Dr. Barrie Robison

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Dr. Robison is an Associate Professor of Biology at the University of Idaho. Aka “THE MAN THAT MAKES FIRE!!!”

Role

I suppose my role in this endeavor is the game designer. In the spring semester of 2014, I approached Terry Soule with a crazy idea. Could we make a game that was built upon accurate and rigorous models of biological evolution? Could this game be used to teach evolutionary biology?

Game Components In Which I Am Most Interested

I don't think I have a particular phenotype or component that stands out to me. I view the game as a whole greater than the sum of its parts, and am genuinely excited to see how it develops. That said, there is a particular outcome that I'm definitely focused on - the diversity of evolutionary outcomes. Can we create a simulation that recapitulates the myriad potential outcomes of evolution by natural selection? Will we observe different evolutionary solutions to the same set of selection pressures? Can we code a genome and genotype-phenotype map that truly allows the Protean Swarm to live up to their name? One of the unique features of this endeavor is the potential for nearly infinite replayability. Can we actually pull this off? I think so.

Research

My basic research interests are in Behavioral and Nutritional Genomics, Evolutionary Biology, and Quantitative Genetics. I've published research[1] using a variety of aquatic model organisms, including rainbow trout and zebrafish.

Teaching

My core teaching assignments are Biol 310/315 (General Genetics and Lab), which I teach every Fall, and Biol 444 (Genomics), which I teach in alternate Springs. If all goes well, I hope to teach this class on a regular basis.

The Lens of Primality 2016

The Lens of Primality asks whether there are game components that are so primal an animal could play it. The bad news is that our game does not have any primal components. The elements are not yet fully developed. The good news is that there are some elements that do relate to the element of primality. Shooting the enemies with the intent of destroying them is a primal feature. So is dodging the enemies by moving back and forth. I think the key is to make these elements more satisfying and emphatic. Bullet impacts, animations related to creature damage and death (bloodsplosions!), sounds related to these events are all required to emphasize the primal pieces of the game. Similarly, dodging to evade damage should also relate to the primal nature of the player. It would help if the player avatar was something more compelling. It would also help to implement damage related animations and sounds that access the lizard brain of the player. The primitive bird sounds are a good start, but I think when the player is damaged we should hear sounds that activate the fight or flight response in the player.

Favorite Games

I play video games. Often. I grew up during the infancy of home computers, and was the proud owner of a Pong system, and later an Atari 2600. I enjoyed the early Apple games, such as Sabotage, Evolution, and various text based dungeon crawlers. I frequented the arcade, and spent many, many quarters on those games in my teen years.

My favorite PC games include RTS style games such as Command and Conquer and Warcraft (and their various sequels), and FPS games such as Wolfenstein 3D, Doom, Duke Nukem 3D, and so on. I also enjoy RPGs, and one of my all time favorite games is Skyrim. I also enjoy the Borderlands series, the Neverwinter Nights series, and the Baldur's Gate games.

In terms of tower defense style games, I have enjoyed Flash Element TD, Bloons, Kingdom Rush, Plants vs Zombies, and Desktop Tower Defense. I encourage you try all of these.

The genesis of EvolveTD is in these tower defense style games. After playing them, I often wondered what would happen if, instead of fixed waves, the attackers adapted to the players defensive strategies.

My First Experiment with EvolveTD

In early April, we assigned an experiment to the class in which each student was to test a hypothesis using the current alpha build of EvolveTD. I decided to do the assignment alongside the students. I chose to test whether body width was under selection. I describe my results on my Barrie Experiment 1 page.