Evolution Usability Review

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Evolution is an Early Access Steam game where the player controls a pool of primordial beings and watches them evolve. Watch cells navigate in tidal pools, fighting to survive and socialize with others of its kind. 

Evolution's primary issue is that it hardly explains how to play the game. And while it technically has an information pane that covers elements of the game, the content is not in-depth enough to cover actual gameplay. 

Screen Elements

When a player first logs into a new game of Evolution, he or she will see a dark screen with three panes popped out: an information pane (lower left), a creature pane (upper right), and a settings pane (lower right), and a colorful... something... in top-center.

I'll break these down one at a time, because each of them has their own issues.

Information Pane

The information pane has four main elements: the primary tabs showing the different game levels, sub-tabs listed under specific level tabs, the small blue information icon, and a button that says "Online Help." The issue is that the information pane raises more questions than it answers.

Primary Game Tabs
What does the green treatment mean?
Under two of the game levels are green underlines. One (under Primordial) is bold, and has serifs pointed downwards. The other (under Tidepool) is not bold and has its serifs pointed upwards. The bold underline suggests to me a few things:

1) That I'm in the Primordial (Soup) level... but the Tidepool underline strikes that suggestion out (plus, I can see in the lower right corner of the screen that I'm in the Tidepool level). 
2) That Tidepool is a creature stage chronologically after Primordial SoupBecause I'm in the Tidepool stage, and Primordial is also underlined but treated differently, I must have progressed past the Primordial Stage. But, with Battle Arena listed last, this also isn't the case.
3) ???I really have no idea.
...What does the turquoise treatment mean?

I thought that the turquoise treatment meant that section is selected, but in the image above, the explanation text talks about the Outbreak level. So does the green treatment mean that's what section I'm in? If so, why wasn't I seeing anything about Tidepool before?

Creature Sub-Tab

And then even later, in the Creature sub-tab, all of the sub-tabs are the turquoise color. And all of the DNA tabs (DNA, Structure, Sensor, etc) are the turquoise color. So, I really don't know what that means.

Why are all of the game levels listed?
Is it important for the player to know the specifics of Laboratory when they're in the Tidepool level? It's now evident that this is meant to be a universal panel across levels -- but when I'm in a level, I don't really care about what the goals of other levels are.

How do I close the information pane?
I eventually found this out -- either by using a keyboard shortcut or pressing the blue ( i ) in the upper right of the information pane. That action, clicking the ( i ) to minimize and maximize the pane, really isn't clear.


  • High Priority: Consider adding a 'Tutorial' level where you explain what everything means (rather than having the player hunt through the information pane to learn the game). In that level, teach them the controls one step at a time (so for example, the first step could be selecting and moving an organism). Once they've successfully completed a task, have them move onto a new one. Show, don't tell.
  • High Priority: Increase the font size on sub-tab and body text (with the exception of the Overview text). It's really hard to read the information panel.
  • Medium Priority: If you create a tutorial level (which I highly, highly recommend), collapse your full information panel (with design changes) into a menu option (like a 'Help' option). And instead, when a player enters a level, they see that level's goal  & reminder text for what certain elements mean. But players shouldn't have to read a novella to play the game.
  • Medium Priority: Be consistent with how you use the green and blue treatments and think about what each version conveys. For example, changing the visuals of a tab from others (highlighting it, bolding it, underlining, etc) suggests that that tab has been selected or activated. If both the green underline and the turquoise mean something is selected, choose either green or turquoise to be your 'activated' state.
  • Medium Priority: Considering changing the ( i ) button to a + / _ symbol, to more clearly show that the menu can be opened and closed. If you start a level with the information pane open, (with the _ symbol in the upper right) they'll know that it's an information pane and that they can minimize and maximize it.

Creature Pane

On the left and right sides of the main screen, a player can see a creature screen. But, like much in the game, it's not explained (unless you read the information novella, and even then not everything is explained). Here are my questions:

What do each of the colorful bars mean?
I think green is health, which may or may not refill when a creature eats? But the red bar refills when a creature eats meat, so it might be that the green bar refills when the creature eats plants? What is the blue bar? White? It's really not clear...

What does the moving green line on the left DNA structure mean?
During the game, a small green line (pictured above) moves up and down on the creature pane. It doesn't go entirely top to bottom, but hovers between to places for a bit, and then moves. I have no idea what this signifies, if anything. It could just be a decoration?

Why would you kill a creature?
It doesn't yield meat for other organisms, so I wonder what the point is. Plus, the font size is tiiiiny.

What do lock and target do?
I assumed that lock would track the creature (so when it swims out of your field of vision, the camera would follow it because it's locked on). But it acts more like the creature's stats are pinned on your screen. This isn't clear.

Which creature panel, left or right, is the creature you currently have selected?
I can't tell which is which.

Why do some organisms suddenly have a blue box around them, even when you haven't clicked them?
And then I believe a creature panel appears, but I don't know why. Are these highlighted creatures important somehow?

Green circle elements
What information on the creature pane is really necessary to know?
Does the player need to know both the age and generation of the organism? The species number and the creature number? What does 'New' even mean?

What is the relationship between energy and on-screen effects?
I read in the information pane that when a creature's energy is full, they reproduce (or something). Is that related to the green circle elements that appear occasionally around an organism? I don't know what the green circles mean -- I've been guessing that they have something to do with creating an organism chain (so lots of nuclei connected by a small line). So maybe when you get the big green half circles to line up with another organism, they evolve into another organism... or something? No idea.


  • High Priority: Have an icon next to each of the colorful bars to show what that bar is -- currently, anyone colorblind could have significant difficult discerning what those bars are and what they mean.
  • High Priority: Increase your font sizes on the creature pane (with exception of the 'Creator' line and the 'Creature' number, if you decide to keep the latter).
  • Medium Priority: Please, please explain what those green circles/symbols around creatures are. Very confusing. Cool looking, but confusing.
  • Medium Priority: Add numbers to the colorful bars. If any of those colorful bars are Energy/Health/what have you, you could add the numbers onto the bars themselves to free up space in the creature pane.
  • Medium Priority: If any of the information on the creature pane isn't really relevant to that current creature's survival, I might remove it from the creature pane.

Settings Panel

One of the more self-explanatory elements of the game is the Settings panel -- although an equalizer icon might be better fitting than a gear (because you have all the sliders anyways).

Settings Panel
My only recommendations for this panel are to increase the font size, to possibly change the icon from a gear to an equalizer, and increase the contrast between un/selected slider elements (so the right side of the 'Food' slider would be darker because the slider hasn't reached it). Right now the contrast isn't high enough (so it's a bit difficult to read).  

'Colorful Something'

Top Bar

I honestly have no idea what this means. I'm assuming the different colors represent different colored organisms, but I don't know what the little red squares below the colors mean. Plus, I feel bad for anyone colorblind. This really needs explanation, and potentially icons to go along with the the colors -- I definitely know that my brothers (who are red-green colorblind) would have a lot of trouble with the red green all the way on the left and the dark red/puke color all the way on the right.

Various Other Recommendations

  • Low Priority: Once you click on a game level for the first time, the three options are 'Continue,' 'Restart Level,' and 'Main Menu.' If it's a player's first time on that level, 'Continue' and 'Restart Level' shouldn't be options -- it should be 'Start Level' or 'New Game.'
  • Low Priority: On the opening screen, the yellow text over 'Outbreak' has a spelling error. It should be "Very Early Preview," not "Very Early Prievew."
  • Low Priority: Within the Outbreak description text, you're missing some commas --> "No worries, these creatures can't possibly infect every single living thing on Earth. Well, probably not, anyway."
  • Low Priority: On the main screen, the player can see bits of the info pane (lower left), the two creature panes (upper left and right) and the settings pane (lower right). Since these are uninteractable on the main menu, don't show them. It's confusing. 

Opening Screen

Final Thoughts

I might come back to review this game again at another point in its development -- there's a lot of content to write about in the Outbreak and Laboratory levels -- but I have work to do this weekend (I've had jury duty, so I've been needing to work on my projects out of the office). So, comments on those other levels will have to wait.

Screenshot of Laboratory Level

Screenshot of Laboratory Level

Screenshot of Outbreak Level

1 comment:

  1. Wow, awesome information! I will certainly incorporate as much of these suggestions as possible and am confident they will make the game that much more playable. Super helpful review, can't thank you enough!! - Grubby (Aka Alex Williams)