If you asked us what kind of game we’d like to get our hands on most right now, our immediate response probably wouldn’t be “well, hand me a simulation and strategy game all about population genetics and you won’t see me touch another title for months.” As topics for games go, population genetics is fairly niche but it captured our attention with Spore in 2008 and it’s capturing our attention now with self-aware title Niche.
In Niche, the goal is to create your own animal species and carve it an ecological niche where it can live, survive, and eventually thrive to inhabit all the islands in the game’s world. To achieve this, players will have to face up to challenges like carnivorous predators, diverse environments, climate change, and disease by evolving and adapting.
The game’s developers have tried to include as many approaches to tackling nature’s challenges as possible such as developing excellent natural camouflage, growing horns and claws for better defence against attackers, or developing toxicity so that no other creatures want to take a bite of you. It’s possible for your species to develop a whole host of natural defences through the game’s mating system which the game’s creators say is based on real genetics, featuring dominant, recessive and co-dominant inheritance.
It’s important to keep an eye on your species and be vigilant with the gene pool as time moves quickly in Niche and animals will grow and die of old age, leaving the survival of the species up to their offspring. If you manage to keep your species strong and increase their territory you get access to more food, faster movement, and more warning of attack from other animals making it easier to keep growing and harder to justify locking yourself into one part of the map for safety.
The team behind the game actually cite Spore as a title that inspired them in the development process, particularly the first two episodes of Spore where you start in the water and begin to build your tribe on land. Other games that have inspired Niche include Creatures, with its approach to simulating a species and having the animals age and die to give their lifetime greater value and importance to the player. They also interestingly credit Don’t Starve as they were inspired by its large procedurally-generated worlds with different environments that present their own challenges to overcome.
To get an idea of how the game actually plays you can watch a Let’s Play below: