Origin (initially Gaia in 1996) was a 3D virtual environment constructed by the research wing of Cyberlife. Work appears to have begun on Gaia in early 1996, during which it was promoted at the Computer Game Developer's Conference (nowadays just called the GDC).
In visual terms, the Origin system was similar to Active Worlds, which was to prove very popular with members of the Creatures Community in late 1998. However, Origin was meant to be far more than this; it could be likened to a 3D Creatures in which the world and everything in it was considered a living object. Such a system had obvious potential for simulation purposes (and more games in the Creatures series, although not all at Cyberlife were keen on gaming). During 1997 and 1998 Cyberlife referred to Origin as "version 2 of the CyberLife systems", and it was clear that much of their effort was bent towards achieving a usable implementation of it.
Unfortunately, Origin also consumed a great deal of time and resources, including most of those obtained from the sale of Millennium to Sony in July 1997. Origin was meant to attract investment, and it failed to attract anywhere near enough interest to fund its own development - Lisa de Araujo mentioned in passing on alt.games.creatures that the games ended up funding it. Ultimately, Origin was not a solution to any problem, but a very general framework on which it might have been possible to construct such solutions, a victim of the second-system effect. It appears to have been discontinued when Applied Research and the Cyberlife Institute were shut down and Steve Grand left the company, at the end of 1999.
Details of exactly what projects were undertaken using Origin are scanty (possibly a reflection of how many there were), but it is known that they included programming robot fighter planes for the Ministry of Defense using a system based on Norn brains and simulation of bank layouts to maximize customer satisfaction for NCR - see Agents from Albia and Artificial Life Studies for Flight Control for more details. The objectives and methods used by Origin are outlined in the links below; the system appears to have included some variation of SVRules and a CAOS-like language.
When it was shutting down an Urban Legend about how they had made a Norn Brained Jet Fighter with a problem with OHSS was the real end.
- The Origin of CyberLife - a Steve Grand interview by Sue Wilcox that includes much Origin content
- Agents from Albia (backup) - a New Scientist article about applications of Origin
- Bubbles in cyberspace: a cellular approach to virtual environments and intelligent synthetic life forms
- Artificial Life Studies for Flight Control - a demo at the Sixth International Conference on Artificial Life
- The Gaia Architecture - overview on Cyberlife site (archived)
- Gaia Applications - includes screenshots (archived)
- Cyberlife Technical Note 2 (archived)
- Cyberlife Technical Note 3 (archived)