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UI Student Video Game Studio Releases First Game, ‘Darwin’s Demons’

February 13, 2017

People around the world celebrated Charles Darwin’s incredible contributions to science on Feb. 12, International Darwin Day. Today, they can celebrate him again by blasting evolving digital aliens in a new video game created by University of Idaho students, “Darwin’s Demons.”

“Darwin’s Demons,” available through the world’s largest PC game distributor, Steam, is the first full-length commercial game created by Polymorphic Games. This UI-based video game studio brings together students in biological sciences, computer science, art and design, business and more to learn real-world skills while creating evolutionary video games from concept to market.

“Darwin’s Demons” is inspired by classic arcade games, but uses evolutionary principles such as adaptation, mutation and selection to take the game beyond a simple battle of spaceships vs. aliens. The villains evolve in response to players’ attacks and defenses, presenting a dynamic challenge while subtly introducing players to important scientific concepts.

“Darwin’s Demons” is the result of Polymorphic Games’ first two semesters as an independent studio, funded by a grant from the National Science Foundation’s BEACON Center for the Study of Evolution in Action, a consortium in which UI is a partner. More than 20 students — along with the studio’s advisors, Professor Barrie Robison in the College of Science Department of Biological Sciences and Professor Terence Soule in the College of Engineering Department of Computer Science —   were involved in creating the game.

Proceeds from the sale of “Darwin’s Demons” will go back into the studio initially, but if they exceed a certain threshold, royalties will reach the pockets of students.

“We’ve already been wildly successful even if we only sell 10 copies. To finish something like this, that’s quite an achievement,” Robison said.

“The big payoff for the students occurs when they apply for their first job,” Soule added. 

The studio released a demo version in summer 2016, and the students have been expanding and refining the game since. In addition to thousands of combinations of ships and weapons for fighting the alien swarm, the full version of “Darwin’s Demons” includes a mode for studying evolutionary outcomes. 

“You can actually change all the parameters and run your own experiments with the game,” Robison said. ‘’We’ve begun developing support materials for teachers and students to help them use Darwin’s Demons to demonstrate and teach evolutionary concepts.”

Beyond just promoting the game, the Polymorphic Games team also is promoting the science behind it and its educational possibilities. Robison and Soule will attend the Evostar conference in Amsterdam in April to share their research that shows the aliens in “Darwin’s Demons” do, in fact, evolve in a digital equivalent to evolution in nature. 

A group of Polymorphic Games students presented at the Idaho STEM Matters! hands-on educational event at the state capitol building in January, and another will participate in the Microsoft’s Technology Education and Literacy in School program, which brings computer science to high schools, later this year. A team of business students representing Polymorphic Games won second place and $1,000 in the fall 2016 Idaho Pitch Competition. 

“This project has taught us a variety of different ways we can apply the different kinds of knowledge we have gotten from our different degrees,” said Polymorphic Games team member Kirsten Way, 23, of Boise, a senior accounting and finance major in the College of Business and Economics. “The students have put their hearts and souls into this project, and I feel like I have learned more from working on this project than any other class project I've worked on.”

Polymorphic Games will now begin work on its next game. A new team of students will be hired to work for the studio in summer 2017, funded by a 2016 Vandal Ideas Project grant. 

“We hope to support the sustainability of the studio so we can hire more students,” Robison said. “Our vision is to create a self-sustaining studio that produces a new evolutionary game each year, while providing our students training in the interdisciplinary collaboration skills that are required in today’s job market.” 

Watch the game preview:

Media Contacts:
Barrie Robison
Professor, University of Idaho Department of Biological Sciences
509-432-3782 (cell)
208-885-7137 (office) 

Tara Roberts
University Communications

About the University of Idaho

The University of Idaho, home of the Vandals, is Idaho’s land-grant, national research university. From its residential campus in Moscow, U of I serves the state of Idaho through educational centers in Boise, Coeur d’Alene and Idaho Falls, nine research and Extension centers, plus Extension offices in 42 counties. Home to nearly 12,000 students statewide, U of I is a leader in student-centered learning and excels at interdisciplinary research, service to businesses and communities, and in advancing diversity, citizenship and global outreach. U of I competes in the Big Sky Conference. Learn more at