Creatures is not really a game per say, it’s more of an exercise in creative control. Playing God, playing parent, whatever you want to call it, creatures takes some getting used to. The depth of this software is quite amazing. It covers both the sociological and biological approaches to artificial life. If you’re not prepared to become attached to a little creature that lives in your computer then turn back now.
Here’s how it begins. You have a hatchery containing 6 eggs. After selecting an egg and transferring it to the incubator, you will bring a sweet little Norn into the world. The life of this little guy (or gal) is in your hands. First off, you should name your Norn and register her birth. Then you have to make sure that your Norn gets enough food, keep an eye on her needs and desires and begin to teach your little friend about the world she lives in. There are really no limits on what you can teach your Norn. You can shape (or warp) her little mind in any direction with instruction in speech and behavior. You can teach your Norn to swear and drink coffee, or to be the perfect little angel that you were as a child. You can smack your Norn as punishment for undesirable activities or give him a tickle on the head as a reward.
Norns are really cute. Like I said before, I think the big eyes have something to do with it. They seem to be a cross between Ewoks and Gremlins (before exposure to sunlight). They have a life span of about 10-15 hours and reach adolescence after about an hour, meaning they’ve got a little less time as a living being than your run of the mill mosquito. After about six hours they will begin to show an interest in the opposite sex. Norns are artificial life. They have digital DNA, a neural network and a chemical metabolism. Every Norn is unique.
Once you’ve figured out how to handle one Norn, you can get crazy and hatch a few more. Not only are Norns happier with some friends to keep them company, when they get to the proper age you can breed them. Norns can teach each other, so an older Norn can ease some of the work of caring for younger ones. Norns are not alone in their world, there are other creatures that you’ll have to watch out for. They’re called Grendels and they carry diseases and are generally nasty. Once your Norn happens across a Grendel, they can be very difficult to get rid of.
Breeding Norns can get quite scientific. Especially if you’re trying to achieve preconceived results. The genetics are complicated and experimentation may lead to some unique creations.
The world that the Norns inhabit is called Albia and it is a beautifully constructed environment of forests, mountains, gardens and water. It is about twelve screens wide and three screens high. There are elevators, moving platforms and teleporters to help your Norns get around. The movement is fluid and your Norns react realistically to their situations. In Albia, your Norns have access to everything they need to live a full and content life (well, almost: there’s no Star Wars movies), but there are also dangers to watch out for. For example, some plants are medicinal and others are poisonous.
creatures is an engaging and entertaining mixture of biology and sociology. The sociological and cultural aspects of Norns are what separates creatures from other life sims. When compared to a strictly science based product such as Darwin Pond, creatures comes out on top when it comes to holding the users attention. With this said, it must be noted that creatures is something that you need to dedicate a good chunk of time to in order to fully appreciate.
While it is an extremely deep program, creatures is also easy to use. Clicking and dragging are the only skills you’ll need to guide your Norns through their lives. There are various kits in the tool bar to help you out. The health kit helps you monitor your Norn’s health and administer any medicinal elements. The breeders kit helps you to know when your Norns are ready to breed and to keep track of subsequent generations. And of course, there is a funeral kit which lets you write a eulogy and prepare a tombstone.
creatures is a complete experience. Successfully breeding your own Norns and guiding them from birth to old age will make you feel a bit like scientist and a bit like a parent. Just like real life parenting, you will suffer some frustration and exasperation. But there will also be moments of pride and tenderness. When it comes down to it, it doesn’t matter that these critters exist only in your computer, the fact that you care about them makes them as real as can be. And you can’t help but care.