Creatures 4 Dev Update: The Light at the End of the Tunnel

The games industry is filled with notorious stories of underestimated development cycles, changes of scopes, technical hurdles… By now we all know Creatures 4 is certainly no stranger to all that.

Around April/May 2011, the plan was that Creatures 4 would be ready within 9 months… We’ve now officially entered 2013 and Creatures 4 is still a no-show. However, we’re finally seeing the light at the end of the tunnel.

Quite frankly, the whole first year of development has been spent on deciphering the A.I. code of the first three installments, making sense of it all, and merging all the stuff with our Mojito engine. That alone took us until the first months of 2012 and to this day we still notice bugs both old and new.

Furthermore, we were always conflicted about how to “restart” the Creatures IP in a way that would make it appealing to a new audience while avoiding the over-convolution that led to smaller sales and eventually the disappearance of the series after C3 (this is a fact, regardless of how fans or ourselves feel about it). We underestimated the complexity of striking the balance between staying true to the original IP and widening the game’s appeal.

And of course, since Creatures is a game series like no other, while exploring the source code of C3, the list of ideas and possible features that we could pack in kept growing longer.

Escaping Scope Creep

It’s only in the last eight months that we have felt like we were really making great strides tying everything together into a persistent universe. We’ve re-introduced the eco-systems (still working on this). The inner-workings of the Norns are all in place minus some bugs here and there. We’ve also set in stone most of the UI and tools you’ll be using in the game. Our next blog post will most probably be about what’s going on inside a Norn and what tools we developed to monitor our little creatures and debug their behavior, so that you folks can see for yourself that we have not dumbed down the complexity of the game one tiny bit.

Graphics assets are almost all ready and integrated too. There are some visual things that need to be taken care of like the fur rendering which is not optimal, “wet” skin on amphibious Norns ( what!? :-) ), various optical bugs and, last but not least, performance optimization. We’re happy with the world we’ve created and we think it strikes a good balance between familiar and fantastical.

We’ve just recently put great effort in reworking the way our procedural techniques work for Norn patterns generation. We want to ensure that no two Norns look alike and to guarantee a diverse range of patterns that can be merged to create cool-looking hybrids. This will also be the subject of an upcoming blog post to show you guys how things have improved since this summer’s public demo.

Important things like the Hatchery and Splicing machines are being completed as I’m writing these lines. They’ve both undergone several iterations but we’re very close to final now.

We’re also nailing down the story details at the moment. In that respect, the work the community has been doing in the last ten years is a great source of inspiration. Nothing super fancy or too intrusive but we want to insert cool nuggets of info here and there for old-time fans and newcomers who want to dwell a bit deeper in the Creatures’ lore.

Throughout the project we have also laid out the technology that will serve us to go multi-platform on day one. But we have gone places with Creatures 4 that we as a small indie start-up had never visited before. For this to happen, our code wizards led by Julien Hamaide and Ramses Ladlani, had to give Mojito a major overhaul. This process has been a lot more strenuous than we anticipated and we’re not out of the woods on this one yet as our goal hasn’t changed: we want to be up there on-par with the best-in-class on touch devices when we release and to do that we still have to squeeze out slightly improved performance.

We sincerely and profusely apologize again for all the multiple delays this project has suffered. We probably should have hidden behind the letters T, B and A long ago. We made a bad call announcing the game too early (blame it on our own excitement about scoring the deal), and after realizing that this project needed extra care, we kind of moved into the “ship when it’s ready” mind-state that has been ours since late 2011, but then kept guess-pushing the estimate launch date every six months, which was both an amateur-ish and cruel thing to do. We thought we could deliver a game faster and better that anyone but in retrospect 2 or 3 years is simply what it takes to build this.

We reckon we could have handled the communication line much more smoothly. We thank you for your patience along this ride and are truly sorry if it all felt like we were playing with your nerves. This was never our intention!

We are trying to start the dialog anew with the will to be as transparent as possible in showing our progress and explaining how things work and gather your feedback, so hang in there a little while longer and keep an eye on this space, as we are about to unveil the specifics on Creatures 4 system/mechanics through a series of regular updates that will start in the following weeks, leading up to beta, then official launch.

Oh, and don’t bother trying to bribe us about getting into the beta just yet, details about that will be revealed in due time. Meanwhile, you can also subscribe to our drip-feed of the latest visual updates over at Instagram. And if you’ve recently decided that you’ll never visit them again because you hate their T.O.S., we’ve got an alternative for you up on Flickr.

If you recently tried to comment to our blog articles in the section below and found yourself stuck because of not having an account, please note that guest-commenting was disabled by mistake earlier (we omitted to toggle an option off during our Disqus plug-in implementation)… Guest posts are now enabled again! So if you don’t like sharing private information at the same as your opinions, you can take it easy and feel free to speak out anonymously again!

  • http://lilliumwhitenorns.blogspot.co.uk/ magpie-angel

    i’m glad we are going to get more information now since its something that has kept everyone on edge but i really can’t wait until we get more of the specifics like on the gene splicing machine and the changes to the breeding system when it comes to looks.

    i’m definitely staying tuned in all the way to the end

  • Kittie885

    Sounds great! I can’t wait for the game to be released! I was one of the many that was very frustrated at the delays, but not any longer. I’m looking forward to the game so much that the longer it takes the more polished i’m sure it’ll be and the more excited I get. The pictures help with that too! Thank you. :D

  • Alex P. Twigg

    Hey to all at FC.

    As I think pretty much everyone has felt since the start, I would rather wait longer for a more complete and refined game than have one that was rushed out.

    I am looking forward to getting more info and visuals…hopefully ones that are in focus. I am very interested in the procedural texture generation and how to different patterns and colours will combine.

    On that note, how are you handling eye colour? I noticed in one image there was a norn with different coloured eyes. Is this going to be genetic?

    Have fun,
    Alex

  • http://www.creaturescommunity.com Don

    I know full well how products can creep when you want to get them just right, and I’m looking forward to the results when its ready :)

  • Jason

    Reading between the lines…the game just got delayed beyond the March/April timeframe. At least you finally admitted that you weren’t equipped to handle a project of this size.

    BTW, you’ve said before that you will do better with communication. That usually lasted a few weeks and then it was back to silence. What’s different this time?

  • GlitterGirl

    I’m very excited about this! I’m so glad you decided to take this on and I want it to work out for you, because that means I can play a new Creatures game!! I’ve been waiting a long time for it, so I don’t mind if it takes awhile to get it, because that’s much better than getting a game that doesn’t live up to what it should be. I totally want in on the Beta, but you said not to bribe you yet… So I’ll try to be patient about that, too! :P

  • http://creaturesevolution.blogspot.com FreakVenDor

    Thank you so much for the update guys! I’m really excited about the more frequent updates coming as well. So what about delays, it sounds like you did the right thing in not letting it go too soon seeing as there is so much to do, and you’re adding so many bits a pieces while trying to keep it fluent with the originals. I get frustrated about the delays but reading/seeing updates more frequently is very reassuring and it helps hold me over. I really love the idea of the patterns on norns differing so much and that you said “no two norns look alike”. That really made me happy.

  • http://discoveralbia.blogspot.com Jessica

    Great news! I know I was disappointed in the delays, but as many have stated before, I would much rather have an awesome game that requires extra time than something sub-par that clearly seems rushed. Creatures 4 still holds a lot of promise in my eyes, even with it taking longer than initially expected. I think it’s awesome that Fishing Cactus has really been excited about this game development! It’s never seemed like you had the idea that this was some easy way to make money: You’ve taken the time to get to know the previous titles, as well as what the community has been looking forward to. Nice to see that passion!

    I’m definitely looking forward to more news! Glad to hear things are coming along nicely!

  • ChosenPredator

    this is probably the best blog update, I love how open you guys are here. The extra time you’re taking to make the little details special & keeping the norns unique from each other is wonderful. I have the vibe the dedication the whole dev team is taking with this game will be huge, i just feel this game will be mega successful like pokemon or something else seeing as all these breeding games like monster rancher or games like animal crossing where patience and routine pays off shows that people will have more respect for a game like creatures in 2013 but now that you’ve made it more easier to get into yet complex at it’s core for old school fans …makes me think you have a huge winner here.

    the beautiful thing is if you guys ever decide to make the console jump on the WII U at the moment it does not have a lot to offer & if somehow you guys ever manage to get on their i think it would expand a whole new audience on how to REALLY experience the creature franches..and it makes sense since it has the touch pad controller.

    I hope big ben is still considering the collector toy figure thing for in game norns too. :-)

  • Sfot

    The fact you’re trying so hard to keep the complexity whilst also updating parts of it means a lot! Your effort is very much appreciated, I assure you.

    And whilst it’s understandable that some things will need time i.e. engine updates and AI fine-tuning, I assure you that many of us have been hoping for Creatures 4 for a very long time now. Waiting a little longer for what looks to be a very good payoff is more than a fair deal in my mind.

  • TehSamm

    I am super excited to see this update. It’s wonderful to get some new information about the game! I am very happy to hear you are keeping score true to the series as possible while adding some new life to the game :) .

  • http://creaturescaves.com/ Malkin

    Is the closed beta on track for February?

  • Céline .S. Sauvé

    Hmm. So long as I an still bread a gaggle of the critters, then I’m willing to give it a go. After all, I’ve owned Creatures and Creatures 3 for just about forever now (and those extra races from C3 I could afford before you could no longer purchase them), so I do have a fall back!

    The 3D environment does promise a new degree of complexity in getting those two Norns together for some kisspopping action ;)

    I was very glad to see this update on the day I got an itch to look up information on this great series once again.

  • Casey

    I am so excited! Thank you for working so hard! I know it says “No two norns will be the same.” But sometimes I *wanted* the same norn to put in different contexts and would export the norn, copy their file, and save it at different life stages. Are we going to be able to import/export norns or is that an out of date feature?

  • http://www.fishingcactus.com Andrea Di Stefano

    @Alex P. Twigg
    About the eye color, some Norns will have different colored eyes. It’s a a genetic trait of certain Norn breeds and can be passed on to offspring. The same goes for fur color, patterns, pattern colors etc.

    The system we put in place (and which we plan to explain in a further update, with design and technical details) has some limitations regarding the eyes: the colors themselves won’t change (ie. 1 red and 1 yellow eye will always keep those colors during breeding.), meaning that the newborn will either get the father’s or mother’s eye set, but not a merge of the two.

    I don’t have a schedule for the update detailing this yet, but it will be coming in the next few weeks.

  • http://www.fishingcactus.com Andrea Di Stefano

    @Malkin
    Probably not unfortunately. Beta won’t be ready in february, it won’t be too long after that though.

  • http://www.fishingcactus.com Andrea Di Stefano

    @Casey:

    We are *hoping* to be able to include a “clone DNA” feature but our planning sheet here looks at me suspiciously.
    Essentially, this would allow you to clone a Norn into a new egg in the Hatchery machine (or send it to a friend).

  • yifski

    Thanks for this update, it had been a while! I’m only hearing positive things: game complexity, beta soon, no two norns will look alike, ecosystems, hopefully monitoring tools in the final game too etc. The only thing I don’t care for is the multiplatform being a priority and free to play part, but that’s what fishing cactus wants to bring to the game, and nothing we say will change that. I’m just really glad that you realized the challenge and were willing to invest in the game, even if it took more time. You could’ve just released on time and made some simple game with the creatures-title, and we still would’ve bought it. But you didn’t, so I will tell you: please take all the time you need, I don’t mind. No matter how long it takes, I will always be impatient anyway.
    I’m looking forward to see more updates from the game: screenshots, videos, anything. It would be a nice birthday present if those “following weeks” would start today.
    PS: I’m really sad that I didn’t win the norn figurine. I didn’t post a reply to the photo because I’m shy about posting on facebook, but I think they are the cutest things ever.

  • http://www.fishingcactus.com Sophie Schiaratura

    Don’t worry @yifski, there will be other occasions to win one of these little fellas :D

  • http://discoveralbia.blogspot.com Jessica

    The eye color system sounds pretty neat! I’m really happy to hear that no two Norns should be alike, aside from the posible cloning feature. I’m having issues with a lot of similar-looking Norns in my C3/DS world, and I always feel like a unique appearance makes Norns feel a little more personable. The old system of having body parts as sprites was fun, but I think the way you’re moving forward makes a lot more sense. A few of the previews of Norns we’ve seen over on Flickr make me happy! Posting a few screenshots of those might work as a short update: I know I’m eager to see a lot of the different possibilities available to us.

  • weeneybomber

    So glad to hear the complexity will be there! Can’t wait!

  • MK-Grendel

    Interesting to read – but lets be serious about the delays – nobod that coded creatures stuff and tried to work with a norn brain (or even managed to work with them) belifed you could do it in the time you made it… I’m still doupting you will finish it around easter – but I won’t mind if you profe me wrong ;)

  • genesis

    oh and about the genetic – i doubt we can change them like we want in c1-3 but will it be possible for looking at them? maybe on a website for each breed or so – we can take a look and show you some bugs (e.g. like the toxig norn in c3 – they can’t die because of chem 90/ wound) AND it would give the new users a better look how complex their little norns are…
    …and maybe even some realistic & simple ideas for new breeds with amazing features – I bet you won#t mind such ideas for your now breeds (always hated it if a breed looked different but had no special genetic traits)

  • http://www.fishingcactus.com Andrea Di Stefano

    @genesis:
    About the genomes, we won’t be able to give you access to that at first for very practical reasons. We’re still literally using the old genetic kit ourselves but we had to recompile and modify it to make it work with our genome. Unfortunately they’re still not usable enough for distribution and they can’t open the genomes once they have been processed for the game (which is necessary for us to apply all the procedural textures genes to a the ‘base’ genomes).

    It sounds a bit mumbo jumbo but yeah…we want to provide a viewer in the future (and the bug-spotting opportunity you mention makes a lot of sense) but we need to do it properly and it takes some time.

    Personally I think it would be cool to have it as an online tool so you can share, compare very easily and independently from the platform you’re playing on. What do you think?

  • http://discoveralbia.blogspot.com Jessica

    A C4 genetics kit would be awesome! It makes sense about the limitations right now, though. An online tool would be rather neat, but I would also be strongly in favor of having an offline option available. I guess it all depends on the tool, and how it works. I’m currently working on a genetics kit lesson, and still learning all about these Norn genetics! One strong recommendation I have for when the C4 genetics kit is available in the future is to include some sort of manual or help files. The genetics kits for C1, C2, and C3/DS were rather sparse when it came to documentation, which is why I think many of us (myself included) still struggle with some of the concepts. The genetics behind Creatures are really pretty neat, and it’s a shame that not everyone can dive right in. I’m not saying that every little piece of information would need to be included, since Creatures fans have created useful resources throughout the years. So long as the tool has some information and makes genetics seem approachable, I think it will be a great addition to C4!

  • JD

    Quoting the blog post…..” We thought we could deliver a game faster and better that anyone but in retrospect 2 or 3 years is simply what it takes to build this.”

    So you announced it in May/June 2011 and now admit that 2 to 3 years was needed to complete the game. So we are looking at anytime between May of this year and May of 2014?! Seriously?!!

  • ChosenPredator

    I have to say I am glad you guys decided to go ahead with the closed beta seeing the simCity do that as well probably gives the best feedback, it must be hard to catch all the bugs but i personally think the creature community is the best bug killers over the years they’ve dedicated themselves to fixing things and adding new things, it’s always good to have a new pair of eyes looking to catch things that may have past you guys. I maybe in the minority when it comes to this but I noticed other free2play games having funding member programs to give access to the game earlier..or supporter packs like path of exile
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BN3nY-lthJc

    I would totally be in on that if the option ever came up to support the game

  • Azumizai

    I just want to say thank you for taking your time with Creatures 4 and NOT rushing it. I am happy to hear that you are trying to make the best product and are not trying to rush it out just to appease the older fans. I may have played the game since I was seven years old, but I also understand how hard it is to produce something like this. To appease old fans, to update a game that was originally built for a much older platform, to translate it to many others, to design, to reconseptualizing ideas. And I’m not even going to START with the AI building, debugging, Programming and all those other hurdles.

    I am sorry if you get flack for ‘taking too long’ to make the game. I guess some fans are super-anxious to see the game, as do I!

    But the wait is well-warrented, and I get more and more excited with all the improvements that I’ve seen during your announcements of what you are up to and doing.

    I will eventually get around to something – perhaps fanart – for you guys, to show my immense thanks for the hard work and care you’re putting into C4, and trying to insure that it doesn’t fail in areas were unfortunately C2 and C3 seemed to do as it felt ‘very rushed’ to me.

    Thanks again for your hard work, keep up the epicness, and just let us peek in once and a while and make sure you’re all doin’ alright!

    Drink tea! Keep warm! And don’t talk to strangers.

    Thanks!

  • http://www.fishingcactus.com Andrea Di Stefano

    @Jessica
    I agree about the documentation. Personally I still struggle with some concepts too but I’m fortunate enough to work with some very smart people :-) The brain/dendrites/etc. is definitely not easy to grasp.

    For starters, I’d like to have at least some tooltip or whatever in the science kit to inform on what a each chemical does. Our implementation of the science kit is very similar to C2, with chemicals organized into categories for easier browsing.

    @JD
    where are currently in a “let’s finish it as fast and better as possible” we’ll be communicating on new dates when we feel confident about them to avoid repeating the same error over and over.

  • http://lilliumwhitenorns.blogspot.co.uk/ magpie-angel

    i loe the idea for the science kit and it would be fantastic since the previous ones for the games never worked on my computer :< the biology kit and that i mean not the in game one
    it would be cool to see a few more images of some critters that you've made but i'm also happy to wait.

    one thing i'm definitely looking forward to though is stripes. can't get enough of black and white stripes so if that is possible as a fur pattern in this then i will be your tea and snack maid for life

  • http://DSGalaxy.blogspot.com C-Rex

    Fantastic news to hear you’re moving along with Creatures 4! Just one question though: will C4 be a high-end game? My gaming laptop broke and at the moment the computer I’m using can’t even run the Sims 2 properly without severe lag. :’(

  • JD

    BTW, what happened with that sweepstakes that was supposed to start back in June?

    Yet another unfulfilled expectation…

  • http://www.fishingcactus.com Andrea Di Stefano

    @C-Rex
    Well, I can’t say for sure about hardware requirements yet. That said, it is highly likely we’ll do lower-def graphics assets for some mobile version (I say “likely” as we are hoping to reach good performance without reducing quality) and graphics options will be available to reduce the visual effects, fur, etc.

  • Dan Smallman

    Just found out about this, so excited! I have played all 3 Creatures (and even developed some COBs for the first two editions), so you could say this is one of my favourite games of all times (if not my favourite!).

    Are you going to give the option to create COBs for the new game?

  • Rachael

    Dear Devs:

    Back in May, I had found the announcement talking about the restart of Creatures. It’s a little odd when I hear myself say it out loud, but this game means quite a lot to me- I grew up with it. Creatures 2 was the game that my friend Elena and I bonded over, and when 3 came out, we were all too ecstatic to laugh, cry, teach, and yell with the experiences of our Norn’s lives. I’ve had the third party genetics kit for years, and have spent over a decade with the games, creating COBs, agents, metarooms, and experimenting with Norn breeds for my own personal use.
    To say I was hesitant when I heard the news is far understated. After story and story of developers picking up old, defunked titles and twisting them beyond belief, I couldn’t help but get highly defensive over what could possibly be done to effect the childhood memories I cherished.

    I’m relieved by this post. Saying this may not be a consolation or a prize, but I hope it means something. I’m excited to see that it is yes, taking a while to develop, but you aren’t wanting to push a product out to meet a deadline or a quota. There’s none of this “By X Day, or else” when you know how deeply involved the community is to the game. Absolutely and positively, I am turned to be in full anticipation of Creatures 4. This was a miniature event for me- neigh akin to an early birthday present!

    Please, however, don’t ignore a major facet of the community: [development] . If it wasn’t for the ability of the users to create and distribute free content, the IP wouldn’t have persisted this long. It was the intended backbone for Docking Station, but had missed it’s mark when it make to implementation of connecting players through trade of Creatures. (Friending someone for them to send you a Grendel? No thank you.)
    I don’t know of a single individual who did not play Creatures without downloading additional player made content. The Norngarden became a staple of my Creatures 3 experience, as did almost every agent created by HausMaus. (Cupid’s Lyre and the Cornucopia were almost necessary for my wolfing runs.) Additional breeds were always a joyous matter, and when you had found a breed that seemed intriguing, you thanked the player for spending so much tedious time on the redrawing of all those individual frames of movement. 18 body parts for 7 stages of life for 2 genders of a Norn is a vast, vast project for a person to undertake for the sake of fandom- yet it was done over and over again by fans.
    The levity of the development subject is vast. I would highly ask that alongside the game, please create a series of content creation tools that enable the community to be more sharing and more connected. You may have posted on this before, but it is necessary to urge you in this direction. It’s the bread to our community butter.

    Thank you for working so hard on this project. I am wholly giddy with excitement, and dying to be a beta tester when the game finally makes it to that stage. As a fan, I’m here with you. As a friend, you have my support. As part of the community, you have my hands and advice. Take your time, and enjoy the surprises and challenges that you find in your way.

    Best of luck,
    Rachael.

  • http://www.facebook.com/rhea.mudd Rhea Mudd

    I don’t really have anything to say except i just found out about this and I am so excited!! it will be one of the rare, rare games i buy on release. Has anything been said about what difficulty they are going for? I remember creatures 2 being far to hard (as a kid) but then sims 3 was far too easy.

  • Alysin

    Wow blast from the past! A few months ago, I helping my son with a genetics project for school and told him it reminded me of a game I used to play when I was growing up. I gave him the general idea of “creatures” and that was enough to get him hooked. He kept asking me all sorts of questions about the game then was sad to hear it was so old and he couldn’t play it. Today I stumbled across this site, so imagine his surprise when I tell him about Creatures 4. :)

  • http://www.facebook.com/mthorene Michael Thorene

    U can install the creatures ds/c3 on win 7 with compatability mode but not c1/c2 but to play c1/c2 u can use the c1ds or c2ds mods that install the original locations as metarooms along with the norns from said games as well (c1ds was 100% complete last I checked but c2ds was like around 80ish done)

  • http://www.facebook.com/mthorene Michael Thorene

    I am just dying to play this game ive loved it since c1 I missed c2 and cvillage but played cs/ds for almost 6 years. I am excited by all the features of the game but am a lil disappointed at the F2P gamemodel u seem to be going for id rather creatures be like ds where u can play online or ofline and can add in custom content and metarooms into the game Honestly because no matter how much u try to make the game perfect their will always be better done by a creatures obsessed programmer fan. Like Norngarden metaroom and all the breeds of norn made custom by fans. In my opinion the best thing u could do for this series is to leave it open to the modding community still from what ive seen of ur game model ur going for the F2P game model and I cant see u leaving the option to add metarooms and new custom norn breeds to the said game model

  • Austin Hutchins

    I played Creatures 1 when I was 5 and lost the game, thus forgetting the name of the game altogether. I am excited for this game, as I remember loving the original. Keep up the good work!