Branching off of the recent discussion about how hunger works in C1, one of the fundamental aspects of the Creatures series is sometimes glossed over. Take this image. What do you see? Cheese, honey, a lemon, and a carrot… Plus a few other items we’ll ignore for the sake of this discussion! In our eyes, we can distinguish between each individual object. For Norns and Grendels, these are all grouped together in one category, known simply as “food.” I sometimes dramatize a few things while writing, making some Norns appear to have certain favorite foods. In fact, a carrot and a lemon are exactly the same thing in their minds! Although most Creatures players may be aware of the classification system for objects, the implications can sometimes be forgotten. Let’s take a closer look!
Understanding the Category System
When I first started playing Creatures, it took me some time to figure out exactly how categories worked. Food objects looked completely different to me, yet what Norns “see” is somewhat different from our perspective. Their brains classify an object based on its coded category. Two food objects may appear to be completely different, yet they’re identical in Norns’ minds. Think about it another way. Imagine that you must reach into a bag without ever seeing what’s inside, yet you’re told that everything inside is food. Ignoring taste and touch (two senses Norns technically don’t have) all of the hidden items are classified as food in your mind. Voila!
Take our example one step further. Imagine that choosing food out of this bag is the only way to get food from the moment you’re born. All of your knowledge and experiences with food come from that bag. So what’s the big deal? Imagine if someone threw in some poisonous objects, or ones that made you feel awful. What would you think? Over time, you might start to be wary about food, not knowing if it would be a good or bad experience. You might go so far as to stop eating altogether to avoid the negative experiences. Does this sound familiar in Creatures? It’s something that can happen to Norns and Grendels, and it’s not all that rare. And it all boils down to the objects, not their brains.
Considerations for Object Creators
While I was working on some of the updates to the Creatures 1 food items, I thought up some new additions. What if eating a carrot actually reduced boredom? Or what if I left in the pain increase in the lemons? Although new objects are unique, they must be created with the understanding that they’re part of an entire category. If one food object reduces boredom, a Norn will learn that eating should reduce boredom. Yet if that Norn eats other food objects that don’t decrease boredom, the learned behavior becomes confusing. Why would food suddenly not reduce boredom? That Norn might continue to experiment, but would probably end up concluding that food doesn’t reduce boredom… Most of the time. Confusing! A similar scenario rings true with the original lemon, where it created pain. It was such a small amount that it was practically negligible, but would you be inclined to eat food if it sometimes gave you pain?
The idea of creating an object as part of a category doesn’t only apply to the chemicals involved, though. One of the main problems with the original carrot was the visible seedlings. Although these couldn’t be interacted with, Norns could still see them, and classified them as food. When pushing the seedlings didn’t do anything, the Norns began to learn that pushing food only satisfied their hunger part of the time. The result? Bad eating habits that usually got worse over time. If a food object is growing and can’t be interacted with, simply make it invisible to avoid the confusion! Additionally, make sure that actions are uniform across a category. For instance, pulling a food object doesn’t do anything. It might seem interesting to treat a food object as a toy with decreased boredom or NFP when pulled, but keep the entire picture in mind. Since other food objects don’t have the same results, Norns and Grendels will ultimately be confused.
Considerations for Players
Creatures can be customized in countless ways, which often involves injecting new agents and COBs! Make sure to keep the category system in mind, though. Adding in one very unique item that functions completely differently than others in the same category is usually not a good idea. From my experience, most seemingly unintelligent Norn behavior is actually a response to confusion. This isn’t to say that every object must function exactly the same, though! Having different chemical levels or reacting to different actions adds a lot to the game. What should be avoided are instances that create the potential for confusion. A confused Norn or Grendel is actually quite smart… Only very perplexed!
The COBs I’ve been working on and releasing are focused on fixing some major issues that treat food items as individual items. What’s one startlingly awful food object? Coconuts. They’re a mess, because they don’t follow along with the principles of the food category. My list of things to fix grows by the day! Although the herbs and weeds need an update, they work better as their own categories. Why? Because all of the herbs function alike, while all of the weeds function alike. That’s not to say that they’re identical: They function alike as entire categories. With that knowledge, perhaps Norns seem a little smarter after all!