Understand Evolution, Enjoy the Games of Life

Author’s Note: Since publication, the Stellar Alchemy website has closed, and the program 3DVCE is no longer (apparently) under development. I’ve posted a copy of the latest version (AFAIK) as a zip file you can download from here. Log in with the username guest@lettersquash and the password lettersquash, click on “Program Share”, then “3DVCE Files”.

The zip file latest3Devolution can be downloaded (just click on it and save it to your system) and extracted to any convenient directory on your computer. Then navigate to the subdirectory …/bin/ and run the file creatures.exe. (I haven’t been able to find the User Agreement, but I believe it’s open source – please let me know if you know different.)

3-Dimensional Virtual Creature Evolution

There’s an alien in my PC. In fact there’s a whole race of them in there…and what’s more, they’re evolving. There’s no need for alarm, though, they’re just virtual creatures. I’m running a neat little stand-alone program called 3DVCE (3-Dimensional Virtual Creature Evolution) from Lee Graham at Stellar Alchemy. I was looking for some new games to download for the duller moments over Christmas and meandered into the strange and beautiful world of virtual evolution. It’s a world that is itself growing and evolving fast – there’s a lot more available now than the last time I looked a few years ago. There are many different ways of approaching the subject. 3DVCE shows a virtual world, some land underneath a day or night sky, on which a strange “creature” is moving. The creature is made up of jointed pieces, each a rectangular block that can move in relation to its neighbours. At first, the shape and movement appear quite random, and within certain limits they are, but in time, without any intervention from an intelligent user, just by following elementary rules, this will evolve into something that looks much more lifelike in both appearance and, most startling of all, behaviour. There’s a whole Zoo of these critters being collected from enthusiasts, like this one:

I often wonder what more the scientific world can do to educate people about evolution, and I’m often saddened by the number of people out there who either disbelieve evolutionary theory altogether or underestimate its wider significance.  As this programming phenomenon blossoms and processing power increases on tablets and phones, this might be a big help, teaching people the fundamentals of evolution by letting them play around with it themselves, like gods. It might improve people’s understanding of biology, or they might get an even deeper insight into one of the most awesome features of physical reality itself, emergent behaviour (the spontaneous development of complex behaviour out of the application of simple rules).

Programs like this “model” evolution or some aspect of it. Some have a community of creatures running about on a 2D surface interacting with each other, some involve molecules, others have various graphic line drawings or branching shapes, and some model bacteria. There’s also a wide range of user-friendliness, graphical interest, beauty, speed, etc., suiting different functions. The most popular ones tend to be the richest in graphical detail and fun, ones that look like actual living organisms or systems, but there are no doubt a lot of boffins out there doing the most advanced investigations into evolutionary theory whose programs spit out only numbers and graphs. A balance has to be struck in designing these programs between entertainment and education.

Games of Life

This area of programming was largely spawned by Conway’s Game of Life, which has an interesting wikipedia page, or if you prefer just the low-down, I’ll explain it. Imagine a two-dimensional grid, like squared paper, in which each square can be either “on” or “off” (coloured in or left blank, “alive” or “dead”). We begin with some random live and dead squares, then repeat the following rules at each turn to each square, based on the 8 squares surrounding it (I’m going to simplify the description of the usual 4 rules, but all I’m doing is combining them logically – I’m not changing anything):
1. For any square that’s alive:
(a) if it has exactly 2 or 3 live squares adjacent, it continues to live to the next round (as though the population density is just right),
(b) otherwise (which means it has exactly 2 or 3 dead squares next to it) – whoops, my bad 😦 –  it dies (as if from over- or under-population).
2. Any dead square with exactly 3 live squares next to it comes alive (ok, that’s a little odd, but we can think of it as “reproduction”, the birth of a new organism in a vacant space).

Other mathematical rules have been devised, with different consequences, but Conway’s was one of the first to be investigated on early computers. What happens is that all manner of unexpected shapes are generated, which move about on the grid, combine and split, reorganise themselves and produce offshoots with recognisable shapes. Sometimes very compex systems develop, involving “guns” firing pulses of objects like “gliders”. Systems stabilise, or collapse and disappear. The point is they appear to evolve, albeit in a theoretically predictable way, and they look for all the world like something living, as much as black and white squares on a grid can. This was quite a shocking discovery at the time, and even now, I imagine, not many people know about it or understand the significance. It’s rather close to the simple and mathematical end of the spectrum compared to what’s available after 33 years, but if you want to play about with it, the easiest way might be to go to here, click the button that says “Enjoy Life” (always good advice), draw some random (or non-random) stuff by clicking (and dragging to make lots of “live” squares), and click Go. You can also mess with the various parameters and see what happens. It runs as a Java applet, and most people have Java installed, so it saves you bothering to download and install a program.

Of course, these hardly model life, or evolution through natural (or artificial) selection. But the more sophisticated ones do. All they have is some simple rules of behaviour (feeding, using energy, reproducing, dying), perhaps some environmental physics, and the rest is down to the twin pillars of evolution: mutation (copying with “errors”) and selection (fitness for some task or quality).

If you’re more into actual Earth biology, there are a few to choose from, and no doubt a lot more in the pipeline. Follow the links from the wikipedia page above to find out more, do an online search or browse the youtube videos. Useful search terms are some combination of “virtual evolution life simulation biological genetic algorithm”, and I’ve just noticed the word “biot” used, but not searched on yet. I’m new to the lingo, although I wrote something like this myself called “Colony” about 25 years ago on my Acorn Electron. Nothing evolved in that, but it allowed me to explore issues of population dynamics (demographics). Those are other terms you could search for.

There’s something called Evoversum available from sourceforge, which means it’s open source and free. It looks a bit early in its development, but interesting to see how tweaking parameters affects the little creatures moving about on the screen (there’s a video link from that page if you want to get an idea).

There’s a free demo and a full version (for the extortionate price of 99 cents!) of Bacterium, which is a strategy game combined with (approximate) principles of bacterial behaviour and evolution.

Hey, I’m not going to go out there hunting and gathering for you! But I might have a play with some others and I’ll report how I get on. My critters have been trying to walk for most of the day now, and aren’t much better at it. This 3DVCE isn’t going to be quick – be warned – you need to let it run for hours or days or maybe even weeks to get good results. Lee’s other projects at Stellar Alchemy look interesting too, and he has lots of skeptical offerings and educational materials.

About lettersquash

White, male, heterosexual, left-leaning, almost-vegetarian blogger, musician, ex-psychotherapist and ex-mystic, now philosophical naturalist (atheist) ... somewhere near his sixtieth year on the freaking planet, trying to counter some tiiny fraction of the magical thinking and lies of his culture.
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30 Responses to Understand Evolution, Enjoy the Games of Life

  1. lettersquash says:

    Funny thing with my blog posts – they often diverge from their intended subject so much I end up not writing some of the main points I wanted to cover. I’ll write more on this subject of evolution, emergent behaviour, and what these sorts of programs can teach us soon.

    My critter is now jumping quite well and moving a fair distance across flat ground, but falls over a lot. 3DVCE is impressive despite being buggy and rather wasteful of processing power. I’m not sure it’s being developed anymore, which is a pity.

  2. Recursive Propher says:

    Haven’t really digested all this yet, but it comes on the heels of finally getting around to storing some of my past writing on the cloud of gmail. Couldn’t believe how much material there was that I decided to not even bother.transferring.

    Afraid there are just so many trying to be heard that few are listening. The explanation in your second vm helped, but amid all my other preoccupations it may take awhile for me to ‘connect’ all your pieces. Interesting as always though, John.

  3. lettersquash says:

    Thanks RP, I’m not surprised it’s all a bit confusing. I’ll explain in later posts – you know what it’s like: the thoughts just spiral off in all directions. I’m not an expert on this stuff. The main points – 1. repeating simple rules can give rise to strange complex behaviours (like Conway’s Game of Life), 2. copying of instructions with accidental errors can lead to apparent “improvement”, or increasing “fitness”, and 3. these principles appear not to be dependent on any particular medium or substrate (although they presumably need SOME substrate to act within) – in other words, evolution works not just in biology, but also engineering, computer programming, physics, and perhaps everything. There are lots of questions I hope to explore soon.

    I think it’s easy to get the wrong idea about the Net with all its millions of voices chattering away – that everyone is talking and nobody is listening. But how do you decide how many people are listening? Aren’t you discounting the largely educational effect of the Net and other electronic media? When people are talking, even when they’re talking rubbish, they’re often learning. Someone will critique it, or the process of writing their thoughts will make them have more critical thoughts about those thoughts. It may have been writing so much about mystical ideas that eventually made me realise I was talking shit.

    You spend a lot of time on forums, and there it’s easy to get the impression nobody’s learning anything, just arguing for the sake of it, but I think it’s a false picture. People learn from arguments, even if it’s not the thing they’re arguing about. They learn a fair bit about how to argue, which is probably one of the most important things we can all be doing right now. Critical thinking keeps coming up – people learn what constitutes a good argument and what is just noise. Humanity is having an enormous public debate about everything, for the first time ever.

    Hopefully, the shit will eventually start to get sidelined, and then a lot of it will be deleted from servers, or not backed up when the servers are replaced (I bet December 21 Doomsday ones are dropping like flies right now). In future, people will sometimes happen upon these backwaters of the Twenty-teens and experience the well-known feeling of amused confusion – how did so many web pages get splattered with nonsense? – before moving on to discuss more important things. We’ll stop feeding the trolls so much. Shush, we’ll say, the adults are talking. The Net evolves, you see. We evolve in and through the Net. We’re getting immensely smarter incredibly fast. It’s just that the backlog of stupid is staggering.

  4. Recursive Prophet says:

    Log in problems here. Who gets to decide what is shit versus valuable content? What is important? Would you vote away the 3.5k+ pages at TR of the humber phenomenon? If you look in you’ll see his detractors clearly miss him. The way they keep throwing out the baits reminds me of fly fishing. And this is a pretty bright group of people. wouldn’t you agree? Has any other troll kept you engaged for over a year all told, on issues based around fundamental physics no less?

    Look at all the experiments he generated with his arguments. Fact is I seriously doubt if Rick Cavallaro would have ever built Blackbird if it weren’t for humber’s gadflying. He kept the subject alive for 4 years, ffs!

    So much less wiggle room in physics than evolutionary science; a realm with more conjecture than hypothesis and lacking any laws for guidance. That’s why the creationists have made it their focus, and why it dominates so many boards. There clearly is a real learning opportunity the net provides, but as you know it is incredibly complicated. Memory loss due to the speed-dial ease of calling things back with Google. The ‘echo effect’ further insulating our exposure to contrary views. Information overload. No free lunches.

    I decide how many people are listening by looking at the numbers. What is the ratio of views to posts. How much traction does a topic achieve and who posts there. I may well just be projecting, but it seems to me many are winding down and getting into a kind of social network texting mode.

    “teeth” (Mark Pardo) at TR is a classic example. At RDF he was Dlx2 and made some truly brilliant posts, including one where he backed Dawson down. He’s getting his doctorate in paleontology up in Calgary, and now mostly plays mafia and engages in the inane social chit-chat that goes on. Same with one of his professor’s there Jasona. (Jason Anderson) Meanwhile the evo forum is dominated by a few creotards as they are content to play games and insult a few soft targets. Not at all confident this indicates an advantageous kind of selection for enhancing human cognizance, and I see it happening quite rapidly. I gotta go….

  5. lettersquash says:

    Who gets to decide what’s valuable? – Well, it’s complicated, isn’t it? Generally, somebody owns a site, so they will have a lot to do with what remains on it (or never gets posted). Then there’s a lot that is crowd-vetoed – if enough people keep going there, it’s valuable. Your example of the humber trolling the hell out of DDWFTTW for years is a good one. You sound as if you’re presenting it in opposition to my point, but I’m not sure how. If he made people learn a lot, and if he spawed lots of experiments that people find interesting, the content is presumably worthy. That IS pretty much the point I’m trying to make. The web is useful to humanity. Bits of it are useful to different people. A lot of it is pointless to you, or me, and some of it is grossly offensive to half the planet. But I can’t see how it’s not an intensely educational process. And the lovely thing about random access memory and hypertext is that you don’t have to bother with the bits you don’t like, just go where you want to go.

    What is the ratio of views to posts? – Well, it’s usually over one, isn’t it? So your data disprove you. There are usually several people “listening” to one person “talking”, because there are usually lots of hits on any post. Of course. Unless your post is duplicated, it would be hard to have less than 1 hit per post.

    Projecting – well, I don’t know if it’s that, but you appear to be basing your views on what happens on a couple of forums.

    There have always been scare stories about every new technology. The information overload is one such. We develop search technology in line with the information, so that you can find the bits you’re interested in. The fear of the enormous amount of data out there is irrational. Do you have to wade through an inordinate amount of wikipedia every time you log on? Are the server rooms in Silicon Valley making too much heat? OK, probably the latter. 😉

    Then there’s the one about shortened attention spans. Well, maybe to some extent that happens in certain situations, and maybe it even has an overall effect on human thinking in some damn study someone did. If so, it’s probably because it’s useful to us in those situations or overall at this point in history. That’s how humans do most things. They adapt behaviour to suit the outcomes. Sometimes there’s a big lag, but we usually get there. I’ll bet the amount of time people spend on computer games increases their attention span, concentration, motor skills, quick thinking, judgement and general intelligence…if I google, I can probably find out if I’m right in about ten minutes.

    I’ve noticed how I surf the net when I’m seeking some info or other. I scan through a dozen or more google hits, checking the title and domain, control-clicking several that open in new tabs. Then I scan each of those as far as I need to to decide whether to read further:- this is too trivial – gone; this is too hard for me right now – gone; this one isn’t actually on the subject, it just had a false hit rate due to the word association (I learn some homonyms in passing) – gone; oh, this one looks interesting. Then I find that the thing I wanted to know more about has a better name than the one I guessed, so I search again, and I might discard the page where I discovered the new name after reading only a couple of paragraphs. Finally, I might get to a page, or a whole website, that I read in detail, taking in all the facts. Sometimes it’s interesting enough to me that I collect more information on that, join a group, discuss it. People do this and then decide to go to college, on campus or online.

    Now, that’s not just because we’re nerdy. People also do it to find out what to do about everyday problems and interests from athlete’s foot to zebrafish. It’s the biggest fillip to global education since the printing press – no, the invention of writing – no, probably, ever!

    Of course, there are people trying hard not to learn anything, just as there were people who wanted to burn all the books after the Gutenberg Bible. But for most of us, learning is rewarding – it’s hard-wired into our brains. Many people just wander about on the web learning stuff for the fun of it. More and more of it is becoming free – I’ve just started brushing up on my French at duolingo.com when I couldn’t be bothered any other way (or it was too expensive). But I could do that with everything from astronomy to zoology…just google and read, or watch videos if I prefer documentary learning.

  6. Recursive Prophet says:

    Don’t think for a minute I don’t appreciate the net, John. I spend most of my time there as you know. I was just pointing out there’s always a price to be paid for each advancement. 🙂

  7. Fabio Rebecchi says:

    hello everybody, Lee Graham’s website is no more avaliable, could you please share with me the program? my mail is f.rebecchi@accademiadomani.it

  8. lettersquash says:

    Will do, Fabio. I’ve found the zip file. Thanks for posting. That’s a pity about Lee Graham’s site going down, and it looks like he’s stopped developing 3DVCE, although who knows, it might ressurect again. It’s a stand-alone program, so you can just make a folder somewhere, unzip the zip file to that, and run (I think) …3D_Creature_Evolution/bin/creatures.exe. There’s enough information in the menus to get the hang of using the program, the dialog boxes are all well documented with hover tips and suchlike, and a few other key combinations are shown in Help -> About. It’s a little quirky in how it runs full-screen – you can’t directly use Alt-Tab to switch to other windows (it grabs the key input instead of letting Windows deal with it), so you have to go to App -> Temporarily ignore key input (or something). You toggle from the paused state with menus to running your evolution or playing with the other features using Escape. I’m using Windows XP – no idea how it runs on anything else. The other features are fun too – rather than just running an evolution, you can just put various objects in the virtual world and then make them do stuff – bouncing balls, explosions, brick walls that react realistically to impacts, fall over and so on.

  9. Fabio Rebecchi says:

    thank you very much, I have a Mac but I’ll manage to run it on Virtual Box, thank you for the hints too ;-))

  10. Love 3DVCE says:

    Does anyone have the end over worm? It’s a wonderful creature and since the site is down there is nowhere for it to be downloaded. If anyone has it, please, upload it somewhere and give a link, so that everybody could enjoy this!!

  11. lettersquash says:

    Sorry for the delay in replying, Love 3DVCE. Also sorry I can’t help. I did do a bit of googling and it looks like the program has gone down the chute…as has my plan to do a follow up. I got fed up of the thing having to be started manually when I wasn’t using my computer – it would have been great if it had a setting to use idle time automatically – so I gradually let my biot slip into its evolutionary dead end, poor thing. I’ve no idea where you can get the end-over-end worm. Good luck. The downside of 3DVCE is that it puts ridiculous amounts of processing power into showing every movement of the evoloving biot in 3D, which is very wasteful. I hope, if the guy works on it again, or someone does something similar, they’ll at least have an option to stop the rendering – it would be the first thing I thought of when writing it. Then, you could have the option to watch the fun every now and then, after a significant change.

  12. Graham Mann says:

    Hello lettersquash,

    You seem to be the only source of this wonderful program now. Could you send a copy of that zip file to [email removed for privacy] please? I’d like the students in my AI class to be able to evolve their own creatures using this one.
    Dr. Graham Mann
    Murdoch University
    Western Australia

  13. lettersquash says:

    Have done, Graham. Thanks for your comment.

  14. Graham Mann says:

    Hi lettersquash,

    Thanks, but I didn’t seem to get it. Can you resend?



  15. lettersquash says:

    OK, it might be in your spam folder (or the Uni’s), but I’m resending now using a different email account. I’ll also get round to uploading it to a file depository soon and post a link where you can download it…

    Whoops, that didn’t seem to work with my other email – maybe some problem to do with the file permissions – I’ve uploaded it now to divShare, so the following link ought to start a download for you (or anyone). http://www.divshare.com/download/24468285-2be

  16. Graham Mann says:

    Dear lettersquash,

    Many thanks! I have it now from DivShare.

    Thanks to you, I can bring my lectures on simulated evolution _alive_ for my students! They’ll be amazed and want to start evolving away as soon as I show them.
    I’d thought it was lost forever – thanks for preserving its value.



  17. lettersquash says:

    Cheers Graham. Please let me know if your students evolve some interesting critters. I’ve removed your email address from the comments so you don’t get spammed from it.

  18. LOVE 3DVCE says:

    Hello again! It’s me again…

    Even if you replied to me after months I am still glad you did. You have no idea how happy I am to see that this program hasn’t disappeared and it still has users.

    I am studying IT at school and hopefully one day I will be able to resurrect this masterpiece. It blows my mind how much power this thing can have and still nobody did something like this.

    Regarding rendering, I put all my settings on low and then look at the sky. If you have the console activated you can see that it’s running at 200+ fps. The program also encountered bugs, in which after a night of evolution I am left with a very very small cube, and my fps drops to 5, weird.

    Hopefully I can always find you in here. I am afraid that we and a few people are the only persons on Earth to still keep 3dvce alive.

  19. lettersquash says:

    Hi LOVE 3DVCE, I’m really pleased it’s been useful to keep a copy, and people enjoy using it as much as I did (although lack of spare processing power means I’m not currently). I’m sure there must be quite a lot of copies out there somewhere, but it’s another thing to have it available to download. I just hope I’m not breaking the user agreement – I can’t remember what it says when you install it, and I can’t find the agreement in the files anywhere! It seems unlikely to be a problem though.

    Yes, that’s a good tip about the frame rate – I did the same myself. Also, I reduced the length of time (number of calculations) each creature moves about, and the population size too. But it’s a tricky balance – the results of the “natural selection” will be more erratic or even fail altogether, rather like populations of real animals or plants. Cutting the population in each “generation” reduces “biodiversity”. It’s these kinds of things that make simulated evolution fascinating.

    If you ever get round to rewriting something like this it would be amazing – the program is like nothing else I’ve seen for how it makes evolutionary change feel hands on – but the big downside is that you can’t switch the rendering on and off. Really, you only need to switch rendering on now and then, when you come back to see what’s happening. Most of the time you don’t want the computer wasting time drawing, or even doing the 3D calculations towards rendering, which it must be doing so that it knows to draw parts of the animal in frame (even when we point the camera at the sky). It’s kind of amazing the author didn’t put some quick fixes like that in (or maybe he did, but they’re not available in the version compiled for end users). I’d love to do something similar myself, but my programming isn’t up to it.

    Good luck with your IT course and thanks for being part of the discussion here. Maybe someone will track down the End Over Worm, or you might be able to recreate it by convergent evolution! I guess you’d put the fitness tests in as gaining height and moving a good distance, but not leaving the ground. A long slinky snake doing rolls is a perfect solution.

  20. lettersquash says:

    …I don’t know whether you’d also need to limit the block nesting (I’ve forgotten the terminology, but the criterion for how many body parts are connected to each block). That would force a long snake shape rather than wasting elements in a more dendritic assembly. I think that may be a maximum variable though (i.e. the actual nesting can be changed by the selection process, but only within this limit). So the snake shape might result from that economy.

    Just imagine what this program could become with economical processing and run on a supercomputer! Its scope could then be extended to allow populations to live at the same time, interacting with each other and more complex environments – towards whole ecosystems. At the moment, a generation of mutated individuals only competes by seeing how each performs alone (how far it travels, how long it keeps a ball off the ground, etc.).

    Of course, one of my interests in this was to encourage people to think about a naturalistic world view in place of a theistic/deistic one – but most people who don’t understand programming will look at this sort of thing and be impressed by how obvious it is that it needs a “creator”, the programmer, whereas the programmer has probably gained a different realisation – that all the complexity comes from very simple elements interacting in physically predictable but stochastic ways.

    The human creativity in a program like this involves simulating real physical laws (gravity, elasticity of objects, etc.), devising artificial “tests” for fitness (although these can be no more than reproduction success within that physics) and providing the artificial building blocks that can interact. The sculpting of actual forms happens just as it does in nature.

    The deeper philosophical questions of why the laws of physics, mathematics, etc., are as they are, still remain, and make a deist position reasonable, but understanding that evolution is an absolutely physical process is a big challenge to it, an indication that there could be a similarly “random” evolutionary principle underlying all reality.

  21. Mercurio says:

    Hello. I found this discussion trying to find updates on Lee Graham, the creator of this marvellous program. No luck.
    I have the end-over-end worm, actually 2 different versions. I forget if one is earlier or if they’re separate branches. It’s remarkable that both files are only about 5 kilobytes apiece. Just like real DNA, the information is incredibly compact and efficient.

    You can press ‘g’ to get information on the framerate, fitness, etc. You can also maximize framerate by hitting minus (on the NUMBERS) pad, and plus to quickly turn it back on, then staring at the sky. Right mouse button to zoom, space to back up. Shift, z, x, c, for other directions.

    There are detailed tutorials on youtube if you know how to find them. I think I have a good understanding of how to operate the program, so if you have further questions, like how you can introduce the end-over-end worm into a new or existing evolution, you can email me.


  22. lettersquash says:

    Hi Mercurio – that’s some great news and useful info. I don’t think I knew there was a single button you could hit to maximize frame rate. Nice one. I haven’t used it for some time, but I’m sure I will again at some point…possibly on an old machine so it can just chug away uninterrupted.

    “LOVE 3DVCE” was asking for the end-over-end worm, so I’d like to make your versions available. I’ll email you. I seem to have accidentally become one of the last places people can download 3DVCE after I mentioned it in this post. It’s so sad when amazing and apparently unique programs stop being developed – I hope Lee has made (or makes) the source code available and someone else picks it up and develops it further.

    I didn’t manage to find a live contact address for Lee Graham – if anyone reading this knows how to get hold of him, I’d be very grateful (I won’t beg him too much, I promise!). You can always contact me by email – click my avatar at the top.

    Many thanks for your comment, Mercurio.

  23. Arnold says:

    hi everybody, I just started using 3dvce and i find it very interesting and powerful. im asking if somone knows a method (perhaps a config file) where i can set a maximum value for fps, just to improve evolution speed. Because if i put low resolution and no anti-aliasing, speed grows, but also the fps (form 60 to 700 about), surely with a max value there would be a performance improvement and the vid config used would be full effective.

    Thanks for any sort of reply 🙂

  24. lettersquash says:

    Hi Arnold – I don’t know a lot about the inner workings of 3DVCE. Your logic seems right, but assumes that the graphics display of the creature can be configured separately from the physics engine. I don’t know whether it can or not. I wrote earlier that 3DVCE ought to have an option to switch off the graphics altogether to maximize the calculations of the physics, but I have since wondered if Lee Graham had access to that level, or if he wrote some evolutionary principles, box “limb” section algorithms and the neural network for the creature’s “motor” system, and plugged those into someone else’s physics engine. Basically, I was just arguing for a maximum frame rate of zero – stop plotting stuff on the screen temporarily – which would be the first thing I would have done with it if I was the author and it was in my power to do so. Since the program is so good otherwise, I assume Lee would also have provided that option if it had been fairly easy to implement.

    What most of us do is what you do – low res, no anti-aliasing, etc. – and point the camera somewhere like the sky where the creature isn’t likely to get in the field of view. The frame rate (fps) is then the best indicator of how fast the physics is being calculated, which you can still display on screen … and for even faster speeds, don’t display that info on screen either, because it will also be using some cycles. The program will, of course, be sharing resources with others running on the computer, so speed should increase by closing as many programs as possible, allocating high priority to the 3DVCE process in Task Manager, and maybe tweaking other global graphics options – screen resolution, colours, etc. Possibly even switching off things like cameras, connections to severs, wifi and so on might help. It makes me wonder what the underlying architecture of the program would be capable of if run on a super-computer by a real nerd. I think one of the videos talked about the development of the program involving some runs of two creatures together, where “fitness” was measured in terms of their ability to keep control of an object, like a ball. They developed strategies of blocking and turning that were quite impressive. It’s mindboggling that this program isn’t still being developed, but I can only think it must be because of its inherent flaws, and someone may have moved on to something even more powerful. I don’t know where it is, though. Maybe the miliary snaffled it and closed Lee Graham down (I say, tongue only half in cheek).

    Sorry I can’t be more helpful – what we need is someone who knows what the hell they’re talking about. 🙂

  25. Arnold says:

    hi Lettersquash, thank you for the fast reply! I think you’re right about the complexity of the program, however i would like to ask something more. I found first this link http://download1427.mediafire.com/m21ca8oc3a4g/s71k1ri6xo28qri/3D_Creature_Evolution.zip , is there difference with yours? and also, is the water simulation complete(if it is a good fluid dynamics model)? i found a youtube tutorial that suggests not using it; In other words, if it is possible evolving some sort of fish in the water physic.

    thank you in advance

  26. lettersquash says:

    It looks the same on quick inspection (the main exe file is the same number of bytes, which is unlikely with different versions). I believe the water and no gravity options were not implemented, unfortunately. I’ve just had a play, and although you can switch them on in the environment (where you can “spawn” objects and manipulate them, like blocks and balls and so on), the water and no gravity options don’t work when you start an evolution. So much potential… 😦 …I think those options were available in some development versions, but it’s a long time since I read/watched stuff about this.

    Incidentally, for even better frame rates, you can go into Rendering > wireframe or dots, and put off shadows, skybox, etc.

    Also people should not forget that this is an unusual program – it does not conform to good Windows programs practices. In particular, you have to tell it to ignore mouse and keyboard input via the menu before you can switch to another program, otherwise anything you type may have all sorts of unforseen consequences on 3DVCE.

  27. Alex says:

    Thank you for managing to preserve the final and original end-over-end worms!

  28. Alex says:

    By the way, I managed to fix some of the features with the help of some friends, such as the water. There are also other adjustable features such as gravity strength. In fact the same friend sent me a couple of water creatures. One moves by using its tail to exploit glitches in the physics engine. Send me a mail at arthurarcadia@gmail.com.

  29. lettersquash says:

    Thanks for your comments and email, Alex, and for sending those files. It’s a pity I just uninstalled 3DVCE to make room for work stuff (actually, I could have just deleted the large data sets for evolutions, as the program is quite small, but my little netbook needed a bit of a clearout). I’m not sure when I’ll get round to having a go with it again, but I probably will at some point, and I’ll check out the frogfoot.creature you sent me. When I get time, I’ll also upload those to my mydrive folder with a text file with those instructions. I didn’t realise – or I’d forgotten – you could change the constants in the constants.txt file. By the way, posting your email here is fine by me, but you could get spammed – let me know if you’d like me to remove it from your comment.

  30. Alex says:

    This is an extremely inaccurate video of the frogfoot. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VES27PLJxEM Because the tail uses glitches in the physics engine and undulates extremely fast, the inbuilt frame recorder skips beats when recording it.

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