Have you ever heard of the Game of Life? I don’t mean the Milton Bradley board game from the 1990s, where you had a little plastic car and your goal was to get married, get a job, get rich and stuff like that. I mean a model devised by mathematician John Horton Conway to demonstrate how colonies of cells interact with each other according to a set of rules. Bacteria is a game built on that model, where you can create initial starting states to see how they interact with each other and the patterns that emerge, or you can take on one of the many puzzles available.

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The Game of Life applies some rules to a two-dimensional grid of square “cells” which can be in one of two states – alive or dead. The rules govern what state each cell is in based on the states of the cells around it – for example if a live cell has fewer two live cells adjacent to it it becomes a dead cell. If a dead cell has three live cells adjacent it becomes a live cell. By applying these rules over time to an initial state the system models the changes to the cell population over time. It’s a very interesting concept which has been applied in many different fields – mathematics, biology and economics to name but three.

Bacteria – the game built on this system – allows you to create starting states and also to introduce new cells into the simulation to see how they affect the ongoing population. Developed and published by Sometimes You, it would appeal to those who have a keen interest in mathematics, computer science, or just want to see how complex patterns can be created from a few basic elements.

There are three modes of play available. The first – and possibly the one with the greatest scope – is a freemode simulation. You are presented with a blank space, into which you can add several types of cell structure – there are structures that move horizontally across the screen, vertically down the screen, diagonally or just stay where you put them for a moment before dying. When these structures collide with each other new structures are formed, some moving, others stationary, some stable and others unstable. By adding more and more cells you can create some amazing moving patterns and animations. There’s also a random button where you can let the game choose what to add. It’s a great way of winding down at the end of the day

It's actually quite beautiful when it gets going.

It’s actually quite beautiful when it gets going.

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For those who want more of a challenge there are two puzzle modes available. Both have the same gameplay mechanics, but one is more difficult than the other. The first is the Colour mode, which is designated as “Hard” mode. You are able to choose from a set of starting configurations – at first only one is available, but more are unlocked as you solve the puzzles. Your goal is to clear the screen of unstable cells. As you may surmise, you do this by placing cell structures into the space and letting the Game of Life do its work. The main difference here is that you can only put cells into a certain area of the space. In effect you have to “aim” your cells to hit and interact with the already existing cells. A counter at the bottom of the screen tells you how many unstable cells remain. Once all the unstable cells are clear you have solved the level and can move on.

Given I only started with about twenty, this is not going well.

Given I only started with about twenty, this is not going well.

The other mode is Monochrome, and is quite rightly deemed “Much Harder”. In this mode you have to reduce the population of living cells – unstable and stable – to under a target number. Even if you’re every careful and only add one or two cells at a time it’s very easy for the simulation to spiral out of control, with the effect of adding more cells similar to the effect of pouring fuel on to an already raging fire. One attempt had my initial cell count at 50, with my target count being 10. After two new cells the count was rocketing up to two hundred, three hundred and beyond.

The music definitely warrants a mention. Looking at the screenshots you would be forgiven for thinking the soundtrack would be some sort of 8-bit or 16-bit chiptune affair, but the reality is as far from that as it can be. The music is very relaxing, just the sort of thing to wind you down after a stressful day doing whatever it is you do when you’re not playing games or reading reviews. I know I always say this about the games I review, but a separate OST of this would be a definite purchase. In fact, it’s available as DLC for the princely sum of 71p from Steam. And yes, I did just buy it.

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And that was when I knew I had lost control.

Bacteria is one of those funny games that in some ways can’t really be considered a game. Sure it has puzzle levels, but the main fun lies in just throwing things onto the screen and seeing what happens. If you’re interested in Conway’s Game of Life or you just like watching pretty patterns then you cannot go wrong with Bacteria. It’s advertised as a relaxing puzzle game and it really delivers on the relaxation. The current price on Steam is a mere 79p. That’s an absolute bargain. Now if you’ll excuse me, I have some new ideas to try out.

More information on the Game of Life can be found at https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Conway%27s_Game_of_Life.