Previews

Gamescom '11: Hands-off with Creatures 4 for iPhone

The fat and the furriest

Gamescom '11: Hands-off with Creatures 4 for iPhone
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| Creatures 4

There’s something intrinsically appealing about artificial life simulators, as can be seen in The Sims's continued success on the PC and other platforms.

But before The Sims was even a twinkle in Will Wright’s eye, Millenium was busy tweaking and refining its own artificial life game based around cute little creatures called Norns and their lives (and deaths) at the hands of their gaming god.

Creatures 4 from Fishing Cactus looks to bring the veteran series up-to-date and onto mobiles for the first time, bringing with it the original DNA and genetic coding (as in both the game code and the virtual genetics) that was originally the series’ big draw, as well as new 3D graphics to bring the game up to 21st century specifications.

Another neat touch is that you'll be able to log into your ongoing game via PC/Mac or iOS by the magic of the cloud.

Baby boomer

Set over five environments - ranging from treehouses to underground caves - the game tasks you with overseeing the growth and development of a community of fluffy Norns - human-like creatures with huge eyes and equally large stomachs (sometimes).

That is to say, some of your Norns will be hungry monsters looking for the fattiest food they can get their hands on, while others may prefer a different kind of pursuit. These desires are all tied into their genetics and temperament, and we were shown live graphs of their desires running on a separate computer to illustrate just how fluid they can be.

A young Norn, for instance, has a very low attention span - flittering from wanting to play to wanting to sleep in a heartbeat - while older, more experienced creatures with their own little ones (who will have inherited some traits from their parents in the first place) are slower to change wants.

ABC as easy as DNA

Your interaction with the Norns isn’t limited to merely sitting back and watching them run about making their own decisions (although you can do that if you wish). There's a wide variety of objects in the game to purchase - either using the in-game currency or through in-app purchases - that can help shape how your Norns develop.

Handing your new little baby a beachball will let them play, for instance. If you’re feeling really mean/are me, you can also smack the Norn as it touches the ball, thereby teaching it that fun = pain, and creating a truly horrible monster that goes around punching up the others.

If you’re less psycopathic, you can hand out treats for good behaviour and punish bad, resulting in a well-adjusted Norn that will likely fall in love, have babies, and get a safe job working for the man (that last bit is a lie).

Colour me pink

A new feature for this edition is a new procedurally generated fur system, which effectively means baby Norns will inherit visual features from their parents on the fly.

If you’re unwilling to lose control and let nature run its course, there’s also a wide range of customisation options available when your Norns are born. If your baby ends up being bright pink with yellow spots, you can adjust it to something less garish.

These customisation features are also linked into the unlock system, so you won’t be tinkering from the word go.

While we were unable to see the iOS version in motion, Fishing Cactus has told us that, other than a few downgrades in the visual department, the portable version will have everything from the PC and Mac versions, including the same complicated mood programming.

We’ll see whether Creatures 4 deserves to be treated with extra nibbles or to be punished with fire when it hits the App Store for free later this year.