YouTube user Phrenotopia, who creates videos covering a variety of subjects, including alternate history, science in fiction and popular culture, reviews, and biology, has created a playlist detailing how animal life is thought to have arisen on Earth. It is a good beginner’s guide to different bodyplans and embryology, as well as providing speculation on what patterns of biological evolution are likely to be seen on other planets – and which are not. It is a good resource if you are just getting started trying to develop plausible alien animals. Watch it here.
Your mission in this game is to explore planet ARY-26 to make sure it is suitable for human colonization. Catalogue animals, plants, and...er...plantimals. The creators can explain it better than I can. Visit SavagePlanetGame.com
The Conceptual Evolution Forum is where you can connect with other speccers, posting about your own projects and commenting on others. Get feedback on aesthetics and scientific plausibility from thousands of people all over the world. There are different sections to discuss future evolution on Earth, what might have happened on Earth had evolution run differently, evolution on other planets, and other universes where the laws of physics are different. Popular projects include Nemo and Sagan4. Register and say hello.
Evolution is a board game of strategy. Each of 2-6 players maintains one or more species that feed from a shared watering hole. To remain alive through the player’s turn each species must take in enough food for their body sizes and population sizes. Those that do not go extinct. Phenotype cards can be combined to alter each species to make it better at getting food. Sometimes, this means becoming a carnivore that can only attack other species for food. Some traits include defenses against predation. When the card stack is empty, the game is over and the player with the most food wins. I want to play this sometime.
Species is less of a video game than an evolution simulation program. One can simply sit back and watch creatures adapt and speciate or one can introduce selection pressures to see what happens. Challenge yourself to evolve something resilient. Among other things, players can change the oxygen levels, temperature, sea levels, and radiation. Changes in terrain can force creatures to expend more calories in order to move. Specific attributes can be added to the gene pools of any population, including not only shape and color, but sex drive, the maximum genetic distance allowable for successful mating, and metabolism – affecting secondary traits such as how often they sleep and how much food they need to keep from going extinct. The software tracks phylogenetic history to produce cladograms and comes with a DNA toggle board. It looks awesome.
Spore is a computer game of five levels. First, the player creates a unique aquatic microbe that must survive the hardships of nature. Continual tweaks can help it to better thrive in its environment. Next, it becomes a land-based creature. Next, it develops social groups. Next, it develops technology. Finally, it colonizes space and this level is played against other empire-builders online. I can’t rate it because I’ve never played – I don’t have time or patience to learn structured games – but it sounds fun.
If you are a world builder who needs to ground your life form designs in scientific plausibility, the podcasts at BEKernWrites.com are a good place to start. Each runs about forty minutes long. Subjects such as biomes, metamorphosis, metabolism, and genetic material are covered by an actual professor of biology. The lectures stick pretty close to describing Earth life most of the time while briefly mentioning some of the variations found across the galaxy. It is not wildly speculative.
If you need some guidance in creating scientifically accurate and plausible habitats and organisms for your exobiology project, the Speculative Evolution Wiki is a great resource to start with. There is a page on the types of alien planets thought to exist. There is a page on alternative biochemistries. There are pages covering the wide variety of approaches Earth life takes to common problems, such as movement, perception, reproduction, defense, and the various ways that an organism might draw energy from its environment.