Today I spent a lot of time playing with Orb Farm, a program that simulates the ecosystem of an aquarium, with plants, algae, plankton, bacteria and fish. It is quite fun, and can generate some very beautiful scenes, with little input necessary from the user. The user places all the aquarium components (sand, algae, fish, etc), and the program then simulates the environment, alternating between day and night. It is really easy to set up an ecosystem that works interestingly for a while.
The program is based on the old “game of sand”, which I found to be quite a nice touch. Game of Sand were software toys where each pixel was an “element”, such as water, wood, sand, fire, oil, etc. Each element had different properties, and you played with the Game of Sand by having fun experimenting how these elements would interact with each other. Sand falls, water spreads, fire burns wood, and the smoke rises and falls as ash, etc. Some of the more complicated sand games had dozens of different elements, including electrical currents!
Compared to other sand games, Orb Farm has very few elements. On the other hand, it has complex agents (the fish), which I’ve never seen in other sand games before. The ecological reactions that you observe make it really cool. I think I’ll be using it for a while as a desktop companion at work.
This is why I love Alife!