Follow TV Tropes


Video Game / Creatures

Go To
Do Norns dream of electric Shee?

A series of simulation games created by Cyberlife (later Creature Labs) made in The '90s, this series tasks the player with caring for a bunch of Norns: fuzzy little critters with a surprisingly complex virtual biology and the ability to learn very simple language. The player can also help the creatures to evolve and expand their capabilities over generations. 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 game fandoms 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 (2001): a free game, built on a slightly modified version of the Creatures 3 engine with online capabilities. Like 3, it's set on a spaceship, and could in fact be "docked" with the Shee Ark if you own both games in order to expand the world. It was available on its official website.
  • Creatures (PlayStation 2001 and Game Boy Advance 2002): Games that utilized art assets from the PC games but vastly simplified the Norns' programming with predetermined vocabulary and simple health bars.
  • Creatures: Raised in Space (2002): A sequel to the PlayStation game that added the goal of collecting Energy Stars to rescue the Norns. The Shee Ark's rooms and storyline were used as the setting and the title screen erroneously labeled the game Creatures 3.
  • Creatures Alchemist (2017): A free-to-play game by Spil Games to advertise the then-promised Creatures Family but otherwise bore no gameplay resemblance to the main series, instead being about fusing elements to create new Norn species. Game Breaking Bugs have rendered it unplayable past a certain stage.
  • Creatures: Color Craze: Another free-to-play webgame that was so under-advertised that the Creatures fandom didn't know it existed until after it had become unavailable. The only known gameplay footage shows that it involved helping Norns down a water slide.

The PC games are available on, and an Updated Re-release with more bug fixes included is now available on Steam.

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 planned to release a free-to-play mobile game, Creatures Family, in 2017; however, it was never released and was confirmed in 2020 to be cancelled.

The Creatures Wiki has more information if you're interested in that. Now, on to the tropes.

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.
  • Adam and/or Eve: Emphasis on the "or", as the names aren't paired together.
    • The first Norn created was named Ron (after a producer he was being demonstrated to), but his mate was named Eve. Their child, the first Norn ever naturally hatched, was named Cain.
    • In the PlayStation and GBA games, the starting couple will be named Adam and... Berta, to keep up the alphabetical theme.
  • A.I. Is a Crapshoot: A mild example in the game's own AI; creatures can develop to be aggressive, and rare individuals can kill other creatures extremely quickly.
    • Played straight in the cancelled game Project Loci, the Big Bad of the game would have been the titular evil AI Loci who had been driven insane by years of isolation.
  • 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.
  • Alphabetical Theme Naming:
    • In the PlayStation and GBA games, the starting couple will be Adam and Berta. All Norns hatched from then on can be named anything by the player, but the naming screen is pre-filled with a name starting with each subsequent letter, such as Carlos/Carmen, Daniel/Dana, Ed/Elise, and so on.
    • In Docking Station, an agent that automatically names Norns when they hatch picks names based on generation: Generation 1 is A, Generation 2 is B, and so on. There are so few Q, X, and Z names that repeats are common within their generations, the original agent names only Norns and not other Creatures (the Steam update changes this), and at generation 27 onwards the autonamer starts picking random names of any letter.
  • Always Chaotic Evil: Allegedly, Grendels. However, 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.
  • Amazing Technicolor Wildlife: Many Norns have realistic fur colors in different shades of brown, red, and white, but others have bright colors and patterns like green, purple, blue, blue with stars, black-and-red diamonds, and so on. Color mutations can alter their appearances even further no matter what their base sprites are, as well as change the colors of Grendels and Ettins who have even less base color variation.
  • Artificial Brilliance: The series’ claim to fame. The AI of the Norns, as well as the Ettins and Grendels, is astonishingly good even by today’s standards. All creatures have distinct personalities that influence how they interact with others, learn some things faster or slower, and even develop their own habits, likes, and dislikes as they grow and learn.
  • Artificial Stupidity: As great the AI of the creatures are, the moments where the AI goofs up are arguably just as famous as its complexity.
    • Creatures 2, unintentionally — an excess of reward and punishment signals led to the infamous "One Hour Stupidity Syndrome", which leads 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 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 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 (a 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.
  • Circling Stars: When a creature falls unconscious, stars will circle on top of its head and if you don't do anything the creature will die.
  • Contemplate Our Navels: The detail of the creatures' 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.
  • Covers Always Lie:
    • As seen above, one of the covers of the first game inexplicably makes the Norns rabbit-like.
    • The Grendel on the cover of Creatures 3, as well as on the title screen, uses the Creatures 2 Bulbous Grendel design rather than the Jungle Grendel design actually used in the game. Also, a mysterious humanoid alien is on the title screen that never appears in the gameplay itself. Many fans assume this strange being might be a Shee.
    • Creatures Exodus has a Hardman Norn on the cover holding a bottle of Calm Balm. While Hardman Norns are compatible with the games in Exodus and the Calm Balm comes with them, unless you are playing the Steam version they are not in Exodus by default.
  • Darker and Edgier: The first game is very jolly and contains no hazards that threaten your Norns outside of disease and weeds; even the grendels are friendlier and can’t kill them. Creatures 2 and 3 are still whimsical, but take place in areas much more hazardous than the fist where your norns can now die more violently and their tones are more serious, alien, and lonely.
  • 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, and every world will just stop working after it has been played in for enough hours.
  • Easter Egg:
    • Creatures (first game):
      • The game contains a file called "Bustr" which contains two poems called "Hunting scuba cows (A Poem)" and "Surfing with the Fridge (Prose)".
      • The game contains two files called "say1.wav" and "say2.wav", both of which are incomprehensible quick sentences. Reversing them, slowing them and mixing them reveals a voiceline saying "And Now for Something Completely Different", taken from the 1971 film by the same name by Monty Python.
    • Creatures 2:
      • If the player clicks the barrels near the Shee statue, a cutout of Toby Simpson (Creative Director and Executive Producer/Manager of the games) will emerge from the statue and make some weird faces for a few seconds, before disappearing into the ground.
      • There are two files called "Bustr3" and "Len the Pen" which respectively contain a sonnet and a poem. Len the Pen can only be found in extensions of the game.
      • If the player clicks on a Doozer, it will blurt out a weird sound. Reversing the sound and slowing it down reveals that the sound is actually a bunch of people who worked on the game chanting "Hell no, we won't go!".
      • Opening the Graveyard applet info box for a dead creature and entering the phrase "wow man look at the colours on the wall" (without the quotation marks), gives the Graveyard outlet a new tab called "Groovy", which contains a picture of colors blended together.
    • Creatures 3/Docking Station:
      • The game has a file called DJ_G which has samplings of the game's sound effect.
      • Typing "Why is the world flat?" (quotation marks included) puts a fisheye filter on the game. The filter can be removed by typing "Why is the world round?". Both quotes will also make the hand cursor say "It isn't!".
  • 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.
  • Feelies: The limited edition of Creatures 2 came with a norn plushie.
  • Friend to All Living Things: The Treehugger Norns in Creatures 3.
  • G-Rated Sex: "Kisspopping." Actually explained in-story — the Shee were rather prudish, so they made Norn mating a fairly tame affair.
  • Healing Herb: Several plants in the first two games are presented as herbs that the player can use to help sick creatures, some of which are based on Terran herbs (e.g. feverfew, which reduces hotness in the creature that eats it). Food in C3/DS can also have beneficial side-effects - DS carrots contain the cure for carbon monoxide poisoning.
  • 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.
  • Human Head on the Wall: In the Docking Station stories, the Lone Shee is horrified to find that Grendels have filled a room with the mounted heads of deer-like Norns. He takes two of the heads to clone them and save their species, thus recreating the Fallow Norns.
  • 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 removes 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 or back up older versions of a given creature.
  • 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.
  • Last of Their Kind: In most games your starting Norns are said to be this:
    • The original Creatures 1note  and the spinoffs on the PlayStation and GBA are the most strict about this: The limited numbers of eggs and/or breedable adults you start with are all you get, and if your population dies out then you have to start the game over from scratch. (Unless you happen to have any exported Norns you can bring in.)
    • Creatures 2 has a similar premise but allows the player to replenish the hatchery infinitely, though the manual discourages the player from relying on this. Additionally, it's only on Albia that Norns have gone nearly extinct (again), as more exist off-screen on spaceships.
    • In the Docking Station storyline, the Lone Shee rescued the last Magma Norn, after all the others either starved to death in the Albian volcano or were killed by Grendels. A later chapter shows multiple Magma Norns, suggesting the Lone Shee was able to rebuild their population.
  • 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, that creature will face out toward the screen and state their current emotion.
  • Lighter and Softer: Creatures Playground/Adventure, which were intended for young children. Instead of taking place on mysterious alien worlds inhabited by some violent beasts, they instead take place on a peaceful world inhabited completely by friendly creatures and the only way Norns can die is by old age.
  • Liquid Assets: Aging is controlled by a chemical in all creatures, so you can make a norn immortal by simply injecting it with the right chemical repeatedly. Injury is also represented by a 'wounded' chemical.
  • 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:
    • The violent yet tragic "Grendel" species is named after the violent yet tragic monster fought in the well-known Anglo-Saxon poem Beowulf.
    • 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. Here they are small and somewhat cute, and supposedly more wise than most other creatures around.
    • "Shee" is a phonetic rendering of the standard pronunciation of "sidhe". A fitting name given the Shee’s great power, knowledge, and eccentricity.
  • Mix-and-Match Critter: While different creatures normally cannot reproduce, Creatures 2 and 3 have a machine called the "gene splicer" that can make a creatures out of two different ones, meaning you can make an hybrid of a Norn, a Grendel and/or an Ettin. However, this creature won't be able to reproduce. Also, the two creatures used to make the hybrid will die.
  • 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.
    • Grendels can be friendly to Norns if raised right, though it certainly isn't easy
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • Oxygen Meter: No visible oxygen meter, but any non-aquatic creature dropped in the water will quickly drown as they run out of air.
  • Palette Swap: In term of appearence, the Underground Critter (an official add-on for Creatures 2) is just a purple colored Doozer.
  • 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, though this was removed in the Steam version.
  • 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 creatures 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 until the Steam re-release in 2021.
  • Ridiculously Cute Critter: Norns fit the classic template: big heads, big eyes, small and fuzzy, speaking in high-pitched baby talk.
  • Santa Claus: A Norn breed in the first game is a norn with Santa Claus's iconic outfit and beard.
  • Sea Monster: Creatures 2 has a big aquatic creature called Borland hidden behind rocks in the western ocean. It will only come out of its lair during Spring or Fall and if there are enough Zander fishes (the purple fishes); otherwise, the player may never learn of its existence.
  • 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 (although in appearance only; they were otherwise given a standard genome).
  • Swirly Energy Thingy: Open warp portals in Docking Station, and the atmosphere machine in 3.
  • 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 let creatures jump to other players' worlds when the servers were still online (and plays a major role in the game's backstory).
  • Tertiary Sexual Characteristics: Many breeds have the males and females differ by hair color or style (with Creatures 3 breeds, the females were often given curls), or just by different coloring. A couple even give the females make-up.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • Thrown Out the Airlock: Creatures 3 comes with two airlocks, and the player can use them to toss out anything into space (which destroys it) - including creatures.
  • 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.
  • Underground Monkey: The games have three different creature species to take care of: Norns, Grendels and Ettins. Each of these creatures have multiple breeds. There are more than twenty Norn breeds, four Grendel breeds (five if you consider the Boney Grendel an official breed) and two Ettin breeds.
  • 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.
    • In Creatures 3 and Creatures Docking Station, part of the wallbonking stimulus went unused, preventing creatures from feeling pain and fear or being injured when they walked into something. Players experimented with reenabling it to see if this would discourage them from running into walls — and creatures promptly began wallbonking themselves to death. Turns out that even though they instinctively retreat from things that scare them, they can't perceive walls at all and instead try to flee from other nearby objects/creatures, repeatedly hitting that same wall in the process.
  • Whale Egg: All creatures in the games, including the mammal-like Norns and Ettins, lay eggs.
  • 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:
    Steve Grand: Equally appealing to children and adults, men and women. Something you wouldn't be ashamed to keep on your office PC. Something a naturalist would want to study, a father would want to teach soccer, a granny to dress up and a complete b***ard to butcher mercilessly.
    • Averted in Creatures: Raised In Space, where you need to gather stars to power the Ark and help it finally arrive at its destination.
  • 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: Many players report getting genuinely attached to their creatures and sad when they die. Tickling creatures also makes them laugh and smile, encouraging the odd scratch just because.
  • Video Game Cruelty Potential: A small subculture of "Norn torture" developed among the fandom, spawning Flame Wars here and there.

Creatures Online (now cancelled) provided examples of:

  • Anthropomorphic Shift: The current design for norns was more human-like than the previous ones, lacking tails, having shorter muzzles and having human-like noses. Baby Norns' heads got even bigger, though.
  • Anti-Frustration Features: The "slap-pet" system was replaced with a reward-punishment system that was easier to use (due to the old one being objectively flawed). Thought bubbles were to appear describing the last action that the Norns did. You had the option to either reinforce the action or discouraging them.
  • Bribing Your Way to Victory: Fishing Cactus promised the game would be free to play with most of the content already available, but players could also purchase "golden eggs" through Microtransactions, which grant access to bonuses that would not be necessary to progress through the game.
  • Character Customization: When you started the game, you could customize your first generation norns to a certain degree, and when norns bred, you could choose which traits their offspring inherited, 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; the norns were to have secondary sexual characteristics.
  • 2½D: It took place in more of a '3D side-scrolling' environment. Creatures could move in all directions and objects be picked up by the hand regardless of where they were on the plane, and the screen could also be zoomed in and out in addition to the standard 2D movement.