Niche is one of those rare games that teaches while you play and it does it so well because you don’t realize you’re learning. Not that players will simply absorb biology lessons but it’s a good start. A combination of Tokyo Jungle and Spore, players must create their own species and survive in a harsh, unforgiving wilderness. With disease, predators, lack of food and basically everything else against you it’s not an easy ride. The only real way to overcome Niche is to evolve. Breeding to get specific genetic traits is an intriguing concept rarely used before and fun to play with. Personally I bred my species to be big, strong and poisonous… until there were no more females and inbreeding caused the species to die out. Not unlike European monarchies of old ironically. A complicated balancing act that forces players to way options or die; is it better to expand the zone or get food? If a predator attacks can the species defend itself or not? A difficult but addictive game, players will find themselves attached to the life they created and working hard to preserve the species. I thought it was all over when I only had 5 monsters left. I pushed on, found a female and shot back up to 16 or 17. Not only were the creators over at Team Niche good enough to send me a copy of the demo but have also agreed to the interview below.
-How did you come up with the name Niche?
Since it is the players goal to keep their tribe alive by adapting to an ecological niche, we thought it most fitting.
-You mention the objective of the game is to inhabit all the islands but how many islands are there? Will players need to control multiple islands at once? What is the estimated play time?
So far we have not fixed a certain amount of islands, since many genes and all the levels are still in the design phase. The player will be able to send a pair of animals to neighboring islands and start a new tribe there. Should that fail, they can fall back on a previous island to send another couple of animals. In the time playing on one island all the other island tribes will be in stasis and cannot be controlled unless the island is switched. But this ‘campaign’-mode will certainly include a set of tutorial levels and plenty of diverse and challenging levels to give an ample amount of playtime.
-What was the main inspiration behind Niche or what inspired you to create a biology themed game?
The inspiration came from an innate passion in biology, that those who started the game share. And in terms of gameplay we were inspired by games like Creatures, Spore and Don’t Starve.
-Is there more than one type of predator to worry about or do they all look the same? Do predators evolve or get stronger like the player’s species does?
So far there is only one. But we will increase the players worries by adding some more npc-animals with different habits and game mechanics into the mix. For instance a bird of prey, that primarily goes for your young or a lurker in muddy waters, that moves over night.
-The core gameplay of Niche is the gene breeding system, can you explain how that works in more depth with the biology theme?
It is basically derived from genetics. So when the player breeds two of their animals, the child will inherit one chromosome from each parent to for the child’s chromosome pair. Which trait is actually expressed is determined from the chromosomes dominance over the other.
-While in the demo it is possible to add up to two dominant genes will it be possible to add more in later parts of the game? Will there be a mode in which players can fully control the genetic makeup of their species?
I guess you’re referring to the mutation slots. In the demo they mostly serve to help you achieve things faster. In the final game it will be unlocked more slowly and probably on different conditions, since the impact on gameplay is very strong right now. As for a character editor, we cannot say yet.
-Was teaching biology a focus point for you in making Niche or more of a coincidence?
It was not the primary focus, but since we try to get as close to the real thing as makes sense fore the game, that is definitely a bonus.
-With so many genetic possibilities what is the total amount of possible combinations?
To be honest we don’t yet know. The permutations only go up with each ne gene we add.
-While I love the diverse range of appearances the species can take, is there only one body type?
So far there are four body types. But they differ only little in appearance, due to the current way the animal parts are connected.
-What is up with that fugly dog like species? (You know what I mean).
That actually started out as a trailer-only-asset. And then we put it into the demo, just to see, what would happen and some people seem to love it. It has no game mechanic apart from being super dominant, but it will get one.
-Nearly every action in the demo required using food except for doing nothing at all. Isn’t it odd it makes more tactical sense to do nothing than doing something and risk starvation?
Doing nothing would eventually end in going extinct. So each action you can take, that furthers the tribe is optimal. Of course there are times, when your best option is to do nothing, witch of course costs your tribe three action per idle animal. And sometimes there might be external pressure to do something, for instance an attacking predator.
-Will there be any animation or cut scenes?
Yes, we have animations planned. But I cannot say much about that yet.
-The game has interesting background music but will there be anything else, such as animal cries or voice work?
Yes, we are working on sound effects for better player feedback and immersion into the game.
-While the islands have a wide variety of terrains will there be dynamic weather? I.e. rain, snow, earthquakes and so on?
Weather will in one way or other be part of the level design. And we keep the option to add catastrophes such as earthquakes open. ; D
-Any other games in the works?
There are always ideas floating around the dev-team, but we will have our hands full with Niche for a while and we’re happy about it. ; )
-What would be the best possible species a player could make in the game and how long would it take?
That is a question I ask myself often. Followed by how can I make every species a possible and fun way to play the game?
But to give an answer- that will be outdated, when the game releases- I think good berry collection skills, a body adapted to the biome and something that gives a strength bonus like horns is a good way to go.