Will Wright of The Sims and SimCity fame has been developing his new game Spore for over 6 years and the canvas he’s painting on is large indeed for the game begins with the player controlling the evolution of cells within a tidal pool and it progresses up the evolutionary ladder, with intermediate stops at controlling individual creatures which have evolved from the cells, controlling early tribes of creatures, controlling the sociological aspects of creatures living in cities, controlling civilizational issues confronting the creatures, and finally leading the creatures into a space-based expansion where they meet other species that have evolved from different evolutionary niches.
Wikipedia has an extensive write-up on the entire project and notes that Wright is using procedural generation code to allow the player to define their evolutionary features via permutations rather than simply drawing the features from preexisting code.
To illustrate the the power of evolutionary branching that permeates the game consider the following:
The Cell Phase is the starting point of the game. The player guides a simple micro-organism (microbe) around in a 2D environment, eating other, weaker cells. There are at least three other types of cells, two of which can eat the player’s microbe to begin with. Once the microbe has eaten several cells, it lays an egg which, when clicked, opens the creature editor which allows the player to modify the appearance, shape, and abilities of the microbe. This includes adding offensive abilities. For example, in Will Wright’s 2005 demo, he added a small spike which allows the player’s microbe to attack the organisms which would previously eat the player’s microbe. Each time the player’s microbe progresses to the next generation, it grows larger. Once the microbe grows to a certain size, the player leaves the 2D world of the microscopic and enters the creature phase.
Spore seems to be generating quite a bit of buzz and anticipation within the gaming community and I imagine that kids who are playing the game and seeing evolution play out before their eyes will come to understand the evolution vs. creationism debate with a deeper understanding of the process underlying evolution. The upshot here: the more entertaining the lesson the greater its impact.