Video Game / Creatures
Do Norns dream of electric Shee?
A series of simulation games created by Cyberlife (later Creature Labs) in the The '90s
, this series tasked the player with caring for a bunch of Norns: fuzzy little critters with a surprisingly complex virtual biology. Two other types of creatures inhabit the game world as well, the vicious Grendels and the worker Ettins (introduced in the second game).
From the start, the fandom was making boatloads of user-created content
, one of the earliest and most widespread games to do so. A lot of it is still available today — an active mod site, Creatures Caves
, exists and is updated regularly — although a lot of content is lost.
The games in the series are:
- Creatures (1996): the original; later made into an add-on for Docking Station.
- Creatures 2 (1998): bigger, shinier, but criticized for being very bug-laden, with somewhat stupider creatures.
- Creatures 3 (1999): even bigger, IN SPACE.
- Creatures Playground and Creatures Adventures (1999/2000): a pair of spinoff games aimed at younger children.
- Creatures Docking Station: a free game, built on a slightly modified version of the Creatures 3 engine with online capabilities. Like 3, it was set on a spaceship, and could in fact be "docked" with the Shee Ark if you owned both games to expand the world. It was available on its official website.
Several combo packs have also been published at various times. Indie Gala
included Creatures: The Albian Years
in their June bundle, a combination of the first two games with bonus packs.
Sadly, Creature Labs has long since gone under. The series was sold to Gameware Development, another UK company. However, creator Steve Grand claims that he is working on a new kind of artificial life form promising to be more advanced than the original Norns
After ten years, developer Fishing Cactus announced Creatures 4
(later renamed Creatures Online). It was initially set to be released June 2012, but after numerous delays the publisher halted development and sold the IP to Spil Games. They plan to release a free-to-play mobile game, Creatures Family
, in 2017.
The Creatures Wiki
has more information if you're interested in that. Now, on to the tropes.
This series is the Trope Namer
These games provide examples of:
- Absent-Minded Professor: A whole species of them. "The Shee were a race unique in their mindset, most likely having invented the steam engine as an offshoot of an attempt to design a better way of brewing tea before they invented the wheel."
- Acquired Poison Immunity: How the Toxic Norns in Creatures 3 came to be. It's gotten so far, in fact, that they need toxics and antigens to survive.
- A.I. Is a Crapshoot: A mild, but probably the only genuinely 'Real Life' example in existence; creatures can develop to be aggressive, and rare individuals can kill other creatures extremely quickly.
- All There in the Manual: The official website of Creature Labs provides stories that explain a large portion of the backstory not covered in the games behind Albia, the Shee and the many different Norn breeds.
- Always Chaotic Evil: Allegedly, Grendels. Actually, with proper training, many species of Grendel can be taught to cohabitate with Norns or Ettins peacefully.
- In the first game, at least, the Grendels were actually hard-coded to hit other creatures when they wanted to interact with them. Though training is possible.
- Artificial Brilliance: So good it's inspired many fans to Contemplate Our Navels (see below)
- Artificial Stupidity: Creatures 2, unintentionally- an excess of reward and punishment signals led to the infamous "One Hour Stupidity Syndrome," leading Norns to do entirely useless things instead of eating and sleeping. Many fan fixes became available.
- Interestingly enough, though, the particular mechanics of this bug actually show that the underlying simulator was pretty much spot-on. They just got the specific numbers wrong.
- Creatures 3 arguably has an issue with this as well. The creatures are "smarter" but their behaviors are somewhat predetermined and not based off the sort of AI the past two games used. This leads to incredibly single-minded norns that will, for instance, opt to continuously play with an elevator button instead of eating or otherwise not dying.
- Big Bad: Grendels are treated as such. If you don't either have some sort of disabling addon and aren't breeding them for pleasure, there is generally only one- two in Creatures 3- Grendel born into the world at a time, and it's supposedly in your best interest to avoid them as much as possible.
- Additionally, the now decanonised Banshee Grendel story seems to set the Banshee (race of Shee, not the Grendels named after them) up as this.
- Blob Monster: The Commedia in Docking Station, a harmless shapeshifting blob creature engineered by the Shee to entertain the Norns.
- Cartoon Cheese: In all the games. It's often considered the series's signature food item.
- Contemplate Our Navels: The detail of the creature's artificial biochemistry and intelligence has led some fans to seriously wonder about to what extent creatures can be considered "alive."
- Convection Schmonvection: The Creatures 2 volcano has visible lava... but the temperature in there hovers around only 100 degrees F, and the main danger is the radiation.
- Game-Breaking Bug: In the first Creatures, Norns would occasionally die on import for no apparent reason. Also, Creatures 2 liked to crash early and crash often.
- Easter Egg: Many. Borland, Len the Pen, the angry doozers... and that's just Creatures 2.
- Don't forget DJ_G.WAV, a Stupid Statement Dance Mix included in both 2 and 3.
- The game's scripting language, CAOS, has a command (MOWS) which "returns whether the lawn was cut last Sunday or not."
- Everything Fades: Another series standard. Corpses in Creatures 1 just blink out of existence, while Creatures 3 adds an effect to it depending on species (Norns and Ettins disappear into sparkly fog, while grendels dissolve into stinking green sludge). Averted with Creatures 2 norns, who float upwards when they die.
- Friend to All Living Things: The Treehugger Norns in Creatures 3.
- Game Mod: Boatloads of them. Seriously, just check out the Creatures Wiki.
- G-Rated Sex: "Kisspopping." Actually explained in-story—the Shee were rather prudish, so they made Norn mating a fairly tame affair.
- Hot Skitty-on-Wailord Action: Averted, as Norns, Grendels and Ettins cannot interbreed with each other naturally. Also played straight, as creatures can breed with any other breed within their species, which can result in some pretty strange looking offspring, especially when fanmade breeds are involved.
- Immortality: It's possible for creatures to mutate (or be engineered with) a variant of this, though it's rarely Complete Immortality.
- Death in creatures is usually caused by certain chemicals hitting a final threshold, like too much Wounded or too little Ageing/Life or ATP. Having a mutation that significantly changes or even remove these thresholds can make a creature immune to death by disease, injury, or old age - sometimes all three if you get really lucky with mutations and gene inheritance.
- In particular, in early versions of Creatures 1 the gene that forced Norns to die of old age didn't work properly, making them The Ageless.
- Regardless of genetics, in Creatures 3 any immortal will still be killed by piranhas or the airlock, as they utilize an instant death command that bypasses all checks; the player can use this themself by accessing CAOS codes.
- Player intervention can go even further, thanks to the ability to clone genomes, back up older versions of a given creature, or even just straight up using a mod to invoke Born-Again Immortality.
- Informed Attribute: The Grendels are supposedly vicious little buggers, and disease-infested to boot. Other than third-party genomes, this didn't become true until Creatures 3. And even then, if they're kept away from the jungle and properly trained when young, they're essentially scaly norns.
- Leaning on the Fourth Wall: In Creatures 3 and Docking Station, if you enter the word "express" near a norn, ettin or grendel that has learned that word, (s)he will face the player (not the hand cursor, we mean the actual player) before saying how (s)he feels.
- Lighter and Softer: Creatures Playground/Adventure
- Living Ship: The Shee Ark and Capillata. The latter looks the part a bit more than the former.
- Longest Pregnancy Ever: Because pregnancy length is governed solely by the mother's own biochemistry, creatures may end up carrying their eggs longer than usual if they're stressed out. Another reason could be that a mutation makes it difficult for them to reach the required thresholds. In really severe cases, it might be downright impossible for them to naturally lay an egg, and without some kind of intervention with codes or mods, they'll be pregnant to the end of their lives.
- Meaningful Name: "Grendel" is the name of the (equally vicious) monster battled in the well-known Anglo-Saxon poem Beowulf. Additionally, the "Norns" are figures in Old Norse mythology who spin the threads of fate, but this seems to be a reference in name only.
- Ettins are also figures in Norse mythology: large and hideous creatures, but also often attributed with great wisdom and a status of minor Gods.
- Don't forget the Shee- a variation on "sidhe".
- My Species Doth Protest Too Much: The Banshee, introduced in the Lone Shee storyline written to coincide with the release of Docking Station, were a minority in the race that loved creating gadgets more than experimenting on genetics, a trait that was considered unnatural by the other Shee. Furthermore, they preferred Grendels over Norns for breeding and experimentation, and even integrated some of their genes into their own genome. They were exiled through an interdimensional portal of their own creation and their existence became Shrouded in Myth.
- Neglectful Precursors: The Shee, who didn't bother to safeguard Albia before taking off or the Shee Ark before abandoning it.
- No Biochemical Barriers: Generally in place with the different Norn, Grendel, and Ettin species, who can all enjoy the same foods and suffer from the same diseases, but averted with the Toxic Norns. Bacteria and toxins are actually healthy for them, while medicine is harmful or even lethal. Toxic Norns also have different instincts regarding what they want to eat and may ignore traditional food in favor of rot and waste. Raising them and other Norns in the same environment can be challenging at best, to say nothing of the self-sabotaging, nonviable biochemistry most of their hybrid children will suffer.
- Nonhuman Humanoid Hybrid: Various combinations between Norns, Ettins and Grendels are possible via the gene splicer or fanmade COBs/agents. In C2, these tend to be unviable- Shown Their Work, or just coincidence?
- Heinz Hybrid: Mainly in Creatures 3/DS, as standard C2 Ettins and Grendels are sterile.
- One-Gender Race: Sort of. The "mother" machines in 2 and 3 only produce one gender each of Ettins and Grendels, but getting the opposite genders is possible. With the proper egg agent for C3/DS, this is especially easy, as the egg layers can produce eggs of any breed and gender.
- Organic Technology: The Ark and Capillata again.
- Oxygen Meter: No visible oxygen meter, but any non-aquatic creature dropped in the water will quickly drown as they run out of air.
- Perfect Poison: ATP Decoupler in C3/DS is incredibly deadly even in small doses, due to directly targeting the victim's ATP. While there is a cure, it's practically impossible to administer it in time, since a (non-mutated) creature will only last a few seconds before its ATP goes below the instant death threshold. If you're very unlucky, bacteria in your world might mutate into carrying this toxin.
- Piranha Problem: Piranhas are the apex predator in the Jungle Terrarium of Creatures 3 and will devour any creature or critter that falls into the pool. Trying to introduce them to an aquarium with other marine life can easily wipe out the ecosystem.
- Player Data Sharing: Every game in the series has allowed players to save and share Norns with one another.
- Proud Warrior Race: Hardman Norns were designed to be aggressive Norns capable of fighting Grendels. They even come with a tiny mecha Grendel to beat up for fun.
- Rapid Aging: Any number of mutations can cause a creature to age extraordinarily fast for their species, dying of old age within an hour, if even that long. Due to the way aging is normally handled — decreasing an "Ageing" or "Life" chemical steadily over time and triggering age transitions at certain thresholds — fast-aging mutations are caused by either the aging chemical being depleted by abnormal biochemistry (e.g. converting "Life" instead of protein into amino acids), or by simply not being present in the bloodstream at all upon hatching.
- Reptiles Are Abhorrent: The (supposedly) Always Chaotic Evil Grendels are big scaly things, while the friendly Norns and Ettins are small and fuzzy.
- Revenue-Enhancing Devices: Creatures 3/Docking Station had a large-number of add-on breeds available for purchase online. In 2009, many of them became available for free download, though the ones that came with special add-ons [the Treehugger, Hardman, Bondi, Toxic Norns, and Banshee Grendels] didn't.
- Ridiculously Cute Critter: Norns fit the classic template: big heads, big eyes, small and fuzzy, speaking in high-pitched baby talk.
- Teleporters and Transporters: In all three games. "Conventional" teleporters serve to transport creatures quickly around individual worlds. The standout example is the Warp from Docking Station, which lets creatures jump to other worlds (and plays a major role in the game's backstory).
- Tertiary Sexual Characteristics: Female Purple Mountain Norns wear makeup; female Fallow Norns have purple toenail polish. Many official breeds have the sexes differ only in hairstyle.
- Thrown Out the Airlock: A possible way to die in Creatures 3; the hapless creature is vaporized instantly. The player can also simply utilize the airlock to destroy unwanted items.
- Socialization Bonus: While not required, all games allowed players to save their Creatures as discrete files and give them to friends (or put them in stasis for six generations, or clone umpteen times), and Docking Station introduced the ability to send them over the internet within the game. Additionally, Creatures 2 was somewhat backward-compatible, allowing creatures from the first game to be converted for the second.
- Swirly Energy Thingy: Open warp portals in Docking Station, and the atmosphere machine in 3.
- Themed Cursor: Your hand cursor isn't just a pointer, your creatures can see and interact with it.
- Theme Naming: All of the species are named after elements of Northern European literature and mythology.
- Took a Level in Jerkass: The Grendels in Creatures 3. In earlier games, they were quite capable of living happily with the player's Norns and Ettins, especially if they were raised among them. In Creatures 3, they can and will beat your Norns to death, and changing their nature is much harder.
- Wallbonking: The Trope Namer, and for good reason — the fandom coined the term when in 2, the norns would become so obsessed with the walls that they would forget to eat or sleep. This was seen as a symptom of One-Hour Stupidity Syndrome, after which point the poor norn would literally be Too Dumb to Live. Unlike most examples, this wasn't caused by failing to detect a collision, but rather a flaw in the Artificial Intelligence — the "reward-and-punishment" systems in the norns' brains were flawed, causing them to see innocuous actions such as turning around when crashing into something as amazing. This specific instance caused the poor norn to turn around twice instead of just once when running into something because its own brain tricked it into thinking it was just that euphoric. This — and the rest of the problems with OHSS — were fixed in The Albian Years.
- Whale Egg
- What Measure Is a Non-Cute?: The grendels, the scaly bulbous monsters with a tendency to physically harm norns, are set up as the creatures the player must avoid or fend off, even if it sometimes means harming them. Some fans do show sympathy for the grendels and prefer to breed their kind instead of the norns.
- Wide Open Sandbox: These games are pretty much the ultimate example of this trope. There are no real goals except for the ones you set up for yourself. You can train and nurture your norns or murderously butcher them - in fact this was even what the creator envisioned:
- World Shapes: Albia is a rather unusual combination of "disc world" and "ring world": a flat circular disc, with all the life on the outer edge.
- It in turn inspired the shape of one official level of Knytt Stories ( A Strange Dream).
- Video Game Caring Potential
- Video Game Cruelty Potential: a small subculture of "Norn torture" developed among the fandom, spawning Flame Wars here and there.
Creatures Online so far provides examples of:
- Anthropomorphic Shift: The current design for norns is more human-like than the previous ones, lacking tails, having shorter muzzles and having human-like noses, though this is still subject to change. Baby Norns' heads got even bigger, though.
- Anti-Frustration Features: The "slap-pet" system is replaced with a reward-punishment system that's easier to use (due to the old one being objectively flawed). Thought bubbles now appear describing the last action that the Norns did. You have the option to either reinforce the action or discouraging them.
- Bribing Your Way to Victory: Fishing Cactus promises the game will be free to play with most of the content already available, but players can also purchase "golden eggs" through Microtransactions, which grant access to bonuses that are not necessary to progress through the game.
- Character Customization: When you start the game you can customize your first generation norns to a certain degree, and when norns breed, you can choose which traits their offspring inherit, again to a degree.
- Lighter and Softer: The overall visual theme.
- Rubber-Forehead Aliens: A live Shee is seen for the first time in this game - as it turns out, they appear rather elflike.
- Tertiary Sexual Characteristics: Averted, now the norns have secondary sexual characteristics.
- 2½D: It takes place in more of a '3D side-scrolling' environment, Creatures can move in all directions and objects can be picked up by the hand regardless of where they are on the plane, the screen can also be zoomed in and out as well as the standard 2D movement.