PEGBRJE: Intelligent Design and As We Know It

Not going to lie, I thought the explosions were more deadly than just ‘spawns in wildlife’.

Intelligent Design: An Evolutionary Sandbox is a simulation game created by Pill Bug Interactive, a duo indie team from the UK. You control a faceless, nameless peon of a galactic corporation tasked with creating and maintaining a thriving ecosystem on this barren planet. At your disposal is the ability to spawn random plants, herbivores and carnivores, while harvesting the biomass of the plants and researching the life to manipulate new strains of DNA. All in the name of making this ecosystem as self-sufficient as possible.

ID, as I’m going to call it, recreates the beauty of nature’s symbiosis through a gamified environment. Sure, players can just drop random plants everywhere, but just like in real life the lack of natural balance usually just leads to one type of life form thriving. Thankfully, ID focuses your attention on one aspect at a time, with plants being the focal point first before moving on to herbivores and carnivores. It’s at this point of addition that the game diversifies itself with research centres and opens up to the part of the game I’d like to call ‘where I lost control’: genetic manipulation.

Similar to previous titles from the bundle that utilize this mechanic, genetic mutation is fairly straightforward in ID and can ultimately destroy any semblance of balance players thought they had. By acquiring score through life form survival and variety, players gain access to more genetic manipulation strains via science, and can alter the sight range, root range, competitiveness and so many more behaviours of the plants and animals. Spawning in these custom life forms helps to fill gaps in the genetic variance on the planet to help further the goals of self-sustainability. In theory. In practice, however, it usually devolves into bandaid tactics as one of the wildlife usually gets out of hand. The plants never do, as they are necessary for biomass and sustenance for herbivores, so keeping them as efficient in survival as possible was their only concern.

There are ways to handle some of these concerns, such as the forcefields to allow for some animals or plants to live in a bubble before releasing them into the wild, but I was always afraid that would backfire as well. Thankfully, ID allows you to go back and try again in one of the 4 worlds generated at any time, so trying again isn’t as painful as it could be. You do lose all of the genetics that you’ve discovered, but the discovery and gated science is part of the fun in acquiring new ways to make your animals thrive. If you are looking for a genetic simulation at its simplest yet most impactful, Intelligent Design does everything you need to create a vast ecosystem and then accidentally ruin it by introducing a strain of carnivores that are too fast.

I mean, it probably worked. Eva’s just that good.

As We Know It is a visual novel created by Jaime Scribbles Games, a solo indie dev run by, well, Jaime Scribbles. You step into the shoes of Ashlynn Phillips (default name, first name can be changed if you like), a survivor in the fallout of a post-apocalyptic world, one where she’s never seen the landscape prior. She and her mother find themselves in Camden, an underground city safe from the hazards above and with facilities that are unfamiliar to them. Like proper running water. While adjusting the the large number of people and avoiding the fact that her mother is quite literally, as they say, ‘thirsty af’ for the mayor, Ashlynn meets the other cast members and decides on her new career path and life.

For a visual novel, there is a lot more going on than I previously expected. I’m more used to decision making that revolves around trying to get on a person’s route and hitting the proper flags to acquire the heart points. Instead, I’m greeted to an orientation and told that I’ll need to decide on a career to pull my weight, and I actually had to pick a career. From my history of writing branching narratives, I can soundly confirm that this just adds layers to the production — Ashlynn now needs different outfits to fit the career path, new lines to reflect her choice and can alter how different romance/friendship paths are taken. The fact that this was an actual choice I had to make and not just a pseudo decision that involves Ashlynn pigeonholed into a role regardless of choice is impressive in its own right, and I can’t help but admire the dedication to the idea.

Feedback for decision making has more depth to it while somehow feeling more vague and realistic, with the help of a chart given at the end of each day. It reminded me a lot of Arcade Spirit’s personality meter, where each day would give your progress on how you reacted to others. As We Know It doesn’t have a video game aesthetic to fall into, so instead it gives a simple chart of the other characters and their subsequent heart progress. It also includes 2 meters that are also unique in their own right, called ‘Standing’ and ‘Stress’. Standing, under my assumptions, is to reflect on how much reputation one has within Camden, so having a high amount is probably a good thing. Stress, on the other hand, was given out to me after the second day, and that stressed me out. As of this exact moment, I still don’t know what it does, and that continues to make me nervous. Like real life, I attempt to keep stress away from myself, and my decision making became more reserved because of it.

With over 135 000 words according to the itch.io description and 30 endings to acquire, As We Know It is huge. There are paths to take from the beginning that can alter your run, yet relationships of any kind can still blossom albeit with slightly different circumstances. The writing style has some jarring moments, but it all feels so mundane and calming to read of the trials and tribulations of a family just trying to fit into an underground utopia. It doesn’t hurt that I adore the cast of characters, even if I find a few of them grating, and want to know more about them as they go. If you are looking for a visual novel that is more down-to-earth about the earth being on fire, give As We Know It a shot and enjoy the little features added to immerse you in its world.

Oh and I’m simping for Eva. Just wanted to let everyone know. Sorry.

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Jacob Vorstenbosch

Jacob Vorstenbosch

Just a Game Dev who decided to take on the monumental task of giving an overview of all 59 pages in the bundle for Racial Justice and Equality. We keep going.