Evolve & Conquer: Teaching evolution via an engaging multiplayer video game

Teaching with games has been one of the buzz topics in pedagogy lately. Although video games aren’t a formal teaching method by any means, many education scientists suggest games increase intrinsic (self-) motivation to learn, augment information retention, and enable students to learn for longer periods of time beyond the normal attention span (of about 40 minutes). As one of its stated missions, BEACON wishes to educate the public about evolution. A possible means to accomplish this would be a full-fledged, engaging video game that is fun to continually play while teaching evolution. (Which, admittedly, can be a difficult task!)

Thus, a few members of Dr. Chris Adami’s lab at Michigan State University started the “Evolve and Conquer” (E&C) game project. In short, E&C will be a multiplayer video game (similar in play style to Starcraft and Warcraft), which allows players to experience “evolution in action” first-hand. Instead of directly teaching evolution, we make it a part of the video game such that players who wish to excel in the game would benefit by learning the concepts of evolution; for example, maintaining variation in your population (“clan”) of warriors will make it easier to adapt to and defeat a new enemy clan of warriors. In the following demonstration, we will give you a sneak peek at some of the core game mechanics.

Unit control and navigation

Players control the nanobots (“warriors”) with standard Real-Time Strategy controls. Left-clicking on units selects them, then right-clicking on the terrain gives them the order to move. Here, the nanobot is commanded to collect resources while automatically avoiding obstacles in the terrain.

Realistic physics

E&C will feature NVIDIA’s PhysX physics engine, which comes packaged with Unity3D. In E&C, physics will play a large role in the nanobots’ interactions in the world. Nanobots will have to adapt to challenging physical obstacles such as physical barriers, wind, mud, rockslides, and even meteor showers.

Combat / “survival of the fittest”

Beyond the physical environment, nanobots may be forced into direct conflict with alien species. This video demonstrates the combat system, where the nanobots are ordered to attack the hostile alien species. In battle, only the strongest species survive. Thus, the nanobots experience survival of the fittest.


Of course, the nanobots must be able to reproduce in order to evolve. This video shows how nanobots reproduce. Whenever the nanobot consumes three resource cubes, it is able to produce an offspring.

Inheritance with variation

Here, an army of nanobots are producing offspring en masse. Each offspring inherits the traits of its parent, though some of the offspring experience slight changes (“mutations”) and become larger, faster, stronger, etc.

Limited resource competition

Not only do nanobots have to weather a hostile physical environment and survive combat with alien species, they have to compete for limited resources to reproduce as well. In this video, two nanobots forage for resources and reproduce after they have gathered 3 resource cubes. In this case the larger, faster nanobot outcompetes the smaller, slower nanobot.

Automatic foraging and reproduction

If you don’t feel like micro-managing the forage-and-reproduce process of your nanobots, you can order them to automatically forage and reproduce by themselves. In this video, a smaller, faster nanobot competes for limited resources with a larger, slower nanobot. If we let this run for an extended period of time, the faster nanobot would sweep the population. Thus, E&C is a full-fledged simulation of evolution by natural selection.

Feel free to leave feedback on this page. We hope to have a public playable demo soon, so keep an eye out!


  1. [...] free to leave feedback on our lab page. We hope to have a public playable demo soon, so keep an eye [...]

  2. This looks very interesting. If you need any support in terms of alpha testing/beta testing, there are members of the Ann Arbor Science & Skeptics that are available to provide assistance! Heh! Good luck!

    • Randy Olson says:

      Thank you for the kind words and support! More beta testers are always welcome. Drop me an email (rso@nullrandalolson.com) and we will be in touch when the demo is released.


  3. ey! just found out about this extremely interesting development.
    please keep me updated and let us know if more beta-testers are needed from the southern hemisphere

  4. Chris Kmiec says:

    I am extremely interested in this idea. As an MSU student, is there a way for me to get involved? I am currently a cognitive neuroscience major interested in the implications of video games. Thanks!

    • Randy Olson says:

      Hi Chris, thank you for your interest in the game. At the very minimum, we can add you to the list of closed beta testers for the game. The beta testing phase should be coming very soon. If you’d like to be added to that list, just send an email: olsonran@nullmsu.edu. After beta testing, we can discuss future projects relating to the game.

Leave a Reply

  • Adami Lab Schedule

    April  2014
    Events on April 21, 2014
    • Full day Media Workshop
      Starts: 12:00 AM
      Ends: April 22, 2014 - 12:00 AM
    • CSE 845 org Meeting
      Starts: 10:00 AM
      Ends: April 21, 2014 - 11:30 AM
    • MMG492
      Starts: 4:00 PM
      Ends: April 21, 2014 - 6:00 PM
    Events on April 22, 2014
    • Mansky MMG session
      Starts: 9:30 AM
      Ends: April 22, 2014 - 10:30 AM
      Location: 2245 BPS
    • MSU Interview
      Starts: 10:15 AM
      Ends: April 22, 2014 - 11:15 AM
    • CSE 845
      Starts: 12:40 PM
      Ends: April 22, 2014 - 2:30 PM
    • MMG Seminar
      Starts: 4:10 PM
      Ends: April 22, 2014 - 5:10 PM
      Location: 1415 BPS
    Events on April 23, 2014
    • Randy Comprehensive
      Starts: 10:00 AM
      Ends: April 23, 2014 - 12:00 PM
    • Group Meeting
      Starts: 10:00 AM
      Ends: April 23, 2014 - 12:00 PM
    • MMG Undergrad poster session
      Starts: 11:00 AM
      Ends: April 23, 2014 - 1:00 PM
    Events on April 24, 2014
    Events on April 25, 2014
    • EI Meeting
      Starts: 12:00 PM
      Ends: April 25, 2014 - 1:00 PM
    • My BEACON seminar
      Starts: 3:30 PM
      Ends: April 25, 2014 - 4:30 PM
      Description: The Mathematics of the 1%
    Events on April 28, 2014
    • CSE 845 org Meeting
      Starts: 10:00 AM
      Ends: April 28, 2014 - 11:30 AM
    • MMG 492
      Starts: 4:00 PM
      Ends: April 28, 2014 - 6:00 PM
    Events on April 29, 2014
    • MMG Seminar
      Starts: 4:10 PM
      Ends: April 29, 2014 - 5:10 PM
      Location: 1415 BPS
    Events on April 30, 2014
    • Group Meeting
      Starts: 10:00 AM
      Ends: April 30, 2014 - 12:00 PM
    • CSE 845 Final Exam
      Starts: 12:45 PM
      Ends: April 30, 2014 - 2:45 PM