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Have You Played... Creatures?

The AI dreams of the 1990s

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Have You Played? is an endless stream of game retrospectives. One a day, every day of the year, perhaps for all time.

As VR and its out-of-this-world experiences is to 2016, so to the 1990s were ridiculously overblown claims about toy-based artificial intelligence. We had Furbies chattering garbage at us from the windowsill, Tamagotchis starving to death inside schoolkids’ backpacks, Aibos tightening the thumbscrews on wealthy Japanese folks’ existential crises and we had Creatures games cluttering the dusty racks of supermarkets’ tiny games sections.

Creatures, in theory, was a game-cum-simulation about the life cycle of a made-up animal. Grow it from an egg, interact with it, reward or punish it, introduce it to others and it’ll grow its own mind and personality, individual and unpredictable. A ton of smart thinking went into it, and it’s without doubt to see this kind of behavioural science applied at a consumer level. Just the idea of it – as though our computers really were about to transport existence to somewhere new.

The reality of Creatures was that it was an irritating grind with a cumbersome interface which all too clearly revealed you were interacting with a program, not a lifeform. The illusion shattered quickly, and the work required to conjure it in the first place just wasn’t much fun.

One day, surely, we will have something like this that actually operates as more than a gimmick and is powered by technology and neural net science that goes far beyond what poor old Creatures could muster on a Pentium II. There’s an amazing phone app waiting to happen, although the reality is that most people want cutesy, safe Nintendogs, not a frightening pocket-size Westworld.

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Who am I?

Alec Meer


Ancient co-founder of RPS. Long gone. Now mostly writes for rather than about videogames.

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