by Carlos Augusto Chamarelli
Hey everybody, PK here as usual. Today I’ll present the first of Tunnel of Time’s articles, where we shall remember and discover some of the multimedia works we’ve seen published around the world, including games, movies, documentaries, books, magazines, computer programs and anything related to biology or general sciences, influencing us and making our imagination take flight, and of course, entertaining us as they do.
Our first Tunnel of Time item will be the game primarily responsible for my interest on Earth’s history and the evolution of living beings: Evolution – The Game of Intelligent Life. Initially developed by Crossover Technologies and Discovery Multimedia in 1997, it was released in Brazil under the name “Evolução – o Jogo da Vida” the following year, under Globo Multimídia, completely translated to Portuguese. To this day I remember the day I gazed upon it’s peculiar box at the Nova America’s computer shop, nowadays a clothes store with ugly T-shirts where its noble box once stood.
The game is a blend of simulation and strategy, and players have the option to play on historic Earth or a randomly generated world, also allowing to choose its length, from short scenarios focusing on a single periods or the complete history of land vertebrates, from early tetrapods 360 million years ago to the appearance of intelligent species – the final objective of the game – with a single second representing 30 thousand years.
There are around 170 species, ranging from famous ones such as wooly mammoths and the Tyrannosaurus, as well as others – at the time of its release, that is – less known, such as Indricotherium and Ventastega. There are also intelligent species other than Homo sapiens, created by the developers in order to offer more variety and explore possibilities, such as Elephasapiens, an intelligent elephant, and the Saurosapiens, evolved from dinosaurs; so not only this game inspired me to the general idea of evolution, in a way it also my first ever contact with speculative evolution. There’s an in-game Bestiary, bringing informative texts about each creature, also explaining some of the decisions and exploration of ideas subtly introduced, such as synapsids and anapsids reptiles able to evolve into dinosaurs (in-game incentivized to be seen as analog species if an alternative path of evolution was taken) and the possibility of other animals being candidates to originate intelligent species.
The game is either played alone or against 5 opponents (computer or human controlled), but even on yourself the game is plenty challenging as continents move, climates change and the environments are altered and you need to evolve your creatures so they can keep up with the times – though not something easy, you can also go against it and see how long you can make an species survive, such as Pantylus enduring the Carboniferous all the way to the Cenozoic; it’s hard not to feel proud of the little guys. Each creature have an time period and specific ambient where they survive and feed better, thereof it’s imperative you take possession of the best feeding regions before your enemies do. When evolving new creatures you must allocate points that dictate how fast you evolved – determinate by how well you creature’s population are doing – , how much your feeding will improve and how fit for combat it is, offensively or defensively, this last point coming more into play in multiple players matches, as predator species are your main tools to maintain control of your territories and chase invaders away. As if it wasn’t enough the fight for survival among creatures, there are also natural disasters, causing mass extinctions and sometimes even altering the global climate to challenge you even more.
The game shipped with a Tree of Life poster, containing all the creatures of the game and the evolutionary lines, and a printed version of the Bestiary with higher-res versions of the creature’s graphics in all their 90’s 3D graphics glory. The Brazilian release only came with the poster (good grief), but it’s all good, to this day I keep it safe so one day I can frame it and put on a wall. The game manual, as per tradition of games released on that decade, contained additional information, in special the notes of designer Greg Costikyan regarding the decisions taken in the game’s development, such as the limitations of the time it was made forcing a rigorous selection of species that could offer a good variety of creatures and still create an evolutionary tree analogous to that of real life; all whilst fitting inside a CD-ROM.
Although with slow-paced playability – something that doesn’t attract as many people as first person shooters–, it’s to this day one of my all-time favorites, despite only able to run on Windows 98 and previous OS without the help of modifications. Before this game my knowledge about Earth’s past was limited to dinosaurs and what was taught at school like human history, so I’m happy I could get a hold of it when I did, and I’m thankful in all sincerity for those that were responsible for this project.