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)


  1. That's not my blog post - it's Shoy's. :) I'm glad to hear about your plans for your new world!
    How do you imagine Music/Instruments should work?

    1. Ah, thanks for the correction!

      I think Music will actually stay similar, which is why I didn't mention it. It will focus "emotional" aspects like lowering Boredom and NFP. I'll likely expand it to also raise Sex Drive (which shouldn't punish a norn - I know I'm not the first one to have that idea!) and probably also lower Crowdedness (so they can enjoy dancing together!). Other possibilities would be raising PMN "Dancing", or to assist breeding by raising fertility or helping pregnancy recovery. I guess this makes Music a very "social" category, which makes sense.


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