Nothing really grabbed my attention in the news on Friday, and none of my friends was arrested, so it was a slow day. This is a reworking of a blog on the same date in 2015. I still think it’s fun.

*****

 

Did you ever play this in the mid to late 90s? I loved it.

It wasn’t an online game, but an earnest attempt by some propellorheads in an institute of learning somewhere to harness the power of lots of small computers (a bit like SETI, of which I was also an avid user/member), to run computer analyses.

Biosphere was set up by some people interested in population dynamics, and was intended to examine predator/prey relationships, among many other things. Yes I know I sound like a real dork, but let me finish. The whole set up was really good fun. You got to design creatures from a basket of physical and behavioural characteristics. You could design a herbivore, or a carnivore. Big or small. Armoured or unprotected. Then, this was the good bit, with legs or with wheels. Hot damn!

These creatures were then placed at random on the surface of the planet Biosphere, and had to perform as life will always do – eating, mating, and staying alive as long as possible. The mating bit was fun (in an intellectual sense, the sex itself was so poor I don’t even remember it happening), because if you got two identical creatures the offspring retained all their parents’ characteristics. If they were simply similar, then the offspring inherited some characteristics from one parent, some from the other, and was sent off to fend for itself.

You could also name your creature, though the Sysops were a bit po faced, and refused to allow me ‘BadMuthahF****r, for some reason. One of my more fearsome carnivores was called Bambi, while a gentle browser ended up as KillingMachine.

You could log on to the website and view a real time map, so you could see exactly where your creature was at any given time, what direction it was moving, how much it had eaten, how often it had mated, what other creatures were around. If you couldn’t be bothered to do this, you got regular email updates. Getting an email from Bambi was something I cherished.

It wasn’t as easy as it sounds, because life on Planet Biosphere was nasty, brutish, and in most cases tragically short. On first sight it seemed obvious that you needed a huge heavily armoured carnivore with wheels to allow it to move fast. Cleverly, the algorithms recognised this, and if you were a big rough tough he-man then you needed to eat more often, and as a carnivore you had to rely on meeting something whose arse you could whip, or an unarmoured but swift moving small herbivore that you might have trouble catching were it not for your superior speed because you had wheels. But wheels aren’t any good on uneven ground, or on desert sand, or scree slopes, all of which could be found if you were a bit unlucky. Herbivores could eat a lot of the time, but since the energy content of the food is low, it’s a twenty four hour a day job just to keep body and soul together, and all the time you were open to attack from the Bambis of this world.

Nasty, brutish, and short sums things up. Life expectancy, if my experience was anything to go by, was about three days. KilingMachine managed an epic week. When the creatures died the system actually sent you a condolence message. Yep, a potted history of your creature’s achievements to date before it perished in the middle of a desert somewhere, or got eaten.

The way you identified yourself to the game system wasn’t really very secure. All you had to do was register your email address, but there was no password needed. I’m sure you can see where I’m heading here.

As is my wont, I was unable to leave things alone, and registered various creatures in the names of family members, and my more understanding clients, and didn’t tell them. I’d get phone calls from my brother in law Andy, who twigged eventually what was going on.

‘Oy, you! What’s this with some wheeled dinosaur called Dave getting stuck in a swamp and drowning?’

‘I don’t know what you’re talking about, Andy.’

‘This has got your muddy little footprints all over it. And why send it to work? My boss thinks I spend half my time eating bloody cycads and screwing anything that moves.’

‘I didn’t know you liked cycads, Andy…’

Slam.

Oh what fun.

By the way, some of you will recognise a phrase later immortalised by Treeza the Aussie electronics engineer