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Nihil Fit, June 27, 2013
Written for the Ludum Dare game jam, Evolution: A Parallel Narrative is a game about the shaping of a god, most akin to Ex Nihilo. It is not really about evolution as a biological process, or even about analagous selection-and-mutation processes; but rather the more general word, applicable to Pokemon and presidents, that means 'development' or 'change'.
As might be expected of such a rapidly-created work, there are lots of flaws: the prose is awkward and full of errors, suggesting very quick writing and possibly a second-language author.
Initially a normal person, you discover a Rift Engine which sends you through a series of disconnected, hastily-described science-fiction sequences, each resolving in some binary choice; these, in turn, grants you some kind of massively powerful ability. By the end you have become a godlike being.
Some of these choices are conceptually clear - philosophers vs. warriors, for instance - but the choices between different scenes are hugely opaque, like the one between String Theory or Mars. Most of the choices involve choosing which side of a conflict to support, suggesting that you're becoming the patron of causes or peoples.
These abilities don't interact, or become relevant at all within the story; rather, the end just assumes that you have become intensely powerful, and determines the result from your Morality score. This is a shame, because the powers you get, and how they might function together, are the most intriguing thing about Evolution. (But of course it would have been a vastly more challenging effort.)
Ultimately, this boils down to that rather boring variety of story - the game with Good and Evil choices, at the end of which you are either irredeemably selfish and destructive, or a pure and righteous hero. This is a model that's both boring and arbitrary; and it doesn't always fit well with the actual choices you're given. (Choosing peaceful herbivores over violent carnivores is presented as moral: but this feels like a category error of sorts, a case of anthropic thinking.) Often you get far too little information to make choices that seem as though they'll have massive impact. The impression you come away with is that gods are monstrous, charging headlong through the universe and screwing around with it on whims, without ever really understanding any of it.
Finally, the effort expended on the early game - discovering the Rift Engine, and a trad-IF-like sequence about repairing it - seems wasted, ill-suited to a CYOA format and largely irrelevant to the real focus of the game. Of course, these failings - both of surface polish and core design - are hardly blameworthy in a game jam piece.