Galapagos: Mendel’s Escape

8_1Galapagos is an unusual game with an odd approach to AI. Rather than creating rules-based AI, the AI in Galapagos is one that learns along the way. Through trial and error in Galapagos, virtual creatures learn from mistakes. The main character in Galapagos is called Mendel, a four-legged spider-like creature created by an alien race of near-sentient war machines. If Mendel works out, his new programming will be placed in the next generation of weaponry and conquer the Earth. As such, you need to help Mendel escape from a series of maze-like levels.

Here’s the kicker: the player has no direct control over Mendel. Instead, by clicking on various areas within the world, the player turns various objects on and off and activates devices in order to guide him. Mendel has two basic drives; the first is to move, and the second is to avoid pain. Whenever Mendel dies, he reforms at the last save game point. However, each death proves to be a valuable lesson as the more experienced Mendel begins to avoid the things that cause it pain. By manipulating these deadly devices, the player moves Mendel.

Mendel is fascinating to watch. He is born not even knowing how to walk, and he has to learn to identify all of the deadly things in his environment. The player can speed this along by giving Mendel little nudges. However it still takes about seven or eight (real-world) hours for Mendel to figure out how to walk and avoid ledges. Anark kindly provides an eight hour old Mendel for gamers to use, since bad training in his first few hours can lead to a timid and neurotic Mendel who’s afraid to move.

Unfortunately, the most amazing portion of Galapagos, the AI, is one of its only really good parts. Galapagos is actually less of a game than a technology demonstration. The process of herding Mendel along can become tiresome rather quickly, simply because Mendel is not very smart. One of the essential ingredients in making these types of artificial life video game characters viable is to make sure that the characters act in an entertaining and realistic manner.

System Requirements: Pentium 90 MHz, 16 MB RAM, Win95

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