Spore, or Why I Hate New Games

As if the existence of this post doesn’t say it well enough: no, I haven’t forgotten about this blog. I just happened to encounter some writer’s block, coupled with less free time due to track. Moreover, I’ve been playing Team Fortress 2 and recently started playing Minecraft again, too. The games have got me thinking, as usual: what makes a good game?

Instead of responding to the aforementioned hook, I’m going to talk about why Spore was such a huge disappointment. While this may seem like a slightly depressing topic, it is of great interest. How did such an open ended idea get made into a game, and where in that process was the game turned from a brilliant idea to a pedestrian waste of time?

Here’s what spore should have been: you start out as a microorganism and slowly develop as you become multi-celled and then a macroorganism. At this point you enter the water stage, first as a fish-thing, but then you develop more advanced features and learn to penetrate onto land. The water stage is where you outline your creature. Once you evolve into a land creature, you need to fight or create symbiotic relationships with other species and spread your own. Not only will your evolution finalize your species basic structure, but you need to evolve in order to outcompete other species, which are also evolving. After a while, your species is widespread and you may start encountering evolved members of your own species.

Once you’ve achieved a certain density and dominance over other species, you will already have developed the rudiments of communication and tool making, albeit in the final stages. Then you will move on to an RTS style game, just like in actual Spore. However, instead having one village with a number of other villages you have to conquer, you would need to push your civilization to advance. The triggering event is the discovery of agriculture, after which your “tribe” settles down. It is up to you to build buildings and fields. You need to decide what to irrigate, what animals to domesticate, and what other tribes to trade with. You eventually need to conquer or join with other villages to form a small civilization. A la Katamari Damaci, as your civilization grows you have to start dealing with bigger problems, as well as keep developing technology that uses your local resources.

My point here is that Spore need to be much more technology, resource, and civilization focused. In the game, you don’t get any real choices about where your civilization is going. In my Spore, there would be different civilizations that use the local resources. Each area of the planet would have a different set of available materials. It would actually be a lot like Anno 2070, from what I’ve seen of the game. Another analogy is that of Trade Empires, except my Spore would focus a lot more on building than TE.

Then a sort of technological revolution would mark the switch between the “local stage” and the “global stage” (called the “tribal” and “civilization” stages in Spore). You would suddenly be dealing less with a building and culture and more with resource exploitation, colonization, global politics, technological advancement and generally beating out the other competitors. And unlike real Spore, in which there are only 2 technological turning points, driven by number of cities captured, you would be driving the advancement. You could focus more on stamping out competition, or more on advancing to the space age, similar to Civilization games.

If I had to pinpoint one area where Spore went wrong, it was the Space Stage. Honestly, I could have stomached all the terrible, formulaic nonsense that filled the space between the Cell and Space Stage, if only the Space Stage had even mildly lived up to expectations. They hint at a story line at the very beginning of the stage, and even half-heatedly carry it along. But let’s be honest: there was NOTHING to do. My space stage, like any gourmet smoothie, would be a fine blend of single-ship adventuring and space empire managing. You could set up trade routes to get the resources you need and export the ones you are mining. You could colonize systems and divert a certain amount of resources to various endeavors. You would have to build construction yards if you wanted to build a fleet. If you went to war over a system, you better have the resource and infrastructure to back it up, because as a single ship you should have no chance against an entire planet’s defenses. But if you don’t want to dominate the stars from an office, you can go get in your ship and fly missions, upgrading and earning money and prestige. The point is, it’s space! The possibilities are endless; if a Space Stage in any game bores you, they’re doing it wrong.

I can’t believe they didn’t realize how far they had strayed from the original idea. The spent so much time and money making that game, it wouldn’t have been much harder to actually make it fun. In the end, they realized it sucked and decided to market it to shallow people who only buy it to make stuff in the editors (although honestly the only palatable editor is the creature and MAYBE the building editor).

I was thinking just earlier: when I’m in charge of a production, I’ll make sure I stay true to a vision and that the final product is me-worthy. I would hire an independent consultant/critic who could tell me anything without fearing for their job. Their whole job would be to tell me when I’ve made a poor choice or what my team has pumped out so far just isn’t FUN.

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