Do Norns dream of electric Shee?
A series of Artificial Life games created by Cyberlife (later Creature Labs) in the The Nineties, 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).
The fandom was making boatloads of user-created content before The Sims even existed; a lot of it is still available today.
The games in the series were:
- 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.
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, Creatures 4 has been announced for the 2nd quarter of 2012. Then it changed hands, and has been sent to Development Hell, where it wanders in purgatory.
The Creatures Wiki has more information if you're interested in that. Now, on to the tropes.
- 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."
- 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.
- Exclusively Evil: Allegedly, Grendels. Actually, with proper training, many species of Grendel can be taught to cohabitate with Norns or Ettins peacefully.
- This appears to be the result of the story being told by the shee's point of view, the shee tending to be a judgemental species (though no more so than our own) the grendels fell victim to Reptiles Are Abhorrent, the banshee are probably just as misjudged, and the Lone Shee was himself ostracised for being different.
- In at least some of the games 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 add-on 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.
- Cartoon Cheese
- 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.
- Disappears Into Light: Norn and Ettin corpses disappear into sparkly fog. Grendels melt.
- 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.
- 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.
- Improbable Species Compatibility: 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.
- 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.
- Lighter and Softer: Creatures Playground/Adventure
- Living Ship: The Shee Ark and Capillata. The latter looks the part a bit more than the former.
- 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".
- Neglectful Precursors
- 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 any non-aquatic creature dropped in the water will quickly drown as they run out of air.
- Revenue Enhancing Devices: Creatures 3/Docking Station had a large-number of add-on breeds available for purchase online. However, in 2009, many of them became available for free down, though the ones that came with special add-ons [the Treehugger, Hardman, Bondi, Toxic Norns, and Banshee Grendels] didn't.
- Ridiculously Cute Critters: The norns and the ettins, to some.
- Even the Grendels, to some.
- 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.
- Themed Cursor: Your hand cursor isn't just a pointer, your creatures can see and interact with it.
- Urban Legend of Zelda: The legendary Secret Adventure Mode. The unofficial "Creatures 1 to Docking Station" mod, which reproduced the items, gameworld, and species of the original game in the Creatures 3 / Docking Station engine, made many of the items of the Secret Adventure Mode a reality, albeit a goofy one.
- Whale Egg
- What Could Have Been: Creatures: Project Loci was a planned console title that would have combined the A-Life aspects of the PC series with elements of an Adventure game- as well as raising your Norns, you would have had to train them to complete set objectives in order to progress through the plot. Sadly, Creature Labs couldn't find the money to develop it, and we haven't had a new game since.
- 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.
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.
- 2½D: It takes place in more of a '3D side-scrolling' environment, Creatures can move in all directions though movement away from and towards the screen is limited,the hand can move back and forward (limitedly) in addition to the the standard 2D movement.
- Character Customization: When you start the game you can customise your first generation norns to a certain degree, and when norns breed, you can choose which traits their offspring inherit, again to a degree.
- Ruined FOREVER: An understandable reaction of some fans considering the massive changes to the series, though it does have an element of Complaining About Shows You Don't Watch.
- Lighter and Softer: The overall visual theme.
- Tertiary Sexual Characteristics: Averted, now the norns have secondary sexual characteristics.