Darwin Pond is the windows version and Gene Pool is the mac and IPad version of a free playable simulation of evolution. It features a 2D virtual environment which is inhabited by virtual creatures called swimmers. These swimmers learn ways of getting around the environment by evolving their anatomies and motions over a large number of generations.
When you start Darwin Pond it begins with 400 random swimmers all with very little swimming abilities. These swimmers have two goals in their virtual lives: food and sex. The principle of natural selection allows only the few fittest swimmers to mate and eat passing on their“better”genes. The less skilful swimmers do not pass on their genes to future generations. As this process goes on the better genes will spread as the bad genes die off.
Soon after the simulation starts the power of evolution becomes visible i.e. the better swimmers will start moving around the pond in search of mates and food.
This is an interactive simulation which allows the user to change aspects of the ecology of the pond e.g. how fast food grows and how much energy the swimmers receive from it. The user can also create random swimmers, kill swimmers, mutate swimmers, clone them and so on.
This simulation has no goal or win and lose but the user can make up goals for instance to breed the fastest swimmer or try and breed two types of swimmers which can coexist in harmony.
The mac version is essentially the same the only differences are with some of the controls and options which were situated to the left of the screen in Darwin Pond can only be accessed through the menus in Gene Pool. Also Gene Pool’s Graphics are slightly more up to date.
The user is advised to not change the options and let “nature take its course”. So here are some screenshots of Gene Pool taken at different times during a simulation with the options unchanged.
The effects of evolution are clearly visible here, from an array of random swimmers we can see that one race has become dominant. First the pink ones looked as though they were doing better and there was not much sign of the red swimmers. But they must not have had what it takes to survive as in the last picture it shows that the red swimmers ended up dominating. Here is a screenshot after about another hour and the red swimmers have not failed yet.
Gene Pool and Darwin Pond are very good representations of evolution. The process of natural selection can clearly be seen after a short amount of time. There is a good amount of interactivity which is slightly more usable in the Windows version as there are icons to the left hand side of the screen. The only downside is that this application does feature very simplistic graphics.
Gene is the application which most closely represents what the project has set out to do. It has a virtual environment, which is filled with food sources and evolving virtual creatures called swimmers. Gene Pool is however a very simple application and the project aims to be more complexed. Gene Pool has only 2D graphics where the project aims to have 3D graphics. The environment in Gene Pool is just bigger than the screen, depending on the zoom, and very simplistic. The only other entities that are visible apart form the screen is the food and some moving lines which are meant to represent water, apart from this the visual environment is just a very plain dark blue background. The 3D environment in the project will be much more detailed than this, it will feature lighting, different terrains and the land will be different heights. The environment will also be much bigger and will contain more than one type of evolving virtual creature. The project will also contain plants which evolve instead of just food sources.
The swimmers in Gene Pool evolve according to the same general rules that the creatures in the project will i.e. each creature has to eat to stay alive, the creatures which are better at eating will live for longer and have more chance of passing on their genes. So the evolution bit of the project will be very similar to that of gene pool although it will apply to more than one creature and each creature will be affected by the others.