Little known fact about me: I have every trophy for AdVenture Capitalist. It took me about two years to get. So I'm finally done with the game, and now I need a new clicker in my life. While wandering the floor of the Halloween Playcrafting Expo I saw what could be my next clicker. ComputerLunch brought out Cell to Singularity, a clicker made to show how humanity both came to exist and the technological advances it made. ComputerLunch's CEO, Andrew Garrahan, was willing to take some time to talk with me about the game.
TechRaptor: I just played Cell to Singularity!
Andrew Garrahan: Cell to Singularity! Evolution never ends!
TechRaptor: Why don't you tell me how the basic idea for this game came about?
Andrew: So the basic idea is... so it's an idle clicker game, and I just love the genre. I guess the genre is about four years old, obviously with games like Cookie Clicker, Candy Box, AdVenture Capitalist, wonderful clicker games that are just so much fun. There's a lot of innovation in the genre, and so I was really addicted to, specifically, AdVenture Capitalist. Like, staying up until the middle of the night trying to get as far into the game, prestigeing, then racing back up to the top. I still don't know why it's so addictive to play these games, but I was totally addicted to them.
Then I was also, I found myself playing less video games and I was watching a lot of documentaries on Youtube. Science stuff like BBC Life or Nova. More of anything on evolution or history of technology. There's a great film called Connections, a documentary series from the 70's about how technology is connected to other technology, and I love these documentary series and I'm really into these things, and I really wanted to make a film, I wanted to make a documentary film, but I didn't know any directors and we'd made a lot of other video games.
So I was trying to combine this addictive clicker idle game with your classic documentary show, combine them together. These idle games work really well with the exponential grown concept where it starts off really small and gets bigger and bigger and bigger. So we thought we'd experiment with doing a giant technology tree about the evolution of life. So in Cell to Singularity you start off as a cell-- even earlier than a cell, you start off as primordial soup and amino acids, but you start off as a cell and you're evolving to become a human being through upgrading these evolutionary qualities. As a cell you're going to get your mitochondria, the powerhouse of the cell, or the nucleus, and then you're going to get a more complex cell. But you go through jellyfish and regular fish, and then you get into mammals. Each range of life form has a different 3D environment that it exists in, so you get to see the creatures that you unlocked as you're evolving.
Right now the game is in Early Access. So clicker games kind of do the best if they're released early and then they're really kind of played and people are giving feedback and tune it to that. So we've been doing our own Early Access for about two months and we're really tweaking a lot of things and we have a lot of players already in the game kind of doing it. Right now we're working on a Mars expansion, so once you get to humanity, once you upgrade to humans, then the game shifts quite a bit to be about the history of technology. So you go through the stone age where you unlock fire, then you go the age of discovery where you're learning about merchant ships or banking or something. These are all just little unlocks. The whole game is unlocking something, it's like the Civilization tech tree.
TechRaptor: It's like unlocking things to unlock more things...
Andrew: Totally, yeah.
TechRaptor: Now does this mean, since you mentioned it specifically as the one you are addicted to, does this mean you are part of the Adventure Capitalist all achievements club?
Andrew: [Laughter.] No, I'm not! No, I was not. I did play Adventure Capitalist on Kongregate, I think in their Unity plug-in at the time. I think it was like two years ago? But I did not complete all the achievements. Did you?
TechRaptor: Oh god.
Andrew: Really!? So you really liked it.
TechRaptor: They put it on the PlayStation 4, and I just always had it in the background when I was doing something else.
TechRaptor: And just one day I suddenly had the best trophy and I was like "oh no, what happened, its been two years? How did this happen?"
TechRaptor: Yeah, it was a problem.
Andrew: Because I was like "Adventure Capitalist on PlayStation?" I was kind of scratching my head.
TechRaptor: I don't know why it was on the PlayStation. One of my friends was like "lets download it and get all the trophies" and then he stopped after a couple weeks and I just kept going.
Andrew: That's awesome.
TechRaptor: But I'm saying this as someone who likes this genre a lot, so I'm interested in the game. So you started developing this game. How do you decided what cell phase, what...?
Andrew: So because we're trying to combine two really complicated systems, like actual evolution, because the game stays pretty scientifically true to how we think evolution occurred. So we have a system that is like a specific way, like I can't just make it up. Then you have idle games, which is also a specific formula. The pricing has to be a certain way for the most addictive quality that people like in those games. So combining those two systems was the big challenge. So with the game mechanic side we mostly just looked at the way clicker games worked. Specifically Cookie Clicker and Adventure Capitalist. Kind of looked at a lot of their economic models and stuff. Basically started with an almost vanilla Cookie Clicker styled game.
Then with the evolution stuff we spent a lot of time mapping the entire tree of evolution. So a lot of Wikipedia research, I guess desk research, and then we did have a few of our somewhat scientist friends and history friends take a look at the tree to make sure it was mostly scientifically sound. Then it was like mapping out what are the factories and what are the upgrades, and dividing that the factories are basically life forms like jellyfish, monkeys, and then the upgrades are evolutionary traits like unlocking a nucleus or like a fish getting out of water. Three legs or something. Er, four legs. Unlocking four legs so you can get out of the water. That would be an upgrade.
TechRaptor: Any specific-- I guess since you're starting with the whole technology thing and Mars, is there anything you had to look at and go "we just don't have room for this, this is something we need to leave on the cutting room floor"?
Andrew: Well we're still in development right now, so I think we... well the biggest thing we probably can't do that people want us to do is that they want it to be a little more like Spore. Where they want to be able to create their own animals or create alternative histories of evolution, and that, unfortunately, is beyond my game design ability. I have to be like Will Wright or something to even attempt that. Our game is a little more like a map of the know evolutionary history, and a map of what we think might happen in the future, but as a map it's probably the biggest, largest, upgrade tree that's in existence right now.
TechRaptor: So you have a Mars expansion you're working on. What are you doing with that?
Andrew: Well so Mars... so the game is called Cell to Singularity. So you're trying to get to this maybe fictional, maybe real, technological singularity where, I don't know, humans might merge with computers or something. So that might dictate the future of humanity. Will we be servants to this super AI, or will we be part of this? But the Mars thing is more about... well Mars is pretty popular in a lot of people's minds right now. You have, like, The Martian with Matt Dameon, you have Mr. Elon Musk wanting to go to Mars. So I think Mars is definitely on the horizon. I don't know if it's a hundred years in the future before we have people there, but it's an exciting thing to think about.
There's also a lot of "what technology would be needed to get there?" Like what kind of propulsion system do we need to get to Mars, when we actually land on Mars, to survive there. Like what are the technologies to grow plants, how do we ultimately terraform the surface of Mars potentially? So we've been doing a lot of research to build this technology tree, and then Mars and Earth will kind of coexist for a little while, where almost these are two countries you are trading with. Beyond that, we haven't decided.We know people want to go out into the planets, kind of mine stuff. We've talked about building a giant dyson sphere, which will require a lot of raw resources from other galaxies. But that's kind of longer term on where it's going to go.
TechRaptor: Do you think we'll at least get to Pluto?
Andrew: Is Pluto even a planet?
TechRaptor: Right now? No.
Andrew: We don't know. So we put the game on Reddit a lot to get feedback. Reddit has a wonderful channel called r/idleclickers and these are the most opinionated people on the genre. When we posted it there they... We post it every two months and they basically just yell at us. Sometimes they're really mean, but they have a lot of good feedback and they really care about it, but they... one of their feedbacks was that they were saying they didn't like the graphics. Like, it was too graphical heavy. So I think, classically, with idle games there's not a lot of graphics. Like you think of Cookie Clicker or Progress Quest or Candy Box, which is an ASCII game, are simple games and graphics almost pollute the core gameplay, which is, quite distilled, you're just buying and unlocking stuff.
But I think as more and more casual players get into it they want more visuals, they want to experience the animals, and ours is about life so the animals are important. So showing something like the solar system in a beautiful way, that can really inspire people. In a way it's somewhat frowned upon, because that's not the purpose of the clicker genre, but we are going to explore. Like we do want to show things that are awe inspiring liek you would see in a BBC documentary about science or space. Cosmos or something.
TechRaptor: So when can I play this game?
Andrew: So you can play this right now. The goal is to get it on all the platforms. If you have Android you can search it right now, just search Cell to Singularity or literally "evolution" and it'll pop up. iOS you can go to our website celltosingularity.com and you can click the iOS link and join the beta pretty easily. We also have a web version you can play right on the browser, and we should have a Steam version out in about a month. It's all the same game on every platform, but people like to play in different spots. We want to get on Discord but I think there's... well Discord is trying to figure out what they want to do. But it's the same game, and eventually we'll have cloud saving so you can bring your saves over.
TechRaptor: Okay. Well thank you for taking the time to talk to me, the game is really interesting, I'm glad I got to check it out.
Andrew: Thanks man, yeah. Thanks for playing.
We'd like to once again thank Andrew for taking the time to talk with us.