Q.P. Curio's Novelty Engine

Platform: PC

Team size: 9

Engine and tools: XNA

What I did: I was the Lead Designer on this project. I helped define the core concept, designed the core gameplay and interface systems, and wrote all the design documentation.


WHAT IS q.p. Curio's Novelty engine?

Q.P. Curio's Novelty Engine is a game about the unpredictability of evolution. It is inspired by the research of MIT scientist Karl Sims, in that it seeks to model natural selection with simple mechanical robots. Unlike Sims' work, Q.P. Curio's Novelty Engine lets people play with these virtual creatures and guide evolution.

In an old building you discover an ancient machine that can create living clockwork creatures that like to race. Pull the lever, the gears turn, and the machine spits out another creature, with randomly created limbs that move in random ways.

Whichever creature wins the race, their particular physical make-up becomes the basis for the next round of creatures, or the player can choose who is to survive, thus manipulating evolution.

Can you control the forces of natural selection? What unexpected creatures await? Not even the makers of the game know.



As Lead Designer, I worked closely with Jason Beene, the project's Creative Director, on how to achieve "real" evolution in a game simulation. Many games which claim to model evolution, such as SPORE, while fun games, do not actually model the process at a systemic level. We wanted to model its unpredictability by re-creating actual natural selection in our system, and then give the player a narrative framing for interacting with that system where fun and enjoyment did not require a predictable outcome.

We came up with the "racing" idea together, as well as the backstory, about an eccentric inventor who created the mechanical life-giving "novelty engine" and then disappeared. This defined the turn-of-the-20th-century look for the game, but also the core gameplay idea of creating and guiding the life of ultra-simple creatures. Also, by making the creatures mechanical, you take the gruesome edge off the idea of natural selection, making it more fun to play, fail with, and explore.

I spent most of my time creating the interface for the Novelty Engine, ensuring it was easy-to-use but also contained the necessary information about how the creatures are evolving. By the end players were able to trace multiple paths of evolution, including all the branches created by their manipulations of natural selection, all in one simple interface.