Genetics Lesson: Looking at Appearance Genes

Difficulty: Easy | Games: Creatures 1, Creatures 2, and Creatures 3/Docking Station

Denny D. Rite: Has is really been nearly a year since our last genetics lesson? Oh dear. It’s about time our team got back on track! We have some advanced lessons planned for the near future, but we thought we would start off with a lesson that everyone can enjoy. Appearance genes are vital in determining how a Creature looks. If someone went into my genome and changed just one, I would look completely different! We will attempt to answer this question: How do appearance genes work, and are they as simple as they seem? You might be surprised as you read on!

Part I: Locating the Types and Areas of Body Parts

The way that the Creatures games define the body parts may be intuitive, but it is important to remember that there are some differences. The following diagram illustrates the different regions of a Norn’s body. This also holds true for Ettins, Grendels, and Geats. Note that hands are grouped with arms, and feet are grouped with legs. It is impossible to have a Creature who uses separate sprites for his hands vs. his arms, nor his feet vs. his legs. Another focal point is how the tail is grouped with the body in Creatures 1, but is treated as a separate body part in Creatures 2 and Creatures 3/Docking Station. Keep these distinctions in mind as we take a look at the genetics!

C1 Body Parts (4)
C2 Body Parts (5)
C3 Body Parts (5)
Body & Tail
Arms & Hands
Legs & Feet

Hidden Trait: Tail

Arms & Hands
Legs & Feet
Arms & Hands
Legs & Feet

Hidden Trait: Hair

Emmi Ter: One other type of body part is what we like to call the “hidden trait.” Simply speaking, it is a trait that can be defined with a gene, but it remains unused or hidden. Perhaps this was designed to give Norns more variability. In the end, though, these traits were never implemented in the game. Creatures 1 has a section for the tail, yet it is grouped together with the body. Similarly, Creatures 3/Docking Station has an appearance gene for the hair that can be selected, but it is already grouped in with the head. How can we be so sure that these hidden traits are not used? If these hidden traits existed, C1 Creatures would have tailless body sprites, and C3/DS Creatures would have hairless head sprites.

Part II: The Compulsory Header Gene

Those who have worked with one of the Genetics Kits likely know about the very first gene, labeled #000. It is always labeled “Header – compulsory” or “The Header – compulsory.” Is it all that important, particularly for our discussion of appearance genes? As one might expect, it behaves a little differently depending on which game it is being used in. Creatures 2 and Creatures 3/Docking Station use it to define what species the Creature belongs to, which is a vital piece of information. In these games, a Creature can look like a Norn but actually be a member of the Grendel species. Why? We will soon see how these appearance genes can use sprites and body data files from any species.

Creatures 1 is the odd game out, because the compulsory header gene not only defines what species a Creature belongs to, but also determines which set of species sprites and body data files are used in the appearance genes. Rather confusing? The Creatures 1 appearance genes merely state which breed slot is used for each body part. The species dictates how a Creature will be classified in the world, plus which group of sprites and body data files should be used. In Creatures 1, there are ten breed slots for each breed (Norn, Grendel, Ettin, and Shee). The compulsory header gene is used in conjunction with the appearance genes to determine how a Creature will appear in Albia.

Creatures 1 Genetics Kit Screenshot: Gene #000 (Compulsory Header Gene)
Creatures 2 Genetics Kit Screenshot: Gene #000 (Compulsory Header Gene)
Creatures 3 Genetics Kit Screenshot: Gene #000 (Compulsory Header Gene)

Anna Log: Creatures 1 is somewhat limited in terms of breed slots. Such a shame! It is possible to have a Creature who looks like a Grendel but is classified as a Norn, though. Seem impossible? It should be… But a way was found! The Grorns have Grendel sprites and body data files installed in one of the Norn breed slots. This makes for some funny mistaken identities! The system used in Creatures 2 and Creatures 3/Docking Station allows for better control over appearances.

Part III: Peering Inside the Appearance Genes

With a basic understanding of the body part areas and the role of the compulsory header gene in Creatures 1, we can now dissect an appearance gene! Admittedly, there is very little to dig into. Each body part (or body part area) is assigned a gene that defines what sprite and body data set will be used. Each breed occupies a breed slot. In Creatures 1, there are 10 for each breed, labeled numerically from zero to nine. In Creatures 2 and Creatures 3/Docking Station, there are 26 for each breed, labeled alphabetically from A to Z. One might question why there are so many more breeds for Creatures 3/Docking Station as compared with Creatures 1. An increase from 10 to 26 doesn’t seem to indicate a huge change. That is, until you remember the special point about the compulsory header gene in Creatures 1! Let’s see just how that impacts the setup of an appearance gene.
Here we can see what the head appearance gene looks like in Creatures 1. Note its simplicity: It merely defines a body part (or body part area) and the associated parts ID (sprites and body data files). It uses the information from the compulsory header gene to determine which species to use. For example, this genome belongs to a Norn, so the parts ID of 0 corresponds with Norn breed slot 0, which is the adorable Banana Norn. Unfortunately, this means there are serious limitations on creating breeds with new sprites within Creatures 1.

Not surprisingly, the Creatures 2 appearance gene for the head opens up a vast array of possibilities! Not only are there 26 Norn breed slots to choose from, but even a Creature classified as a Grendel, Ettin, or Geat can use Norn sprites and body data files. Keep in mind that our discussion about limitations on new breeds is based on the creation of new sprites and body data files. Using a combination of existing breeds, combined with some pigment changes, can make a breed stand out without requiring any work outside of the Genetics Kit! Yet many of us on the research team know that the completely new breeds really started to catch on with Creatures 2. Most breed slots are occupied, so perhaps this lesson will inspire some to consider alternative ways to crafting breeds!

Finally, the head appearance gene in Creatures 3/Docking Station looks almost identical to the screenshot of the Creatures 2 Genetics Kit. The rather interesting change is the fact that it is set to be able to be duplicated and cut. Strange that this only occurs in the later game! Allowing an appearance gene to mutate on its own can be seen as a positive or a negative. On the one hand, a unique appearance can randomly enter a population. However, this is often undesirable, particularly if the appearance is from an breed the player does not like. We recommend unchecking the Dup, Mut, and Cut boxes for new breeds, unless there is a special requirement.

Part IV: Making a Messy Appearance

Gene Gnome: Think this lesson was free from my meddling ways? Of course not! They’ve kept me locked away for far too long. Regrettably, my experiments will be saved for a future mini-lesson. At least I will have plenty of fun! Won’t you join me? My devious mind is set on experimenting with deleted appearance genes, copied appearance genes, and appearance genes for breed slots that don’t even exist! So many experiments, and so little time. Absolute madness, with me, Gene Gnome!

Part V: Extended Learning

Familiarize yourself with the compulsory header gene and appearance genes in any of the Creatures games. What sorts of problems might occur with the way each game handles these genes? Consider some of the scenarios mentioned by Gene Gnome above, and see if you can come up with the possible outcomes before the next lesson. Be sure to return to our first genetics lesson to pick up the pack of genomes and related genetics programs! Lastly, can you design an interesting breed by mixing breed sprites for various body part genes?


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