See Copyright and Usage Notice
How can we think of virtual worlds without having our best companions
there, our pets? Remember the movie "Planet of The Apes"
where the people traveled through time to some future where apes
ruled and thought of us Homo Saps as just great pets? The power
of pets cannot be underestimated in their power to affect our
everyday lives. When we start to tend litters of virtual pets
living in our digital cityscapes, they may evolve so much that
we will end up on the other end of the leash! You don't have to
worry about that yet, so let's enter the world of v-pets.
Creatures from Cyberlife in the United Kingdom takes the v-pet
phenomenon to new heights. Steve Grand, Creatures' inventor, worked
for years to give these critters dramatic lives as they are hatched
from eggs, learn how to eat, communicate, survive illness and
attacks, breed and die all within ten to fifteen hours.
To run Creatures you have to have a Macintosh running System 7
or above or a minimum 75HMz Pentium PC running Windows 95 and
with a sound card. You also must purchase the CD-ROM, which should
be available from most computer stores. You can get a preview
of Creatures by visiting Cyberlife's home page at: http://www.cyberlife.co.uk.
Figure 13.3.1: cr1a.jpg
Norn eggs ready for hatching
I spent hours using Creatures and hatched three individuals (called
Norns) from their eggs. The figure above shows my starter set
of six eggs which came on a floppy disk with the CD-ROM. My creatures
are unique and would have different behaviors from any other Creature
on the planet. After breeding, these Creatures can inherit traits
and mutate to yield yet more unique generations. Cyberlife tells
me there is no end to this and that they have seen some pretty
strange creatures emerge. You can package up these 'eggs' and
send them through the Internet to other Creatures users.
Figure 13.3.2: cr1b.jpg
My Norns watching their new sister being incubated
Here I am incubating an egg to get a quick new sibling for the
two Norns (one male and one female) that I bred earlier.
Figure 13.3.3: cr1c.jpg
Training my Norns to eat, sometimes a futile task when they are obsessed with each other!
Teaching the first Norn to eat was a pretty easy task. I was picking
up carrots, pots of honey and other things and dropping them in
front of the Norn until one magic moment, I heard the Norn slurp
down the honey. Norns have digestive systems, brains full of neural
networks and complex physical and mental health patterns to go
along with them. Norns can expire if they don't learn how to eat
or become sick with bacteria which are inherent in their world.
Cyberlife told me about a family in Australia which called them
in a panic.. their Norn was not eating or responding and was in
danger of dying on the spot. A hasty email later and Steve Grand
was looking at the wiring in the poor Norn's brain. He discovered
that through a mutation, this Norn had no sight or hearing so
could not learn how to eat. A quick bit of neural network surgery
later and the Norn was back in Australia leading a normal, if
short ten hour life.
Figure 13.3.4: cr1d.jpg
Teaching my Norns to say something other than 'Goo'
If you can coax your Creatures to enter a teleporter, they will
be transported to a special computer learning center (shown here)
where you can prompt them to learn words. I finally did get my
Norns to say other words than 'goo'. Their voices are quite endearing
and provide the best indication of how they are doing, so make
sure your speakers are turned on when you run Creatures. FinFin,
which we will look at later in this section, is a v-pet to which
you can actually talk back.
From Internet Worms to Feral Creatures?
It wasn't so many years ago that Robert Morris created the famous
'Internet Worm' that brought down thousands of servers. Will v-pets
go feral and rampage across the Internet? When a million ten year
olds become genetic or neural hackers, creating and exchanging
critters, they may set off the proverbial 'Cambrian Explosion'
of forms of digital biota. Will the Internet be overrun with these
biota, consuming all the servers, and sucking in all the bandwidth?
I don't think so, as most v-pets or other biota need to exist
in carefully crafted environments, like the Creatures universe.
It is an interesting possibility however..
Fujitsu Interactive's FinFin and TEO World
Figure 13.3.5: fin3.jpg
Fin Fin and some of his friends
In 1996, Fujitsu Interactive (working with inventors Macoto Tezca
in Japan) introduced a virtual world called TEO (The Other Earth)
which features a fantastic forested planet full of creatures,
all living on a CD-ROM. TEO world may be a hint at the worlds
and creatures to come inside the Internet. Of course you can also
combine a CD-ROM with the Internet by delivering all the art and
software on the CD-ROM and then sending only changes to the world
and interaction through the Internet. This is known as the hybrid
approach and should become a common way of delivering a great
experience that is also shared with other people (author proudly
notes: the CD-ROM in this book is an early hybrid and hopefully
will save you a lot of downloading). One day who knows, maybe
TEO world could become a giant connected biosphere.
The TEO world CD-ROM is available from most computer stores. More
information on TEO can be found on the Web at: http://www.teo-world.com/.
You need a minimum Pentium 75MHz PC with a CD-ROM and a sound
card. The PC must also be running Windows 95 on 16MB of memory
to experience TEO.
The main critter inside TEO is a little fellow named FinFin. FinFin
is a sort of half dolphin half bird with quite a personality.
The creators of FinFin describe his (or is it a her?) species
in this way:
Initially a mammal that lived in the sea (comparable to a dolphin
on Earth), it adapted to the land and then took to the skies.
It doesn't form packs like dolphins, but moves around alone. It
is very curious by nature and playful. It will "sing"
(the mode of communication believed to be indigenous to the FinFin
species) songs for you and even do "acrobats" for you.
Smaller than a dolphin, it is about as large as a cat.
Interacting with FinFin is a new experience. You do not have to
hammer away at the old keyboard or mouse but instead you use a
domed device called the comlink antenna (see preceding figure).
By speaking into the antenna (it has a microphone) you can address
your FinFin virtual pet. By waving your hands in front of the
antenna you can cause signal FinFin visually. Over time you can
learn what kinds of things FinFin will respond positively to and
what actions will cause him to fly away in a fluster. You can
even try whistling (there is a special whistle provided), playing
an instrument or even cranking up the stereo (which will probably
drive FinFin off over the horizon). FinFin will adjust to you
over time and will remember previous experiences. Remember when
you closed the door on your pet cat's tail or paw? Well, I did
and my pet cat held her paw up in the air every time she waited
by that door from that time forward, for twelve years!
FinFin spends his days much like your pet or you would, wandering
around aimlessly, singing, flying acrobatics, sleeping, or eating
something called Elmo fruit or Tsubu seeds.
Other TEO Creatures
A wide variety of other creatures inhabit TEO world along with
FinFin. None of them will respond to you like FinFin. I guess
you could say that FinFin is the only sentient race on
TEO. Other TEO creatures are described at: http://www.teo-world.com/teo_hp_sw_e/Animal/frame.html.
The world, the background
Japan has a fascination with "artificial life" (as witnessed
by the current Tamagotchi craze, those little portable devices
with a pixel creature painted on a tiny screen). Read about them
So it is not surprising that FinFin should come from Japan. A
lot of home grown Japanese technology embodies FinFin and TEO,
including recognition and learning engines, fast computer graphics,
and life like character animation and sound generation. The folks
behind all this have been working since 1989, creating various
creatures from jellyfish to sharks which would recognize gestures
PF Magic's Dogz, Catz and other web pets
In the mid 90s, the famous "Bad Dog" screen saver from
Berkeley Systems' "After Dark" series of screen savers
featured a pretty ingenious proto v-pet that would take over your
desktop, sniff around the windows and your trash can and create
havoc with your screen by tearing holes in the wallpaper.
PF Magic has taken all this a step further and brought us a whole
litter of virtual pets (or petz as they call them) right through
the Internet. You can download "adoption kits" for Catz
and Dogz right from their website and begin to play with your
digital critters. Once you bond with your critters (or they bond
with you?) you might be so inclined to get out that credit card
and adopt the fully featured pet. I went for the adoption kits
to find out and downloaded both Catz and Dogz from PF Magic's
home page http://www.pfmagic.com/
Its Rainin' Catz and Dogz!
Figure 13.3.10: catzdogz.jpg
A wild selection of Catz and Dogz on the loose
I played with both Catz and Dogz for a couple of hours and took
snapshots with the conveniently provided "pet cam" then
put my favorite photos together into this Catz Dogz photoshoot
you see in the preceding figure. These petz do everything from
responding to being scratched with your mouse cursor, to chasing
you around (the screen) and playing with balls, mice, and other
toys. More goodies come when you adopt. If you buy the full version
of Catz, you get to use the infamous water sprayer bottle which
you can use to show your v-cat who is really the boss. I don't
know if they provide Kitty Litter or pooper scoopers to
clean up after your petz.
Oddbalz, now that's more my style
Oddballz are a third kind of petz from PF Magic, which can mutate
and be trained to perform tricks. You can even craft and exchange
your own oddbalz. PF Magic describes these creatures as the wackiest
of their stable of "digital life".
More Virtual Pets on the Way
What you have seen in this section is just a tiny sampling of
the virtual pets coming to a Web page or a virtual world near
you. When I was finishing this chapter I heard rumors of "v-pets"
projects being started inside several of the avatar worlds. With
Oddbalz we see the beginnings of a pet making toolkit. Another
great example is Awesome Animated Monster Maker from ImaginEngine
Corp. Check out their mini Monster Maker character builder kit
Will v-pets be the true beginnings of artificial life on the net?
Silly as they may seem sometimes, these spunky little chunks of
software face the toughest survival tasks: they have to satisfy
human desires and keep our attention. They also are free to wander
inside our virtual cities, knocking over our garbage cans and
poking their noses into everything. Like trying to design a rover
that will travel on its own on the Martian surface, v-pets also
face a great unknown. Put in a genetics system to allow them to
breed and pass on traits and you could be faced with a bona fide
artificial life colony on your hands.