Tobold's Blog
Tuesday, March 18, 2008
Spore preview

I'm subscribed to a magazine on PC games which comes with a video DVD with about one hour worth of games previews, reviews and similar stuff. This month a good part of it was a preview of Spore. In case you live in a cave and haven't heard yet, Spore is the game Will Wright, the Sims guy, is currently developing, to be released in September this year. And the game is heavily hyped. Which makes people wonder whether the game can possibly live up to the hype. So it was interesting to have a look at gameplay footage and see what the hype is all about.

Spore is actually not one game but five. Or a game in 5 separate phases with little connection between them. You start out the game as an amoeba in phase 1, develop into a creature in phase 2, form a tribe in phase 3, found a civilization in phase 4, and move on into space in phase 5, which is more or less endless; that is there is a final goal but you aren't forced to go for it and can just keep playing. In every phase you interact with or fight against computer-controlled NPC amoebae/creatures/tribes/civilizations/spaceships, Spore is a single-player game. But, and that is the main source of the hype, you can connect Spore with the internet. In which case Spore is *still* a pure single-player game. But the NPCs are downloaded from the internet using the player created creatures of the other Spore players. So not only does Spore allow you to build your own creatures, structures, and spaceships with an extensive editor, your creations can end up as NPCs in somebody elses game. Which basically makes for a game with an infinite number of possible NPCs in infinite variety, from minmaxed for optimum performance to just plain wacky. Apparently one dev made a set of creatures formed like the letters of the alphabet, and that's just one possible idea. Apparently there will even be "themes", so you could play a game in a winter environment, or one with an Egyptian theme full of animal-headed bipeds and pyramids. Or you could create such a theme yourself, the creative possibilities are endless.

And there's the rub: infinite possibilities for creative toying around. Spore is not in the strictest sense a game for gamers. The footage I saw and the comments that went with it showed that Spore will the ultimate casual game. There is no way you can lose, just like with a MMORPG you simply get reborn if you die. And the actual gameplay is relatively simple. In the early phases you just swim or run around and eat smaller creatures, avoid bigger creatures, and try to find bits of "DNA" which allow you to modify your creature with new features. Yes, in the later phases you'll have a civilization or space empire, but do not expect the complexity level of a Civilization or Master of Orion.

It is no wonder that EA loves Will Wright: Spore is a game that will sell millions of copies, and that's just on the PC / Mac. There will also be spinoffs on the Nintendo DS, mobile phones, and the Wii. And who knows on what other platforms, now that consoles are often connected to the internet, and how many expansions. EA milked The Sims for all its worth, and Spore will be no different. But how many hardcore gamers play The Sims? The main demographic for Spore will be the same as that for The Sims: casual gamers. So expect lots of "Spore is boring" comments not long after the game comes out. Me, I'm looking forward to toying around with Spore for a while, it looks really nice. But I don't foresee me spending hundreds of hours on it. Just like I didn't spend hundreds of hours with Creatures or Black & White. Spore will be a toy, not a game.
Well Tobold I think you are allowed your assumptions about Spore seeing as this is a preview post & you haven't even played the game yet...I mean toy...I suppose it comes down to what you consider what = fun in a gaming experience. I will be holding my judgment back on a preview until the creature editor demo is released.
This review is comparable to what I have read on other sites.

One thing I read is that the game will have 3 levels of difficulty:
Easy, Medium, Hard.

I hope playing on "hard" will provide a challege. Otherwise, I will probably end up agreeing with Tobold.

What is the point of a game without "needing" to achieve goals.

An open sandbox game without clear goals gets boring pretty quick.

I've been looking forward to this game for a long time. :/

One other thing: I hope Maxis/EA are willing to sell their engine to other game developers so others can more quickly/easily put to good use built-in modeling and this "new procedural motion design stuff" without having to reinvent the wheel.

I only care that games across the board continue to get better (more fun, challenging, creative, immersive, etc.).
There is an ultimate goal at the end of the space period of the game, iroh. As yet this hasn't been revealed.
I will be holding my judgment back on a preview until the creature editor demo is released.

Which is exactly what I am talking about: The most important part of Spore is the editors, from creature to spaceship. That is what I call a toy. Most of the time you'll spend in the creature editor will only change the look of your creature, not its game functionality. There will be no "best possible" design, but a few simple requirements, and the rest is just fluff. If you color your creature olive it will *not* be easier to hide from enemy creatures than if you colored it bright pink.
Actually Tobold differences in design in the editores are set to make a knock on differences in the other phases of the game as well as how well you can compete against the other inhabitants of your home planet & other civilizations.
You have to remember that Will Wright was also responsible for the Sim- series (SimCity, -Life, -Earth, -Ant etc). As far as complexity goes, he can give you that. But his games rarely have any preset goals. SimCity had some preset scenarios (like bringing a city out of heavy debt, rampant crime and massive unemployment), but the "meat" of the game was to build your own city. what you did with it was entirely up to you.

If you're an explorer (in the Bartle sense), you'll probably like Spore, since the collective imagination of the player base is the only limit on the number of possible scenarios. But killers, achievers and socializers will have limited interest in Spore.

And yes, you can be a hardcore explorer.
Tobold I think you completely missed the ball here.

For starters, the amazing thing about Spore so far is that it made a room of uber-hardcore geeky gamers shit their pants. This game is impressing on both sides of the casual/hardcore fence. If you haven't seen the video where Will Wright first introduced the game and showed it's scope, you don't understand the products potential appeal.

Secondly, the toy comment about the creature editor is completely off. It is not just visual. The various elements you add to a creature DIRECTLY effect its ability to survive in it's environment. What's amazing about the system is that the parts can be visually differentiated in an infinite amount of ways. Yes, infinite.

On top of all this, I don't see you talking about the fact that you can be hooked up to the creations of the millions of other players that will play this game. So, when you hit the space portion of the game, you will visit another world that was populated by another player. They have no direct control over it in your universe, but it will be lifted nearly wholesale from their game files if they choose to upload them.

Plus you can download anything that other players have made available, and I have no doubt that Wright's team will develop a kick ass community voting system to ensure good material floats to the top.

Spore is hyped, but I think it is one of the few games fully deserving of it. Hell, I would even go as far as saying the game is under appreciated at this point in time and only has room to grow.

I truly believe that when someone like Will Wright puts his vision to work in game form, there is no boundaries to how genre, hell industry, changing his work can be.
Hehe, I am so going to quote you on this in half a year when you post your first disappointed by Spore post on your blog, Heartless. ;)

The various elements you add to a creature DIRECTLY effect its ability to survive in it's environment.

By what I have seen in gameplay footage, the effect of editing a creature on the gameplay will be far less varied than the infinite options to just change the visuals. For example YES, adding legs to a legless creature will make it move faster. But NO, it doesn't matter all that much where you place them, most 2-legged creatures will have exactly the same speed. I'm not even sure 4-legged creatures will be any faster. In the end, whether you make a creature that resembles a human or one that resembles a pink elephant will not lead to major differences in gameplay or big advantages of one of them over the other.

There will be a few basic elements, most of which are "must have", like a mouth and eyes. And there will be a few options based on what DNA bits you found, for example a sting you acquire early as amoeba. But I'm pretty sure nearly every player will acquire that sting, and most of them will use it, because it is so blindingly obvious that an amoeba with weapon is better than one without. So in the end my amoeba will differ from your amoeba in color, shape, and placement of the various must-have and near-mandatory elements, but not be fundamentally different.
Spore is giving me major Black & White vibes, and I saw that you linked it too. It's not that B&W was bad when it was released but it was overhyped to eternity and back which made it seem less impressive when you finally got it.

Spore will probably be a relatively cool game but I really doubt it will be "all that".
I hardly ever agree with Shalkis, but on this one I have to make the exception. THe game tingles me as an explorer and I'm already seeing possibilities and challenges in the game.

The ultimate challenge in Creatures (the original one) was to breed a Norn so close to Grendel that they could mate. It was thought impossible but it was done.

How about creating a crossbreed of your own species with another players species in Spore?

What about replacing the 'must' like eyes with three dimensional hearing?

I disagree with you Tobold on the fact that eyes or ears have to be mandatory.

Like I said, I'm tingled by the options, possibilities and limitless playground Spore claims to offer.

Then again, I'm strong ESAK...

I did hear that the leg placement (since you brought that up) does have an impact on how exactly a creature moves as well ... short legs high up for example seem to make it hobble and move slower. So I guess it does have an impact, but since you have infinite respawns it's mainly an impact on how long it takes you to reach whatever final goal there is.

Yes, it looks like a toy, and yes, hardcore gamers like toys too, so there's no contradiction in us (I think I'm part of that demography) shitting our pants over a game that we won't invest hundreds and hundreds of hours in - there are small awesome games as well, a recent example of which is Portal.
And yeah, the possibilities might well be endless enough and have enough of an impact that the hundreds of hours come together after all :D
Tobold, I am behind a work filter atm, but I believe Gaming Steve has some old videos and podcasts about Spore that will definitely show how things work a bit more clearly.

For every editor: creature, building, vehicle, etc, there will be items that you unlock, all of which DIRECTLY affect how that item works in the world. On top of that, there is INFINITE visual changes that can be made.

You're talking just about the creature editor, which is just ONE of MANY.

Also, the 'creature' phase is only the middle portion of the actual game. Eventually those creatures evolve into a civilization. That means buildings have to support the way the creatures live, determines what sort of vehicles they can operate, etc. etc.

It is almost as if you are looking at the Nintendo DS creature game, which is NOT indicative at all of the big daddy PC game.

PS. I look forward to be being quoted in the future if Iam wrong :P Just hope you are read to be quoted as well.
I've seen gameplay footage of the first three phases, and footage from the editors of phase 4. I do not doubt that there will be a mix of functional and visual in each of them. I am just not certain that the functional parts will be all that you dream of. When I hear Copra inventing replacing eyes by three-dimensional hearing, I think it would be great, but I have serious doubts whether the game supports that functionality. For example in no video have I seen flying creatures yet, so I think that even if you designed a bird in Spore, it would still be walking. Sure, you have infinity possibilities to color its feathers or shape its form, but your gameplay options are limited not by your creativity, but by the limits of the game.
I wouldn't call it a "casual" game as much as a "simulation" rather than a "game"

It's like Sim City, as someone pointed out, you can play it casually on easy, play on hard, or you can try to beat the scenarios.

Or basically, any of his games.
Tobold, I'm fairly certain that I've noticed differences in creature speeds in the videos. The tripod-footed creature of an early presentation moved slower than the top-heavy beaked creature (the one Wright jokingly called "the SUV").

You might be right about the stinger and such at the single-cell level, but we'll probably have a better idea when the creature demo is released. Personally, I preferred the more realistic original version to the newer version that is more cartoony and starts all creatures with eyes.

However, I'm all but certain that creature differences will matter later in the game. A recent video showed two creatures of equal size fighting to the death of one. And in an earlier demo, the creature editor included status bars that showed how the player's morphing decisions affect attributes such as speed, intelligence, etc.

Is it a game? Games have specific rules and goals. Spore does have specific goals: hunt prey, avoid predators, and protect your eggs until the next evolution (demos have shown evolution being possible after only one meal, but I think that was a scenario created only for the purpose of demonstration and actual gameplay will be slower). Does Spore have rules? That's a tougher one to answer.
Sure it's an "open ended sandbox", but, unless you have absolutely no creativity at all, it will take a quite a while to become boring.

In the tribal stage, you can tweak and test how your creatures develop socially and culturally, depending on how you "raise" them, and how you interact with other tribes.

In the civ stage, you can experiment with different ways of communication and commerce. Attempt to culturally assimilate neighboring towns, or blow the crap out of 'em.

In the space stage, create a massive galactic empire based on trade routes. Enslave a wild species, farm it, domesticate it, and sell it to other planets. find a desolate planet and pit two different creatures against each other, gladiator style. ("MWAHAHA!! I have everything, while you have nothing! ")

c'mon pplz... you could play this when your 50, and say "omfg, i remember that colony I gave intelligence to!"
I'm sorry if you all know this now since it seems to have been a long time since the last post. I just want to comment on my perspective of the game. Sure you can't invent game peramiters like "3D hearing" but that is just physically impossible any way you cut it. The in game invention not the hearing. However the fact that EVERY single piece of content from planes, ships, creatures, planets, buildings, plants, and more are made by everyone else is EPIC. These are all automatically downloaded into your game and yours done likewise into others. While you have some controls over the process if you like no effort is required. The fact that building is a large part of the game does not mean it is a large part of YOUR game. I intend to build nothing other than the next creature or tank I intend to cause mayhem with. I am a diehard RTS fan and I don't think tribe, civ, and space will let me down.
Furthermore, to say that respawns makes the game a "toy" or makes it "casual" is a comment without thought. Every game has saves or some other fallback system that can be loaded over and over and over and over and over again. You can't really lose any game. We used to say "with enough quarters" and its really the same now, just no coins. Half-life is an amazing game but if the damn zombies keep killing me in Ravenholm I can load up again with no consequences. Don't pretend every game doesn't allow you to fail as much as you need to.
Also, the spore games are very linked. Everyone says that they are like 5 different games, this is just not so. What you do as a cell directly influences how the creature that evolved from that cell plays. The way you develop a creatures nature influences the way they form their tribes. The culture you develop as a tribe links into the culture of you cities. And for the love of god can no one see that the space stage is just the civ stage with spaceships? I mean it's like controlling colonies just as before but you can do it on lots of worlds. It's the expansion of the stage. Every game may play somewhat differently and focus on some area of gaming. Like creature is RPG but Civ is RTS. This doesn't mean that they are not connected. I will bet you both my kidneys that Spore will be the greatest game EVER invented. You seem to think that because it's so massive that it will lack in certain areas. Well it can't POSSIBLY be as cool as Starcraft in Civ. I love starcraft but honestly the units can be broken down into certain traits. This gut can shoot...this guy can shoot and burrow...this guy can stab and stealth..... All rts games are like that. With a set amount of parts you could create more variants over time than the game designers could EVER fit in. Especially if millions of people are doing this. By now you all know the creature editor is out and there is almost 300 parts in it. That's a HUGE amount. Speaking strictly on functional parts and not the asthetic combinations. If there are three types of vehicales in CIV (land, sea and air) and EACH is as massive as the creature.....dear god that will be the greatest thing ever to have been created. People are going to realize that spore is as good as it sounds, its about time something is.

P.S. Yes, I can't spell.
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