Evolution has been tackled quite a few times in video games, from life simulations such as SimEarth, SimLife and Spore, to other more unique attempts to incorporate evolution directly into action games, like Cubivore and E.V.O. The Search for Eden. The idea of taking care of other life is a tempting idea to incorporate into VR but hasn’t really been attempted yet.
Cocoon Creativity, a two man startup hopes to change that. They have taken to Kickstarter to fund their educational Dinosaur caring simulator Evolve (No, not the no-longer-existent multiplayer game), intended for a mobile VR system that the game comes with, which includes a HMD, motion controller and AR marker.
The demonstration footage shows a life simulator, a scaly virtual pet, a virtual adventure through a prehistoric world and an educational system taking you through the prehistoric ages and the evolution of different species up to the rise of more modern species and the extinction event that ended the Mesozoic Era.
VR 65 Million Years in the Making
Intrigued as we are by innovative uses of VR, we at VRS had the opportunity to ask Ekram Alam, co-founder of Cocoon Creativity, to let us into this Jurassic experience and how evolutionary biology professors from University College London got involved in the VR game (or at least this one).
“I would describe EVOLVE as a product with two key focuses,” Ekram explains, “a game where you care for a prehistoric pet and a product where you learn about evolution/species.”
A Rare Hybrid Species
Caring for your “prehistoric pet” takes a number of forms, and is part of why there is both AR and VR capability in the package. There are four modes to the game, all of which are integrated into each other. AR Mode lets you see the world above and take care of your own dinosaur, and with the included AR marker can also interact with the outside world, the intention being to take advantage of virtual buttons and possible Leap Motion functionality to allow a “real sense of companionship” with their own personal creature. This mode also allows you to customise the locale in order to provide the ideal environment for your creature.
VR Mode however is particularly interesting, relying on an additional motion controller bundled into the set. Essentially an immersive exploration through the virtual world that you have affected and interact with your dinosaur.
Along with these two there are two other modes, focused more on the educational parts of the game. Earth Mode is an aerial perspective, showing the overall development of the planet at each evolutionary stage of the way, and the Cladogram, which essentially shows the evolutionary tree and stages for each of the animals you unlock or evolve.
Ekram has said that there is no particular end goal, but the game is about finding as many varied ways to evolve your creature and see how far the branching path goes, whether it leads to an evolutionary dead end or a new direction. The research undertaken with evolutionary biologists from University College London has led to as scientifically accurate an experience as possible, carefully selecting species based on their importance as evolutionary links, as well as how close they were chronologically to common ancestors.
VR: the Future of Education?
There’s a lot to like about Evolve, if it manages to live up to the potential of its idea and its research. Virtual Reality is an ideal resource for education and edutainment apps, which can bring you into a particular subject. This counts double when the subject in question is something as exciting as prehistoric animals and the world being shaped together.
The plans to distribute Evolve are also interesting. It comes in a pack containing the app (presumably a download code or link), a VR HMD, a motion controller and an education booklet. It’s a distribution model that has more in common with science kits than VR and it will be fascinating to see if it is effective. Ekram has told me that one of the ambitions of Cocoon Creativity and Evolve is to push VR “towards ubiquity”.
Whether it succeeds will depend on how well Evolve does in its attempts to gain funding and also in what place Virtual Reality by the time of its release. It will be interesting to see how this progresses and whether we see more attempts to expand parts of the syllabus into virtual reality. Whether it is a portent of the future or just an interesting idea for an edutainment VR app, Evolve has the potential to be something very interesting indeed.
Evolve is a VR Application that as of the time of writing is on Kickstarter.
Disclaimer: The links to the EVOLVE kickstarter are part of the KickBooster referral programme, provided by the Developer. If you click the link and decide to pledge, VRS will receive 15% of the amount of that pledge. This has been disclosed for the purpose of transparency