Sunday, May 23, 2010

Why Develop?

So Moe recently made a fantastic post on his Creatures 2 to Docking Station development blog (which is awesome in and of itself, you should check it out if you haven't), aptly titled, "Motivational Speech."

Reading it really got me thinking about why I develop the stuff that I do for Creatures. I can't honestly say it's just for the community; though the community certainly inspires me, I don't think it's the sole reason I do what I do. The large number of personal projects kind of rules that out.

But after sorting through my head a bit, I think I've narrowed it down to two main reasons that I spend so much of my rare free time developing for this game.

The first is honestly just to see what is see what I can do. Pushing the previously-known boundaries of Docking Station is one of my greatest joys. I like to try completely new and strange things, in particular, things that radically change the way people play Creatures, or create another playstyle completely. Battlestance, though I never completed it, was probably my biggest attempt at this. SERU was another. Most of my little tweaks, the Hit Script and Breeding Script modifications stem from this too. Sometimes I like to just scroll through the CAOS documentation and come up with interesting or creative ways to use certain commands. I get endless joy from just taking the tools that I have and trying to explore every realm of possibility.

Though it has nothing to do with CAOS, LNA stems from this as well-- another attempt at doing something interesting that hadn't been done before. Heck, even blogging barely had a presence in the community; that's part of why I started this, and now look how it has taken off, with new wonderful creatures blogs springing up left and right! Maybe I'm a tad conceited but I like to think I had some hand in inspiring that.

So maybe my motivation does wrap back around to the community. I love to try new things at least in part because I love to inspire the community to push the boundaries as well, whether in creating new playstyles or new ways of networking. Huh. I always end up finding out new things just as I am blogging about them, hah.

But the second reason I develop is the one less-seen, and this is something I'm fairly certain is completely personal-- to find ways to make C3/DS creatures as emotionally attachable as possible.

This is a somewhat embarrassing story, but I was really into Creatures at a young age because I wanted to find a way to essentially program my own friends (I had quite a bit of social anxiety back then). I even went and learned enough about C2 genetics to make an near-immortal norn, and for a period of time I ran a C2 world 24/7 with nothing but this norn in it, growing relatively attached to it (though more as a pet than a friend) as I cared for this same creature for days on end.

Though I've long since found human friends, I still remember how attached I would get to C1/C2 creatures and how much C3 lacked that. Most of my development on this front never gets off the ground enough for me to talk much about it-- the instinct-less norns are one example, but my endless genomes and various script edits really haven't made it to light yet. It may be something I talk a lot more about in the future though.

So I ask you, developers of all sorts, why do you do what you do? Is it completely for the sake of the community, or is do you have a more personal goal you set out to accomplish?

Saturday, May 15, 2010

Norns, sans Instincts.

This is something I tried a few months ago and have completely fallen in love with, and if you're the nurturing sort of norn breeder that can't get much enjoyment out of C3/DS because it is just too "easy," I would highly recommend trying this at least once.

Silence all the instincts in your norns.

It may or may not be widely known that norns are pre-programed in their genetics to eat when hungry, push toys (or buttons, lifts, or machinery) when bored, rest when sleepy, and so on. They are also pre-programmed to push/pull a lift when they feel too high or low, or push a call button if no lift is nearby. Furthermore, C3 norns instinctively want to push tools (powerups) when they are bored, and DS norns want to push portals when they are crowded.

To me, this really doesn't make a lot of sense. A chichi norn might never see a portal in his life but still suggest another norn push portal when crowded. There's also really no reason for a creature to pop out of his egg and completely understand the mechanics of elevators. I can understand knowing to eat when hungry-- that's animalistic enough, but if norns are born knowing all they need to make it in the world, what do they need us for?

It's quite simple-- load up your favorite genome in the genetics kit, sort the genes by type, edit each gene labeled "Creature: Instinct" and check the box that says, "Do not express (carry)." The mutation chance will show up in parentheses to show the gene is silenced; it will sit in the genome, but not actually have any effect.

Or, if you don't want to go through all that, you can simply download Lily from TCR, a CFE bruin norn with the instincts already silenced for you.

If you leave a creature like this alone while it is young, it will die. It may last slightly longer if if happens to grab a piece of food and decides to try putting it in it's mouth, and it's quite lucky if it just happens to do so often enough to learn that eating is good, but even if it lasts to adulthood it will likely have no idea that it's supposed to push other norns to reproduce. So these creatures are most certainly not viable for wolfling/feral runs.

These are norns for those nurturing hands out there that enjoy it when their norns actually need them to survive. Fairly nostalgic of the C1/2 days really; I find it a lot easier to get attached to creatures like this.

After you spend some time teaching these norns the basics, they can usually survive alright on their own while you're raising the offspring, but beware that are some pitfalls to not having instincts.

First, the lift call button system and the food vendor system are both mechanics based on the half-strength instinct trick (scroll down to "Reactive Planning" at the bottom). Without instincts, these simply don't work, so while norns will still learn that they need to use lifts to go up and down, they won't understand the link between calling the lift and the lift appearing. The same applies to food vendors as well. This just means the hand will have to help out these creatures a little more when it comes to these areas, or just house them in metarooms where these things aren't necessary.

The other tricky thing is that norns with no instincts don't seem to properly learn to rest when they are sleepy. That is because resting doesn't actually decrease sleepiness--to my limited understanding, it increases it until the involuntary action of sleeping kicks in at a certain threshold and the norn falls asleep. This is logical, but the instinct-less norn doesn't understand this sequence, and instead believes that resting does nothing for his sleepiness and generally won't bother unless the hand commands it. I think there's a possible genetic solution to this, but I have yet to perfect it.

I think there's some potential in these little guys, helpless as they may seem. If you guys try it out, please share your experiences!

Friday, May 14, 2010

Crossbreeding Script

This one's been on my youtube for a couple days, but I'm only now getting around to writing about it. This is one of those weird things I did during one of my sick days this week. It was more or less just to see if it could be done, since to my knowledge no one has ever written a script to make crossbreeding possible, and it really wasn't that difficult. It just involved writing a breeding script out manually instead of using the the convenient "mate" command that does it all for you.

I wish I could say "no norns were harmed in the making of this video" but I would be lying. Guess I better watch out for ERFN. The thing about this script is though it makes interspecies breeding possible, it would still be very rare for it to happen naturally, since by instinct creatures generally stay within their species when looking for a mate (and normal grendels would probably beat a norn senseless before considering fathering her mutant child). It would probably either take a lot of encouragement, or a script like the one I used for this video that keeps creatures fertile and tells them to constantly push each other.

Still, it's really nice to have that possibility open. We've all had situations where the rogue norn wanders off to join the ettin tribe or the supposed-vicious grendel finds an odd friendship among the norns... What if those interactions had the potential of going further? It could add a whole new dimension to the game.

Anyway, like all my projects, the script is far from finished (right now it's not even checking to see if creatures are old enough before executing the script which is a little weird); I more or less just wanted to see if it could be done so I didn't bother coding in all those doifs. How long it takes me to finish it will depend on my free time and how interested you guys are in it, so if this strikes your fancy, do make your voice heard so I can figure out where to fit it in my priority list!

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Creatures Fanfiction Podcast?

So I'm not entirely dead. I just needed to take a break from the community for a while, as life was getting a bit overwhelming. Stuff happens. I wouldn't even go so far as to say I'm "back." Well, I'm not sure I ever technically "left." I just found myself with nothing to say, nor time to say it, for an extended period of time.

I've still been doing plenty for Creatures, but they're more or less personal projects not really meant for release, partly because some of it is derived from copyrighted content and I can't be bothered to go about getting the necessary permissions to release the stuff, and partly just because I'd like to sort of do something for myself once in a while, without the pressures of making something that the community will be happy with. Nothing against you guys, it's just sort of the difference between a pizza that I order for myself, tailored exactly the way I like it, with Roma tomatoes, onions, sausage, and mushrooms, versus the pizza I order to feed my whole family, which really can't deviate much from cheese and pepperoni without a little brother or cousin exclaiming, "ewww!"

But delicious analogies aside, I wanted to toss an idea out there that's been floating in my mind for a while: A Creatures fanfiction podcast.

In sorting through some school stuff in the attic from around ten years ago, I discovered countless print-outs of Creatures fanfiction (and admittedly, some terrible attempts at writing my own). These were the stories I was essentially grew up on in the Creatures world, and the more I read them, the more I really appreciate the effort and creativity many of these authors took to take the Creatures universe and use it to tell a story with meaning that extends far beyond the boundaries of the game.

But fanfiction is, as I see it, one of the most under-appreciated things to come out of the Creatures Community. Literature in general has seen a bit of a decline over the years as TV, movies, and music have become preferred choices for entertainment. It simply takes a lot more mental energy to read words on a page and imagine the story unfolding than it takes to watch a movie telling the same story, providing all the visuals and sounds for you.

My proposal is to do an audio podcast, in which community-submitted Creatures fanfiction is read aloud, in some attempt to make these stories available to a wider audience. Those that might never have time to sit down and read usually still have time to turn on their MP3 player while driving or walking to work/school, performing mindless tasks, and so on. You could even listen to the stories while playing Creatures or idly browsing forums. By making an audio format available, it will be easier for Creatures fans to enjoy the literary crafts the CC has generated, and hopefully inspire the writing of even more.

I'm not quite sure how I would do the format, but the plan in my head is to first open submissions, inviting anyone to submit their fanfiction to the podcast. No limit to the number of submissions, but probably not all of them would be read. Stories would be picked to fill the space of an hour, possibly longer if the project really took off. Particularly long stories would likely be handled two ways-- either they would be split into parts and one part would be read each episode, or the first part would be read alone as a sort of teaser, with a link provided to where one could read the rest of the story. I would also be open to the idea of doing special edition series or something.

If it took off, I think it might also be fun to set themes once in a while, like stories about ettins or Creatures 1, stories told from a shee's point of view, or even poetry. Themes might help inspire people to generate new content rather than just submitting old stuff, too.

I also would like to look into possibly getting in contact with some of the authors of "classic" creatures fanfiction to get permission to read their stories, but I'm not sure how possible that is.

How often episodes come out would depend purely on the number of submissions. At the time of brainstorming I am thinking, for the size and activity level of this small community, that once a month sounds reasonable-- though I would love to do it more often if it ended up drawing a lot of attention.

There are a few things I am concerned about-- the first being the readings themselves, which is more or less a bit of self-consciousness I may just to get over. I've done readings before-- not necessarily in podcasts, but I've gone to live fiction/poetry readings and for the most part have received positive feedback about my reading voice. That said, not everyone is going to like it, and I know from the many fiction podcasts that I listen to that an annoying voice isn't worth listening to no matter how engaging the story is. So whether or not my reading voice is decent enough will really be up to the community to decide.

Another concern is that I don't have any professional recording equipment or anything, so the readings wouldn't exact have the high sound quality you're probably used to if you listen to a lot of podcasts. I can say, however, that they will be audible and not monotone. I may have nothing to work with but a $20 desktop microphone, but I know enough about recording software that I -think- I can produce something decent enough that people can tune out the imperfections and enjoy the story. That will, of course, also be up to you guys to judge.

These two concerns are things that can fairly easily be answered with a pilot episode, and (assuming there is enough interest for me to pull this off) that's probably what I'll end up doing: just record a "trial" episode and see if people enjoy it, taking into account any criticism.

The other concern is dealing with rejected stories. Not to sound like some sort of literary snob, but I while I have read many amazing Creatures stories, I have also read several that honestly were not worth my time. I don't want to seem like I'm putting aspiring authors down, but if I'm going to take the time to record fanfiction for others to listen to, I really want to try to ensure that I am reading stories the majority of the audience will find enjoyable, and that means I have to be a bit picky and choosy about what I put on the podcast. Nevertheless, I'm sure somewhere along the lines someone will get offended or upset that their story is not read, and I'm really not sure how to be completely objective and fair about my selection, as it really is a matter of personal taste. Obviously proper spelling, grammar, and formatting are important, but there is also a world of difference between a Creatures story and a soap opera with norns. I'm really not sure of the best approach to take to this. I still have to think a lot about this; I'm more than open to suggestions.

But I am possibly getting way, way ahead of myself here, as I haven't even gauged community interest to know if this is a worthwhile venture. I guess that's just my way of thinking-- I have to fully plan something out before I decide if it's worth doing or not.

So let me open this up to you guys. Would a Creatures fanfiction podcast be something you would be interested in listening to? Something you would be interested in contributing to? Not sure? Why/why not?

Any and all feedback is always appreciated; thanks guys!