Sean Walton, the developer of the ecosystem-creation game Intelligent Design, promises that he will release some of the game’s source code if someone manages to unlock the game’s final Steam achievement. Despite being out since May, no one has cracked the mystery yet.
A screenshot from my playthrough of Intelligent Design.
Intelligent Design: An Evolutionary Sandbox is a game where you play as a environmental engineer hired by a corporation to create an effective ecosystem on a barren planet. You operate a drone which surveys the landscape and performs certain actions, such as adding buildings or organisms to the area. The main goal is building an efficient ecosystem of herbivores, carnivores and plants. To that end, players can study individual genes in certain organisms to figure out what they do.
According to Walton, having the source code will allow players to understand the game on a deeper level: Players could look at how the game is built to figure out what a perfect organism is, for example. “It won’t give them the answer to ‘how to build the perfect ecosystem’ but it will give them something else to explore — which is what my game is all about,” Walton wrote in an email to Kotaku. Enter an achievement called “Code Breaker”.
The achievement offers no instructions for how to unlock it. It simply reads, “WDCP JOZM BKXU QKEF MDNN CJCS FZQR WINB VHDL HZVS YSI.” Although players have been randomly receiving sequences via wormholes, Walton tells me that “Figuring out how to use them is half the puzzle.”
According to Walton, players have been trying a lot of things to crack the code, such as sharing screenshots of the letters and numbers they find and using cryptanalysis. Additionally, the game has a forum on Discord, where players troubleshoot and report their findings.
“People have actually been planning and performing experiments in my game, some people have been setting their kids science projects inside my game,” Walton said. “All to try and find out what those genes do.”
A wormhole deposits random plant seeds onto the ground.
I tried the game to better understand how the source code might impact a player’s experience. In my playthrough, I was initially confused as to what I was supposed to do, so I just spammed the “random plants” button until my ecosystem began to develop. Then I added herbivores. I figured that the ecosystem would automatically balance out. No creature can possibly eat beyond what’s necessary for them to survive, right? Wrong. The herbivores ate and ate, drastically decreasing the population.
Frustrated, I kept adding more plants to the game, but I realised that wasn’t helping when the population numbers for plants remained stagnant, and the numbers for herbivores kept increasing. So I added carnivores, which then mercilessly chased after and consumed the herbivores. I had no sympathy for the herbivores as they were gruesomely devoured by the aggressive carnivores. That’s what you get for eating my plants, you little vultures.
My world efficiency was terrible, probably because I didn’t understand what I was doing. It was at roughly 13 per cent by the time I exited the game. Still, it was interesting to experiment and figure out how to balance and build my ecosystem, and I think that players who gain access to the source code might be able to build better efficient ecosystems than I did. Instead of spending time figuring out what genes work best, they could possibly skip those steps and continue building their ideal environments.