In a New Game, Natural Selection Forces the Bad Guys to Evolve

A new videogame has bad guys that evolve in response to the way you play.

Trouble on the Galapagos horizon
Galapagos (PANTXORAMA)

In most videogames, the higher up in levels you go the tougher the opposition gets. There's nothing new in that. But what if video game's bad guys evolved based on your personal style of game play? What if your actions served as a form of “natural" selection that favored their more successful characteristics and eliminated others? Some programmers see this as the way virtual villains will work in the future, and Polymorphic Leads has just released a new game, Darwin's Demons, to demonstrate what this would be like.

The plot of Darwin's Demons (POLYMORPHIC LEADS)

Darwin's Demons is an arcade-style game that's similar to the classic Space Invaders. The big difference is those evolving bad guys. As you fight them, the bad guys you kill off — having not survived — don't get to “reproduce." Bad guys with successful traits do, and their offspring are therefore that much more difficult for you to dispatch. (Thankfully, reproduction is an offscreen thing that happens between levels.)

Survive if you can. (POLYMORPHIC LEADS)

In addition, each level has different gameplay than the one preceding it, and that allows each one to select for different characteristics depending on what skills of yours are called upon and what responses work for the invaders. At each successive level, your adversaries' progeny thus keep getting better and better at winning, with a skill set more and more designed for defeating you personally.

The game was developed at the University of Idaho by biologist Barrie Robison and computer scientist Terence Soule. The duo see the introduction of evolutionary principle into video games as being as natural — and potentially successful — as the introduction of physics was. (Think Angry Birds.) They spoke recently to Inverse about their game.

Aside from the obvious — that evolution-based gaming will produce the optimal adversaries for each player — games like Darwin's Demons may lead to some interesting new ideas about strategy. As they told Inverse, “Some very clever players — I mean these are like super, ultra gamers, and they knew it was an evolutionary game — set out to domesticate the aliens. They shot all of the nasty ones first and then they let the dumb ones that didn't fire very much and just stayed up at the top and didn't do anything live for a really long time. And, after several generations, they had [the equivalent of] space cows."

Moo (KELBV)

While Polymorphic is building-in safeguards against this sort of thing taking over a game, a little bit of this kind of strategy may be just the thing to buy a player some slack to get past a tough level. Polymorphic is hoping to see players regularly running their own evolutionary experiments. Of course this will require that they understand Darwinian principles.

Evolution in Darwin's Demons is one-sided, though: Only the bad guys evolve, not the player. “The best biological approximation of what happens in our game is parasites and pathogens that attack long-lived species … The parasite and pathogens — their generation time is so fast — they're evolving to adapt to a host that stays the same. And that's really what we're mimicking here." Still, how awesome would it be if a players could start with their IRL selves, and set off on their own evolutionary journey as they battle ever-evolving Darwin's Demons?

This is what aliens would 'hear' if they flew by Earth

A Mercury-bound spacecraft's noisy flyby of our home planet.

Image source: sdecoret on Shutterstock/ESA/Big Think
Surprising Science
  • There is no sound in space, but if there was, this is what it might sound like passing by Earth.
  • A spacecraft bound for Mercury recorded data while swinging around our planet, and that data was converted into sound.
  • Yes, in space no one can hear you scream, but this is still some chill stuff.

First off, let's be clear what we mean by "hear" here. (Here, here!)

Sound, as we know it, requires air. What our ears capture is actually oscillating waves of fluctuating air pressure. Cilia, fibers in our ears, respond to these fluctuations by firing off corresponding clusters of tones at different pitches to our brains. This is what we perceive as sound.

All of which is to say, sound requires air, and space is notoriously void of that. So, in terms of human-perceivable sound, it's silent out there. Nonetheless, there can be cyclical events in space — such as oscillating values in streams of captured data — that can be mapped to pitches, and thus made audible.

BepiColombo

Image source: European Space Agency

The European Space Agency's BepiColombo spacecraft took off from Kourou, French Guyana on October 20, 2019, on its way to Mercury. To reduce its speed for the proper trajectory to Mercury, BepiColombo executed a "gravity-assist flyby," slinging itself around the Earth before leaving home. Over the course of its 34-minute flyby, its two data recorders captured five data sets that Italy's National Institute for Astrophysics (INAF) enhanced and converted into sound waves.

Into and out of Earth's shadow

In April, BepiColombo began its closest approach to Earth, ranging from 256,393 kilometers (159,315 miles) to 129,488 kilometers (80,460 miles) away. The audio above starts as BepiColombo begins to sneak into the Earth's shadow facing away from the sun.

The data was captured by BepiColombo's Italian Spring Accelerometer (ISA) instrument. Says Carmelo Magnafico of the ISA team, "When the spacecraft enters the shadow and the force of the Sun disappears, we can hear a slight vibration. The solar panels, previously flexed by the Sun, then find a new balance. Upon exiting the shadow, we can hear the effect again."

In addition to making for some cool sounds, the phenomenon allowed the ISA team to confirm just how sensitive their instrument is. "This is an extraordinary situation," says Carmelo. "Since we started the cruise, we have only been in direct sunshine, so we did not have the possibility to check effectively whether our instrument is measuring the variations of the force of the sunlight."

When the craft arrives at Mercury, the ISA will be tasked with studying the planets gravity.

Magentosphere melody

The second clip is derived from data captured by BepiColombo's MPO-MAG magnetometer, AKA MERMAG, as the craft traveled through Earth's magnetosphere, the area surrounding the planet that's determined by the its magnetic field.

BepiColombo eventually entered the hellish mangentosheath, the region battered by cosmic plasma from the sun before the craft passed into the relatively peaceful magentopause that marks the transition between the magnetosphere and Earth's own magnetic field.

MERMAG will map Mercury's magnetosphere, as well as the magnetic state of the planet's interior. As a secondary objective, it will assess the interaction of the solar wind, Mercury's magnetic field, and the planet, analyzing the dynamics of the magnetosphere and its interaction with Mercury.

Recording session over, BepiColombo is now slipping through space silently with its arrival at Mercury planned for 2025.

Photo by Martin Adams on Unsplash
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Credit: Helen_f via AdobeStock
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