Creatures 4 : Procedural Fur Patterns

Many of you, in comments to our blog posts, during the Q&A chat sessions and also on Facebook, have shown curiosity regarding the procedural methods that we use to ensure that no two Norns look alike. Today we will be detailing how the Norn fur patterns are produced by our artists and coders. 


First things first. There are several breeds in the game, between 12 and 16, depending on what we manage to fit into the launch edition.

Up to a couple of months ago, our process for creating new breeds was rather messy to say the least, based on us trying to understand how to make the bricks turn into solid foundations that were still being designed. Uck!

We are in a far better spot now, which makes it actually fun to create a new breed :-)

It starts with one of us coming up with a cool idea for a Norn breed and defining some basic traits for the breed.

The second step is to prepare a reference art for the new Norn breed

Olivier and Antoine, two members of our awesome art team, work together to produce a concept art that conveys the traits of the breed.



This one above is a “Wildling Norn” by the way, a Norn that managed to escape from the safety of the Hatchery region and evolved in the wilderness.


Once we are satisfied with the art, Olivier’s procedural tinkering begins.

Two main goals here: first, to make sure two Norn from the same breed do not look the same (that’s one of the main perks of using procedural generation); second, to allow all the Norn breeds to be crossed together through natural breeding and gene splicing operations.

Each Norn is made of several texture layers, some procedural and some hard-set. Every element below can be swapped during breeding/splicing.

  1. One Skin texture: static picture that contains the underlying skin which is unique to every breed and can’t be “blended” with other skins. There are variations of these for male, female and elder Norns.
  2. “Belly” Texture: static texture that contains the belly spot most Norn breeds show.
  3. Eye texture & color: static texture. The color is pre-set in the texture, meaning that all Norns that are pure breed have the same eye color (of course they can be crossed with other breeds to exhibit another eye color). Heterochromia iridum is also determined by this texture. That means that a yellow and pink heterochromia will always be yellow/pink. While this is a limitation of the system, it bears the benefit that it allows us really setting in stones the look of a breed.
  4. Base fur color: while the color is not set in the texture, it is fixed for each breed during the creation in our tool (see below). At the moment two pure breed Norns have exactly the same color although we might end up adding some slight hue variations to further differentiate two same-breed Norns.
  5. Main Pattern: There are two pattern textures (which can be empty if needed). We call this the “main” pattern as it is usually used for the most recognizable visual markings.
  6. Main Pattern Color.
  7. Detail Pattern: Same as the previous one, but usually used for smaller dots and marks on the Norn fur.
  8. Detail Pattern Color.


Once Olivier has completed the technical design of the pattern and produced the required visual assets, the last step is to assemble all of the above in our Norn creation tool. It’s a web based tool that allows us to push new breeds into the game and preview them in real time. It’s pretty neat!

You can see that the information here is grouped into 8 boxes. This is important as they correspond to the 8 genes that define the Norn visual look. More on that in a further blog post about splicing ;-)



As a side note, this creation system allows us to specify cosmetic differences reliant on gender/age but truth to be told, we haven’t gotten around to use this cool feature yet, due to time constraints.


The assets themselves are produced as follows:

The static textures are produced in Adobe Photoshop as standard character textures.




The procedural textures are generated in an open source tool that allows basic 2D patterns to vary depending on several parameters defined by the artist. 



This is really cool because even if two Norns have the same pattern (eg. The gene is the same), the pattern will be generated and applied a bit differently on each Norn.





Once that step is finished, the only thing left to do is to preview the Norn in the game. Tada!




Hoping that this brief overview gives you a better understanding of how the Norn cosmetics are created. Obviously the goal of all this is simple, making sure no two Norns are exactly equal and give you bazillions of possibilities for combinations!

We’re pretty sure you’ll have even more questions after this post and we’ll do our best to answer them, just keep in mind that part of our team is at GDC next week so replies may take a little longer than usual (okaaay, we’re not THAT quick usually, but still, you get my point :-)


UPDATE: fixed a couple of link to full-sized pictures

  • athenais

    I don’t know if its just me, but I would be willing to pay a lot to customize a breed. If you wanted to protect the business model, and don’t want to make it a contest, that could be an option. But otherwise contests would be awesome. You could release a version of the editor or have some sort of website area where you can “Design the Next Norn Breed” (winners creature ends up in the game and you get a few golden eggs or something) and players can vote on what they like and you can add breeds to the game every so often based on that. I think this would also help to appease the hardcore fans amongst us… I know creating new breeds was a big part of the fun for me with the original games. But you are absolutely right, get the core game released first!!!!

    Also. Beta. That is all ;P

  • genesis

    There HAS to be a breed store!

    Not because i want to buy breeds, because this will be a guaranty you continue creating new and amazing breeds!

    And there is even a simple solution for people complaining about “but i have to pay for the norn breeds … i need them all… i don’t like that….”

    a) an lost egg you can buy (from a grendel in a grendel shop!) – let players guess what it is, like the grendel says “here, i just – uhm – found this egg… 200 coins and it is yours! it looks like a wildnorn egg to me, but i was chased by “not-wild-norns” and i heared the noises of a “other-nonrbreed” – it’s up to you, do you want it?” So the player could take a lucky guess, and would maybe know first breed has a 70% chance, second a 20% and last a 10% or similar…

    b) you can buy a fertilization by master shee for some coins, you would get an half-breed, would cost a lot of coins and because the master shee has limited acces to his male norns, you can buy only 1 sperm a week and if you already got the sperm of this species, you have to wait 1 month

    c) the easiest solution, allow egg-trading with those breeds – i mean i bought it, i can give their eggs whoever i want – if i want!

    d) something else ;)

  • genesis

    If you need ideas for the breeds, pleas show us a screenshot of the genom and those who have experience can say you exactly what you have to do – and those without experience will say us in your forum what traits we should look for in the genome and tell you how to do that.

    It would save you a lot of time – and i doubt a screenshot of the genome without the option for edition would give us to much power for creating breeds ;)

    But if you consider this, pleas make numbers before the genes!

  • FishingCactus

    Yeah it will be interesting, that’s for sure ^^

  • JSD0108

    There still seems to be a lot of “we are working on that” or “we haven’t decided that yet” coming from Fishing Cactus.

  • SpaceShipRat

    I should get into game designing.

  • SpaceShipRat

    The good thing of a level system is that you can add levels as people start to reach them, and rewards to go with the levels. I guess paying money to get breeds before the requisite level is an idea, but that will rob you of the prize when you actually do level up.

  • SpaceShipRat

    oh, you definitely have to encourage the idea of “inventing your own breed” by breeding for it, and “sharing it with the community”!
    people will be so behind that.

  • SpaceShipRat

    hnn, no paying to create custom content is a REALLY bad precedent to set, remember when Notch wanted to sell a dev kit to mod Minecraft? Imagine if Skyrim’s dev kit had to be bought. Just a bad idea, if there’s a possibility, it should be for everyone.

  • Triton1017

    It could be a really cool way to use the splicing machine & monetize content. Colors (“official” and custom) and patterns could be unlocked as leveling rewards, and then you could “create custom norn” or “create custom breed” using coins/genetic points (if they’re still in game) with your unlocked genes. Having a norn with a new texture/pattern could unlock that gene in the splicing machine. As long as all the genes needed to complete the goals unlock as leveling rewards, so we don’t feel forced to pay.

    And there could be a gene shop where golden eggs could be used to unlock things early, and there could be options like:

    Permanently unlock gene – permanently unlocks new texture/ pattern/ special gene (5)

    Create totally custom norn – unlocks all genes for the creation of 1 norn (10)

    Create totally custom breed – unlocks all genes for the creation of 1 custom breed (50)

    And could there please be an option for “Permanently unlock all content” that was expensive (equivalent to $30-50, included in the collector’s edition as an incentive)?

    That way you could monetize new textures, patterns, etc. on a regular basis, while still allowing players to have fun creating custom norns.

  • Triton1017

    Please “mutate to another random color.” It would be so much fun to get “new” colors and be able to selectively breed to just about any color we want.

  • Andrea Di Stefano

    aha, you should, it’s a great job ^^

  • Andrea Di Stefano

    We might do some kind of design-your-breed contest, that wold be fun :-)

  • Andrea Di Stefano

    Thanks for the suggestions! While C4 doesn’t feature a day/night cycle (#1 on my personal wish-list for as soon as possible), There’s a cavern-themed region that allows to light-emitting objects to shine!

    +1 for a thunder-bolt spewing Nornito 8-)

  • don21a

    Sweet! I didn’t like to presume (just in case) but that is brilliant news :D
    We’re all sat here in the beta queue waiting hopefully for our turn ;)

  • genesis

    first sound great!

    second – optical design or genetic design for existing species?

  • Andrea Di Stefano

    eh, that’s just me thinkin’ out loud for now ;) (but if this happens someday, big IF, possibly both)

  • genesis

    In case you think that loud in your company and need some arguments, the c2 breed list is one of the best – i prefer this one because of the nice pictures, it is in german – but the alphabet is the same ;)

  • genesis

    you shouldn’t forget, if you clone a kitten with fur patterns, it won’t be identical, because the fur pattern is randomized by nature itself – in female cats even more because of the deactivation of the X chromosome – you can also see that with birthmarks on humans, it is possible that two identical twins don’t share a birthmark but her mother has it, in the genetic code doesn’t stand “make a birth mark at that place” there is just “make that birthmark with a 50% on that place. if nothing dursturbs us…”

    If you want to know more about that, google copy cat, she doesn’t look like her DNA donator, but she is still her clone

  • BioNorn

    Alex how are you!? Haha you rememebered me after all these years!
    Are you thinking what i’m thinking, since you brought up the WEAR command….. Once this come out it would be interesting to get the group back together and see what we can come up with. Haha, memories.

  • SpaceShipRat

    Gen, honey, it’s me SpaceShipRat. I know my biology. These are supposed to be individuals not clones anyway :P

  • Supernumerary

    Is it possible to let us know how much of the game is actually going to focus on achieving pre-set goals, leveling and the like? Compared to, say, C1 or C2 — where things were extremely free-form — can you give us an idea as to how C4 stacks up?

  • Marco

    okay I must ask this thread over here: & this image does this mean you guys ever wanted too could easily port creature 4 onto the WII U gamepad..developer dream come true (Yes it’s off topic sorry)

  • Marco S.

    curious the fact that the game is always online and the tight time constraint you guys are currently on, you’ll obviously be missing some features you wish to put in…this being an always online game is it possible you can still update the game with your wishlist stuff to be a part of the features?

  • Rha

    Wow I’m super stoked that this blog is still up and running and I hope it stays so for a long time! This post is very useful and informative, and so are the comments. I’m an artist working with a small team on a mobile VR pet sim and would like to implement procedural patterns on our critter, also I wonder how you guys managed to get that fuzzy look, I bet it’s shaders right? I know the game isn’t in development anymore (a true shame) and probably no one will read this but anyway, I’m just starting to understand the magnitude of a project like this and wow respect..and I’m truly sorry things ended up this way.

  • FishingCactus

    Hey Rha, the fur is indeed a custom shader we implemented in different ways on mobile and PC platforms (for performances as you can guess). The patterns are generated through a collection of properties than can be combined together and applied with randomized seed variations on specific places of a mesh. Patterns are mostly generated by code combined with a tool called FXGen:

    It is indeed a shame and we are still hopeful to leverage that knowledge one day. Cheers!

  • Rha

    Thank you! We’ll take a look at that tool, seems very useful.
    Yes, hopefully that work can be used in the future.
    Cheers : )