Any Creatures fans (with large houses) out there?

There’s a little bit of history up for sale: Laurence Parry, long-time Creatures fan and illustrious keeper of the Creatures Wiki, just told me that Gameware is selling off two of the three huge models we had made to produce the Creatures 1 backdrop. They’re on eBay (garden; ocean), with a closing date of May 13th. But be warned: they’re HUGE and heavy. You’d need to live near Cambridge and own a van, not to mention a big house!

It looks like Gameware is holding on to the main part of the model, but I hope the other two find good homes somewhere.

Back in those ancient days there were no real-time 3D graphics, and even using 3D to generate 2D sprites and bitmaps was in its infancy. In those days, game graphics were laboriously drawn by hand, and creating such a big scene would have been a major task. I was having a lot of angst about the graphics generally, so one day I sat down and made a little norn burrow out of modeling clay. It was pretty pathetic (I still own it: see below) but it seemed like it might be a feasible approach. So I made a slightly less pathetic one (which I no longer own – I think maybe Gameware has it) and suggested that we make the entire backdrop this way and then digitize it. If I remember correctly, even that would have involved taking photos on old-fashioned film and then digitizing them with a scanner. I remember putting some thought into how to photograph sections and correct for circular distortion. Anyway, we commissioned a company to make the model (I forget who), which they did using modeling foam. They did a great job – way better than my clay! It was a unique approach to creating photoreal graphics, although not long after this, Maya and other 3D packages became available and life moved on.

My first pathetic proof of concept

I would have loved to own the model, but I wasn’t given a chance when Creature Labs went bankrupt – the model and the rights to the Creatures brand went to Gameware before I knew anything about it. But now I simply don’t have room (and I live on the wrong side of the Atlantic), so I hope one of the lovely people with a loyal and longstanding passion for Creatures gets the opportunity to own it. (By the way, please don’t bid unless you’re serious – I’d hate to see the price hiked up unnecessarily).

I still have the airship, which was my favorite object in the game and significant for the back story, but for some reason never made it into C1. That’s enough history for me. I travel light, these days.

It occurred to me recently that my new simulation is likely to hit the streets on or about 20 years from the date when I first started writing Creatures. TWENTY YEARS! Ye gods!

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About stevegrand
I'm an independent AI and artificial life researcher, interested in oodles and oodles of things but especially the brain. And chocolate. I like chocolate too.

50 Responses to Any Creatures fans (with large houses) out there?

  1. Norm says:

    Twenty years?! Amazing! (I must be getting very old!)

  2. TreeSprite says:

    I love the balloon! Slink made it into a cob, and it’s one of the most popular of her cob downloads from my website! <:)

  3. Officer 1BDI says:

    I’m also lamenting that I live on the wrong side of the Atlantic right now. I always thought the C1 background was gorgeous, and if I had the means I’d love to take at least the ocean fragment in. I’m keeping my fingers crossed that someone else from the Creatures Community will end up with both pieces.

  4. Very interesting! I don’t think I’ve ever seen that hot-air balloon.

    For the curious, the slightly-later model and the central model are both on display at the Creatures Wiki’s “background model” page.

    There’s some discussion of this topic on Creatures Caves and Creaturetopia (and Mummy’s Creatures, if you speak German).

    To me, the garden is as essential as the nursery and computer area. Where else can you find carrots and floating lemons, or bounce the ball? Besides, I’m a sucker for greenery. :-)

  5. spoonyspork says:

    I’m cross-posting this so we don’t make a mistake by miss-communication. I am bidding on this, so if you’re panic-bidding right now, please stop, or let us know so it doesn’t turn into a bidding war between people trying to help! :)

    Thanks!

  6. Don says:

    I love the forest scene, especially with the treehouse and garden, awesome.

  7. Chris says:

    Sad in a way to see the sold off, surprising they still had them though!

    I’d have picked the submarine, spent ages trying to replicate the disappearing off the bottom of the map bug with that, not sure if I ever succeeded.

  8. Taelor says:

    Steve, I love your books and this blog! I’ve been seeing a lot of A.I. articles recently and this one caught my eye,

    http://www.nytimes.com/2010/06/20/magazine/20Computer-t.html

    Sounds amazing, what are your thoughts?

    • stevegrand says:

      Hi Taelor,

      Certainly sounds impressive, although I’d contend it has little or nothing to do with intelligence. Smart but not intelligent. It’s just statistics combined with computing power. The machine doesn’t understand the question or the answer, because none of the elements of each has any meaning to it. It can’t feel pain or pleasure; it suffers no risk. It might correctly answer “What is jealousy?” to a Jeopardy question, but it doesn’t have a clue what jealousy IS, because it can’t feel jealous. So it’s just crunching numbers. Its ‘intelligence’ is programmed into it, not learned from experience. Sure, the database is acquired through a trivial kind of experience, but not the way that it thinks about that data. It tells us nothing about how the human mind works or how to make machines with common sense and the ability to do REALLY hard things like recognize a faucet and use it to pour a glass of water. It’s very good at showing off IBM’s hardware, but that’s all. I’m not knocking it as an achievement, I hasten to add, just saying that I think it’s an example of a kind of AI that doesn’t really have much to do with intelligence. Such ‘weak’ AI is aimed at solving problems that humans happen to use intelligence to solve; this doesn’t actually require the solution to be intelligent. Weak AI is great in its place, but it’s a bit of a misnomer, IMHO.

      Thanks for posting the link. I guess I’ve just wrecked my chances of IBM lending me one of their Blue Gene machines…

      • Taelor says:

        Great points!

        I hope to live to see the merger of the bottom-up machine with the computational power of ‘Watson’.

  9. Creatures Fan says:

    What is this “new simulation” you speak of? ;)

    • stevegrand says:

      “I speak of none but the simulation that is to come after Creatures” (weak Douglas Adams reference).

      I don’t know what it’s going to develop into yet, but I’ve started coding a new Alife simulation, building on all the stuff I’ve learned in the 18 years since I started writing C1. Oh god.. 18 years…

      It’s 3D, and this time my goal is to create cognitive creatures – ones that actually *think*, rather than react. It’s very early days yet. I have a couple of directions the game itself might go, but first I need to develop a new brain model, biochemistry and genetics, and then see what the creatures want to become. Hopefully you’ll like it! :-)

      • Don says:

        That sounds ever so exciting! I can’t wait to hear more :)

      • Helen says:

        That’s awesome! Creatures was the game that got me interested in biology fifteen years ago… although I was more interested in the biochem aspect than their brains. What are your thoughts on expanding that aspect at the moment? Have you considered making them diploid?

      • stevegrand says:

        Hi Helen,

        You’ve no idea how good it makes me feel to know that Creatures had that effect on people. I take it you’ve pursued your interests?

        Phew! Well, I have a wish-list about chemistry, but little more than that at the moment. If you have any ideas I’d love to hear them.

        As you’ll know, my biggest screw-up was not including energetics. I felt it would add too much complication at the time (my hands were pretty full already!), but the fact that mutations could lead to the creation of glucose from anything led to immortal norns and the flouting of the Second Law. So I need to put that right above all. The easiest way would be to define my set of chemicals in a reactivity sequence, so that the right-hand side of the equation must always have lower energy than the left, although that introduces the concept of “pure energy”, which needs to be included in the overall ecological balance.

        But I’d also like to make the informational chemistry somewhat more realistic and flexible, so I’m thinking of having molecules made from short sequences of building blocks, so that receptors and enzyme behavior become more emergent. For instance an enzyme might contain the sequence …XABBDX…, which splits anything containing …ABBD… into …AB and BD… The difficulty with a lot of this would be that chemistry would then require discrete molecules instead of abstract concentrations. How much computer power I can spare for this I don’t know. But once you have sequences it might be possible to have conformational changes, and thus simple mechanical behaviours… Computers are a thousand times faster than they were when I started Creatures, so who knows? I’d like to explore all this on my blog, so hopefully you’ll chip in :-)

        As for diploidy, that’s an intriguing question. I’d hate just to simulate Mendelian inheritance in the abstract, like we learned it in school. Diploidy would imply that the creatures’ genes actually had to create ‘proteins’, whose presence or otherwise would lead in some rational but complex manner to the creation of structures. Wham! Suddenly I’m dealing with embryology! I would LOVE to explore morphogenesis in the semi-abstract, and try to develop a plausible yet tractable way for genes to give rise to complex neural wiring, physiognomy, etc. I think this is the Missing Link in our ability to understand both life and intelligence. But boy, that would be hard! Another topic for discussion, I guess :-) It could be that including sequence and conformation into the chemistry would offer insights that lead steadily to an elegant system. Creatures was like that – I kept re-writing the program as I discovered that I was stumbling upon nature’s own way of thinking.

        All suggestions gratefully received!

      • Don says:

        It was Creatures (and my visit to Creature Labs back in 1998) that pursuaded me to take my Masters degree in Software Engineering and become a programmer :) Evolution of digital DNA and graphic models has always facinated me :)

      • GreenReaper says:

        It’s probably more than a thousand, considering you can make use of graphics cards as processing units. Stuff like OpenCL should make this easier nowadays, if not “easy”.

        As for education, I’d planned to get a degree in CompSci since I was 10, but reverse-engineering the Creatures 2 music system made a convenient topic for a final-year dissertation. :-)

      • stevegrand says:

        Does Pete Chilvers know you did that, Laurence? He’d be proud, I’m sure!

      • stevegrand says:

        Don says:
        > It was Creatures (and my visit to Creature Labs back in 1998) that pursuaded me to take my Masters degree

        Hey, so that’s another success! :-)

        And I see you worked for Maxis too. I was there in Orinda for a short time finishing off Rome, just before Creatures started. Maxis were going to publish Creatures as well, but it didn’t work out.

        Plus you seem to have a shocking amount of Creatures memorabilia!

      • Don says:

        I loved working on The Sims and EA is a fantastic place to work, but my job was so defined in such a big company that I knew exactly what I was working on every day, so there wasn’t much room for creativity. I always longed to work somewhere small where I could be far more involved in the design process.

        hehe, I do have a fair Creatures hoard, but of course you were among those responsible for my addiction ;)

        Will there any any sneak peaks of this new project for the generation of us you inspired? :D

      • stevegrand says:

        So, what, I’m a pusher now, huh? ;-)

        Sneak previews ain’t the half of it – I’m hoping for a lot of input and support from people like yourself. Expect to be co-opted!

        I’ll also be blogging about it for discussion, keeping my programming diary online, etc. I haven’t started all that yet because I’m only playing around with ideas so far, but soon.

      • Mack says:

        You seem to have inspired so many people with Creatures, Steve! It makes me glad to hear that because it also had an impact on me. The earliest memory I think have of wanting to create (and code) things myself was after playing Creatures 1 back in the 90s and trying to edit some objects. It almost certainly was my inspiration to learn to program and create! Trying to solve such complex problems as digital life begs for a solution!

        Anyway, I love reading your blog and now that you’ve mentioned it I’m really looking forward to your programming diary as well. The only thing that intrigues me more about your new game and digital life, is the coding and solution behind it! I do hope you do some form of beta/previews! :)

      • stevegrand says:

        Thanks, Mack! The thing that most disappointed people when I wrote my first book was that I didn’t describe the code. I’ll try to do better with that this time. Mind you, the kind of code involved is very complex and unusual, so it’s not easy to describe! Previews will definitely happen. Probably even very early samples of progress.

  10. GreenReaper says:

    I’m not sure if I ever got in contact with Pete – I lost all my emails from that period in an unfortunate disk crash during a heatwave.

    I did talk once with Andrew Barnabas (who kindly provided the community a copy of Creatures Montage).

    I believe some of my work became part openc2e‘s music engine, so at least it had some lasting benefit. Plus the music’s still nice to listen to, even after a decade! :-)

  11. Essie Baxter says:

    I was a fan of Creatures when it first started. Recently I found the original CD I bought all those years ago and I was thinking it would be fantastic to have Creatures as an app on my ipod. All I found was Pocket Creatures by somebody called Tactile Entertainment. Is this in any way related to THE original Creatures.

    • stevegrand says:

      Hi Essie,

      No, I don’t think so. They’re a bunch of Danish guys and it doesn’t look like Pocket Creatures is real artificial life, just a pet sim (although this may be all you want).

      I’m writing this new game for PC and Mac, but it’s just becoming feasible to make real Alife and AI work on iPhone and iPad now, so I’m keeping that option open. To my mind there’s a huge difference between creatures that really live, breathe, learn and think, and simple simulations made to LOOK like animals. I’m only interested in the former, but there are plenty of the latter out there, I think.

    • Don says:

      Pocket Creatures actually steps on the rights held by Gameware Develoment (Creature Labs) at the moment, so its not related. It is quite a cute digital pet game though.

  12. JayWat says:

    It seems to me that ‘real’ artificial life has fallen out of fashion in the last decade or so, and that really saddens me.

    Sure, AI in video games in general has gotten smarter, but Creatures was, really, the last truly great genetic simulator, with the only other noteable one being SimLife nearly 10 years previously.

    I don’t know whether it’s the complexity that dissuades development, or whether it’s perceived to be a very niche audience, but I long to get my teeth into a ‘new Creatures’. Imagine what could be done on today’s computers/graphics cards?!

    I’ve even started researching and writing some concepts for my own aLife software, but I already know I’m biting off far more than I can chew. Again, though, it’s astounding to note that when you look at AI and genetic programming stuff on the ‘net, it’s all years and years old, with most of it ending in dead links.

    It’s weird. It seems to me that now the technology has finally caught with the ideas, no one is really interested in bringing this kind of artificial life simulation into the modern age.

    Steve, if you manage to bring the new aLife project you aluded to above to fruition, I will be the happiest man alive! Heck, if anyone is going to do it, you’re definitely the man for the job! :)

    • stevegrand says:

      I think you may be right, but in a way I can see why. Many years ago I made a prediction that 3D graphics would soon become so good that it would really show up how awful the behavior of computer characters is. As the graphics has got better, the demand for better intelligence, etc. has grown with it, but unlike 3D math we don’t have any answers. It’s kind of upped the ante to the point where few are willing to place bets. It’s certainly not a niche audience – Creatures sold something like two million copies in total. But it’s really HARD and involves substantial invention – there aren’t many game programmers who are also biologists or neuroscientists! You’re right, though – most of the old technical constraints have gone now and we could do some really interesting things. I’m certainly working on it! :-)

    • Helen says:

      I’m not convinced it has gone out of fashion, i just think the major companies aren’t keen to try it because it doesn’t flag up as a priority from market research.

  13. Panda says:

    Hi there! Just wanted to say that you did an excellent job with the Creatures series and I’m glad to have played it. I look forward to seeing the new alife you’re coming up with!

  14. Karl says:

    For what it’s worth, my 4 year old daughter is a huge Creatures fan. I’ve played it a fair amount with her, but I nearly fell flat yesterday when she showed off the Grendel gun which she had reconstructed from memory. She says that her favorite characters are the “stealer guys.”

    • stevegrand says:

      Heh! My regards to your daughter. A woman of fine judgment, clearly!

      Excuse the shocking ignorance of my own creation, but what’s a Grendel gun?

      • GreenReaper says:

        Creatures 3 added a system of linking up all sorts of gadgets. One was the sludge gun, which fired large pellets of dirt; another was a selectable-type creature detector. You could set the detector to “grendel” and then link up its output socket to the sludge gun’s input socket for “fire in this direction”. Just plop it outside the entrance to the Jungle terrarium and you’d soon have a pile of dead grendels.

      • Karl says:

        Yes, we went camping last week and Creatures was just about all she wanted to talk or sing about. Well, that and Spore. Evidently I’ve raised a god-gamer.

        The Grendel gun is what she calls the sludgegun wired up to a creature detector on the movable platform. It’s her deterrent of choice.

  15. Victoria says:

    I, also, am a HUGE Creatures fan. I started playing it when I was about eight years old, and I attribute a great amount of my multitasking, lateral thinking, and problem-solving to that game. It also got me passionate about computers and I’m in college, learning to program now.

    I eagerly await your next endeavour. I’m sure it will be even more amazing than Creatures.

  16. Darchen Jurusli says:

    Wow, those models look amazing, and I love the way they look in the graphics in Creatures 1. Creatures 3 was a great game, but its graphics just seem so gloomy in comparison! I can honestly say I prefer the graphics in Creatures 1 to the graphics in most modern games.

  17. Kirk says:

    4 years later I find out about this project and Creatures. When I was in highschool I wrote a very rudimentary simulation of interactions in a bacterial colony on a petri dish. They would run away from members of other species if out numbered and attack if not. I never specifically set out to do this but the result was that they ended up congregating in groups of the same species and group charge lone stragglers. Now I can’t make the claim that they were alive, they were crude automatons but the fact that I’d created something which resulted in emergent behaviour fascinated me, and it’s always been something I’ve thought about building on.

    My life took a different turn though and AI is now just something I try to be aware of, but I’m really interested in God games and their potential. I just wish I’d been exposed to Creatures as a kid, either way, best of luck in putting this out to market, I am really looking forward to it

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