Spore Part I

Finally, Will Wright and his cadre of demoscene hackers has created something that I’ve wanted since I first started playing games. Spore lets you take a species from molecule to intergalactic civilization an a free-form manner. The game is both evolutionary and revolutionary (and I use the latter term cautiously) in a number of ways.

I’ll start by talking about the way much / most of the game universe is created. Procedural generation is a term you will hear from Will Wright at Spore presentations a lot. To explain briefly, I’ll give an analogy. Consider Grand Theft Auto. It has a relatively vast area for the player to freely explore. Everything in the game world was created by a game artist and deliberately placed by a level designer. So although the area you can explore is big, it was all created manually. Now, consider a game such as Elite. It has innumerable star systems for the player to explore, but in this case the game universe was generated by a computer algorithm. Spore uses mostly the latter technique, although much of the interactive content (the organisms, buildings, etc) is human generated.

This actually brings us to the next interesting feature – asynchronous updating of game content from the creations of other players. Wright calls Spore a “Massively Single Player Online Game”. Since the content is procedurally generated, animated and controlled, the data files for creations can be just a few kb, greatly facilitating sharing content between players. I’ll give another example to illustrate how this works:

A player has reached the “space” phase of the game, and leaves their home planet, traveling to a nearby planet populated with intelligent life. The player makes contact with the civilization on this planet and can proceed accordingly. Now, the civilization the player is interacting with is AI-controlled, but it was created, evolved and developed by a player in another game guiding the race from molecule to society.

Content from other players is imported at other stages of the game (i.e. in the pre-tribe phase; it may occur even earlier) to populate the player’s home planet. The nifty part of the feature is that the game tracks how you have been playing and how the world is progressing, and imports based on what the needs are and what it thinks the player would like. If Spore is as popular as The Sims (and I day say it will be even moreso), there will be a vast cornucopia of player-created content.

Anyway I think that that was a more than adequate taster of what to look forward to in Spore. Part Deux of my preview will be written soon – well, once I mop up the drool…

I think the tagline for Spore should be “The only game you’ll ever need”. A statement like that wouldn’t be hyperbole, unlike most taglines…

4 Replies to “Spore Part I”

  1. Has this been given a definite release date? I was actually on the phone with a friend yesterday debating whether or not at this point Spore qualified as vapourware. Maybe I’m being a bit harsh – whenever I hear about a game with this kind of promise I immediately get a little apprehensive.

    I dunno. Blame Peter Molyneux.

    Talking of hopelessly ambitious games/developers, some new facts are seeping out from Lionhead about Fable 2: f’r instance, now YOU CAN indeed PLANT SEEDS and see them slowly GROW into MIGHTY OAKS.

    Clearly, the future is now.

    If five years late.

  2. Clearly, my blog has forgotten how to send me emails when I receive comments.

    As to whether Spore is vapourware… From the tech/gameplay demos (which I will be posting in Part II or III) it looks like they have a lot, if not most, done. Of course, demos can be deceiving (or not). Last I heard, Spore has been slated for the second half of this year. Amazon lists its shipping date as December 12th, though “second half 07” probably means 2008.

    It’s interesting you bring up Mr Molyneux. There was an interesting discussion going on in my Microbiology lab last week, the subject of which was nostalgia (it’s not what it used to be). Someone mentioned the game Populous – a damn fine game at that – and I mentioned that it was Molyneux / Bullfrog that was behind it. So of course Black and White came up (after Theme Hospital of course… there’s just something incredibly satisfying about the popping of Bloaty Head Syndrome).

    Now, in my opinion, B&W was an adventurous idea, but the game fell a little short of the mark. The most interesting thing was the creatures – how they learned etcetera. Course, I always find emergent gameplay (stuff that isn’t programmed explicitly but arises as an indirect result) interesting. One of my favourite games still is Hardwar, which had a multi-layered economy. I’ll probably do a future post about it at some point.

    Anyway, to return to the point – will Spore deliver on Will Wright’s promises, or is it another over-state-under-achieve? Time will tell, but I think if anyone has the vision to crack it, it’s Wright. Hell, Sim Earth / Sim Life were in a similar vein, and were released a decade and a half ago. Also, he has the right people for doing the whole procedural generation bit – the demoscene coders are talented chaps. I meant to mention in the post the game .kkrieger. 97,280 bytes for hundreds of megabytes of content. Of course, it won’t be the next F.E.A.R., but it’s a very interesting proof of concept if nothing else.

    Generating game content via algorithms is nothing new – heck, it’s the Good Old Wayâ„¢ of doing things. However I do think it is the future, or at least the only way games such as Spore will exist. I mean, as I kid when I dreamed of a large / unlimited world to play with it made sense that it would be impossible to create such a thing ‘by hand’. So if Wright (the guy with the vision) has the demosceners (the guys with the talent) coding Spore, I think it could be done.

    If he does do it – and I’m praying he does – I’ll forgive him for the blatant runaway cash-in otherwise known as The Sims.

  3. I don’t think Spore can be counted as vaporware. Yes, there have been delays, but not of the nature of that famous vaporware Duke Nuem Forever, which has undergone several engine changes and so forth. The delays of Spore seem to be of the more trifling sort. “We can’t get flying creatures to work,” “We’re having trouble with underwater gameplay,” and so on. I’m slightly concerned that we haven’t seen much of the Tribal, City, or Civ phases; hopefully those stages aren’t too underdeveloped.

    It seems like Will Wright is doing everything right in this game, within the constraints of time and budget he’s facing. Having said that, how can Spore ever live up to its hype? I’m sure that at least a couple features in the game will be, at best, flawed and, at worst, broken. But hopefully these flaws will just be the minor things we gripe about in any game, instead of taking center stage. I hope, for example, that the game isn’t plagued by any of the technical issues or gameplay bugs that bogged down The Sims 2, which seems to have been rushed out to shelves. So I’d rather Wright’s team take the time to make the game right. Even so, I think EA is chomping at the bit to release Spore, so I think the “second half ’07” target will be met.

  4. I don’t think Spore can be counted as vaporware. Yes, there have been delays, but not of the nature of that famous vaporware Duke Nuem Forever, which has undergone several engine changes and so forth. The delays of Spore seem to be of the more trifling sort.

    Indeed. I tremble to think what Spore’s release would be under the DNF team. Second half 200-Never. Of course, Broussard would still do his Darl McBride / Iraqi information minister impression and claim development was “nearly finished”. Actually, that comparison is a little unfair… I mean, who wants to be compared to Darl McBride?

    If what you say is right and the bugs are minor irks of the development team and not show-stoppers, I am confident that we will see it out at or around its release date. As I mentioned, the guys Maxis got for Spore are a talented bunch. I’m not familiar with The Sims 2, but I have a certain disdain for that whole product line. The Sims was a fun little game, and it’s addon (Livin’ Large / Livin’ It Up) actually added a few useful features (eg multiple neighborhoods); but you could almost hear the $$$ ringing as the subsequent series of addons were released.

    Lastly I would guess the reason we’ve seen the least of the Tribal / City / Civ stages is that they are the least new / exciting. Wright likened them to existing concepts – Sim City, Civilisation etc. Personally, I reckon he just likes playing with the creature creator at demos!

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