The Radix island world is full of plants and animals living everywhere from cities to swamps. While the setting is “earth-like”, it is not actually earth. This means that our artists and designers have lots of freedom in what they create. However, we have to think carefully about the properties of everything that we create. To begin with – can these plants and animals really exist? We don’t want to make animals that seem anatomically impossible – a grasshopper the size of the empire state building would collapse under it’s own weight! We also want teachers to be able to relate the game world to the real world so we try to not stray too far from what we know. This often leads of a bit of fun – we spent an afternoon looking up all kinds of plants that could glow in the dark. Bioluminescence is amazing.
Since our plants and animals are being used for biology quests we have to think about them in even more detail. Anything used in the genetics quest line needs to have well defined traits. As we think about those traits we have to decide which ones are dominant/recessive combinations? Which ones are sex-linked? One of our favorite creations is a striped trait for slugs. Some have horizontal stripes, some have vertical stripes – we decided those traits would express a co-dominant inheritance pattern and that meant we could breed plaid slugs! As we develop ecosystems, we determine predator-prey relationships and fit all the plants and animals into food webs. In most cases, we don’t reveal these relationships to the players. Instead, through the quests, they discover them. We set evolutionary relationships in the world allowing students to track changes in traits over time, try to determine common ancestors and make predictions about how organisms in the world might change.
We want the world to feel new and exciting, but we need it to be accurate. Sometimes it feels like a very fine line between fantasy and biology. Occasionally though, just when we thought we’ve gone too far into the fantasy world, an internet search shows us that nature can be just as odd as our imaginations.