Biota is a “God Simulator” in the most truthful form. There have been promises, in the past, of games that will put you in complete, celestial control. However, many would argue that a lot of these titles have fallen just short of that idea. After all, It’s a grandiose vision, and a tough one to bring to life. Fiddle Earth Media aims to tackle this concept using real science as a backbone. Recently, I had the pleasure of speaking to Dominic Kamin and Bjørn Rasmussen of Fiddle Earth, who goes into detail about Fiddle Earth Media’s ambitious, and promising upcoming title Biota.
Hi Dominic and Bjørn! Can you tell me a little bit about Fiddle Earth Media? About yourself? How long has the company been running?
Fiddle Earth is a unique indie game developer. We came into existence because of a strong passion for interesting gameplay mechanics and science. Our company was founded in May of this year (2016). We’re an absolutely mad bunch of goofballs, but I am continuously amazed by how competent and driven everyone on the team is. I myself have a stronger background in business than game development, but I founded the game with one of my best friends, our lead programmer Aaron, who has been in the video game industry for over a decade.
Could you give a brief description of Biota for our readers?
Sure! Biota is a different type of game, with a strong emphasis on science. The idea came about because we felt that evolution had not been done well yet, it always seems a bit underwhelming, and there aren’t a lot of games that feature it. Biota will feature not only the evolution of species within the game, but the game world will also evolve. We actually think of the game world as the MVP, and evolution will occur as a result of changing the game world with innovative tools rather than direct manipulation of creatures. We felt like this provides a unique take on the formula, while at the same time ensuring that players will never micromanage one single species. Instead the goal is to propagate life, and watch it branch off in fascinating or horrifying ways. You will have tools that create tsunamis, volcanos, change currents in oceans and even weather patterns. We’ve even got tectonic plates simulated in the game world, which to the best of our research has never been done in a video game before.
Are there any games that have served as inspiration?
I’m sure the obvious one to mention would be Spore, but a less obvious one might be “From Dust” by Ubisoft Montpellier. That game was really interesting because you controlled the environment rather than characters, and the terrain deformation still stands out to me as one of the most realistic I’ve seen in a video game.
The game is referred to as a God-Simulator. Do you feel this is an untapped genre? Games like Spore and Godus explored this concept with varying degrees of success. Do you think there are any games that have done this well yet? What are the essential elements needed to create a successful God-Simulator?
I think first and foremost, you have to give the player a lot of power, but restrain that power with consequences. In Biota, players will eventually evolve tremendous power over the environment and species, but unexpected things might happen as a result, perhaps even with very dire consequences. I think Black & White from 2001 actually did a really good job of making the player feel powerful, but simultaneously created the context and awareness (of consequences) to make the power matter, rather than having it be a vapid gimmick only serving as a temporary amusement. I think that’s one of the key challenges, ensuring that whatever tools the player has at their disposal serve a specific purpose and exist within a framework, otherwise it loses its meaning in my opinion.
Building on the last question, the game explores evolution in (what seems to be) a similar way to Will Wright’s Spore. The game was fun, but it never really felt like it lived up to his initial idea. Do you think tech has finally caught up to that kind of idea? Starting with a small organism and seeing it evolve naturally throughout a game?
I think the tech has always been there, it just hasn’t been explored in any depth so far. It’s really easy to look back at Spore and say “Oh, they could have done this and that much better” and we’ve had a lot of people tell us that they hope our game might deliver what Spore failed to. But I think for the time, what Spore tried to do, it actually accomplished quite well. It was ambitious, and ambition sometimes leads you to take your hands too full. I think they had to make certain compromises to fulfil their vision for the overall scope of the game, which was admittedly very massive. What we’re trying to do is very similar, but we’re scaling that vision back. Other games are increasingly using space as their playground, but we feel that no one has ever made a game with just one planet, that felt like it took full advantage of the possibilities that a planet has to offer. In our game, you will not only see one species evolve, but the effects on the game world, and the propagation of life from a single seed, to a sprawling world with a myriad of different species.
I notice that many of the people on your team have a background in science. Are you approaching this game as an educational tool first and foremost? If so, is there any interest in trying to get the game into schools?
We’ve actually considered creating specific license packages for educators, and several of our team members are very passionate about educational games. I think science literacy in particular has become quite poor in recent years due to the emergence of pseudo-science as if it were fact, or the incompatibility of religion and almost every field of science. We’d absolutely love to get the game into classrooms, but I think first and foremost, we want to make a fun game that is educational, rather than an educational game that is fun. Games have always educated me and taught me lessons, whether I played them in classrooms or on my own. So I think that just getting our game into the hands of any player will have a big impact. But definitely, if we can expand to schools, that would be great, but it is not our first priority.
I notice on your site that you are starting a Kickstarter soon. What do you think is the hallmark of a successful Kickstarter, and what do you think are some common mistakes Kickstarters for videogames make?
This will be our first Kickstarter, so it’s kind of a funny question to answer from the perspective of no experience. Indie developers tend to be really hands off with marketing, but we feel like it’s not only important to advertise yourself in every venue possible in order to have a successful Kickstarter, it’s vital. We have established a really competent marketing department headed by our publicity manager Mads Akselsen, and his primary goal has been to establish a fan-base for our game. We also really think it’s important to give people an incentive to pledge funding, which seems difficult if no one has heard of your game. Generally, plan well ahead, have realistic goals, and brainstorm what you want out of the Kickstarter. Ultimately, this will require a concentrated effort since people want guarantees that they’re backing a worthwhile project.
To close, Is there anything in particular you’d like to talk about regarding the game?
Off the top of my head, I’d say that I hope people see the passion brimming from our game and team. Everyone on our team is an amazing artist and developer, and we can’t wait for people to get a chance to play the game themselves.
Thanks for taking the time out of your busy schedule to answer these questions. Biota is currently in its early stages, but you can check out plenty of videos and concept art on their website. Check Fiddle Earth Media on Twitter to follow Biota and find out news about their upcoming Kickstarter.