On Beginnings

I had been really excited for CCSF last year. I didn't have much to contribute, really, just a very very basic agent that most people probably don't have much use for. But I was going to try drawing or writing or at least blogging. Something to participate.

But life decided to throw me a spitball, as it often does. I ended up so preoccupied by major crises that I stopped playing Creatures or going online much at all for... jesus. More than six months, now that I think about it. Life just didn't give me enough of a break to think clearly enough to have time to do anything that wasn't urgently survival-based. (I guess I know how Norns feel now...)

So I missed out, and I was sad about it even as I knew it was going on. I mean, it started ON MY BIRTHDAY, EVEN. Gahhhhh.

Now, here it is, late May 2017, and I can't sleep. A run of dragon testers is going and I don't want to interfere too much, but if I watch, I end up interfering. So I'm leaving them alone as much as I can. (My play style is an odd mix of meddling and non-interference. I leave them totally alone for long periods, but if I'm at the keyboard, I can rarely resist doing something here and there, like releasing new critters/bugs if I see they've wiped out an area. Or, for example, there's only two Gen1s left in this world, a male and female who once, long ago, had been part of a three-way relationship. I believe they broke up, in fact, when their thirdpartner died. So having spotted that those two were the last of the A-names left, I decided to bring them together for their last hours.)

So what I've been doing is sitting here reading blog entries on other Creatures blogs from the Blog Carnival. And my stoned, sleepy brain has come up with the inkling of an idea. Why don't I just answer the Blog Carnival questions and such? It's hella late for the festival, but so what? The answers are the same. So, why the heck not.

(And BTW, there's NO WAY I'm missing this year's unless EVERY COMPUTER I HAVE ACCESS TO BURSTS INTO FLAMES. I'm serious. I have a GOAL this year. These dragons are GOING to be at a degree of workage that can reasonably be called complete by then. AND I'm going to get these brain edits and a few other optimizations that aren't specifically dragon-related into the Mall Breeds and Chichis and so forth. NEW GENOME WHAT WHAT??

Boy, you can REALLY tell I haven't slept.)

So. Let's start with the questions from Day One and be all organized-like.

How did you get into Creatures in the first place?

I'm one of those old-school players. I don't remember if I was actually one of the few who got it in '96, or if it was in '97. But it was no later than '97. I remember the '97 Santa release, and the Life Kits, and all that. 

So, my parents are computer people. And I'm adopted, so I got exactly none of their natural aptitude, which has been a source of frustration my entire life. (And get this - my biological father is a mathematician, but I have dyscalculia! HA HA HA HA HA HA -- yeah. -.-) But as I can easily demonstrate with a few wolfling runs, nature and nurture are two different things, and both matter a lot. In some ways, I'm an odd person. I experience life intensely, with sensations and emotions that, as a child, were uncomfortable in their strength, even the positive ones. But one thing I did get from my biological father is a natural aptitude for reason, for logic. I'm not good at being organized, in terms of my possessions and personal space, but I love ordered -ideas-. I'm very fond of sorting, ordering, and analyzing information. 

And I like animals. I've always loved animals and had innumerable pets, including endless tanks of captured lizards and snakes. (I still remember the joy - sincerely! - when one of my caught snakes turned out to be pregnant and had a bunch of babies in the tank. Woke up to find bunches of tiny snakes when I'd had just the one yesterday. That was so cool.) I grew up in the woods. We had a garden we ate from, and chickens whose eggs we ate. I saw bobcats, heard coyotes and owls. So I've always been up close with nature, too, and interested in how it works.

So although in some ways I have a classic 'artistic temperament', and my disabilities cause me to struggle with math, I've always loved science. And thank goodness, my parents did a good job of providing me with the sort of thing that helped nurture all of my different self-aspects. Alongside my paints and other art supplies, at six, I had geodes, dinosaurs, and picture books about insects and volcanoes. 

My parents divorced when I was around 12-ish. So about then there began to be Things I Did With Dad and Things I Did With Mom. One of those Dad Things was shopping at Fry's. If you have no idea what Fry's is, Google it. And just know that, for those of us who have them, Fry's is... way more than just a computing superstore. It's... it's weird. I don't know how to explain what Fry's is. I honestly don't. All I can tell you is that they're decorated like Mayan temples or Egyptian pyramids or other such things, they're ENORMOUS, they have EVERYTHING EVER if it even remotely relates to computing, and certain people - people like my dad - go there A LOT. I mean, this was during the early/mid-90s, but I have zero doubt whatsoever that Fry's exactly the same as it has ever been, in essence. The computing stuff for sale is different, but the place is the same. Guarantee it.

Anyway. My Dad is always building or fixing computers, for the sheer fun of it as far as I've ever been able to tell, when it doesn't relate to a job. So trips to Fry's were (and probably are) still a commonplace thing. I've never owned a storebought desktop in my entire life (I'm 32). I've invariably just used either one of his castoffs, or a custom-built machine especially for me. (Yes, I understand how spoiled I am. Better than I once did. Because he's getting older now and I'm having to really face the reality that that isn't going to be a thing for much longer... sigh. Spoiled in ways I never even used to think of. But moving on... )

So when I was visiting him, trips to Fry's were sometimes part of the day. On one of those many, many trips, sometime in most likely '97, I was roaming the software aisles while he went after whatever he'd gone for, most likely hardware or parts for hardware. 99% of the time, I didn't see anything I liked enough to ask for, and on the very rare occasions I did, I usually got a No. But this time - oh, this time! I treasure the memory - I noticed a box on the shelf that was different... It wasn't tax software, or some game that looked like it'd get boring within a week.

I don't remember if we actually bought the game that day, or if he remembered my interest in it and got it for me later. But I remember that very clearly as the first time I ever saw the game, and I know it wasn't long after that I owned it.

Maybe he recognized that it could potentially teach me about scientific stuff, though he surely had no idea how it would encourage my interest in programming, too (even if that interest has never gotten very far in practical reality). I don't know. But it's one of the few games he's ever bought me. And damn, am I glad he got that one! Creatures is literally why I became interested in genetics, especially the genetics of phenotype - why some horses are bay and some are black, for example. It CREATED an interest in genetics-based games which I've had for the rest of my life. But I always come back to Creatures, some part of the series. Nothing else compares yet.

What game did you start with?

Creatures 1, of course. That was all there was in '97. I got Creatures 2, as well, but by the time C3 came around I was expected to earn my own money for stuff, and I was never quite able to get it together. So I never had C3 as a kid, alas, which I REALLY regret. I did download DS, but on its own, it wasn't able to keep me interested.  I kept playing C1 for a long time, but eventually, I lost my discs. 

And here's where I get REALLY REALLY mad at my past self. I have NO excuse not to have been involved in the online CC. I knew it was there. I even downloaded some cobs and such. (I swear to GOD I remember having a version of the Draconian Norns for C1, but I can't find any evidence nowadays that was ever a thing, so I'm really confused by my own memories now.) So I could have kept up with things, modded DS more, got metarooms. I was an early adopter of the Internet because of my parents being early adopters.  I'm one of the very first "digital natives". So I have NO EXCUSE to have missed out. None.

But I did.

I've just got to make up for lost time now, I guess...

What intrigued you about it or was the most fun?

GENETICS. Genetics, genetics, GENETICS. That was the birth of my interest in genetics in general. Mind, my projects at the time were extremely simple. I understood almost nothing of what I was looking at. The complexities of chemistry were beyond me at that time. (Though, my interest in medicine and pharmaceuticals is probably traceable to this, too, come to think of it... ) But the whole concept was fascinating and compelling. But it's no coincidence that even now, at 32, genetics is the primary Creatures thing I do. And when I first rediscovered the games and the CC a year or two ago, within 24 hours of getting the games themselves from GoG.com, I had tracked down a copy of the Genetics Kit for each game, too.

After that, I'd say the idea that the creatures were actually life forms. I really bought into that idea. And to be honest, I still do.  I have a more sophisticated understanding of what that means now than I did at, say, 14, but my basic reaction to a Norn,Grendel,or Ettin is the same as ever. That isn't merely a very well-crafted program that does a good job of imitating life. It is a program, and it is also alive.

That alone is enough to make Creatures fascinating and relevant and thought-provoking on an I-need-to-sit-down level for my ENTIRE LIFE.

When technology finally gets to a point where I can't get a machine that can run Creatures anymore, I will cry. No joke. It'll be a HUGE loss. I sincerely hope it never happens.

And... okay, this admission probably won't win me any friends. But I appreciate that the game can be a vehicle for my entire personality. The part of me that's nice and happy and likes cute things is appeased... but so is my inner predator, the hungry one. The one that enjoys schadenfreude. The one that thought a cannibalism agent was a grand idea. They're both me. I'm not always particularly proud of my shadow-self, to use the Jungian term for it, but I don't pretend it doesn't exist. And to be honest, I'm glad that I can sate those more sadistic parts of my mind on things like that. Feeding Micro Ettins to dragon norns was cruel, but on the scale of cruelty... I can be grateful it stops there for me. It's a ding to my self-respect, but no more than that. And given the option, I've found it better not to lie to myself about that sort of thing. The shadows get hungrier when you ignore them. And it's that much easier for them to sneak up on the nicer parts of you, when you're not looking.

And even on that scale I'm not so bad. I'm no AntiNorn. I never purposely invented crazy, suffering genomes for their own sake or indulged in outright Norn torture. (In fact, that really upset me at the time, when that was still a new thing.) The worst thing I ever did along those lines was make a genome that got 130 when eating. Even that was an accident. (Though I confess, I laughed a lot even as I felt bad. I'm pretty sure I posted about that here when it happened.)

So... I guess feeling bad about encouraging creature-on-creature predation is a little silly, even in context. But it FELT dark and sadistic to do it, which diffused those urges, which, otherwise, if left to fester, may have become... rather worse. I mean, I don't know. I may just be worrying too much. But I've read enough books about serial killers and crazy people. Isolation breeds weirdness, and weirdness in isolation breeds worse things. I don't feel like I'm MORE of a risk for that than average, but I also don't have any illusions about being immune to such things. Any of us can take a turn for the worse.

And come to think of it, that's another thing that I find compelling about the game. It DOES do a good job of modeling life, both its beautiful aspects and its ugly ones, its brights and its darks. I've been musing a lot recently about doing a blog post about Creatures as interpreted as horror, but I haven't gotten around to it yet. I have a taste for horror and an attraction to the darkness, maybe a bit more than the average person. And there's a lot about Creatures that's downright creepy. It gets more obvious as the series goes on, too, or rather changes character. C1 has abandonment horror, the image of this empty world that once had sentient life, humanlike builders, but now NOTHING, NOTHING is left of those people but these six Norn eggs and a single Grendel mother?? Then in C2 the whole planet has been devastated... and in C3 you're on a derelict bioship with creepy part-animal engineering... Even the color scheme goes from the bright, happy C1 to the brooding, blues-grays-and-blacks Docking Station. 

I think y'all get the idea.

I've also been a fan of StarCraft for a long time, and the Shee and the Protoss remind me of each other a good deal. I really don't know why. But that Aquatilis Caverna map that refers to being made by 'the Precursors' on a world whose name happens to be very similar to 'Aiur' makes me smile every time. I wasn't the only one who saw the resemblance, looks like!

The last question is 'do I have any special or fond memories'? I can only answer that by saying every memory involved with these games, especially the early ones from when I was a kid - ALL of those are special, fond memories for me. Creatures came to me at a critical point in my life and had a huge impact on shaping my personality. It was just right to suit the personality I'd already built at that age, and to prompt me to grow in complementary directions. I can't express how precious it is to be able to play it again, and not just to recapitulate the past but to do real, new work, to break ground, to do things with the program that maybe haven't been done before - or if they were, the work has been lost in obscure corners of the Web. 

A person doesn't get a lot of opportunities in life like this. I don't have a lot of 'continuity objects' - things that have always been around, as long as I can remember. If a program, a piece of software, can be a continuity object, then Creatures is one for me. It will be a major part of my life for as long as I can keep it there from now on.

I'm too tired to type anymore now, but I'll do the next days' questions over the next few days. Or maybe later tonight... if another post doesn't appear today, y'all will know I fell asleep after all. ;p


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