One of our most beloved little creatures in Cyclos’ universe is the Paragon. This enemy evolved at various levels, both in complexity and importance, from its conception.
At first, Paragons were introduced in the game as little irregularly shaped enemies that are easy to kill and come in large groups, an easy enemy to just spice things up. Subsequently this role was played by the Spikes, even though they evolved as well (in a symbiotic relationship with the Detonator), but that’s a whole different story!
The Paragons got their name from their irregular shape. The name comes from a Greek word that translates to “Shape with irregular angles”.
While looking for a motion pattern for the Paragons and because we considered them to be the simplest entity in our game, our “Atoms”, we applied a simplified physics model, just like the one Mr. Feynman described in his famous doomsday quote:
If, in some cataclysm, all of scientific knowledge were to be destroyed, and only one sentence passed on to the next generation of creatures, what statement would contain the most information in the fewest words? I believe it is the atomic hypothesis that all things are made of atoms — little particles that move around in perpetual motion, attracting each other when they are a little distance apart, but repelling upon being squeezed into one another. In that one sentence, you will see, there is an enormous amount of information about the world, if just a little imagination and thinking are applied.
So we made the Paragons attract each other, but also repel each other if they came too close. Furthermore, because of their simplicity, we got rid of the irregular shapes and made Paragons triangular, which is the simplest possible 2D shape. We kept the name though because we liked it!
This setup led to two different improvements: firstly, because of the attraction and the triangular shape, the Paragons were forming temporary constructions that resembled Tangram. Those constructions were indeed irregular which we found ultra cool! It was like a prophecy being fulfilled! From then on, the Paragon’s name retained its original meaning. We decided to encourage this behaviour by adding connections between Paragons that happened to be at the right configuration. Think about it as atoms forming molecules.
Secondly that simplified physics model left most of the Paragons staying still. They were too easy a target. So we decided to introduce yet another force that makes them follow the player at regular intervals. The last addition worked unbelievably well with joint Paragons, because the intervals were not synchronized and those extra forces made the “Paragon Complex” deform, which made it look like a complex organism that extends its “arms” to get you!
This last setup made it all the way to the open beta. The beta gave us the final idea that made the Paragons what they are today. You see because Paragon Complexes are harder to kill, we gave them extra reward points. So it became a common strategy to avoid them until they grew into large complexes and wait for a Deathless powerup, then kill them easily and collect a substantial amount of points.
We handled that by just making Paragons self-destruct after a given amount of time. This way the complexes could never become too large. There were also some awesome side-effects. Complexes could now split in half and surround you. Our favourite side effect is the fact that Paragons near the edge that get detached, are also propelled by the explosion when their neighbour self-destructs! It’s like the super-organism is firing part of itself towards you!
So there you have it: a Complex creature demonstrating emergent behaviour, made out of very simple rules! Here is a video of the Paragons in action: