What follows is worldbuilding notes and an attempt at taking what we know from the game and figuring out how it would work in a realistic setting. This ties in with the fic Snowtouched, but it is not necessary to read this to understand the story.
Remember this is all fan speculation. Whilst I've tried to stick as close as possible to game canon, because ignoring canon isn't my thing, it's just my interpretations. The game does not give much information on the nature of nichelings or their world, so the player is free to make their own interpretations. You might interpret the game differently, and that's okay. I cannot be held responsible for game updates, or for that matter molecular genetic analysis claiming that all my fancy taxonomic work is now out of date. Such is science.
Some of the tribes and deities mentioned on this page originate from Seri the Pixel Biologist's Let's Plays of Niche. Again these are adaptations and anything listed here should not be taken as strict canon for her works.
This page is split into segments:
- Part 1: Introduction to Niche
- Part 2: Biology
- Part 3: Culture
Part 1: Introduction to Niche
The game Niche is a population genetics simulator in which the player controls a tribe of animals. Each creature has its own genome and can be bred with others - the game is open ended, but the goal is generally to breed a population of animals that can survive in the environment they find themselves in. Wanderers and mutations help to expand the gene pool. In addition, creatures must deal with predators, adverse weather, sickness, and gathering enough food. The game is played out over a series of islands, each with its own climate.
The Nicheling world
The full extent of the nicheling world is unknown, and much of it remains unexplored. It appears to be a world of small island landmasses, with no full sized continents. It is unknown if this is just a small archipelago or if the whole world is like that, but from the inhabitants' perspective the islands are the entire world. In their lore, the ocean is said to go on forever, and their islands are just a tiny part of an unbounded sea. The oceanic depths are the underworld, a lightless realm of the dead.
The islands display a variety of climates, from freezing mountains to deep rainforest and burning desert. The prominent inhabitants of this world are the nichelings, an omnivorous mammalian species whose diverse morphology has allowed them to spread to different biomes. Alongside them are many other species, some of which are described below:
- Bearyenas: These strong carnivores are found on most islands. To weak tribes, they are a threat, and will kill and eat nichelings, but stronger tribes can turn the tables and hunt bearyenas in turn. They appear to be a closely related species to the nichelings.
- Rabbils: A small prey animal and staple of many nichelings' diet. They are small white herbivores that resemble long tailed rabbits.
- Bluebirds: Despite the innocuous name, these are giant birds of prey. They are no threat to adult nichelings, but will carry away unattended babies.
Like the nichelings these species are ubiquitous, but many other animals and plants can be found within their respective environments.
Part 2: Biology
Nichelings appear to be a combination of many creatures, but at their most basic they resemble mammals of the order Carnivora, in particular foxes and cats (albeit with features from many other animal species). We can assume based on this and the fact that they give birth to live young that they are indeed mammals, despite the presence of other features. Perhaps evolution worked a little differently in this world.
Nichelings have well developed senses of smell and hearing. As for vision, I've personally interpreted them as being on the level of a human, with trichromatic colour vision. There's a few reasons for this, but mainly because I described things as being red or pink in Snowtouched, and they wouldn't be able to see red if they had typical mammalian colour vision (most mammals cannot distinguish red and green).
They are intelligent, but not technological, and live in small tribal groups.
The basic head shape is that of a small/medium carnivorous mammal, close to a cat/fox mixture. Variations include longer muzzles, a sturdier jaw for cracking open tough food, or venemous fangs. Rarer head shapes move away from this pattern and include muzzles resembling those of housecats, anteaters, bats, or tapirs, or in some cases a streamlined head with gills at the back of the jaw, allowing the nicheling to breathe underwater. In some other cases the muzzle is replaced by a birdlike beak. This explosive variation in snout shapes allows different individuals to eat a wide variety of foods, allowing the species as as a whole to thrive anywhere.
Depending on the individual, horns may be present which can be used to intimidate or fight off threats. Curled ram horns are most common, followed by tall gazelle horns and small branching "antlers." In the latter case the quotes are used as they are not true antlers, i.e. they are not shed and regrown in a cycle. In some rare cases, mostly confined to mountain tribes, the antlers may grow to enormous size. In all cases, the horns are present as small buds on the skull at birth, and grow with the nicheling. Very rarely, instead of horns or a bare head, a nicheling may be born with feathery antennae which can sense air currents and predict weather patterns.
In males, a small mane is present on top of the head and as a ruff around the cheeks.
The nicheling body plan is a basic quadruped style. Body size ranges from large and bulky to small and slim. Nicheling pelts are a variety of colors: reds, whites, blacks, browns, and combinations are all possible. Markings range from none at all, to spots and stripes, all the way to complex marbling patterns. Albinism and melanism are also possible.
There are a few more unusual forms alongside the typical. The most basic of these variants is the "spiky body" phenotype, where the back is covered in porcupine-like quills. Others are more unusual. In some individuals (the "toxic body" phenotype), poisonous fatty deposits are present under the skin. These individuals have pelts in bright colours (observed colours are blue, green, orange, yellow, and magenta) which serve as warning colouration. This phenotype is most common in rainforest biomes, and is thought to have evolved in response to the many large predators found in this environment. Another unusual phenotype is the "water body" where the body shape is streamlined, the fur short and often with a blueish tint, and a dorsal fin is present. These individuals have gills on the neck, similar to the water breathing head form. Tribes of this phenotype may spend most or even all of their lives underwater. Finally, some rare individals in mountain tribes may have bodies covered in pangolin-like scales, affording strong protection from predators.
Regardless of the body shape, all nichelings have, at their chest, a set of "gems" formed from translucent biological resin. These are thought to be a form of species identifier and health indicator. For more details, see Gems.
Nichelings are unusual among vertebrates in that they are not perfectly biologically symmetrical. Their forelegs come in a wide range of shapes and sizes, adapted for different roles, and it is common to see a nicheling with two different types of forepaw. A nicheling appears to inherit one paw type from the mother and the other from the father, an apparently unique mode of inheritance.
Common forepaw types include basic paws, more nimble "hands", broad digging paws, sturdy claws, and webbed paws. In some invididuals a form of congenital deformity causes one or both forelegs to be shrunken, a feature common in the children of rogues.
Rarer still are forelegs modified into wings, which may be feathered or leathery. Nichelings with two wings may fly for short distances, but such individuals are very rare.
Hindlegs are far less variable than forelegs and are not separately inherited. In most cases the hindlegs are basic paws (some individuals with bearyena ancestry may have larger claws), while in others the hindpaws are webbed and better adapted for swimming.
Finally the tail, which is just as varied as the rest of the body. The most common form is a long, fluffy tail like a cat's, but others include flattened beaver tails for swimming, a longhaired skunk tail (complete with noxious scent glands at the base), and a long, narrow tail with a tuft at the end, often used as a fishing lure (and hence called "fishing tail"). More unusual forms include feathery peacock tails (larger in the males, one of the few examples of sexual dimorphism in the species), a clubbed anklyosaur tail most often found in mountain tribes, or even scorpion tails complete with stingers (very rare, mostly confined to hot, dry climates).
Nichelings with the "spiky body" phenotype are always tailless.
Nichelings are omnivores and take advantage of all sorts of food sources. The most common of these seem to be berries and meat, but they will also eat nuts, seafood, roots, and insects or other invertebrates. They do not have control of fire and so do not cook their food.
As mentioned earlier, a distinguishing mark of the nicheling species is the three smooth oval shaped gems set in the creature's chest. All nichelings have gems, and they appear to function as a way to identify other members of the species as well as providing an indicator of an individual's health.
The gems themselves are composed of a translucent biological resin sitting over a layer of pigmented tissue which gives the gem its colour. The pigmented layer is slightly reflective, like a cat's eye, and gleams when light is shone on it. A healthy, well-rested nicheling will have vividly coloured, reflective gems, but if they are sick, tired, or otherwise unhealthy the colour becomes dark and desaturated. The layer may be any colour, although green is most common, and usually all three gems will be the same colour although this is not always the case. Methods exist for a nicheling to change their gems' colours, but they are poorly understood. Some of these processes appear to be mystical in nature.
Albino nichelings will always have pink gems, as the coloured layer has no pigment, just a reddish tinge from the blood running through it.
A nicheling never has more than three gems, and they grow in throughout the individual's life. Cubs are born without gems, and the first is gained around the time the cub opens their eyes and starts to walk. The second appears when the nicheling hits adolescence, and the third when they become a full adult. The gem develops under the skin, and eventually the skin covering the gem sloughs off to reveal the shiny surface.
The closest living relative to the nicheling species is the bearyena. These large carnivores may be predators or prey to the nichelings, depending on the latter's strength. Bearyenas have their own culture and are largely solitary, and the two species prefer to live apart when not in direct conflict. However on rare occasions, usually involving a young bearyena being raised by a nicheling tribe, they have turned out to be interfertile, proving a close relationship. Unusually, bearyenas do not display nearly as much variation in form as nichelings despite this link.
The arctic ramfox, a mountain species, is also a potential close relative, but more distant - it cannot breed with nichelings, despite looking like them. This may mean that ramfoxes are a product of covergent evolution and not as closely related as they appear.
Part 3: Culture
Nichelings live in small tribes, most of which rarely break a hundred individuals. They don't build structures other than nests for sleeping in, and take shelter in natural places like caves or small hollows. Tribes are very culturally diverse. Some have strict hierarchies, others are loosely organised, and they all have their own individual quirks and cultures.
Nichelings do not have technology beyond basic tool usage, preferring to use teeth, claws, and horns. However they have a rich storytelling tradition and love to tell and listen to stories of their world, ancestors, and gods. As nichelings have no writing system, stories must be memorised, and a good storyteller can command a high position of respect.
Bearyena hybrids, should they be present, occupy an uneasy position within most tribes. On one hand, most nichelings see bearyenas as either threats or food, and without gems, not "real people". On the other hand, hybrids are physically powerful, and command respect for it, sometimes rising to positions of leadership or guardians of the tribe.
The number and nature of all tribes across the nicheling world are unknown, and a list of those that are known would fill a small book. However here are some tribes who appear in, or are mentioned within, the Snowtouched storyline:
The home tribe of most of the characters from Snowtouched. This tribe have historically been nameless, only adopting the name "Meadow Tribe" when prompted for one during exploration. They are a large tribe occupying an island covered mostly in grassland, hence the name. This island has a warm, gentle climate with infrequent rains that keep it green and stocked with plenty of food in the form of berries and rabbils, and a few nut trees. With abundant resources and few predators apart from the odd bearyena, this tribe has a loose social structure and no real leader. Having little cohesion or contact with other tribes, they did not bother to give themselves a name, and any name they might have had in the past has been lost to time.
The Meadow Tribe have links to the ancient Jannu Tribe, carrying on their tradition of the Seers of the Sea. These are a group of nichelings, mostly female, who live by the shore and divine the future by means of clamshells and other patterns in the sea. They are recognised by their blue gems, and are the closest the Meadow Tribe has to an authority.
A jungle dwelling tribe who enjoy abundant food from the many fruit trees that grow in their territory. They have a royal lineage, unlike the Meadow Tribe. Taimera nichelings specialise in stealth, and many have venomous fangs or poisonous flesh to dissuade the many predators that live in the rainforest. They are fond of songs, stories, and even some forms of cave art. Just don't ask questions about the giant carnivorous plants that grow in the jungle depths...
The Yukirs are an ancient nomadic tribe who made their homes in the snowy mountains. Their present day strength is unknown, as they have fragmented many times within their history and may not even exist as a cohesive tribe any more. Kois of the Meadow Tribe is the child of two wanderers from one of these splinters.
The Yukirs value physical strength and have strong reverence for their ancestors, as well as many of their own gods and heroes. Their patron deity is the dual god/goddess Yuki/Lala.
The Yukir tribe are the creations of Seri the Pixel Biologist.
The Jannus are an ancient tribe of legend, said to have been founded in the distant past when the world was still new. The Seers of the Sea originated here, and many tribes who carry on their traditions claim descent from the Jannus.
The Jannu tribe and the Seers of the Sea are the creations of Seri the Pixel Biologist.
Tales of ancient gods and heroes are popular amongst all nichelings. Here are some of the best known:
In nicheling lore, the world began as an infinite primordial sea, through which the creator deity Eve walked. Her footsteps became the islands, and her gems formed the sun, moon, and stars. Later on, when life grew on the islands, a creature found the essence of those gems and became the first nicheling. It was Eve who blessed the nichelings with their diverse forms so that they may survive in any environment. Soon after creating the world, Eve retreated into a deep sleep, in places unknown.
She is typically described as a sandy coloured female nicheling with green gems and no horns or other adornments.
Tata is the nicheling trickster god, and the most well known deity in the Niche pantheon - almost all tribes know his stories. He was the one responsible for introducing harmful traits into the world after a prank he pulled backfired. His antics are a popular subject for stories among nichelings, and depending on the story he can range from a full blown villain to a clever hero.
Tata's true form is of an unadorned brown male nicheling, with one shruken paw, given to him as punishment by Eve for his tricks. However in his many adventures he learnt the secret of reincarnation and can be reborn into any shape. Some recent stories have cast him as female, giving him a dual nature not unlike Yuki/Lala.
Tata is the creation of Seri the Pixel Biologist.
The dualistic god of the Yukir tribe who can either be male (Yuki) or female (Lala). They are a deity of snows and fertility, and twins (as rare for nichelings as they are for humans) are their blessing. When incarnated into mortal form, they are almost always albino.
According to legend they first appeared to the Yukir founders as Lala, who promised to lead them to the snowy lands. Lala gave birth to the first twins, proving herself to be the goddess of fertility. The tribe's journey to the snow was long and arduous, so she reincarnated as her own grandson Yuki to finish leading the tribe to their homeland. They have sporadically returned ever since in times of need.
They are sometimes said to have a deep rivalry with Tata, though they will occasionally put aside their differences in the service of a greater goal.
Yuki/Lala is the creation of Seri the Pixel Biologist, although their Snowtouched incarnation is my own.
Doeli was the first Seer of the Sea and the founder of the line, later raised to deity status for her importance. Legend tells of how she journeyed to the abyssal sea to learn the gift of prophecy. Many Seers claim descent from her lineage.
Doeli is the creation of Seri the Pixel Biologist.