Creatures

From Academic Kids

Screenshot of Creatures 3
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Screenshot of Creatures 3
This is an entry about an artificial life computer program series. For information on creatures as a synonym for animals, see creature.

Creatures is an artificial life 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 alife research.

Contents

Overview

In Creatures, the user 'hatched' small furry creatures called Norns into a world called Albia, and had to teach them how to talk, feed themselves, and protect themselves against vicious creatures called Grendels. Later games in the series introduced a third species, the Ettins.

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.

It's worth pointing out that the genetics in Creatures are somewhat different from human genetics in that they are haploid and therefore any "evolution" is a result of random cross-over mutations and so there is no concept of dominant and recessive genes. 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

Missing image
Creatures1_Screenshot.png
Screenshot of the orginal Creatures

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 Defense, famously attempting to teach alife organisms to fly fighter jets (virtually, of course!).

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, and have released many before-purchaseable 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 has recently been re-released in combination packs under the names The Albian Years (C1, C2), Creatures Exodus (C3, DS) and Creatures Village (CA, CP). The Albian Years games are separate products bundled for convenience, whereas the games in the other combination packs are bundled together as a single game world, as would be achieved if the products had been bought separately.

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.

The Albian Years

Creatures

The original Creatures game, released in England 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 (possibly spherical?) world. In these laboratories and environments, the player was able to hatch new Norns from leftover eggs and reinhabit 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 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 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, which has since been decanonised.

There was also a Box with Creatures 3 and Docking Station together named Creatures: Internet Edition which was ported to Linux inhouse and published by Linux Game Publishing.

Creatures Village

Alongside the Albia/Exodus games, two games were released with a different audience in mind. The Creatures Village series, targeted at younger children (ages 6–9), had a more colorful atmosphere and simpler gameplay.

Creatures Adventures

Released in 2000, 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 Village series, Creatures Playground (released the same year), could be connected to Adventures to create an even bigger world to explore.

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