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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Hi honey, I’m home…

Well, sort of. I’m back in the land of the living, anyway, and I’ll try to get back to blogging here again now. The recent sad storms in my life have washed me up, more or less at random, on the metaphorical beaches of Flagstaff, Arizona, where I now have an apartment, furniture, food, a bank account and a bicycle. And broadband, lovely broadband. For the past five weeks I’ve been relying on motel wi-fi, frequently stolen from the parking lot of a motel better than the one I was staying in, so most of my normal connections to the world have been a bit fractured.

But now I can get back to work. I don’t have anything better to do, although having said that I like Flagstaff so far and look forward to getting out and meeting a few people once I have a car. The scenery round here is wonderful and I love being up in the crystal-clear air of the mountains. It’s a great outdoor sports area and Flag has a nice network of urban trails that I can run on, one of which starts right outside my apartment and meanders through parkland, meadow and forest to the airport. Not that I have the energy for running at the moment because I’m having to cycle everywhere, which is quite demanding at 7,000 feet. But it’ll be nice to get back to running once I can rely on a car to carry the groceries.

Anyway, work. What work? That’s a tricky one. Sadly I can’t do any more on Grace, our humanoid robot, because although I still have my machine tools I don’t have a workshop to use them in. It’s a pity after all those months of hard work, but humanoids aren’t really my thing from an AI perspective and Grace was designed for a specific project that doesn’t have a point any more, so I’ll just sit her on a stool in my bedroom and chat to her occasionally.

Grace

I’ve spent years, off and on, working on Sim-biosis, which is a simulator for building aquatic artificial life-forms by plugging together “cells”, such as sensors, actuators and simple computational units. It’s close to Alpha now, but to be quite honest I’ve lost my faith in it, for one reason or another. Because of my change in circumstances I need to do something that will bring in a real income, starting in 18 months, and I think Sim-biosis is perhaps a little too “techie” to be commercial and grab people’s attention. And it doesn’t tap into some of the things I’m good at and became known for with Creatures. I haven’t looked back at it yet (it’s many months since I did any work on it, what with Grace and other disasters), so I may change my mind, but at present I think I’d prefer to start a new project to go with my new life.

Sim-biosis

In the 17 years since I first started to program Creatures I’ve learned an awful lot and started to develop a bunch of interesting ideas about the brain (and hence biologically inspired AI), so I think perhaps it’s time to write a successor to Creatures. I can’t call it that, of course. Maybe I’ll repurpose “Sim-biosis” because I like the pun, or perhaps I should make use of the Grandroids name that was intended for Grace and her successors – yes, that sounds better. Anyway, my plan is to open a pet shop on the internet and sell a variety of species of interesting artificial life-forms – each being a product of my developing research.

And before you offer, thank you very much but no, I don’t want help. I appreciate the many offers I’ve had over the years but I simply can’t do teamwork. I never have been able to. The way I work relies on being able to hold the whole of a concept in my head and produce something that’s very tightly integrated, and as soon as I try to break it up into sections and other people start adding their own ideas it invariably all falls apart. I’ve learned this through bitter experience. So I have to do this on my own. It’s a tall order in 18 months but like I say, I have nothing better to do, so as long as my RSI doesn’t flare up too badly I have a shot at it. And if it doesn’t work out it won’t hurt anyone else.

But I will blog about it. I think best in print, and even if no-one ever reads it, it’ll still help me sort out my ideas. So expect the coming months to bring posts about artificial biochemistries, morphogenesis, kinematics and neuroscience. Creatures was a reasonably brave attempt at artificial life, but computers and my own ideas have come an awful long way since then and it’s about time I put my money where my mouth is and attempted another grand synthesis.

Probably.