Have You Played? is an endless stream of game retrospectives. One a day, every day of the year, perhaps for all time.
I played Creatures for hours and hours, fully believing that the artificial life that drove its inhabitants would lead to some kind of revelation. Looking back, I think I was supposed to be solving rudimentary puzzles to move the irritatingly cutesy Norns from one screen to the next.
Creatures spawned several games but I only played the first. I remember hatching eggs and poking Norns with the pointer, waiting for them to display signs of life. Artificial life.
That was the game’s big selling point, that the Norns were more than the kind of virtual pets that I’d encountered in the Dogz and Catz series. Do games like that exist anymore? Toys, really, that drop a fake animal on the screen and allow you to interact with it, grooming, feeding and stroking? Nintendogs is the most famous example but PF Magic made loads of software along those lines in the mid-nineties, including Oddballz, which featured weird alien pets that exploded if you petted them too much.
Creatures was like a Petz game with a PhD. Created by Steve Grand, a computer scientist and (later) roboticist, it was a window into a world inhabited by creatures who required a guiding hand to teach them. If I remember rightly, they had to be taught to eat nutritional food instead of chewing rocks. I could be wrong. They definitely had to be taught to push buttons and pull levers so that they could move around the cluttered environment.
I wanted to love Creatures, just as I wanted to love Black and White and its poo-slinging cow, but looking back there wasn’t very much to love. Grand went on to make a robotic orang-utan which will now live in my nightmares.
The skin was a huge mistake.