2009-02-22 22:48:57


Spore, How could I forget my experience with Spore? Was it because it was so easily forgettable? Probably. As any geek worth his salt did in the long waiting period from the original announcement of Spore to the final culmination of it's existence in the material world, I salivated over it. Also like any geek worth his salt, I should've known better. Will Wright, is the father of the Sim video game series. starting with Sim Earth, and then moving on to the SimCities, Sim Ant, and ultimately, The Sims. Will Wright has provided players of the Sim games with a chance to be a god. While the economic systems have always been a hurdle to cross in all of the games, the games have been pretty open ended. Geeks of the Ragin Persuasion tended to burn down their Sim Humans, or unleash godzilla or volcanoes on their worlds/cities. Sims games have provided a chance to play god, however almost all of them have also been flawed, especially the Sims.

Sims was a flawed simulation of the human experience, where one perpetually worked every day of the year(take 2 days off in a row and your ass is canned no matter how many years with the company you've been or how high you are promoted) and took 30 minutes to take a 5 minute piss. Time was skewed opposed to your goals and for some reason you needed to maintain at least 4-8 friendships in order to progress your career to the higher tiers, which meant 1. you worked longer hours, 2. you never had a day off to upkeep friends, 3. never enough time to get all your needs handled which always led to your character being pissed off, 4. the game turned into a grind for your character unless he was married and the wife was using sexual favors to keep family friends. Single people had no chance in Sims.

So Sims did get quite a following despite itself, lots of gamers have it on their shelves as a eyesore taking up space since they stopped playing it after simulated human torment became stale. Housewives, the masters of working 24/7 with no days off didn't see the career simulations as too terrible, and it provided them the ability to create virtual communities to fulfill fantasies of having a real life and interacting with real people. Often people from the real world would be injected into their sims so they could torment the snotty checkout register kid, or swoon the hunk of steel who jogs down the avenue every morning while the man of the house is at work. Sims was a game for Moms, and typically not MILF's.

So why should we have expected more of Spore? Well, because Will Wright himself had sold it to us as his next big God game, the God Game above all God Games. If anything attracts the downtrodden geeks of society it's the opportunity to play God, good or malevolent. This can be seen by the mass purchases of Black and White as well, though arguably I would say that B&W actually did God games more justice than Spore, and that is saying something, considering that B&W in the end was a giant tamagotchi pet simulator with whining townsfolk added on. Spore demos revealed to us showed us interacting with our creatures on the cellular level, then at the creature level, and eventually in control of vast communities as they conquer the galaxy. While the demo reels did not really sell something that wasn't in the game, they gave the impression of there being a lot more depth than there really is. This is where the build up stops, and the shit flinging starts, so grab a bib, cause it's about to get ugly.

So you start off the game, you create a little spermlike single cell organism, and you choose your path in life, Carnivore or Herbivore? Once you define this you are pretty much stuck on a specific path. Carnivores eat everyone around them in the cell phase, while Herbivores avoid Carnivores and eat algae. Eating these things allows you to gain DNA points that you can use to add parts to your creature, which the parts improve in quality by pickups you run over in the sea/land. This continues until an arbitrary period of growth and then you have to throw some legs under your creature and walk on land. Once on land you do one of 2 things, eat everything in sight(carnivore) or make friends with everyone in sight(herbivore) though Carnivores can also use diplomacy it is rarely worthwhile and a whole lot easier to kill than to befriend. Befriending requires you to impress the opposing species through imitating what they do, only better. Fail to do so and they reject you and you have to try again later. Killing them always works.

After a period of growth and the expansion of your nest to a few extra nests, you are ready to start the tribal period. This is pretty much RTS, you create more clones of yourself, based on food(resource) gathering, and then you use flutes to woo or axes to slay your opponents. You can dedicate some of your creatures to certain tasks, such as defense of the meatpile from meat thieves, or fishermen to gather fish out of the river. Ultimately you claim all the villages and you win this portion, permitting you to switch to civilization mode, which works like the civilization, you forge towns, build vehicles and soldiers to patrol, and take over more land. Eventually you build up to getting a spaceship, and you can then visit other players through the multiplayer experience. Where as the joke goes, you get to see more testicle/penis monsters than you really need to. Obviously a lot of adolescent humor is afoot in the gameplay at that level.

The game rips pages out of way too many gameplay books, we have eating puzzle gameplay like many of those browser games where you eat things smaller than you until you grow to eat the larger things in the ocean, until you are big enough to enter MMO gameplay, which is how the Land phase plays out, using hotkey attacks to attack enemy species and loot their bodies for new evolutions for yourself. Pass that into the RTS Phase, the Civ Phase, and finally multiplayer Civ. Ultimately this game has an identity crisis and lacks cohesion in gameplay to the point it's just a cluster of 5 games under one heading. We were given a sales pitch telling us we could be gods! then we were given a linear progression, DNA points restrictions on what we could build in the creature editor, and a mishmash of gameplay that is too much in too many directions. If I was the person behind Spore, I would've perhaps did the following:

  • Open Gameplay - give the player the ability to zoom down to the cellular level and command protozoa to grow into new creatures at will, while being able to zoom out and control creatures at the pack, tribe, and civilization levels. Side effect being that all of these groups would interact on the planet, with Civs absorbing tribes/eradicating tribes, Tribes coming to power into Civs, Packs being consumed for food products or maybe domesticated, and single cell organisms being purged from waterways, turning malevolent into viral infections, or just living in peace in the natural world away from the civs.
  • No Points Limits on Creature Building - don't need them, don't want them. if I am to design my own creature, to be a god if you will, I should be a god. Forced limits on God Gameplay makes me no longer omnipotent, and hence, no longer godlike. I'm merely an arbitrator of gods wishes, more like Angel Gameplay if anything. You can still enforce character option limitation by restricting what parts can be evolved onto a creature at what stage of development, using pseudo-scientific reasoning rather than retarded "POINTZ!" method of constraint.

Those two things, are all that would be really needed to open up Spore and turn it into a super huge game of the year in regards to simulations. Granted things like the first one I listed are not easy to do, but could be done with time, patience, and a love of the craft. The 2nd one is entirely easy and all they'd have to do is give you "unlimited" creature creation points. You're a god! Go hog wild!.

Reason Rank
Start 10
Failed promises of being a god game by being too linear and points based -10
Creature Creation is pretty detailed and very customizable +6
Too many genres under one roof -5
Great visual style, cartoony enough for family play, cute enough to make a hardcore heart melt +2
Total 3/10

In the end the game gets 3/10, while not the worst review I've every given, it should be said that this game is a dream-crusher, promising god like omnipotence, then saddling it with a leash and choker to restrict choice and control flow. We as gamers want more openness in gameplay, not less of it, especially when you sell your game as the biggest god game ever.