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I'm creating the world's most advanced artificial creatures, for people to look after, interact with and study. Read more

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Funded!

This project was successfully funded on April 9, 2011.

I'm creating the world's most advanced artificial creatures, for people to look after, interact with and study.

Woo-hoo!

We're over the $50K mark now, thanks to all you lovely people! And nearly 500 members of our new community! Welcome to the new ones, and thanks for your support.

There's still a lot to be done in terms of the community site and rewards and the like, but I actually got back to work on the project this week and it's really good to be developing again, knowing that this time I'm doing it for real and it's not just some hopeless dream.

I'm focused on creating a new, more realistic but challenging creature body right now. One of the many innovations in this game is that the creatures are not animated. Normally you create some 3D graphics, bone and skin them, and then carefully move them through hand-crafted poses in exactly the same way you make an animated movie. Then you take these animations - walking, rearing up, turning and so on - and blend them into short sequences inside the game to produce the IMPRESSION of a living being that's reacting to its environment.

But this isn't an animated video game. The creatures really do have to respond to their environment. They have to decide for themselves how to move their limbs and alter their balance to achieve their own goals. In fact they have to learn how to do it. So I'm giving their brains direct control over simulated muscle groups, and these will power their bodies via the physics engine. Limbs are elastic and respond to weights and forces just like the real thing.

The results from my earlier experiments are very realistic and faithful, but of course it's a lot more challenging than animation. If a creature sits down or falls over and then can't get up again because its proportions or weight distribution are wrong then it's in trouble. And so am I!

So I'm busy observing a lot about kinetics and noticing how beautifully evolution tunes our bodies. Just walking from A to B on a flat surface is a lot harder than it looks, and uses most of the muscles in our bodies I've no idea how this is all going to turn out yet, but it's a very worthwhile challenge. A creature that's animated can only do what I tell it; but life should be in charge of its own destiny.

Expect newborns to be pretty clumsy at first, though!

Comments

    1. Creator Tribeofpinkafros on April 9, 2011

      wishing you all the luck in the world steve =) hope you achieve your goal

    2. Creator Donna Crawford on April 8, 2011

      I couldn't resist a lil in the end. This is going to be fantastic :)

    3. Creator SpaceShipRat on March 31, 2011

      lochnessduck norns have genetically predisposed instincts already.
      This keeps being amazing: here on in some other forum where this project is mentioned, people will tentatively propose ideas, not quite believing they could really be implemented... Only Creatures' done it already. I am so excited to see what impossible things this game will be deploying!
      Also, I kept Darwin's pool in the background today. Hello stick creature number 16,384! Yet even then one occasionally feels sorry for a lost creature struggling far from any food source.

    4. Creator lochnessduck on March 31, 2011

      Hooray for genetically coded predisposition! I was hoping there would (and see that there probably will) be a way for animals to evolve certain pre-learned things (or reflexes). Wouldn't it be cool if eventually one evolved to have some preformed habits, such as chasing of a ball? Can't wait to see where this goes...

    5. Creator Steve Grand on March 31, 2011

      @topher: That would be an interesting project, you're right. But it's not this project. My research interest is mammalian intelligence. Jellyfish, while wonderful, are not the smartest of animals (or the smartests of colonies of animals, depending on how you define a jellyfish!). There's also no fluid dynamics in the physics engine. You might have been interested in my earlier Sim-biosis project, but that died. This time I'm specifically trying out my new theories of cerebral cortical function and making mammal-like pets that people can really relate to. As mk-grendel points out, evolution is not the primary objective. There are plenty of evo sims out there, although they tend to be a bit boring in game terms because you just sit there and watch. It's hard to get personally attached to stick creature number 16,384!

    6. Creator mk-grendel on March 31, 2011

      @topher do you know how long it take for the yellifish to become even a fish? I want this game (or at least a beta version) as long as i'm alife!!!

      ...but tentacled creatures without bones would be interesting, too...
      I'm sure somebody will create them after the game is finished ;)

    7. Creator topher on March 31, 2011

      It occurs to me that as these guys will exist in a virtual environment, then why not start with a Jellyfish or Octopus structure and allow them to access their world in this way. You could "grow" them to evolve to a more demanding series of challenges, possibly using an amphibian model. The affects of gravity could then be studied through a liberal application or allowance for fluid dynamics in the interactive medium.

    8. Creator Steve Grand on March 31, 2011

      Oh, missed @Alberto's, cos it came in as I was writing: Heh! No, I know the form for these things: I'll dictate a confusing, self-contradictory book to them, contrive a few cheap magic trick miracles, issue vague threats about an apocalypse and then see what they make of it! :-)

    9. Creator Steve Grand on March 31, 2011

      Phew! Quick catch-up cos I'm in the thick of UV-unwrapping:

      @Pico: no, hiring an artist at this stage would be a problem for several reasons, but it's fine. I'm not a great 3D artist but I'm competent enough for what's needed now and I have special requirements.

      @topher: Heh! Tell your kids Asimov's Laws won't be included, so they should be ready for the robots to take over! That's an interesting subject. For instance, it seems to me that you can only know how to obey Asimov's laws if you're actually capable of breaking them, so they're not really much use. Asimov wrote at a time when people thought "being programmed to be intelligent" was a meaningful idea, but if you ask me, being programmed is the opposite of being intelligent. Big topic!

      @spaceshiprat: Breaking limbs should be possible; snapping them right off is possible in principle at least, but a bit gruesome! Should I be a cruel god?

      @mk-grendel: It'll be interesting to find out if they care about you this time. It's possible, I think, because you'll be there in the world with them.

      @Daniel: Tuning through evolution is your job! Evolution rates will be very slow, because of the complexity of the creatures and their relatively long lives, but things should certainly tune themselves once there's a large population and a bunch of avid breeders!

      @Anton: No Lamarkism, but a combination of genetically coded stuff, equivalent to our spinal reflex arcs, and learning in various motor maps of their brains. More on that another day, cos it's complex! Lamarkian transmission of skill learning would actually be harder than it might seem. For instance, as we age our bodies change size, weight and shape, so what we know about how to move as a reproductive-age adult is no use to a newborn. It's an interesting topic - something to discuss on the forum later, I reckon!

      Thanks for all the thoughts, and any I forgot to reply to. Anyhow, must get on...

    10. Creator Alberto on March 31, 2011

      Every time I read details about the how complex these creatures are going to be, my jaw drops... I wonder if they will eventually develop the concept of God. If that happens, will you manifest yourself to them, Steve? :P

    11. Creator Anton Jurisevic on March 31, 2011

      I'm curious: how is the gait being designed, selected and eventually controlled? Will 'droids be able to respond to new terrain configurations by altering their movement or is it likely to be a genetic thing? Or, will it be a combination between learning and inheritance a la Lamarck? Seems like being able to pass on learned knowledge genetically (even as a stand-in for teaching) could be valuable in this case.

    12. Creator Daniel Demski on March 31, 2011

      "So I'm busy observing a lot about kinetics and noticing how beautifully evolution tunes our bodies."

      Yeah, it seems like the best way to 'glue' the body and mind together at the end would be to do a bit of controlled evolution (like an evolutionary alg) to get the body better balanced than you can by hand. But that's just how I would do it. :)

      As far as animation goes, it seems like animals who are born knowing how to walk have something close to what an intelligent creature with an animated body would have, though of course they have a bit of say in how their limbs move.

    13. Creator mk-grendel on March 31, 2011

      @ picco - there would be a easy explanation for you if they would ask;
      "I'AM GOD! I am human.
      - you exist because human allows it! you were created in 12 months by human - and i life in a other dimmension - you could never understand it!
      And you were created by human image!"
      Creature: "Human, why did you make me? why do i life?"
      "Because... i have... a plan! - can't explain it - here some cheese and carrots - now spreed the word!"

      ...yeah - i wanted to say this a looong time to my creatures, but they never asked or even care about me...

    14. Creator topher on March 31, 2011

      Am very excited about this project. Have set aside a spare Macbook as a playpen for the little tyke. My kids want to know if you're considering 3 Laws (of Robotics) embedded programming, with of course the 4th, or Zeroth Law - which appears to be your starting point, or if they will be No Law creations with complete autonomy. The Inferno trilogy by Roger McBride Allen goes a long way in expanding Asimov's initial work in this field.

    15. Creator Picco on March 31, 2011

      I guess will do an amasing job. it sounds so interesting and right now am I a bit worried what I sould answer when one of these creatures manages to understand that it is not real and asks me about that xD

      BUT i am a bit concernt about the grafic... will you hire a proffessionel from the extra money or how is it plannt?

    16. Creator Blake "Kaelis Ebonrai" Heatly on March 31, 2011

      oh, and also: Hi Nina! *waves* (I wish I could edit my comments :<)

    17. Creator Blake "Kaelis Ebonrai" Heatly on March 31, 2011

      @spaceshiprat: *we* break like that, so do other animals. I think its /important/ for this to work like life, after all this is an A-Life experiment. We have broken limbs, you know, broken bones that make it so we can't move it, etc. Broken Arms, legs, etc.

      I /really/ don't see how it is at *all* gruesome. But, eh. =/

    18. Creator Machines Like Us on March 30, 2011

      Well, newborns always *are* clumsy. That's part of what makes them cute!

    19. Creator SpaceShipRat on March 30, 2011

      "or to break a limb if it's too heavy"
      Ouch! Can you imagine that? The reaction of children when their pet 'breaks'? Not to mention the new fronteer for the Antinorns of the future. I'd say, they might get hurt and favour one leg for a while, but let's not go overboard with the gruesome. X-)

    20. Creator Jamie on March 30, 2011

      Woot! Grats on getting over the 50k mark. I had hopes you'd make it, but it seems to have jumped quite a bit in the last couple of days.

      Absolutely facinated by the brain-body connection. I only recently learned you'd done something similar in the creatures games with sprites. I can only imagine how difficult it would be to do in 3D.

      I'm busting with questions about this feature, but I'll restrain myself until the forums pop up. You need to be working ;)

    21. Creator GirlySatan on March 30, 2011

      I saw something similar to this on a documentary about dinosaurs. They had put some amount of physics and weights to see if they could figure out how dinosaurs walked and ran since we don't have any living ones to observe. They tried it with other animal models at first, to see if they could replicate their walking, which it did, so they are fairly certain the speeds and way the dinosaurs walk/ran in the simulation is correct. I loved how they showed them stumbling around trying to figure out how to walk too. I can't wait to see this in action! You made me such a happy girl lol!

    22. Creator elthar on March 30, 2011

      I wonder, if "Limbs are elastic and respond to weights" would it be possible for a creature to get fat enough so it couldn't move? or to break a limb if it's too heavy (say, another creature jumped on to of it or something fell on it)? or they won't be technically able to do such things under that engine

    23. Creator Steve Grand on March 30, 2011

      It should normalize. IRL we have evolved constraints, which is why all humans walk much the same, all horses can trot, canter and gallop, etc. Most animals don't even have to learn to walk - they just get steadily better at it. Humans are unusual in that our natural reflexes get suppressed. Anyhow, it's a complex subject but I'm not building something unconstrained, like Karl Sims's critters, that might evolve all sorts of bizarre forms of locomotion. There'll be constraints determined by the physiognomy and peripheral nervous system. So everyone in the same species should end up converging on the same gait.

    24. Creator SpaceShipRat on March 30, 2011

      Mk-grendel, we're already collecting ideas, old and new, on the Creaturetopia forum, so if you're aching to write them down, go there!

      The main problem I can see here is that every creature might end up with a different gait, from an identical starting point. I'm uncertain if that would be immensely interesting, or ridicolous.

    25. Creator mk-grendel on March 30, 2011

      but i try to wait with the most ideas/questions/possible problems until the forum will be open...

      And i know that nobody did this before - that's the reason why my brain trys every single option what coul go wrong. (and i would accept a no as well)

      Oh and be sure - i will be a good betatester - quality is importand, betertested in germany ;)

    26. Creator Steve Grand on March 30, 2011

      God, you're a hard taskmaster!!!! Gimme a chance! :-) I'll see what I can do about swimming and flying. Some of this stuff will have to come in later versions. But I've no idea what will or won't be possible yet - nobody's ever done anything like this before. I'm making no promises! :-)

    27. Creator mk-grendel on March 30, 2011

      damn...

      oh and by the way and the topic of walking, i know the creatures won't be able to fly - does that mean no swimming, too?

    28. Creator Steve Grand on March 30, 2011

      @mk-grendel: Don't get your hopes up! I can't develop the brain until I have a body to test it with. So far the brain only exists in theory!
      @Boolean: I'd forgotten about Torsten's work - thanks for the reminder!
      @Gimmecat: I'd never heard of Sumotori - hilarious! Promise I'll add the ability to poke and prod. As if the poor creatures don't already have enough to deal with! ;-)

    29. Creator mk-grendel on March 30, 2011

      You work on the walking proces and the body?
      Does that mean the brain works more or less right now?

      And ad a tail - tails are always helpful for balance - and good luck! I hope we can manipulate the bonestructure and similar in the genetics ^^

      By the way - do they have fingers and can hold things with the fingers or would that be to complicated for the creatures and the engine? (i just know babys can't use them for a long time propably - don't know if the creatures will life long enough for fingers)

    30. Creator Boolean on March 30, 2011

      This is sounding so interesting, I can not wait to see it all in action!
      The learning to walk stuff reminds me of a TED talk by Torsten Reil, with regards to the tech that became Euphoria Physics engine. (http://www.ted.com/talks/torsten_reil_studies_biology_to_make_animation.html)

    31. Creator Gimmecat on March 30, 2011

      This is exactly the sort of technology A-Life should always be equipped with. Animations, while generally eye-pleasing, are exactly like scripted behaviour; neither give direct control to the organism over its own actions.

      Amusingly, I'm imagining Grandroids to end up a bit like the Sumotori AIs, which move around according to the physics of their environment. Granted I don't think they actually learn these behaviours to begin with, but they react fluidly (and often hilariously) to keep their tentative balance, and cannnot simply rely on an animation to pull them to their feet or walk around an obstacle-filled floor.

      Feature request: Please allow us to poke, prod, and otherwise mess with our creature's sense of balance. Not to be cruel, you understand... well... maybe a little bit! Let's just call it "assisting the learning process". :)

    32. Creator keith ferrer on March 30, 2011

      congratulations Steve!!!