Feeling Nostalgic For Creatures
Many of us still return back to our older childhood games, mostly out of nostalgia; Yet every so often a game comes along that doesn’t just give us happy memories, but also has a unique vibe to it that hasn’t been replicated since. There are many FPSs or RPGs that I’ve liked for instance, and yet I don’t doubt that in the future new ones will arrive that are just as good if not better. There are certain mechanics or genres however, that just seem to fade into rarity.
Some games were surprisingly advanced and continue to look great despite their age. One such game that my boyfriend and I had the urge to play recently was Dungeon Keeper 2; While there are other games in this genre nothing has felt quite like it since. Our copy had crashing issues but we managed to get access to the game again through gog.com, which is a great place to get hold of old working titles. I’m also happy to hear that a new game inspired by Dungeon Keeper is also currently in development, ‘The War For The Overworld.’ (see TotalBiscuit – ‘Dungeon Keeper 2 – This is why we can’t have nice things.‘) While searching through gog.com I stumbled across another game that I really wanted to return to. That game was Creatures 2.
Creatures is an artificial life series – somewhat more complex than a virtual pet – created by Steve Grand and released by Creature Labs in the 1990s. There are 6 games in total. The aim was to hatch, teach and raise creatures called Norns, who would then go on to breed, passing on their genes to the next generation. I call them games, but to be honest it always felt more like a piece of software that was attempting to simulate relatively detailed biological and neurological systems. I use to spend hours playing with genetics, splicing different creatures together, observing brain activity – it all felt rather geeky. I think this is the same reason I still continue to enjoy games such as The Sims 3, because I’ve always found it oddly fun to play with artificial intelligence, particularly genetics.
I’ve never had much of a chance to play the other games so most of my experience resides with Creatures 2. I just loved the world within the second game and so I never really felt inclined to get into the others. The world felt relatively large in scale and had its own working echo-system. I loved exploring and picking up new objects to use with my Norns. I also think that the artwork still looks great even by today’s standards.
Unfortunately Creatures 2 could also be pretty frustrating to play at times. Sometimes your creatures just wouldn’t be able to perform simple tasks like eating and sleeping. This could be due to either bugs (e.g. one hour stupidity bug) or just the sheer complexity of it. If taught badly creatures could come to associate the wrong actions with the wrong objects. If they bump their head while performing a task, the pain may cause them to avoid that task from then on. Some creatures were born with defects or they would pick up illnesses in the wild. The food they ate could also effect their health. In short, It wasn’t just a simple case of making sure they were fed, well rested and entertained. I think I was too young to fully understand it at the time, but even now I’m still not entirely sure how I’m suppose to use all of the features within the game. I had this dream of building the world up until the creatures were intelligent/strong enough to live by themselves in their own community with less and less of my guidance. I’m not entirely sure if that’s even possible in Creatures 2, but I love this idea for a game and it seemed to be the closest thing. I think I also saw it as a challenge to try and perfect my creature rearing techniques.
Despite the frustration, out of the players that did stick it out there seemed to be a strong sense of community. On birth creatures could be registered with your details, exported and shared with other players; the aim was to breed stronger or more interesting creatures. Some people even learnt how to create their own objects and creature designs that you could then add into your own game. Tips and advice were also shared. Much of the community has died away now, which is a real shame as information about the franchise is starting to disappear.
The game may be finicky, but I love many of the potential concepts within it. I haven’t really found a game like it since and the franchise disappeared for a long time and seemed to be forgotten. There is a Creatures Online currently in development, although I don’t want to get my hopes up yet as it looks quite different and contains microtransactions. Dungeon Keeper’s revival to mobile devices did after all, disappoint.