Tyto Ecology is a videogame by Immersed Games about creating and maintaining biomes, filling them with plants and animals and keeping them in balance. It’s a little bit like the old SimCity type of games, except instead of building a city, you’re building grasslands or a desert or a rainforest inside a biodome.
The app was launched on iOS originally, and the Steam version was launched today. With the iOS app, you get the desert biome for free, and can purchase the rainforest and grasslands for $1.99 each. The Steam version costs $6.99, with all biomes unlocked (and a 15% off sale this first week). Additional biomes are planned but not yet announced. I’ve only played the iOS version, but the PC version has been modified to take into account keyboard and mouse controls, better processing speeds, and up to 12 separate user accounts.
When you start up the app, it will run you through a tutorial. You can create a new biome or load a previously created one, and you can have multiple biomes. There are two types of “currency” in the game: energy and coins. Energy is specific to a biome and refills automatically over time; coins are shared across all the biomes and are earned through achievements or on a “weekly” basis. (The PC version will allow for separate user accounts that have their own coins and achievements.)
You control an “owlbot” that can fly around in the biodome. The controls on the iPad can be a little wonky at times, because you tap to start and stop flying, but tapping on a plant or animal will also bring up an info window. You can zoom in to a camera-only mode to get photos of your biome, or zoom out to see a top-down view. Unfortunately, you can’t pan the camera around when in the zoomed-out view.
As you fly around and observe your biodome, you’ll see the animals moving around. The animation is kind of rudimentary–most animals have animations for walking, running, and sleeping, but there’s not any transition. They’ll go from walking to lying on the ground with “Zzzz” floating over their heads, and then pop back up when they wake. It’s enough to convey a general sense of what they’re doing but it’s not super accurate. Also, when you fast-forward time, it doesn’t change the animation speed of the animals–but their status is changing accordingly.
Coins are used to unlock new species, which are divided into animals, plants, and decomposers (e.g., mushrooms and earthworms). Once you’ve unlocked a species, you can then place them into the biodome using energy. Your energy automatically refills as time passes, and you can fast-forward to speed up time in the biodome to earn energy more quickly. Coins are earned every time an in-game week has passed, and the more diverse and healthy your biodome is, the more coins you’ll earn.
Coins are also used to unlock additional zones in your biodome. You start with one, but each dome can have up to five zones. The more zones you have, the higher your energy limit becomes, and the more coins you can earn. There’s a Data Tool where you can check the stats of your biodome as a whole or on a zone-by-zone basis. You can also select specific species to see where they are in the biodome, and tap on them for more information on the health and population of each one.
The biodex offers a lot of information about each species: what they eat, where they live, lifespan, environments, and so on. Most of this is real-world information, though there are also sometimes game-specific notes. It’s particularly important to note what an animal eats, so that you can ensure there’s a proper food supply for it. You don’t have to worry about paying attention to what environment is best for a species, though, because you will only see those that apply to your current biome.
When you place a new species, you often get more than one: a pair of bobcats, several beavertail cactus plants, and so on. Plants will be displayed on the landscape, shown in red if it’s too close to something else or in green if it’s ready to place. Animals have a territory–a large grid overlay is shown on the map indicating the extent to which they’ll roam and interact with other species.
Animals will have little markers shown on the map–you can tap on one to check out how many animals there are in this group, average health and hunger, and the detritus level (how much waste they’re producing). It also shows how many days it will be until reproduction.
For plants, you can check on the current status: its leaf percentage, detritus, and whether it’s in statis, flowering, fruiting, and so on. (You’ll note that the creosote bush in the photo above has been eaten pretty bare.) The plants basically have a couple different looks to them–they’ll change to show when they’re flowering or fruiting, or when they have fewer leaves, but the changes are instant rather than gradual, and all of the plants are identical to each other.
The three biomes have different plants and animals, as you’d expect, though there are some things that overlap from one to the other. My daughters and I have experimented with one of each biome, trying out different animals and seeing the results. For instance, my jackrabbits kept dying out–I figured because they were getting eaten–so I kept adding more of them. But then, finally they reproduced, and my desert was completely overrun with baby jackrabbits, who ate up all the plants and then started dying off. We’ve had a really hard time keeping the frogs alive for some reason–they keep dying of hunger despite trying to put plenty of moths and butterflies in the area.
Figuring out the right balance between predators and prey is a tricky one–too many predators and the prey dies off. Too many prey and the plants start dying. You also have to keep an eye on the detritus level, adding things like worms and millipedes to help with decomposition. Otherwise, when detritus gets too high, the health of the biome will suffer. When you fly around the environment, you’ll even see detritus when the levels get high–bones, carcasses, and feces will appear throughout the zone.
There’s a little alert system that notifies you when something significant is happening–when a group of animals has died or is starving, or if the detritus level has changed in a zone.
When you stop playing the game, the in-game time can continue to run up to a certain limit if you want. The default is that it keeps running for a week–that way, you get some coins and recharge energy but things won’t change too quickly. You can also set it to continue for 3 months of in-game time, but I worry that too many things could die off in that amount of time.
I mentioned achievements earlier–there’s a list of them that will earn you energy and coins, and a lot of them have funny names. Some require you to maintain a biodome for a particular length of time. Some require certain combinations of plants or animals, waiting for any animal to have babies, and so on. It’s a fun way to add some extra goals within the game, since the game is pretty open-ended otherwise.
Tyto Ecology can get addictive, since you want to see when baby animals show up or try to prevent your last armadillo from dying. And since you can just fast-forward time whenever you want, you don’t really feel limited the way you do in many free-to-play building games. (Plus, in this case, once you’ve purchased an environment, there are no other in-app purchases to make.)
Overall, my kids and I have really been enjoying Tyto Ecology. It’s been a bit tricky since it’s installed on the iPad with all the other apps they also want to play, but we try to check in every so often to see how our biodomes are doing and to add new plants and animals. So far we haven’t unlocked all the zones yet but we’ve managed to get a pretty good collection of different species. I know my middle daughter wants to save up for a buffalo–but I think we’re going to need a lot more area and grass before we try for one of those.
For more about Tyto Ecology, you can visit the official website here.
Disclosure: I received free access to the expansion environments for review purposes.