Evolve placed third in the StoryNexus World of the Season competition, after Samsara and Zero Summer. Unlike the other two pieces, it’s a work of educational non-fiction: you begin as a single-celled organism and make choices that allow your organism to evolve. The author has written about her inspiration: she works in a science museum, and saw the StoryNexus platform as a possible way to convey the educational content she’s interested in.
Evolve has some initial weaknesses, especially a very linear starting quest in which the reader reads about the cellular structures that are part of the organism, without having any opportunity for choice, and concludes with a quiz-like multiple-choice question to determine a “self-knowledge” score. This kind of thing happens a lot in educational game design, where the designer feels compelled to make the game experience feel as much as possible like testing; a pity, because a more natural ramping up of information and challenges based on that information makes for more compelling gameplay and a more memorable learning experience.
I also felt during these opening phases that the explanations I was getting worked much better as a reminder than as an initial introduction: they made sense because they helped me review old biology classes, but I am not sure I would have found them especially comprehensible had I not already had that framework to work with. I kept thinking back to Cellcraft, which does a staged introduction to the different parts of the cell and their functionality, weaving this introduction tightly with gameplay.
After that introduction, however, Evolve becomes more gamelike. The one-celled organism you play has various opportunities to take risks and gather resources — not really a very different mechanic from the one used in Fallen London, except that the resources in question are inorganic or organic materials used for making energy. Good or bad environmental events allow you to test your resourcefulness and adaptability; and over time, there are opportunities to reproduce and select mutation pathways.
As it currently stands, Evolve is pretty short: I’d just gotten rolling, 40-50 actions into the game, when I hit a “more later” message. I promptly tried replaying, selecting some different paths from the ones I’d taken initially. The linear opening was again a bit troublesome (I already read that once this afternoon…); and I didn’t find that the early choices, like deciding what form of bacterium to be or whether to have extraterrestrial origins, made much of a difference to the gameplay that followed immediately.
So despite the appearance of strong replayability, I found the current content smaller than I’d hoped.
Still, there are many worse things to say about a game than “I wish there were more of this.” I’m pleased and intrigued to see StoryNexus used for educational projects, and I enjoyed what I played of Evolve, especially once I had passed through the linear introduction quest.