living creatures

Creatures (artificial life program)

Creatures is an artificial life (alife) computer program series, created in the mid-1990s by English computer scientist Steve Grand whilst working for the Cambridge computer games developer Millennium Interactive. The program is regarded as an important breakthrough in the advancement of artificial life research.

Overview

In Creatures, the user hatches small furry creatures called Norns into a world called Albia, and teaches them how to talk, feed themselves, and protect themselves against vicious creatures called Grendels. Later games in the series introduced a third species, the Ettin. They are white, red eyed creatures that steal tools.

The program was significant as it was one of the first commercial titles to code alife organisms from the genetic level upwards using a sophisticated biochemistry and neural network brains. This meant that the Norns and their DNA could develop and "evolve" in increasingly diverse ways, unpredicted by the makers. By breeding certain Norns with others, some traits could be passed on to following generations. Most interestingly, the Norns turned out to behave similarly to living creatures. This was seen as an important insight into how real world organisms may function and evolve. Earlier alife programs had worked by giving their organisms a limited set of commands and parameters, and seeing whether the way the subjects behaved was realistic.

The genetics in Creatures are somewhat different from human genetics: they are haploid and therefore any "evolution" is a result of random cross-over mutations. There is no concept of dominant gene and recessive gene. Nevertheless, the complexity of the simulated biochemistry meant that Norn behaviour was highly unpredictable.

Among the fans of Creatures were the Oxford zoologist Richard Dawkins and author Douglas Adams.

History

Creatures was developed as a consumer product by Millennium, and was released by Mindscape in 1996. The program was instantly successful, and an online community of players soon formed, swapping Norns, creating new objects for Albia, sharing tips on how to play the game and anecdotes about unexpected evolutionary changes that they had seen, and even creating new breeds of Norn. At one point, the Creatures online community was the largest of its type.

In 1998, the computer games division of Millennium was sold to Sony Entertainment while those working on alife and Creatures formed a new company called Cyberlife Technology. Along with continued work on the Creatures titles, the company did work for industry and the British Ministry of Defence, famously attempting to teach live organisms to fly virtual fighter jets.

In the late 1990s, Grand left Cyberlife to form Cyberlife Research and focus on the production of new alife technologies, including current work on a robotic life form he calls Lucy as well as writing books about his research. The remainder of the company was renamed Creature Labs, and focused on computer game development.

Sequels to Creatures, including Creatures 2, Creatures 3 and the small-children's games Creatures Adventures and Creatures Playground, were released by Creature Labs in subsequent years. The final major Creatures release, Docking Station, was made available for download from the company's web site in 2001.

Development was suspended on future Creatures games on March 20, 2003, when Creature Labs ceased operations, but development and trademark rights have since been purchased by a company named Gameware Development, Ltd. Gameware has revived the Creatures Developer Network, the shop, the forums, the Docking Station server, and have released many before-purchasable tools and add-ons for free.

Gameware staff that previously worked on Creatures have now developed a convergent media game for the BBC called BAMZOOKi.

The Creatures games have recently been re-released in combination packs under the names Creatures: The Albian Years (C1, C2), Creatures Exodus (C3, DS) and Creatures Village (CA, CP). The Albian Years, and Exodus include the separate games, whereas Village has merged Adventures and Playground into a single game.

Kutoka Interactive, a Canadian children's software company, has created releases of Creatures Exodus (Kutoka) and Creatures Village (Kutoka Kids) that are compatible with both Apple's Mac OS X and Windows XP. They were released on the 30th of September 2005, and can be purchased either directly from Kutoka or from other online stores.

Species

Norn

The Norn are a player-controlled species, the development and survival of which constitute the main thematic elements of the program.

Norns are playful, all-trusting, naive creatures that love to explore. This is often the reason for their downfall, suffering, and death. They are especially susceptible to disease in comparison to Ettins (Grendels seem to be immune to diseases found in their terrarium), and, in old age they may fall prey to a wasting disease that prevents them from absorbing certain nutrients.

The Shee originally created the Norns as a mixture of valet and pet. According to the Creatures Labs website, they spread across the galaxy through the Warp and evolved into various variations, including but not restricted to: Toxic Norn, Treehugger Norn and Magma Norns. The spread of Norns throughout the galaxy is related to the mysterious disappearance of the Shee from Albia (from the point of view of the Norns - see the Shee entry). It may also be a sign of how the Shee fared in their attempt to find a habitable planet.

Shee

The Shee are a fictional race of absent-minded scientists in the Creatures series. They are the original inhabitants of Albia, and the creators of the Norns, Ettins, and Grendels.

The Shee are all inventors, and make most of their inventions to save time on tasks that would have taken but a few minutes otherwise.

Most of their discoveries are made by accident, and as such, they sequenced their own DNA and eliminated all genetic defects, before discovering the wheel.

Millenia ago, the Shee had left the disk-shaped world of Albia, as they desired to live on a more spherical world. They created the Shee Ark, took along some Norns, Ettins, and various animals and plants, and set out for their new home. The Shee Ark, like all Shee spacecraft, was itself a living creature grown from scratch, and used "Bioenergy" (the energy of living things, used to balance the game) to perform its various functions.

Ettins

Ettins are a species in the games Creatures 2 and Creatures 3.

Ettins were created by the Shee to help them on their experiments, especially when using machinery. Unfortunately, they made them like machines so much, they tend to steal bits for themselves, often taking them to wherever they consider their home.

C2 Ettins behave rather differently; they tend to lead a sad and lonely life underground with no one but Pitz and the occasional Grendel for company. The backstory in the guides and manual, as well as the opening sequence, reveals that they once lived in the desert at the top of Albia and, true to their nature, built the pyramid that sits there. The actual use (if any) of the pyramid is unknown.

Ettins were introduced into the Creatures universe in C2, having been revealed to the world after the volcanic eruption.

Ettins are used frequently in fanfiction as creatures that can tidy up or be left behind to help Norns.

The Ettins in Creatures 2 were infertile; however, in Creatures 3, there were two Ettins aboard the Shee Ark at most times (both female), and it was possible to get them to breed if two of them were placed in the Gene Splicer machine to create a male Ettin.

Grendels

A Grendel is a species in the computer game Creatures. They are the green-skinned, red-eyed antagonists of the Norns, stealing food and injuring individual Norns. They also carry diseases harmful to Norns.

In the unmodified games, Grendels do not reproduce, being born infertile (for instance, in the first game, they were born from a " mother", high in the trees. Generally, only one Grendel is alive in the world of Albia at a time. In Creatures 3, two Grendels were alive aboard the Shee Ark at most times (both male), but it was possible to get them to breed and have offspring if both were placed in the Gene Splicer machine and used to create a female Grendel.

In Creatures 3, however, it is possible to ensure that there are no Grendels in the game by killing any existing grendels (e.g. in the airlock) and then waiting by the mother, then placing any eggs into water so that they cannot hatch.

The Grendels were another genetically-engineered creation of the Shee, albeit an accidental one. They were certainly not what the Shee were trying to get as a result from their experiments, and were considered to be harmful, useless monsters. However, some of the evil Shee (known as the Banshee) believed the Grendels were genetically superior to the Norns, and kept some for improvement.

Games

There were six major Creatures releases from Creature Labs. In addition to the three principal games, the Docking Station add-on (generally referenced as a separate game) and two children's games were released.

On Albia: later re-released as "Creatures The Albian Years"

Creatures

The original Creatures game, released in the United Kingdom and Australia in November 1996 and released in North America in July 1997, took place on the fictional disc-shaped world Albia. While the "faces" of the disc were uninhabitable, the "rim" of Albia was home to a complicated environment much like Earth's. Here lay an abandoned system of laboratories left over by the Shee, an advanced race that had suddenly left the planet many years earlier in order to find a more stable world. In these laboratories and environments, the player was able to hatch new Norns from leftover eggs and re-inhabit the world of Albia.

Creatures 2

Creatures 2, released on September 30, 1998, took place many years after the first game, after a devastating natural disaster (or, as explained in later games, a devastating Shee disaster) had changed the landscape of Albia dramatically and opened up new areas of the world. New technology and species were made available to the player. Despite the great change in environment, the focus of the game remained the same. Creatures 2 Deluxe (with Life Kit) soon followed.

After Leaving Albia: later re-released as "Creatures Exodus"

Creatures 3

Creatures 3, released on November 4, 1999, took a detour from the first two games. It took place on the actual spaceship that the Shee had used to flee Albia. The ship was divided into many carefully controlled environments. Creatures 3 was much more technologically focused. Still, the goal was to experiment with the three principal species and create a living world out of an empty ship.

Docking Station

The final major Creatures release was Docking Station, an Internet-based add-on to Creatures 3, released free of charge on the Creatures web site on March 27, 2001. It was intended as a way to sell Creatures 3 (you could dock the worlds of the two games together, hence the name 'Docking' Station) and extra packs of Norn breeds. Docking Station has an intermittent reminder screen that encourages users to buy Creatures 3.

Docking Station added the possibility of interaction between individual player worlds; Norns could 'travel' to other online worlds via a central server, players could chat to other online players, and it was possible to track Norns (and their offspring) which had been present in their worlds via the Docking Station website. While Docking Station was released late in the series' run, it changed gameplay (and the potential of the series) dramatically. It also expanded considerably on the game mythos, including the introduction of an 'anti-Shee', the Banshee (a Grendel/Shee hybrid), which has since been decanonised.

Younger Children's Games: later re-released as "Creatures Village"

Creatures Adventures

Released in 2000, and targeted at younger children (ages 6–9), Creatures Adventures dropped the complex interface of the main series in favor of brighter graphics and a more childlike atmosphere, while keeping true to the original games' aspect of exploration.

Creatures Playground

The second game in the younger children's series, Creatures Playground (released the same year), could be connected to Adventures to create an even bigger world to explore.

Console games

The Creatures concept was made into three different games for various consoles. One was for the GBA and two were for the original Playstation. A fourth, Project Loci, was in development at the time of Creatures Labs' liquidation, but was cancelled for lack of funds. Loci would have been the first Creatures game for the PS2, Xbox and GameCube.

Later bundled releases

There have been various re-releases of the Creatures games. The later re-releases from Gameware improved Windows XP compatibility by allowing them to run easily under non-administrator accounts and without the use of the compatibility mode, but break compatibility with some third-party content without the use of a third-party patch.

Creatures Trilogy / Creatures Trilogy Gold Collection

This release of "Creatures Trilogy" included Creatures, Creatures 2, and Creatures 3, as well as the "Life Kit" addons for the earlier games. It was released before Docking Station, but the version of Creatures 3 included in this was identical to the original release (except that it was using the newest patch) and was therefore compatible with Docking Station.

Encore Software released a "Creatures Trilogy" containing Creatures, Creatures 2, and Creatures 3, under their Encare line. They also released a "gold" version titled "Creatures Trilogy Gold Collection."

Creatures Internet Edition / Creatures Gold

The final major Creatures release was a re-release in 2001 by FastTrak Software Publishing as "Creatures Internet Edition" a bundle of Creatures 3, Creatures 3 update 2, Docking Station, and a number of environment extras and tools (many with multilingual variants). Linux Game Publishing released a Linux port of Creatures Internet Edition a few months later in December 2001.

The original "Creatures Internet Edition" was released again in 2002 by Focus Multimedia, without the physical manual, as "Creatures Gold," but the disc contents were identical (and so the installer and PDF manual both referred to it as "Creatures Internet Edition").

Creatures The Albian Years

Creatures 1 and Creatures 2 on one disk, updated to run on Windows XP.

Creatures Exodus

Creatures 3 and Docking Station plus a selection of new Norn breeds on one disk, updated for improved Windows XP compatibility. Mac OS X and Windows & Mac dual-format versions are also available.

Creatures Village

Creatures Adventures and Creatures Playground, merged and updated for improved Windows XP compatibility. Mac OS X and Windows & Mac dual-format versions are also available.

Creatures Triple Collection

Creatures Triple Pack, otherwise known as Creatures Collection: Triple, contains The Albian Years, Creatures Exodus and Creatures Village for Windows.

Community

Fans have created, and continue to create, many new objects, worlds, and creature breeds for the games. One recent major project has been the authorised conversion of the original Creatures game content to an add-on for Docking Station, along with variety of new content.

While the community is almost dead, there are still some large fansites for the game, featuring add-on content as well as articles and other content, and a large Creatures Wiki hosted on Wikia.

A Creatures Community Spirit Festival is held every year to celebrate the Creatures Community. The last CCSF was held at

JRChat

JRChat was an Internet chat system for the community around the game. The system was in use at many fan sites for the game. Clients could connect to the system through a Java applet in their web browser, or through software called JRNet. The servers have been down for at least a year, and frequenters of the chatroom went through several attempts to recreate the chatroom have failed.

openc2e

openc2e is an in-development open-source game engine recreation capable of playing the non-console games in the Creatures series.

Technology

The technology behind the Creatures series of games is simple enough to fit the resources and costs of a small game developer, but advanced enough to be intriguing and even advanced for its field. The primary technical mind behind the series, Steve Grand, is considered a very respected member of the scientific community involved in on-going artificial life projects, including his robotic orang-utan, Lucy. Many fans of the series either found or fed a strong interest in the fields of artificial life and artificial intelligence through the technological aspects of the games.

See also

External links

Official links

Third-party links

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