Creatures 4 First Look Preview -- The Next Generation of Artificial/Adorable IntelligenceBy Sinan Kubba - Posted Sep 13, 2011
We saw many promising games at this year’s Gamescom, but few had as much heritage to boast as Creatures 4. The cutesy visuals of furry, gremlin-like critters belie a complex artificial life simulator which was first originally conceived in 1992 by Steve Grand, now a celebrated designer of robots. If you’re not familiar with the series, think of it like The Sims but with furry creatures called Norns and with more going on under the bonnet. Also, Creatures came out way before The Sims – just saying.
Nearly 20 years on, Grand is not involved with Creatures 4. Gameware has trusted Fishing Cactus with the long-awaited series reboot – you might remember the studio as one of the co-developers of Kinect game Fighters Uncaged – and in Cologne the team gave us an idea of what to expect.
Players will now cultivate and breed their lovable Norns in 3D for the first time, and on iOS platforms as well as PC and Macs. Another new and neat touch is that by using cloud tech they’ll also be able to load and save progress cross-platform. While I didn’t see an iOS version of the game in Cologne, I was assured that there’ll be no differences beyond visual fidelity between iOS and PC/Mac versions.
The other major headline for Creatures 4 is that it will be free-to-play. Of course that means there will be in-game purchases, but Fishing Cactus will ensure that the system will only be based around spending money to progress quicker rather than denying content to free-to-play players.
Headlines aside, it’s in the cogs and gears of Creatures 4 that things get interesting. The focus in the new installment will be around largely genetic customization and training. Regarding the former, Creatures 4 will have a brand new procedurally generated fur system, meaning baby Norns will naturally inherit their parent’s phenotype. You can adjust the cosmetics at birth and with add-ons later on in the game, but it’s all inherently linked to the lines of deeper genetic coding within each creature.
I’ve seen a graph of some of the outcomes of this coding. It had things like fear, anger, sex drive, and even hunger for lipids. Different Norns like different foods based on the lipid, carb, and protein content, and will grow differently depending on how you feed and nurture them. As I said, there’s a lot going on beneath the surface with Creatures 4.
Maybe the most interesting aspect is the training by association. You can be nice or nasty to Norns, giving them a gentle stroke or slapping them like they stole your favorite sandwich. It’s when you do this that’s key, though. If you continue to punish a Norn whenever they eat, for example, then they’ll grow to associate food with pain, and they’ll start to not want to eat. If you stroke them whenever they play with a beach ball then they’ll want to play with beach balls all the time. It’s a clever facet, although the idea of creating anorexic Norns–dev’s choice of words, not mine–doesn’t appeal.
As for a release date, there remains no clear picture on that. I think that fans who’ve been waiting a decade for a major release in the series will somehow be able to hold on a little longer.