

I'm impressed by your dedication and the ammount of work and passion you pour into your games. A+!

Thank you!

Here's a little more footage of the current state:


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Fuzzy Branch
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« Reply #15 on: August 11, 2018, 06:28:01 PM »

A bit more progress filling out the simulation:



« Last Edit: August 19, 2018, 01:01:03 PM by Fuzzy Branch » Logged

JobLeonard
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« Reply #16 on: August 19, 2018, 05:25:58 AM »

Hey, I want you to know that this is gorgeous Kiss

And I freaking love eco-system simulators.

Well, I love them conceptually. In practice they are really, really hard to pull off in a satisfying way (at least they always were for me when I tried to fiddle around on my own.

I have some thoughts I'd like to share later, mainly related to how these webs of life are ful of intransitive relationships and how that can lead to really unusual results when brought together, but I don't have the time right now.

But here is some interesting reading on the matter:

https://aeon.co/essays/attempts-to-choose-the-best-life-may-be-doomed-to-failure

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nontransitive_dice

Really looking forward to reading more of your thoughts on where you're going to take this!
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sidbarnhoorn
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« Reply #17 on: August 19, 2018, 08:05:52 AM »

This looks really good. I like the idea! Good luck with the development. Smiley
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Fuzzy Branch
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« Reply #18 on: August 20, 2018, 11:26:06 AM »

Hey, I want you to know that this is gorgeous Kiss

And I freaking love eco-system simulators.

Well, I love them conceptually. In practice they are really, really hard to pull off in a satisfying way (at least they always were for me when I tried to fiddle around on my own.

I have some thoughts I'd like to share later, mainly related to how these webs of life are ful of intransitive relationships and how that can lead to really unusual results when brought together, but I don't have the time right now.

But here is some interesting reading on the matter:

https://aeon.co/essays/attempts-to-choose-the-best-life-may-be-doomed-to-failure

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nontransitive_dice

Really looking forward to reading more of your thoughts on where you're going to take this!
Thanks! Yeah, constructing a robust, engaging, and surprising ecosystem simulation has proven to be a thoroughly humbling experience Smiley
I'd love to hear more of your thoughts on relationship dynamics and stuff -- I checked out your links and they seem really useful. I remembered hearing about nontransitive dice on a Numberphile youtube vid at some point, but had forgotten about it, so thanks for linking!

This looks really good. I like the idea! Good luck with the development. Smiley
Thank you! Really nice to hear that!


So the next major milestone is to get a minimum core-loop version of a playable build, that I can start distributing and begin getting player feedback. My internal deadline for this is about 2 weeks away now, so after stepping back and re-evaluating the project scope and my production timeline, here's the current plan:


I'm cutting the game-mode for direct player control over individual creatures.
Instead, I will focus exclusively on the current 'observer mode' which is much closer to the more classic God Game, or genetic Fishtank sim. Having 2 major game-modes (that often had conflicting goals) was complicating development and I had to focus on one or the other. It was a tough decision but I think it needed to happen.

Gameplay will be closer to existing evolution simulators.
I had been resisting this from the beginning, since I really wanted to invent some more novel gameplay related to evolution. However, after about ~2 years of tinkering around with different experimental directions (including Planet Crawlers) I think cruel reality has made its point that this is an extremely difficult thing to pull off, and ultimately out of scope for my first commercial game.
Having the gameplay itself be a little more cliche/traditional will have the benefit of making the product more easily understandable from a glance at a store page, though, which is a positive from a business perspective, if a little disappointing creatively.
This should also allow me to focus more on graphics, which I personally enjoy working on much more than re-writing gameplay code and thus helps make development easier mentally.

Thus, gameplay will primarily revolve around observation & divine manipulation. I'll be focusing on refining the graphics in a way to convey as much information as possible about what is actually happening in the simulation (i.e. if some event occurs in the sim, it should be visually represented in some way). On the flipside, the player will be given a number of tools to alter and interfere in the simulation (and then observe the repercussions over time).

I'll go into more detail in the coming weeks, but here are some examples:
-Ease of camera navigation (move freely around the environment + able to focus on individual creatures/objects). There should be as little friction as possible for the Player seeing and focusing on what he/she's interested in viewing.
-Basic simulation parameters. Ex. Mutation rates, food abundance, etc. I'll try to come up with alternatives to simple UI Sliders for these.
-Physical Manipulations: Stir up the water, skip a pebble across the pond, drag a creature somewhere, possible alter the terrain, etc.
Lower Priority:
-Direct design (i.e. direct control over creature body - character creator, basically) -- I'll probably save this for post-launch additions, as it can eat up a ton of dev time.
-Other??? I've got a bunch of weird ideas I'd like to prototype at some point, but I really want to actually publish something so I have to be more ruthless about cutting things.



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ActualDog
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« Reply #19 on: August 23, 2018, 04:24:12 PM »

Having 2 major game-modes (that often had conflicting goals) was complicating development and I had to focus on one or the other. It was a tough decision but I think it needed to happen.

I had been resisting this from the beginning, since I really wanted to invent some more novel gameplay related to evolution. However, after about ~2 years of tinkering around with different experimental directions (including Planet Crawlers) I think cruel reality has made its point that this is an extremely difficult thing to pull off, and ultimately out of scope for my first commercial game.
Having the gameplay itself be a little more cliche/traditional will have the benefit of making the product more easily understandable from a glance at a store page, though, which is a positive from a business perspective, if a little disappointing creatively.

These are a very similar set of issues to the ones I've been dealing with, so I can commiserate. It's tough to cut away potential but I think you're probably making the right decision. With the direction you're describing, I imagine this game could have the same sort of appeal as Viridi (which really seemed to click with people).

Really hope everything goes smoothly!
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