Wednesday, December 6, 2023

A New Base Genome: Of Buff and Obese Norns

 After a continuous four days worth of constant tweaking and testing, I believe I've finally created a norn base genome I'm happy with. At first I figured I'd just talk about all the changes I made in one post, but there's one change I feel is worth giving its own post: the changes to the digestive system, or why unedited 2017 creatures have so much muscle tissue all the time.

First, a brief explanation about how the creature digestive system works in C3/DS. There's three nutrients a creature can be hungry for: starch, protein, and fat. When a creature eats something that gives it one of these nutrients, it's then converted into a matching short-term energy source: glucose for starch, amino acid for protein, and triglyceride for fat. If the creature doesn't need those short-term energy sources for anything else, they're converted into a matching long-term energy source: glycogen for glucose, muscle tissue for amino acid, and adipose tissue for triglyceride. These can then be converted back into short-term energy should the creature need it (e.g. when it's having trouble finding food).

However, there's a problem in vanilla creatures with the reaction that generates muscle tissue. It's reliant on another chemical called anabolic steroid (yes, it's named after what you're probably thinking of), which is supposed to be generated by a chemical emitter that fires based on "Muscle energy used." Which is to say it almost never fires at all. So vanilla creatures don't generate anabolic steroid and thus can't build up muscle tissue. Fortunately, the rest of the digestive system has enough redundancies that this isn't crippling for them and is likely to go unnoticed by the average player.

Nevertheless, it's a flaw that's been corrected in both the 2017 and TWB/TCB genomes. Both genomes made use of the originally-unused chemical Activase (something you might recognize from C1 and C2) by tying it to the stimulus genes associated with movement (e.g. pushing, grabbing objects, and walking around).

TWBs/TCBs generate minute amounts of Activase from these stims, and it's consumed in a chemical reaction that generates both anabolic steroid and body heat (chemical 110; used for a lot of things in the system that gives them their name). However, they aren't entirely reliant on this reaction to get anabolic steroid. Their version of the anabolic steroid emitter fires when their muscle tissue drops too low alongside hunger for protein, so even if they don't generate enough activase from physical activity they can still build muscle tissue.

In 2017 creatures, it's another story. Their version of the anabolic steroid emitter fires based on the amount of Activase in their system. To compensate, they generate more Activase from the physical action stims than TWBs/TCBs do. They also get Activase from two stimuli that TWBs/TCBs do not: eating and disappointment.

As it turns out, it's that latter stimulus that explains why they have an excess of muscle tissue. Disappointment is the stimulus that fires whenever a creature can't do something, e.g. eat an inedible agent or try to grab something that's out of reach, but tries to do it anyway. It's a stimulus that fires a lot. On top of that, 2017 creatures get a lot of Activase out of it, to the point that they might as well have an excess of it all the time.

2017 creatures also have a pair of reaction genes that has Activase consume glycogen and adipose tissue, also solving an issue vanilla creatures have where they build up an excess of adipose tissue. Coupled with the flood of Activase they get from the Disappointment stim, this explains why they get hungry for starch and fat quickly.

So the solution seems obvious: remove the Activase from the Disappointment stim. And indeed, I tried that...but quickly found that the actual action stimuli get triggered a lot less than you'd think, especially in cases where there's not much around to interact with (like in the Capillata Hub or the Bridge/Engineering on the Shee Ark), and when there's agents around they keep trying to interact with but can't.

So ultimately, they wind up not being able to build up muscle tissue consistently, effectively being the same as vanilla while also creating the opposite problem where they rarely get hungry for starch and fat but are constantly hungry for protein. But that's not even the worst problem here.

The CFF introduced a gene in the Mitochondrial Function organ (the organ responsible for the most vital reactions in a creature's system; you can think of it as the creature's heart) that damages it should adipose tissue get too high. In other words, they can have heart attacks. And in a 2017 creature that can't generate enough Activase to trigger the reaction that consumes adipose tissue constantly, the risk of a heart attack goes up dramatically.

At first I tried increasing the amount of Activase gained from the other stims to compensate for the loss of the Activase from Disappointment. If I was careful to have norns stay in rooms where there was a lot they could interact with it worked all right. However, this meant I had to be particular with what they tried interacting with, and ultimately I found this to go against what I wanted out of my base genome: to be adaptable and good even when not constantly monitored.

So instead of getting rid of the Activase from the Disappointment stim outright, I drastically reduced it. It's still not a perfect fix; the stim still fires a lot. But it's still less than default 2017 creatures, meaning that there are cases when they aren't generating Activase all the time and generally reaching an equilibrium of getting more hungry for starch and fat when doing things and getting more hungry for protein when not, and with much less risk of getting heart attacks when they're actively trying to do things.

I also thought about throwing this out the window and just copying the TWBs/TCBs' system because honestly they handled it a lot better, but I decided I wanted to maintain compatibility with default 2017 creatures as much as possible and thus working with the system 2017 creatures already had felt like the best option.

To summarize: Creatures get disappointed a lot; 2017 creatures get too much activity chemical from it by default, so they're buff all the time. But removing that lets them build up too much fat and makes them get heart attacks too easily, so the solution was to reduce the amount of activity chemical they get from being disappointed.

Next post will be the full breakdown of the changes I made from the default 2017 genome. Until then, folks.

Saturday, December 2, 2023

A New Base Genome: What Do I Want?

Over the course of the past couple days, my test world for 2017 ChiChi Norns has blossomed into an outright feral run. Over the course of it I've been adding food, toys, and other necessities to make sure they have what they need, and it's progressed to the Generation 7-8 mark at the highest. It's actually been a while since I've been this invested in playing Creatures.
After such a ridiculously long time of sticking with the CFEs, I'm upgrading to using the 2017s in my regular gameplay. And it's the 2017s that'll be the starting point for my new genome. 

Now that I know where I'm starting from, the new question is: what am I looking for in a base genome, anyway?

A lot of the things that went into my old CFE-based genome are things that were already part of the CFFs and beyond. So based on that alone, one would think the 2017s are usable right out of the box. Just add some extra pigment and pigment bleed genes and I'm off to the races, right? Alas, it's not quite that simple.

First and foremost, I'm looking for creatures that are good at taking care of themselves. I've noted in the past that CFFs and beyond aren't so great at that. The biggest culprit was a slight edit made to their noun and verb lobes that supposedly made them more curious and interesting to watch and care for. When I tried playing with them, I remember that translating into creatures that had a tendency to forget how to eat. Maybe that's fine with all the players who do like actively caring for their creatures, but not so much for me since I tend to be more hands-off.

How true is that now? Well...I'm a bit mixed. At first, it seems what was really going on was that the norns were more likely to try pushing their food before eventually putting it in their mouths before too long. Not bad; maybe it'd be worth it to see more interesting behaviors. 
But as the run and generations went on, I've also noticed that they're quite likely to starve to death; it's actually pretty rare I've seen them die of old age. That would be interesting, if the cause of death was something like illness, inter-creature violence, or just getting lost and starving despite the creature's best efforts. I also don't think there's anything wrong with creatures going senile in their old age. But when even younger creatures are starving to death surrounded by food...I don't think that's really what I'm looking for. 

So suffice to say that edit's getting reverted back to how it is in vanilla and CFE creatures. I've added some creatures with this change to the run already, and I've definitely noticed that they tend to be better about keeping their needs satiated. Though at the same time, they're also not immune to forgetting how to eat; in fact, out of the six initial Gen 1s, only three made it to old age (compared to four out of six for the unedited 2017 norns). So the jury's still out here; I guess I'll see as I add more norns with the changes to the run in the future. 

The other thing I've noticed about 2017 creatures is their diet. Much ado was made about vanilla and CFE creatures not having a realistic biochemistry (among other things, they had too much adipose tissue and couldn't build muscle tissue), and there's been great efforts in fixing that in the CFF and beyond. One of the big features of 2017 is that their hunger drives are based on their long-term energy stores (glycogen/adipose tissue/muscle tissue) rather than being arbitrary as in vanilla and CFE genomes, which is something I very much want.

However, I've noticed that 2017 norns tend to get hungry for starch and hungry for fat quickly but almost never get hungry for protein. When I looked at an unedited norn with the Biochemistry Kit, I noticed that they seem to have an excess of muscle tissue, effectively trading off one excess energy store for another.
The cause seems to be in part due to how they build up muscle tissue. Since a vital emitter relied on something in the engine that doesn't work quite right (there's a lot of that in C3/DS, which I'm learning suffered just as much from being rushed out the door as C2), they instead rely on the normally-unused chemical Activase generated from stimulus genes tied to movement for the purposes of the emitter gene. Also part of this system is a pair of reaction genes that consume glycogen and adipose tissue when combined with Activase. 

My end goal, ultimately, would be to have a creature whose hunger drives raise in equal measure but not overly dominating. So that's a bit of rebalancing I'm going to have to do. Fortunately for me, the TWBs have a similar method of checking long-term energy storage to determine hunger drives, so that's something I can reference if I get stuck. 

Speaking of the TWBs, I'm planning on porting over some of their non-temperature related changes. In particular, requiring female creatures to have sufficient muscle tissue to become pregnant and consuming it during their pregnancy. It also might be worth it to replace the non-functional neuroemitter in the 2017s with the equivalent TWB emitters. 

I'd also love to copy their new brain lobes and tracts, but...basically everything about the creature brain is eldritch gibberish to me and I have no idea where to even begin to understand it. I've also made it a point to not blindly copy anything I don't understand, lest I wind up breaking something. So I'm not touching the brain beyond the aforementioned noun and verb lobe reversions. 

Beyond that would just be some minor things like making it so gaits and the associated emitters to trigger them can't mutate as a personal thing, re-adding the extra eat instincts that the 2017 genome removed (this'd be a band-aid fix for the problem of 2017 creatures never eating fruit, but I'm going to try and fix that properly), and so on.

I've also had a thought to mess with facial expressions, changing them to what the Osiris Norns use as a callback to the original expressive creature (the Osiris Norns pre-date even Creature Lab's official expressive breeds). I'm still pondering that one, since people in the present day are more used to what the official versions use (incidentally, the 2017s do have a facial expression change in that the same face they make when hungry also happens when they're bored, something I've considered reverting since it makes it harder to tell who's eating and who isn't).

Beyond that? The 2017s feel about right to me. With any luck, figuring out their digestive system shouldn't be too big of a hassle, and everything past that point should be smooth sailing. And then once I'm happy with the norn genome, I'll base my grendel and ettin genomes on it as I did with my initial base genomes. 
Not that I ever made any ettin breeds with the base genome I made that way; it just felt like any idea I had for an ettin breed would work better as a grendel or a norn breed. But that's besides the point.

Until the next one, folks. Hope y'all enjoy CCSF 2023!