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This is Twinsen from the planet Twinsun. In other news I've changed my name to Eurth.

I mentioned in a caption in the last article that David Gasman ruined some of my treasured childhood memories by voicing the lunatic Lucas Kane in Fahrenheit (Quantic Dream, 2005). The only reason that happened, though, was because he played a part in making them in the first place with his voice work for Twinsen in Little Big Adventure 2: Twinsen’s Odyssey (Adeline Software International, 1997). I was eleven when this game was released, I think I got a copy when I was 12 and it had been re-released by EA. At the time I was using a Pentium 166 MMX and the full motion video of this game, and the inviting 3D worlds blew my tiny little mind. What has made me so very fond of it, though, is its character. It’s a wonderful universe to get lost in, and I intend to in this blog post, in the hope you’ll dig it out, dust it down, and play it – or if you don’t have it, find it and take your first step into a wonderful new world. Also, and this is important, I’ve discovered the development of a fan-made Little Big Adventure Prequel!

Loading times were not that bad, but hardly helped by these two standing on the disc.


Relentless…

Twinsen’s career as a dress-wearing world saver began at the end of 1994 with Little Big Adventure (Adeline Software International). It was also released shortly after with the title Relentless: Twinsen’s Adventure. In his first outing Twinsen had to rescue his girlfriend Zoe from the clutches of the evil “FunFrock” –  a nasty wizard and dictator of Twinsun, and he must also save the goddess that lives in the planet’s core from said nasty wizard, as he wishes to kill her and steal all her power. The first game was completely in an isometric 3D perspective set entirely on the planet Twinsun. Alas the first game is rather hard to come by. It isn’t, repeat isn’t, classed as abandon-ware, but who exactly owns the rights to the franchise is somewhat tricky to decipher as Adeline Software International was officially dissolved in 2004.

Twinsen’s Odyssey…

My exposure to Little Big Adventure began with the sequel, and it supports the notion that in games – in contrast to movies and other media – sequels are often better than the originals. It also goes some way to furthering the idea that Ray Muzyka of Bioware spoke of only two days ago at GDC: “If you try to build a franchise around a single character, that can be a problem. If you build it around world, anything is possible.” Sure Twinsen is the star of these games, but the best thing about them is the wealth of characters you encounter. They were notable back in the 90s for being some of the only games in which every person you enoucntered had their own unique views, voice, and general character. Quite impressive compared to the mess that is the voice-work and NPC system of Oblivion, a game made 10 years later, that claims to be of incredible scope, where characters voices can change dramatically mid-conversation, and it can be difficult to tell people apart. When you add the fact that Little Big Adventure characters can often be walking sausages, and that they have more character and you won’t mistake them for any of the other sausages, it really stands as a testament to the brilliant design, and care that went into every detail.

LBA2: Who'd win in a fight? The cast of LBA2 or the cast of Grim Fandango? Both had cast "photos" like this.

Before I go on, I should mention this game’s great innovation: The behaviour system. By deciding what “mood” Twinsen is in, it affects what actions he is capable of, how he moves, and how he throws his magic ball/uses his weapon. This can have an affect on gameplay (the AI is also quite intelligent, LBA was one of the first games where guards would run to seek re-enforcements or sound the alarm instead of just attacking or chasing Twinsen) in terms of stealthy movements or solving puzzles. It’s main success is that it simplifies controls, which otherwise would have been convoluted.

The general tone of the LBA universe is quite light, but rich with variety, wonder, and an innocence that I think is the main reason I keep returning to it. To best set the scene you should watch the opening cinematic and beginning of LBA2 (from a “Let’s Play…”) below:

The game plays like a child’s daydream of adulthood, of adventure, and of wonder. With the mix of the fantastical and the familiar it recalls the bizarre things you would day dream innocently as a child. The mysteries of the universe are alluded to but not explicitly explained, and the most mundane things are just as mundane there. The game opens with your friend, a talking, flying, dinosaur crashing into your back garden. So you go to the pharmacy – a somewhat mysterious place for any kid, but in a boring sort of way. When you get there you find a woman (who is little ball with legs, incidentally) who can help you as she works for a wizard. When you get to her house, she’s doing the hoovering. There is a grounding in the things you observe in the world around you as a child running throughout the game. There’s a wonderful cinematic in a ferry where Twinsen gets imbroiled in the “I’ve made eye contact with another passenger – do they think I’m looking at them?” moment. It’s only short, but in this bizarre universe there are still moments like these for the character that children and adults can relate to. Innocence seems to be the by-word for LBA. There is combat, but it never feels malicious. Most of the laughs come from funny voices, or slapstick humour. And your willingness to experiment is rewarded – not by slapping you with a morality system, but by kindly forgetting your actions most of the time.

It could be argued that I’m taking it too far. Perhaps I am, but this is a game that is aimed at children, but I don’t feel is speaking down to them. It is, however, and I think quite intelligently, playing to their imaginations. As an early example of a game where free-roaming in a 3D environment was done well (the French have a way with breaking ground in 3D things if Isabelle was anything to go by) it found a way to reward a lot of the things your childhood mind could throw at it. Yeah, you could hump a cow. They knew you’d do that. If you went into the school and for some reason hit a child their big brother would meet you at the gates and box your head in, only fair. And if what game would provide you with a car for getting around, and not throw in a racing track? Not LBA2.

Not long ago I wrote an article in which I discuss GTA IV, and how in that game you’re being pulled in two directions – emergent (or dick-around) gameplay vs a linear mission structure. The beautiful thing about LBA2’s tone is that – due to the fact that the story is sufficiently lighter in its presentation (at one point all of the children from your home planet are stolen, but this is done quite elegantly, showing an empty school bereft of activity. An empty field where once lessons were taught -the actual kidnap being over in moments) you never really feel hurried. It is only later in the game where a cutscene of a moon that is hurtling toward Twinsun is shown (at random intervals) that you feel encouraged to get on with things. This isn’t enforced in the design, thankfully, as by this point you are on the planet Zeelich, and they’ve given you a casino to muck about in, complete with a Wheel of Fortune game hosted by a talking, monocled, crocodile. If that doesn’t scream “Mess around with me!” I don’t know what does.

I’ve always been interested in the idea that if you’re going to make a game you should know what sensations you want to encourage before you get started. Adeline, it seems, knew that they wanted to make an Adventure game here that was fun. Not just entertaining, or engaging, but specifically fun. That seems like a redundant thing to say, but I don’t think that fun is a prerequisite of game design – I said in the previous article that I enjoyed the opening of Fahrenheit, but I didn’t think hiding a dead body was fun. Stressful and exhilirating maybe but not giggly fun. It brings forth to mind the idea that games can have the same draw as a Fisherprice activity centre and that sometimes you can have fun without a forced narrative at all. That often doesn’t last when its done alone (Amanita Design’s The Pantry is more-or-less just that: A pantry where you can click on things on screen and see unexpected (though scripted) interactions take place. A fun distraction/experiment but you will tire of it after 5 minutes), but the LBA series takes that idea and runs with it in the context of a linear narrative adventure game. If there were no little distractions, easter eggs, secrets or whatever you call them,  then – partially due to the graphical limitations of the time – Twinsun might feel a bit lifeless. As it stands, and especially with LBA2, you get the feeling that every corner of every area has had something interesting put in it so you’re never just darting through thoughtlessly. In a genre that is known primarily for being one where the story is the main focus, the LBA series manages to spread its charm, wit, and personality, equally and thickly over every element of the game. From character design, voice-acting, animations, world design, and certainly not least its sound design.

The music of LBA is another big draw for me. I personally love it, and it fits perfectly with the tone of the game. Take the main theme of LBA2 (embedded below). Being of better sound quality than that of the first game, it captures the excitment, joy, and wonder of the adventure without sounding gamey. It’s not overly dramatic, fast, or grand sounding. Compare it with the music of Zelda, and you begin to understand that the music also supports the idea that the game is encouraging a feeling of innocence while playing. There is dramatic music when the situation calls for it, but the main theme is the aural stamp of the game. The mission statement as it were, and LBA’s mission is innocence, wonder, and fun.

It would disservice to not mention that LBA2 is supported in text and voices in several languages, with the ability to set the speech and text to different languages. I, myself, and I know of several others who have used this to supplement their learning of another language, and the game has a certain noteriety for it. I used it for my German exams at school in 2002 even.

As I mentioned at the beginning of the article there is a fan-made prequel in the works, and potentially a game set between the events of LBA1 and 2. These, I feel, deserve their own article that I’m preparing.

Mike Dunbar

P.S. Does anyone know where I can get the item-recieved inventory sound effect for my phone?

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Well I’ve seen the power of the lightning storm,
I’ve seen the endless ears of corn,
I’ve seen the lakes at the break of day,
And that shit takes my breath away.

“Freedom Road” – The Divine Comedy

Garnet's Screenshot from the guide I didn't know about... doh.

Well, not visually. The game isn’t the prettiest, but then sometimes I look at it, and I see the massive destructible geometry and I know what it means. I see what it’s trying to be. And that does the job. The reason I’m bringing you another tale from Wurm Online so soon is because I don’t live in the PC Gamer village on the starter server anymore. It was a ghost town. The people living there (few) were not the villagers I went to join, they were the vultures picking at the resources left behind by a brave group of travellers who went to the Freedom Kingdom. To start afresh. Expand! And get away from the griefers on the free server!

When I discovered this, it made a lot of sense. Walking around the Golden Valley you start in you can see the scars on the countryside where people have raped the landscape. Patches of trees are all signposted “Only chop v. old and overaged trees!”. Some trees are fenced up, like in real life, to keep people out. The chat tabs are filled with people complaining of thieves, and chatter rings of their friends who have left for the Premium servers in the wake of the news that Rolf, the creator of the world, is merging the PvP premium accounts with the free places. If you’re on the wrong side of that division you may find the starter area even less appealing.

I took the plunge. Zephyr’s arse was a false idol. The place I was now headed wasn’t even built yet. It was only founded a week ago. The land it was in was much more dangerous than the one I had left. It was much more sparsely populated, and the creatures roaming the landscape were larger, and more mystical than the wolves of the Golden Valley. Here I could look forward to Lava Fiends, Giant Scorpions, and the obligatory Huge Spider. The best part: I was still the same low-levelled schmuck that couldn’t handle a fight before. Imagine Frodo without the ring, or his mates.

I approached the transporting portal stone that would send me to Freedom. It gave me the option to think it over. I ignored it. I wanted to get stuck in with the business of building a new village, and being there at a new beginning! The screen went dark. After a few moments I found myself, instead of looking into a wood at the top of a hill, at the shore of a beach. Looking at a huge mountain over the sea, surrounded by some more. It was quite a breathtaking change, and it hammered in that we would be stuck here. There were no working magic stones here. It’s a one way trip.

The first thing I felt compelled to document was a paddock FULL of unicorns. Frickin' unicorns.

I had a quick browse on the PC Gamer Village blog to be sure about where it was. I’ve since found a step by step guide, but at the time I just read the Lewis & Clark style account of how the Mayors pioneered the site for the town. The first thing they went to was a “Lake Colossus”. Fortunately there was a sign pointing down a road that said “TO LAKE COLOSSUS”. Handy. First impression was:

"Bloody hell, this road's long."

But that was naive. See, the road wasn’t long. It was endless. If the road hadn’t actually led somewhere I would have titled this “Road to Nowhere.” This is a screenshot taken some 15 minutes later:

"Bloody hell, this looks much the same!"

I then thought I should inquire over the Kindgom chat if anyone online was from the village I sought. They were, and they agreed to meet me when I arrived. That was a weight off. On this server PvP is permitted, so there was always the (somewhat slim) chance that I’d be killed on sight, and my body would be returned to the starting area, which was already about half an hour’s walk behind me. Onward I went:

I hope that was joke.

It was going fairly well. That said, I did spot the giant corpse of a young scorpion. I didn’t want to see a large one, or what killed it. I was too concerned with running away at this point to take a screenshot! THEN… literally out of nowhere (and the chat started buzzing with this) fog… occured. Instantenous fog. Then people started saying things like “I need to get out of the forest!” and “I saw my first champion skorp in the fog!” So that cheered me up a lot. It was just as this was occuring that I reached, after a long long hike, Lake Colossus. Unfortunately that made the chances of a decent picture of said lake slim:

There's a lake there. Somewhere.

Then I went the wrong way. There were two directions and the passages I read from the explorer’s journal weren’t too clear… in fact they got lost themselves and ended up somewhere called SILENT HILL. There was no way I was going somewhere called Silent Hill in this fog!! Besides, after that the journal peters out into being a description of how they killed several deer. No… I had to go back to chat. A chap named Prospero guided me back the right way, and so I started to head right where I went left at the lake.

Lost in the pirate fog.

Not so much Silent Hill, but more Alone in the Dark.

Yes, night was falling again. But I wasn’t scared of the dark, no, because some clever sods had captured a couple of Lava Fiends, and built fences around them! Like living art street lamps, the lava fiends moped in their little fence, and I wandered past, amazed at the effort required to do that.

As I walked along the shore, a road only 1 tile wide that seperated the lake from the mining alongside a great mountain, I spotted a causeway, and a Colossus. Surely not another Colossus of Zephyr?! Nope… the Colossus of the Lake of the Colossus, of course. Prospero asks me where I am. I tell him, and he asks me if I can see his boat. The “Mud Skipper”. I do see it! My spirits lift considerably, and finally I’m on a boat with a genuine PCG Village person, who’s taking me to the new village. I’m not alone. When we arrive some new folks emigrating from the old village are there as well. We are all inducted into the new village.

My little ferry trip.

This means I now officially am a villager! We all get to work immediately. The village is still in the planning stage, so there’s a lumberyard to build (I’m doing that at the moment, though there’s much left to do now and I expect to find someone else has finshed it by the time I get back). There’s already barracks, an HQ, temporary housing… a dock with some boats. A jaunty sign that says “PCG Pirates!”

All good fun. I had cut down a tree, made a bunch of planks (as had Prospero) and I was building the walls for the Lumberyard when all of a sudden the villager chat fires up with mention of a Giant Spider being loose in the village. I’m half afraid to die (I think I’ll spawn again in the village but I’m not 100%) but also very curious. There were about 5 of us in the village at this point, and I head down from the hill where I was working. There it is. A huge spider just sitting there in front of the HQ. A couple of the guys have shut themselves in a house getting ready to fight it, then it turns on muggins over here. Brilliant. I have to run away and jump in the lake to get it to leave me alone! After that we all surround it, and fight it next to a tree. Once it’s dead it gets buried, and we all agree it’s time to call it a night.

It’s fun living in a village!

Mike Dunbar

P.S. Yes, it was too stressful getting nearly killed by the spider to take any screens of that too. I must get my “war corrospondent” head on.

I'm the dumb pilgrim you've been hearin' for twenty days and smellin' for three.

I am tired. Tired, wet, malnourished, and I have no map or compass. I’m in a forest. It would be pitch black were it not for the light of the stars through the clouds and the light from a suspisiously pink moon. I am bereft of hope. I’ve been travelling for 3 days and 3 nights, lost on the moors. I’ve been literally foraging for my food, which has been nothing but lingonberries, and I’ve been drinking out of puddles. Just as my will to go on is at its lowest ebb and I’m going to give in to my fate at the claws of  the wolves stalking the hills,  I see something breaking through the trees: A silhouette. It’s an arse. It’s the massive arse of a huge statue – The Colossus of Zephyr.

“Finally.” I think to myself,  “Finally I am here. I’ve made it. My journey can finally begin.”


There, through the trees, a moon shone brightly.

There, through the trees, a moon shone brightly.

This, arguably, isn’t really how you’re meant to begin your journey on Wurm Online – a free, Java based, MMO by a Swedish dev team led by the enigmatic Rolf. And I did go through the tutorial motions. I spent some time in the starter town cutting wood, making kindling, setting a fire, doing some mining, and making planks of wood. Having done those things I was then told by the NPC that I might want to hang around the starter town for a bit and… yeah, do whatever I want.

So… I should explain how I ended up searching for the Arse of Zephyr.

I only heard about this game because I listened to a PC Gamer podcast yesterday afternoon. I was was doing what I’ve spent this week of holiday from work doing: Sitting at my PC wondering where I can go out this week, casually throwing blocks at the unfortunate “Grey Guy” from Sumotori Dreams. While asking eachother what they’ve been playing, Scottish Graham mentions this game Wurm Online. He explains that PC Gamer has its own villiage in the world, a nice little community in a strange game where you can live out a “Little House on the Prairie” life, but more importantly – every resource has to be made from scratch. Basically you’re a pioneer in a fantasy world with goblins and the like, only instead of the WoW thing of orchestrating raids and having that experience, you’re basically just trying to survive together with farms, blacksmiths, and other community projects. What makes it interesting is the politics that occur with your neighbours and neighbouring villages over resources and space, and the game’s strong suit – it’s use of destructible terrain (for mines, and tunnels!).

Graham then told an amusing story about the PC Gamer village. Another player in the game called Zephyr, who has been playing the game for years, had orchestrated a community project whereby dozens of people gave up their time and resources to build him a Colossus in the  middle of the village, on the top of a mountain. Graham has this to write on the PC Gamer Villiage blog:

Ah, Zephyr. God of the colossal statue, lord of all that is wonderful, his benevolent arse looms down on our little village like a smiling father. His statue’s arse, that is. Zephyr is, from what I have learnt in my first week of Wurm Online, a very powerful man. On the starting server, Golden Valley, he is the only person to ever have orchestrated the construction of a colossus, the giant statue that strides across the large mountain where the PCG village resides. Every morning when I emerge from my small wooden shack overlooking the western sea, I get a nice good view of that behind; hands firmly placed on hips, staring out across the lake in the east over Zephyr’s island villa.

The statue required “2000 clay”, and “2000 rock”. Landscaping, plinth-building, an entire infrastructure around the project, farms sat neglected, and other building works were put on hold for this superhuman effort, at the hands of a hilarious megalomanic. He’s not the Mayor, he’s not the King. He’s like some kind of fantasy land Don Corelone. I want to meet him.

So I knew what I’d do. Since my only prior experience of MMOs was City of Heroes (which I got tired of quite quickly) I’d join up, and then seek out the PC Gamer people, as we’d all (probably) have the PC Gamer Magazine/Podcast thing in common, and I had the info that there was a villiage out there near to the start that wasn’t openly hostile. But I didn’t know how to get there. I went to the villiage’s blog, and looked at a picture slideshow of directions. Sadly, due to the whole building/terrain mechanic, most of the landmarks in the pictures had gone. And also, I had no compass or map. So I had to bite the proverbial bullet (there’s no guns in the game) and Jeremiah Johnson it…

“Jeremiah, maybe you best go down to a town, get outta these mountains.”
“I’ve been to a town Del.”

There was a sundial that doubled as a compass in the starter town and I prayed it wasn’t just art. I head North. My character’s stamina and speed use depend highly on what terrain I’m traversing, so I try to stick to the roads at first, but I sharply realise that these twisting roads that fork off into settler’s cul de sacs are far too confusing to navigate and keep your direction. I decide to go as the crow flies. Alas, I decided this a bit too late, and was already horribly lost. The weird thing that Wurm Online manages, that Oblivion and other open world games haven’t (to me), was the genuine concern about being lost. It reminded me of a time on Exmoor when I was 10 and I got seperated from my family for an hour. A genuine fear crept over me. Then something awful happened.

It started to get dark.

I’d been told by that NPC to be careful of the dark. I’d strolled off into unsettled territory, but on the way there I’d come across the butchered corpses of wolves and mountain lions (now since this is an MMO there are emotes, and I have to say now that despite my fear I did “fart on the butchered corpse of the young mountain lion”). Whatever lay out there? Before I could find out I came across a fence. I followed it around, and found a stone-walled house. While looking back into the woods I had come a ginger-haired lady had approached me from behind, and said in a man’s voice (the default voice for all emotes) “HEY THERE!”. I was then told that the girl smiled at me. Meekly, and taken aback, I smiled in return. Then the event dialogue said that she was attempting to heal herself. “From what?” was my immediate thought, but before I could find out she had darted into her house and locked the door. Then I heard wolves.

I managed to get away without an encounter, but I was on edge. I kept going, but my nutrition had dropped to 30%, and I hadn’t drank any water since I started. It showed in my stamina. I was blundering slowly through the woods. I thought to get to some water.

Somehow on my journey I managed to walk to Centre Parks.

“Where you headed?”
“Same place you are, Jeremiah: hell, in the end.”

After a spot of bruise-enducing scree-running I was by the shore of a lake. There was an island in the middle, and on the opposite side I spotted a large statue. A colossus, if you will. I squeed in excitement (After that harrowing wolf thing and all) and confidently strode across the penisula feeling as though my troubles would all be over. Imagine my disappointment as I saw a sign infront of me. It read “Brohalla”. Brohalla? Where preppy frat-boy vikings go when they die? Fantastic. With a name like Brohalla I could only wonder what kind of reception I’d get, bedraggled and starving as I was (by this point the Lingonberry foraging was in full swing).  I didn’t get a chance to find out, however, as I was attacked by a goblin. A little goblin. I tried to fight it for a bit, but it got me dangerously low on health and there had been no combat tutorial, so I was learning as I went. I ran off and escaped the spooky git, but now I was hurt.

Finally, the sun rose. I was also at the coast. A mix of luck, and the general idea that the way I had been going was totally wrong, I followed the coast back up the way I’d come. Most of the day walking later (I endured another period of strolling off course on another goose-chase I thought was “home”), and I found myself near to starter territory. In a bay, and looking at a mountain. I had to take a chance. Though, by this point I was feeling the same delusion I did in real life on the Isle of Rum when I hiked across the island equally ill prepared (to last me the day I had only a litre of water, and a tin of sardines that I ate raw using two pens as chopsticks). I began to question why I was on this hike? Why don’t I press the X in the corner and end this torment? What would I even do when I got there? I couldn’t tell them this. I couldn’t say I spent TWO real life days looking for this place! I wouldn’t have to wait long to find out. After half an hour of walking what must have been North-east I climbed that mountain and found a sign. A wonderful sign. “PCG Fort”. Night fell, and the rain lashed down. The villiage must only be close. But what way?

Not South.

I am a massive tool.

PCG Villiage is sickeningly close to the starter town. It’s literally 10 minutes walk North from it. Up the big hill infront of you. I’d been following the directions on the site (Take the road WEST out of Glitterdale) and that was my problem. The problem is it’s down to the community out of the game to make the maps. I suppose that’s not a problem, really, though. It’s not like whatever force that created the earth left a map behind. This is how it’s meant to be. It’s the robust survival, and community, that gives this game its edge. It’s an MMO, it doesn’t need to cater for the single player.

I have no land to call my own, and seeds to plant if I did. My foraging days are long from over.

Upon my arrival in PCG Villiage I found one villiager asking if anyone could lend a hand as he was building his house. “Brilliant!” I thought. I’ll help him build his house, and he’ll help me, and tell me how to, build mine. That’s as far as I’ve got. But we had a chat, and I was told I was allowed to build in the villiage. So at least I have a home. The next challenge is building a house for myself, then I suppose, finding my niche in society.

“Hawk. Goin’ for the Musselshell. Take me a week’s ridin’, and he’ll be there in… hell, he’s there already.”

Mike Dunbar

(I’m not sure how many parts this will turn into, but they probably won’t be consecutive)

I know I said that this wasn’t just a retro game blog, but that doesn’t mean I can’t talk about retro games…

Besides, this isn’t so much a game as it was (as Wikipedia has helpfully phrased it) an “Artifical Life Program”. I’m talking about this:

Creatures: Released November 1996 for PC by Creature Labs

This is one of the first games I played on a PC (at least a one in my house). I’m not going to argue about what classifies a “game” here, I’ll save that for another time. One of the main reasons why I’m hesitant to dismiss it for what it looks like (it looks like neopets or something, which is selling it short) is because it was designed by a most interesting man. His name is Stephen Grand OBE. And the following is the abstract to a paper he penned with Dave Cliff published in 1998 entitled Creatures: Entertainment Software Agents with Artifical Life:

We present a technical description of Creatures, a commercial home-entertainment software package. Creatures provides a simulated environment in which exist a number of synthetic agents that a user can interact with in real-time. The agents (known as ’’creatures‘‘) are intended as sophisticated ’’virtual pets‘‘. The internal architecture of the creatures is strongly inspired by animal biology. Each creature has a neural network responsible for sensory-motor coordination and behavior selection, and an ’’artificial biochemistry‘‘ that models a simple energy metabolism along with a ’’hormonal‘‘ system that interacts with the neural network to model diffuse modulation of neuronal activity and staged ontogenetic development. A biologically inspired learning mechanism allows the neural network to adapt during the lifetime of a creature. Learning includes the ability to acquire a simple verb–object language.

Additionally, both the network architecture and details of the biochemistry for a creature are specified by a variable-length ’’genetic‘‘ encoding, allowing for evolutionary adaptation through sexual reproduction. Creatures, available on Windows95 platforms since late 1996, offers users an opportunity to engage with Artificial Life technologies. In addition to describing technical details, this paper concludes with a discussion of the scientific implications of the system.

CITATION HERE

That’s long form for “This isn’t a Tamagochi”. Notice how he refers to it as Artifical Life, not intelligence. It sounds like something Peter Molyneux would say about the dog in Fable 2, but with this I think the meaning is much deeper. Stephen Grand OBE (I’m always going to put the letters on, it’s amazing) is a Computer Scientist from Cambridge. After he finished Creatures (and its sequels) he moved, I believe, to Louisiana to set up a company renting low cost ANDROIDS for marketing (Grandroids it’s called, and I urge you to look HERE)!! His pride and joy, however, is the mechanical ORANGUTAN, Lucy. That’s an oranguatan with the simulated mind of a BABY. And it looks terrifying.  I’ll step back a bit, and summarise the core mechanics of Creatures.

The game is set on a disc shaped planet called Albia. That has been abandoned by an intelligent race that lived there. They seem to have left behind a lot of stuff, including a lab with some computers in, and an incubator containing 6 eggs. The game is presented in a 2D painterly style, and quite remarkably, the design for the one (scrolling) environment was drawn directly from a huge real life model that Stephen Grand OBE made!

It was drawn up by Mark Rafter and created by Complete Fabrications, a team of local model-makers who were used to making models for museums. It cost around £15,000 to make.

It was drawn up by Mark Rafter and created by Complete Fabrications, a team of local model-makers who were used to making models for museums. It cost around £15,000 to make.

The player chose an egg and hatched it in the incubator, controlling the game with a point and click/drag interface. Once it hatched you had this:

Big Eyed Thing

That one reminds me of Dakota Fanning. Anyway,  this thing came out as a baby crawling on all fours. And that was it. Nothing telling you what you had to do (it ran in a window on Windows 95, so you could go to help and read topics there, and there was an optional tutorial video which explained the interface), and no set “goal” as such. The implication is to not let this chap die. Directly above the birthing area there is a computer. As you can freely scroll around and click on what you want you can glean by the combination of sound, and the display that it is a computer for teaching the “norns” (that’s what they’re called) verbs. It has “go” and “use” and all that on there. You can type in commands yourself, and your hand of god will say it. Whether or not it is always understood or listened to is another matter. So once you managed to tease it to the lift that takes it to the computer (like real babies picking up a ball or something shiny and waving it in their face tends to do the trick) and you’ve sat it down long enough to learn some basic commands (with a combination of as much carrot or stick treatment as you like) you can try exploring.

Picture in picture incubator cam! Ten years before Springwatch.

He's on a BBC Computer I think...

This was just one of many multi-tabbed windows in which you could monitor your norn. The complexity behind this world was astonishing.

The one thing your norn (and eventually norns) had to worry about (besides disease – which you could medicate, food – which you could provide, alcoholism – which… well you could try telling them off) was this:

This friendly Chap

As you can see by his smiling face he wasn’t much harm… or was he. He’s the grendel. His major sin in life is that he’s different to the norns biologically. If they hang around him too much they may catch diseases. His temprament is also questionable, and he’s been known to attack the odd norn. What a sod. But I always overlooked this. I kept them seperate, but this game never teaches you to be malevolent toward this happy go lucky scamp, and I applaud it for that. I ended up taking him to the computer one day and teaching him English. I also taught him a few swear words because I thought it was “in character”. I looked up the name of their language on the Creatures Wiki – it’s called “Bibble”.

Scattered around you small (but also open world, I should say) environment were many herbs, foods, and so on, and they all had an effect on your norn when they (inevitably) ate some for a laugh (it’s like being a real parent I imagine, the dread you feel when you hear the swallow sound effect and wonder what they’ve ingested now). And the numerous line graphs and charts you could look up to monitor your norn’s vitals made it a very complex game to play indeed. Then they’d breed. And that was amazing, because they’d look different, they’d be combinations of the different kinds. As a kid it astounded me.

Colin Farrel and Drew Barrymore

As a life simulator I’ve not seen anything remotely as complex as this as either part of a game, or the basis of one itself (The Sims may be well and good, but norns learned, and developed behavioural patterns over the course of their lives – as opposed to a Sim wandering around switching every electrical appliance on, and then wetting itself). The world was small, but immensely charming, and beatifully drawn (based off that beautiful – if a bit extravagant model). And to its credit the game provided some emotional experiences, especially should you see a norn turn to face you with a sad look on its face because of something you had done or said; or when you notice them reach old age and eventually die. No other life sim has ever made me consider life and death so poignantly, and it was because it was done so elegantly and without drama. For a Computer Scientist who referred to his creations as “Synthetic agents” he was suprisngly good at pulling the old heart strings and thinking about it last night this game got so much right, and was ahead of the curve on so many levels I feel a bit ashamed of my countrymen for this not being one the best remembered British games of the 1990s.

Mike Dunbar

Creatures went on to spawn two sequels, and have a healthy online existence due to a large modding community. It’s review scores at time of release were very high, earning 94% from PC Zone, 80% from PC Gamer. However, the Playstation version which was released some years later recieved generally unfavourable reviews, presumably as it lacked the windows interface which make the PC version so accessible. Luckily, Good Old Games are selling Creatures: The Albian Years (a compilation of the first two games and all their expansion packs) for a tenner, and it runs on XP. You’ve no reason not to get it.

http://www.gog.com/en/gamecard/creatures_the_albian_years