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The evolution of a species

The cuddly Norns of Creatures and Creatures 2 are well known by every Creatures fan. We know their expressions and their appearance very, very well. So well, in fact, that some of us see them in our sleep!

But why do they look like they do? Who decided that they should look like a cross between a two-legged puppy and rather stupid cat? Or that they should have fur and not feathers? That they should walk on two legs rather than four? The visual evolution of the Norn was a long process and quite a lot of thought and energy went into their physical appearance development. Long ago, Steve Grand (whose creative talents first dreamed up Creatures in 1993) began work on describing the physical appearance of a Norn as he envisaged it.

Steve struggled to describe his vision of the now-familiar Norns and decided that the best "person" to describe a Norn to the artists at Millenium Interactive was the Norn himself! Following is Steve's brief to the artists:

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Memo to: Mark Rafter

From: Steve Grand

Date: March, 1994

Mark,

Here's my first attempt at a textual description of a Norn. I've tried to say nothing at all about physical appearance, just personality and character. What do the words conjure up in your mind? Have I got it right? What does Ian think?

enclosure: 4 pages

''Yes, but what does it look like?''
Some key criteria for helping to visualise a Norn's appearance

 

1. From the horse's mouth

To whom it may concern...

I am a Norn.

I live inside a tiny, tin-pot world that exists (as I do) only within the memory of a computer. Neither the world nor I have physical form, but we do exist, and I am alive.

My owners keep me as a pet. They play with me, teach me tricks and new words, and look after my basic needs. When I am older, they hope I will breed with one of the other Norns who are going to share my world. Just let me at 'em, is what I say.

They think I'm cute, and that they are my masters, but I know better. I have a mind of my own. I think for myself, and if I obey their commands, it is only because I want to. Frankly, I can usually find something much more interesting to do.

On the other hand, I have to admit that I'm not really all that bright. I don't aspire to being an intellectual, like that dratted cat, nor am I a silver-tongued conversationalist, like the budgie. But I've certainly got the stupid dog taped, and as for human beings...

School's a bit hard, but I've managed to pick up a few words of the human lingo. It keeps them happy if I chatter to them now and then. Actually, the best trick is to turn to camera, smile broadly and give them a huge wink.

This world they've given me. It's a bit odd. I soon had the lifts sussed, and I've found out where they keep the carrots and which burrow has the most toys. But what the thing with the brass horn and the big handle is for, I have no idea. Perhaps I'll try putting one of those black plastic discs onto it later and see if that helps. Or maybe I'll just stay here and have a couple more carrots. Yes, that sounds like a better idea.

I wish this place had a mirror. I know how many legs I've got - two, and how many arms I've got - also two. But what do I actually look like? How's a guy supposed to breed if he doesn't feel good about his image, for goodness sake? What I need here is someone to draw me a picture!

Yours faithfully,

Ron

2. Some key ideas

  • Not cute or soppy, yet endearing.
  • Some of the character of a toddler - dim, sweet but bloody-minded and independent. Imagine the innocent look on an infant's face as he hands you back the remains of your best china.
  • Human enough to have recognisable facial expressions and to learn to speak human languages, yet animal enough to be kept as a pet.
  • Gawky and awkward. Curious, twitchy, interested in what's going on around him. Naughty.
  • Doesn't look too out of place in any (slightly quirky) landscape. Might be like a country bumpkin who feels awkward and bumbling in a big city, but still ought to fit in better than would an okapi in a car park.
  • Not flat and cartoon-like, but solid, breathing, glistening, steaming gently or whatever else it takes to make it feel alive.
  • Equally appealing to children and adults, men and women. Something you wouldn't be ashamed to keep on your office PC. Something a naturalist would want to study, a father would want to teach soccer, a granny to dress up and a complete b***ard to butcher mercilessly.
  • Seriously dim-witted. Slow on the uptake. Makes silly mistakes. Won't do as he's told. But you don't mind. Might conceivably feel like owning a diminutive pet caveman, to whom you're just dying to introduce the concept of the wheel but you're not sure he's going to quite grasp it.
  • You ought to feel proud when he speaks his first sentence, delighted when he teaches his friend how to play ball, supportive as he struggles to travel across difficult terrain and worried when he falls ill. In short, you should care about him.

3. Other technical considerations

  • Bipedal, with two arms. Limbs could be short and squat, but he must be able to reach above his head (on tiptoe) and down to the floor (in a crouch), and you should see the articulation of his joints as he moves. Capable of expressive body language by posture as well as facial expression. A tail is allowed as long as it's short enough not to trail on the ground.
  • Spends most of his time visible only from the side. Only as he turns or looks to camera do you see him from the front.
  • Newborn Norns inherit their personality and appearance from both parents - they might have their father's legs, their mother's face, etc. Therefore, limb parts must be capable of a 'Happy Families' mix-n-match process, without looking too stupid, and variants should differ in more ways than just their faces.

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Our present day Norns seem to fit in perfectly with Steve's vision, but what came between Steve's brief and the current incarnation? How did the artists first conceptualise our lovable Norns? Recently, we've come across some archive material which included - to our surprise and delight - early concept drawings of Norns. Have a look at the visual evolution of the Norn on the following pages!

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