Karl Simms Evolved Virtual Creatures



Evolved Virtual Creatures was a research project involving simplistic creatures compiled of blocks. A super computer would create several hundred creatures with virtual genes containing instructions for their growth. These creatures would be given simple tasks (e.g. swimming or walking) and the most successful would survive. The virtual genes of the surviving creatures are then copied, combined, and mutated to make the next generation. The new set of creatures is then put through the same testing process. As this cycle continues creatures with more and more successful behaviour emerge. Here are some pictures of the different creatures:

Figure 1 A swimming Creature: 

Figure 2 This creature has adapted to follow the red cube:

 Figure 3 These creatures has evolved by competing to


This needed to be run on a super computer back in 1994 whereas now it is possible to run this sort of simulation on a normal PC, or at least a Mac Book Pro.

This is not the only work in this field that Karl Simms has done there is a list of interactive and computer animation works on his site. There was also an installation which followed on from Evolved Virtual Creatures called Galápagos which was an interactive media installation that allowed visitors to “evolve” 3D animated forms. This was installed at the ICC in Tokyo from 1997 to 2000, and then was exhibited at the DeCordova Museum in Lincoln, Mass. as part of Make Your Move: Interactive Computer Art and the Boston Cyberarts Festival 1999. Visitors were presented with a range of twelve virtual “organisms”, the visitors would stand on sensors in front of the organisms they found to be most aesthetically pleasing. The surviving organisms would reproduce and the resulting offspring would be mutated each time resulting in more aesthetically pleasing organisms evolving. This installation puts an interesting twist on the theory of evolution with human selection instead of natural selection. Figures 4-6 show some different results and fig 7 shows organisms all of the same “family”.

Figure 4:

Figure 5:

Figure 6:

Figure 7:

Evolved virtual creatures was the starting point for many other explored research projects which evolutionary computation and often use it as a research tool. This was one of the the first times that we saw how computers could be used to simulate evolution with the use of a very logical algorithm. As this was published in 1994 (Windows 2.5 was the current operating system) there was no real platform available to the public that was powerful enough to run it, Karl Simms had it running on a super computer. Despite this Karl Simms still made two interactive installations which were exhibited in museums; Galápagos and Genetic Images. In light of the technology available at the time it would be unfair to make the criticism that these pieces of work where not accessible enough. All that will be said is that with current technology it is possible to make a much more accessible application.

This work introduces two ways of evolving virtual creatures, either by human selection or by use of a fitness function.

These two methods can be directly related to real life:

  • Human selection is comparable to artificial selection where humans have selected the characteristics which they most favour to shape the evolution of certain species. e.g. Domestic cows are selectively bred by choosing and mating individuals which produce the nicest milk or whose meat tastes the nicest. In Galápagos and Genetic Images the creatures, or pictures which were most aesthetically pleasing were most likely to be chosen for breeding.
  • Evolution using a fitness function is similar to natural selection, in the case of Karl Simms work the fitness function would test which virtual creature was best at reaching a red block or simply walking. In the natural world the fitness function is survival. The ones best equipped for the environment and the climate they live in are more likely to survive therefore having a better chance of passing on their genes.

The project will use a similar method of evolving virtual creatures to Karl Simms work but their will be differences. Most of Karl Simms creatures where tested for their ability to perform simple tasks as has been previously stated, this will inevitably result in creatures evolving which are best suited to perform specific tasks (some might be evolved to perform more than one). The project is going to take an approach which remains more true to natural selection where the aim is survival, as in the real world, and the creatures which are better at surviving will more likely pass on their genes.

Creatures will be given a certain amount of life or health and if this depletes they will die, they will also be given a life span once this is finished they will also die. The creatures will be given an age which they must reach to be able to reproduce (puberty). Different things in the environment will decrease or increase the creatures health, if the creatures manage to remain alive until they “come of age” they will be able to reproduce therefore passing on their genes. Once this basic framework of the program is set up a fitness function will not be needed, or it will already be there.


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