Yearly Update, Even Late

Hello again! As usual, I am very bad at updating websites -- it's hard to think that 15 years ago I could run a dozen simultaneously, and now I struggle with keeping a basic resumé online. Ah well. I had surgery earlier this year with a long recovery, along with college, work, and other serious life stuff I won't get into. Good excuses, but...I don't even update when I have no excuses, so take that how you will! But, as always, I still play Creatures, and still chip away at my projects.

The Lift: Creatures 1 - Norn watching a seahorse
Much like a norn staring endlessly at that seahorse, playing Creatures never gets old for me.
🙟 Currently, I've decided to focus all my energy into one idea at a time, so something gets done around here. This is "cleaning" all the COBs I regularly use, and posting my edits to the website. Because COBs are mostly by third-parties, and are so old generally, a lot of them either have bugs or weird effects. For some time now I've been editing COBs before injecting them, to make sure they contain no errors, and to tweak their effects to my liking. One "error" example is to fix the Island Cave Carrots, which currently don't regenerate in the cave patch, but back in the garden (or they did in some version, maybe that link is fixed, I forget). Another "tweak" example is to remove "pain" from some food items, like some lemon varieties — causing pain while eating is counter-intuitive, since it causes punishment, and a norn can't tell the difference between food items.

However, exactly because these are all third-party made, I don't want to just upload all the edited COBs...personal use is one thing, but posting other people's code is another. So I'm going to create a big list of COB Edits, which will explain my edits and show readers how they can edit their COBs the same way.

One thing I might post for download, maybe, is a completely edited & cobbed "world.src" file. Except for a few unedited COBs still on my list, I've been working on a "template" empty world file. I switch between worlds pretty frequently, and it's a giant pain in the rear to have to re-install the same stuff over and over. At the very least, I'm writing up a page/post which will describe and list everything I do for a "basic game", with tweaks, COBs, and breeds.

The Lift: Creatures 1 - a baby dragon norn
🙟 Another minor note: I moved Kathira's Dragon Norns to breed slot C1S2 -- so they are now shee/geat instead of norns. One of my bazillion "future ideas" is to use the fourth species slots for a parallel species of norns, since there are a handful of clashing slots sprites I enjoy. I'm not sure it will ever be viable to have them breed directly with regular norns, but I have an inkling that it might be possible with a sort of egg-machine COB...maybe some day. For now, they'll just be pretty additions when I want some more variety in my game.


🙟 Additionally, I want to mention I ran into an important "bump" while trying to implement new COB classes, which I mentioned in the last post. It seems while the undefined classes are "there", the vivarium doesn't know entirely what to do with them. They insert as the type of object intended, and can be seen by norns and carried around by hand, but pushing them does nothing. Now that might have been some error on my part in coding, but I am pretty sure that's not the issue. Slink was the only one, that I'm aware of, that created new C1 classes, so I'll have to dig through her blank worlds for more info.

🙟 Lastly, I've been informed it's the Creatures Community Spirit Festival just happened this week~. Funny, I always miss it! I've also started floating in a few Discord servers, so say hello if you see me! I hope to also play Docking Station via the Albian Warp, but that means I have to figure out how to play it all all...I never did get used to C3/DS.....

C1 World Plans, Part 1

Currently I'm working on the background image for my third-party world for Creatures 1. I'm really, uh, picky about the way it looks, because I want it to be a similar aesthetic to the original Albia. So it's gonna take some time....But meanwhile, I want to share some of my (too elaborate) plans for the world.

One of the biggest flaws with C1 is the inability for norns to always distinguish individual objects; on the programming side, this only works in terms of which nearby item grabs the creature's attention, when there are 7 carrots on the screen, for example. But in terms of memory processing, norns ony see Class: they can't tell a carrot from a lemon, they only see Class 2 6, not 2 6 3 and 2 6 4. This means that they can't actually favor carrots over lemons, or any particular item over another within its class -- and this has serious consequences to how the Reward system plays out. Many objects/COBs in C1 have conflicting stims, simultaneously raising and lowering drives, which means the norn interactive with an object receives reward/punishment somewhat randomly. For example, the lemon causes pain, causing the norn to be punished for eating lemons -- but remember, the norn doesn't know it's a lemon, it just understands there is punishment associated with the Food class. There's a wealth of examples in both official and third-party COBs.

So part of my goal with the New World is to redefine each Class along specific guidelines, to help norns differentiate between "good" and "bad" items (and perhaps neutral ones as well). This will be in tandem for a few customized genes. For example, there are classes for good "herbs" and bad "weeds", so while these objects behave similarly, the are categorized differently by the norns; I feel this is perfectly realistic, as we humans can easily group seemingly-similar items into different categories based on their properties. Without this re-classing, norns will never be able to truly learn their environments, making wolfling runs a pretty moot point.

Creatures 1 kitchen with COBs

COB Re-Classifications

I won't go over every Class change, but here are the important ones.
2 6 Food and 2 7 Drinks currently function similarly and somewhat arbitrarily, especially in the cases of "refillable" containers. 2 4 Herbs are sort of used as "medicines" in the game, which makes sense, though they have a big crossover with the rest of the "edible" category, especially when you get into third-party COBs. I am going to more strictly define these items; Food will provide all the necessary nutritional elements (and possibly some new ones), Drinks will primarily be drive-reducers (I drink coffee for its Sleepiness-- and NFP--, after all), and Herbs will treat illnesses and injuries.

2 8 Vendors are also a strange category; I found it weird to place them instead of just placing food, especially when they produce such random things. I am thinking of changing all vendors to function more like the Refrigerator or the Still: they will either refill containers, or produce 1-shot items.  I am not sure it is within norn capability to learn to Drop items when they Approach Vendor, but, perhaps that is possible?

2 10 Animals is one of the problem categories. This will be re-classed specifically for "good" animals, with the 2 23 unused class for Bad Animals. Norns can then potentially learn to fight or run from things like cave flies. 2 23 could also be used for any other "bad" simple objects.

2 11 Hot only makes sense if you take advantage of the different actions a norn can take. I'd like to see if norns can be taught to be able to Push these times (as in, turning on a lamp or lighting a candle), but receive pain and punishment for picking them up (and reward for dropping them)? Or something. I think this is a good item to try more complex ways of learning, and perhaps get norns to learn to warm themselves when cold. Related, I want to re-class the  2 24 unused class as Cold, items that can be used to lower hotness, but that shouldn't be carried around (as norns would get too cold and wet).

2 12 Soothing objects, aka "Shower", should be better tweaked to actually being calming and comforting. They should lower crowdedness, anger, and fear, as so on; that way norns can learn that when they feel those drives, they can calm themselves, without merely running and sitting around miserably till they wear off, or having un-learnable lowering from random toys. So in other words, these items should be soothing in an emotional, rather than physical sense, in general.

3 5 Cannon only has one instance in the game, and I always found it bizarre. In theory norns should learn to be afraid of it, though I've had plenty of them just stand there pushing it repeatedly. I am going to use this Class ass a catch-all for "bad" complex objects, Scary things, stuff that should be negatively associated.

With most of the other COBs, I'll be tweaking their stims and making sure they respond logically for their categories, as well as (hopefully) making some of them more useful and interesting to the player. For example, the 3 4 Slide (the A/V projector and jukebox) is a really fascinating category, but don't function much differently than Bigtoys. Steve Dismukes's Hologram Projector was one of the best uses of this class, for example, taking advantage of its ability to hold multiple options. I'd like to see if there's a way they can be modified to have more complex interactions with the creatures, specifically in ways that affect Memory....or at the very least, have them play with CAOS a little bit for visual effect, like making the norns dance to the jukebox.

New Classes

Above I explained the use of a couple of the un-allocated classes to separate the "good" and "bad" objects for learning purposes. But how about some new ideas for simple class 2 25 and compound class 3 6? In Sandra Linkletter and Lis Morris's original custom world, Terra Nornia, the unused simple classes were all assigned to new types of food and plants; 3 6 was only ever used by Slink's Ground Level Meter. I am considering keeping 3 6 as a Tools category, and reclassify certain objects under this class in ways that make sense; for example, things that function like the bed which the norns call "vehicle", or the force field (currently a "bigtoy").

But a more interesting idea I have is to make 2 25 Magic. Yes! The idea is to create objects (like magic wands or charms) which affect other creatures besides the activating norn (and include fun visuals of course). Wands etc. would perhaps be one-shot "containers" and need recharging from a Vendor. Norns would be able to get up to a lot of funny mischief with this, and it might even be possible to add a little of the adventure mode feel, seeking out objects or casting spells in certain locations. Class 3 6 might also need to be designated for magical use, perhaps creating some fantastical interactive objects...maybe they can give rewards for casting certain spells on them.

Screencap of Stimulus gene dialog box in Cyberilfe's Genetics Kit.
A Stimulus gene in the Genetics Kit.
Now this idea is complex, and brings up questions about the limitations of the C1 engine. First, I am not sure some of the area-targeting effects are possible to implement from a COB, though I know there are certain ones. But more importantly, I am not sure norns have any way of "aiming" at others -- in fact, I'm not sure norns have the mental capability of even conceiving of the existence of other norns. This is a major flaw in the conception of norn AI, I think. Norns have no way to create a "community" or build "relationships" if they have only a minimal awareness of other creatures in relation to themselves. Supposedly, if you take a look at the Genetics Kit, a norn's Stimulus gene can perceive the difference between siblings, parents, children, and opposite-sex norns (and other species I believe, since Terra Nornia allowed cross-species breeding, and mine likely will as well). Other than recognizing sex, I don't think this is implemented at all in C1. Perhaps Emitter genes could be customized to react to these particular Stims; but I'm thinking at the very least new Lobes would have to be created specifically to process this kind of information.

Anyway, even adding new Lobes might not be enough, though it's something I'll be exploring with my custom breed for the New World. Because a lot of norn behavior is handled by the engine, there might be no way for a norn to ever learn to "consider" its actions in relative to other norns. I'll probably explore this in a later post.

(In an updated C1 engine, I would add support for a norn to remember genetic Monikers, giving them the ability to tell specific creatures apart, and linking them with the reward system to develop some form of "relationship" with individuals. Maybe an OLE could add extended capabilities? But that's not going to happen from my end any time soon.)

Integration into the New World

Some of my ideas for reclassification can be implemented in the original Albia. It should be relatively easy to make something like the "bad animals" class function properly, simply by editing the class numbers for certain COBs like the Cave Flies. In the new world, I want to have as much pre-loaded as possible so players don't have to fiddle around with their COBs, especially if there's conflicting class numbers. I'm going to have to publish a list of COBs that are modified for the new world, so that nobody tries to, say, add more original lemons.

Additionally, while I hope that the new world will be a mighty fine place for regular norns to live, I think the best way to take advantage of an "upgraded" Albia is to include a new breed of norn, with customized genetics. Genes can be tweaked to better assist the more logical class system.

Screencap of C1 Norn .exp file opened in a hex editor.
Section of a Norn's export file containing language. Hex ahoy.
It is really sad that the norn memory can't remember specific items or creatures; obviously they started tackling this issue in Creatures 2, though as we all know it was never quite completed. A new world can't change a lot of this, as the processing of creature brains is hardwired into the game engine. Additionally, as I said above, the shaky ability to conceive of "others" really puts a limit on how much a norn can learn from its interactions with other creatures. For example, learning language from others appears to be life-like mimicry, but it's not -- it's hard-coded into the engine for norns to absorb words they hear into each word-slot. That is, just like Classes, the norns don't actually hear specific words, they hear predetermined word-slots, and arbitrary language is plugged into their hex code by the engine for each word they "memorize". The image there shows shows the hex of a partially-taught baby norn, Balbina.

(Quick anecdote: way way back when I first played Creatures in the mid-90s, I was playing on both a Mac and on Windows. There were fewer fun tools developed for the Mac, but someone had programmed a utility which taught all the words to exported norns, with a customizable vocabulary. I thought that was ideal, and always wanted to make a Windows version, but obviously never got around to it. Maybe some day.)

However, it does occur to me that removing 100% of the ambiguity of object stims might altar the "randomness" of a norn's learning progression. We know that because of how the norn's lobes learn actions by combining "true" statements (see Shoy's blog post* for example), an individual norn might have a variety of experiences associated with one action that produce a mix of reward/punishment. They might "accidentally" come to associate something like eating with negative stim -- this is one of the life-like features of the game. When the objects themselves no longer provide any reward ambiguity, is it removing too much of these interesting mixed signals? Or will the other environmental factors be enough? I guess we'll have to see.

(Come to think of it, it makes sense that so many norns have difficulty eating with other norns around. If every time they approach food, another norn's presence is automatically raising their Crowdedness++ and triggering punishment -- let alone if one decides to give him a swift kick in the butt. I'll be talking about problems with drives and crowdedness in particular another time.)

There are a ton of other ideas I'd like to implement, in particular related to Breed Slots and creatures/species, so I'll be back to talk about those as I work on them.

*Name corrected with a tip from Malkin! (12.26.17)

Return to Generation 1

Well, I decided Delphine and Darwin needed some personal attention, and probably a bit of intervention from the had. Unfortunately a lot of my plans didn't go to, well, plan.

Darwin only eats every 20 minutes or so. His Perfecio genes keep his life force up, and most of his drives don't raise very fast, but he mostly just sits around staring. Shortly after he reached adulthood, I realized I couldn't recall if I've ever seen him sleep. I think he did once briefly as a child. So I gave him a sleeping pill and sent him to a lift in the hopes he'd catch some ZZZ's, and at long last he got some rest. Maybe something will "click" for him when he wakes. At the very least as an adult he seems to walk around a bit more frequently. Delphine's hunger continues to be untouchable. In fact, when injected with pure Hunger--, absolutely nothing happened. She apparently lacks the ability to use Hunger-- in a chemical reaction? I had to inject multiple doses in rapid succession to keep whatever it was that was over-processing it from malfunctioning. Interestingly, after this problem was resolved, she began to...just stand there, much like Darwin. Why do I have such indecisive norns? Luckily she moves when she feels the need, and spent most of the time carrying the toy top around, all smiles. It was time to move on with my original plan of continuing with Generation 1.

Starting over, I re-imported some of the earlier norns: Sid and Aaron, the Cyberlife Forest and Purple Mountain norns, Alice and Angel, both Perfecio from the Hatchery (if I recall correctly), and Adeline, a female Santa 96. (I have mixed feelings about the Santas, but they appeal to me more if I think of them as kind of Nordic.) Anyway, with some careful timing and coaxing from the Hand, Alice was soon carrying Aaron's baby, and Adeline with Sid's. The two new gen-2's, Billy and Barnaby, were fed and exported to be later united with the rest of their generation.
   

Then, it was time to just supervise as the norns lived their lives, but something was already amiss - Angel was approaching 1:45, and had yet to reach adulthood. Shy of the 2 minute mark I force-aged her, so I don't know if her lack of age was due to the anti-oxidant glitch or a genetic issue. But this was only a minor setback, because within the next hour all three females were pregnant! I don't know what made the boys so hyperactive?? Adeline's second pregnancy stayed stuck on 8 for a long time, and I hoped it didn't bode ill for the egg, but before a C-section was deemed necessary, Adeline took a nap in the kitchen which seemed to refresh her, and there came the egg. I moved the eggs to the kitchen so they could be hatched when I had a moment of down-time, and babies Benoite, Bertrand, and Benjamine were born in short order. I don't know how it happened because mating can be so finicky in C1, so I doubt I'll see such luck again.

Now it was just a matter of letting things proceed naturally....but the final disaster struck. Creatures bombed while saving. This happens every once in a while to me since XP. It usually is a result of a COB throwing an exception (the last time it was the wasp's nest), but sometimes it just hates saving. I usually play with Doctor mode on so I can switch worlds easily and save when necessary, which usually keeps crashes from ruining everything....but I'm not too sure how far back this game was saved. Alice appears to be 2 months pregnant but I am not sure if this is a new pregnancy or a repeat of one that already happened! At least she's at 100% and smiling for the camera. Hmm....I thought I'd corrected the body data for her offset head, but apparently I forgot!

I'll be back later with week with some genetic comparisons of all the babies, plus some of what I'm working on behind the scenes.

A Welcome to New Norns....Even Unhappy Ones

I figured for this new blog, I should start with introducing my current norn community! I confess my style of gameplay doesn't usually allow norns to live out their lives peacefully. Typically when my world starts to get a bit too crowded for my attention, I export older generations while getting the young ones squared away with basic skills. This means sometimes I have 4 or 5 generations "alive" and waiting. That's the case with my current run, which is 4 generations deep....except this time there's a slight change, because I've introduced an exotic specimen as well......


Denys is almost identical to his father Ciel, except for the twiggy Forest tail inherited from his mother Cece. And just like his father, he seems to always have a smile on his face! Part of that is due to his Perfecio gene which keeps his life force high, as long as he does get sick. Earlier today he had a case of sniffles along with Antigen 1, and his life dropped down to 45%, but he was good about eating his carrots and herbs and perked right back up in no time.

Darwin is Denys's half-brother by their mother Cece. His genetic line is a little more confusing; his father, Beau, extends back several generations to both Purple Mountain starters Aaron and Sandy, as well as Wanda the Wood Norn. Darwin is still a wee lad in this pic, and has yet to take a single bite of honey, though he looks pretty happy holding it. In fact, he didn't eat anything at all until he grew to Child stage. Does he have some genetic mutation which was preventing him? Well...because he also doesn't really like to walk either, and in fact, most of his drive levels refuse to raise at all. Every once in a while he'll get an energy spurt and take several paces, push a lift button, or approach a plant, but mostly he stands around smiling and staring into space. It took 34 minutes to get him to eat 2 carrots and raise his life force, but since nothing is eating away at his glycogen stores, he will likely last a long time. Maybe he's just Zen?

Delphine is the full sister of Denys. Unfortunately, the third member of generation 4, does indeed have some undesirable mutations. Despite my best efforts, she began frowning shortly after birth and never stopped, and when I took a look at her chemicals it was pretty clear why. Delphine's hunger is permanently at 100%, even as she sips honey straight from the pot. I can't help but think it's a pretty unhappy existence, since while her hunger never affects her life force, she can never truly be at peace. I may have to make a merciful injection of anti-hunger for her.

Anais is the fourth member of my little troupe, and she's a bit special, because she's not part of generation 4. Anais is my test run of what will be a new breed of norns, with tweaks that change her sense of crowdedness and reward. I'll explain more about her in another post, but so far she seems like a smart and happy norn. Currently she looks like a green-tinted Alba norn, my current sprites for Slot 6, and her genes are based originally on the Ron norns which usually fill that spot.



Oh, and I would be remiss if I forgot Blerg, the world's current grendel. He and Denys were fast friends during the norn's childhood into adolescence, so I hope he will be a friendly presence to the rest of the norns as he grows. And look, he posed for the camera!


Mutations

Clearly Delphine's constant hunger is probably the most interesting mutation of this small crew -- or at least the most noticeable. Compared to her brother, she has some really interesting differences, the effects of which I am unsure.

Compared to her parents, Delphine only has 3 mutations.

  • Mutation: Emitter 152 - Youth F MutDupCut Creature, Reproductive, I am fertile, chem=Oestrogen, thresh=8, samp=17, gain=6,features=Inverted Digital
  • Parent: Emitter 152 - Youth F MutDupCut Creature, Reproductive, I am fertile, chem=Oestrogen, thresh=0, samp=17, gain=6,features=Inverted Digital

I think this is a minor change, but we'll have to wait to see if it affects her fertility.

  • Mutation: Reaction 73 - Chi B MutDupCut 1*Hunger-- + 1*Hunger -> 1*Reward + 1*NONE; k-sub-0 = 8
  • Parent: Reaction 73 - Emb B MutDupCut 1*Hunger-- + 1*Hunger -> 1*Reward + 1*NONE; k-sub-0 = 8

Here is a gene clearly affecting her Hunger levels; a norn is supposed to be rewarded for fighting hunger since infancy, but in Delphine, this won't switch on until Childhood. This explains why she was a bit reluctant at first to eat...but it doesn't say why she is always hungry!

  • Mutation: Stimuli 99 - Emb B Mut 'Unrecognized word' causes sig=16 GS neu=8(Audible even) int=128,,, -> 12*NFP-- + 12*Boredom-- + 12*NONE + 3*NONE
  • Parent: Stimuli 99 - Emb B Mut 'Unrecognized word' causes sig=16 GS neu=8(Audible even) int=128,,, Sensed Even When Asleep -> 12*NFP-- + 12*Boredom-- + 12*NONE + 3*NONE
This is also relatively minor; she cannot hear new words in her sleep (or at least they aren't very interesting!).

But what is wrong with Delphine??  I can't tell. I'm a little bit confused as to how her hunger levels fail to drop....I am guessing that it involves mutations or deletions related to hunger changes in Forest Norns, versus the Perfecio edits. We'll have to see if it shows up in any of her siblings.

Denys only has 2 mutations, but they might be interesting.

  • Mutation: Reaction 233 - Emb B MutDupCut 3*Antigen7 + 1*Glucose -> 1*Antibody7+ 1*Hotness; k-sub-0 = 72
  • Parent: Reaction 233 - Emb B MutDupCut 2*Antigen7 + 1*Glucose -> 1*Antibody7+ 1*Hotness; k-sub-0 = 72
This change is a mixed blessing; while Antigen7 will be burning comparatively glucose per tick, the Antibody7 will be slower to respond. No way to know if this is good unless this stray Antigen floats by.

  • Mutation: Lobes 121 - Emb B MutDup  Love #=7 Dendrite Type 1: Input Lobe=4, Min#=0, Max#=1, Spread=0, Fanout=0
  • Parent: Lobes 121 - Emb B MutDup  Love #=7 Dendrite Type 1: Input Lobe=4, Min#=1, Max#=1, Spread=0, Fanout=0
Hmm. This mutation affects the Attention Lobe as it responds to input form the Noun Lobe. I don't know if this mutation would have any effect -- it allows the input to be 0, meaning an attention-grabbing object could actually fail to make any cells fire. (Correct me if I'm wrong?)

Confusingly, Darwin shows NO mutations from his parents. How can that be?? It must mean that some of mom and dad's genes act in concert with each other, similar to Delphine's problem. The genes by themselves aren't an issue, but they turn into a problem when combined together.

Comparing Darwin and Denys, in Lobe 6, Darwin has a State Rule of PLUS type 1 instead of 0. Since Lobe 6 is the Decision lobe, I am guessing this is why Darwin has such a hard time actually following through with any actions. This might be in combination with the fact that his drives aren't raising, meaning there is nothing to trigger the desire for a decision in the first place.  His Lobe 8, the Concept lobe, is also a bit smaller than Denys's, with a lower Max and a higher Spread, which may also be affecting his ability to process his surroundings. The Concept lobe is responsible for putting together different combinations of "true" statements -- "I am hungry and I see food" -- but if he's unable to link concepts then he wouldn't be able to associate any drive with any action.

A few other tidbits: Darwin isn't punished by disappointment, or slapping.  He feels nothing when approached, nothing when an object comes into view, and nothing at hearing a new word! His loneliness lowers when he "gets", which could have amusing consequences, if he moved more.

All-in-all, a very strange trio.

Plans

I try to keep a high ratio of females in my worlds, as it gives a higher chance of eggs since males can mate more frequently due to a shorter recovery time. So my next step is likely to return to generation 1, and allow them to live out their lives, and let them breed with little intervention before moving on to generation 2 and 3 and doing the same. This will give a few more chances at new babies before returning to generation 4 where Anais will be "introduced" to the family tree. I think this is especially important since I've his a few genetic "snags" already - I'm still not sure how long Darwin will live, and he and Delphine are not the only problematic mutations that have cropped up in the family line. While Denys will likely find a happy mate in Anais, it's pretty clear I've got to go back and check out the rest of the lives of this norn lineage.

First Entry

About once every 2 years I get nostalgic and remember my love for Cyberlife's Creatures. I reinstall everything, plug in all my favorite COBs, and dream about all the plans I had for my own custom modifications. That mood hit me again recently, and I dug out all my old files....this time, I'm hoping to create some content which will last. I hope to preserve the era of early internet colaboration in the hopes that others will enjoy it too.

I have a lot of big plans. They encompass nearly all of the potential modifications to Creatures 1, most of which were discovered by intrepid fans.