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> SimLife

I first discovered Evolve! on a PC shareware disc in the early 90s
(the disc was called “GAME EMPIRE”), the product of Mike Wall and
Matt Bace, who distributed it under the label “FunTek” (“Fun +
Teknology = FunTek”). Shareware was a pre-internet solution to game
distribution by solo and small game authors who couldn’t afford the
costs of physical publishing: They relied on their audience to pass
on copies of the game. Shareware discs represented an actual
physical presence on software store shelves, and justified their
manufacture costs by including hundreds of games on a single disc
(this was when cds were a new thing, and had far more storage space
than anybody knew what to do with).

So what is Evolve! Lite? It’s an artificial life game for DOS (run
it in DOSBox), abstract but not to the extent that it’s cellular
automata. Two digital species compete for survival: The behavior of
each is governed by a 3×3 grid of arrows and icons, representing
responses to a few different stimuli. for example, one square of the
grid might represent “There are two or more enemies nearby (enough
to kill me) but no nearby friends (with whom I could team up to kill
enemies),” and the icon on that square might be “Run away.”

If an individual is successful enough to reproduce – if it harvests
enough energy from grazing on plants or hunting the other species,
and has been able to escape being harvested itself – then it will pass
on its grid of “action genes” to a new individual. Depending on the
species’ mutation factor (which itself mutates), one of the offspring’s
genes might be changed at random. If this mutant is successful enough
to reproduce it will pass on its new, adapted genes to the next
generation, simulating the process of natural selection and evolution.

In-game messages promise that the registered version of the game
(“Evolve!” proper) features up to 12 species competing at a time, up
to 4000 creatures on-screen, hi-res graphics and changing seasons.
This edition may be lost forever (or may never have existed at all),
but here's the original versiont that so enthralled me as a kid.

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