Sunday, September 7, 2008

Spore Launched

Wil Wright's Spore came out today.

The Amazon reviews list it as 2-stars but that seems to be because of the "draconian" DRM. (I'm sympathetic to that but not considering it in this post.)

GameRankings reports an 86%, which is good (but not great) and which is probably not from the most clear-eyed reviewers.

While I have, literally, hundreds of games, I have little time to play. Since it has been ever thus, I'm at least smart enough to wait till the game drops into the $10-$20 range (or less, if I can buy a collection of several games for $20).

Althouse had a post up about regretting netflix rentals. I have tons of books I haven't read, a few movies I hadn't watched (before my collection "walked off"), some music CDs I haven't played, and tons of games I haven't played.

I don't regret it, I think of it as a sort of defense against boredom.

Anyway, every now and again, I'll buy a game first day, and Spore is one of them. (Heroes of Might and Magic 3, Heroes of Might and Magic IV, Doom 3, Civilization 3, Civilization 4 and Black & White are the others.) Spore was announced 3 1/2 years ago, which, for perspective, was probably about the last time I held The Boy's hand.

I confess that I have been dubious about the degree to which putting five games into one package can work, and I hear some complaints about that already. The thing about those games I do buy is that I'm not always looking for compelling gameplay, so I'm not necessarily disappointed in the way other hard-core gamers are when the final products don't measure up.

Sometimes I am: Heroes of Might and Magic IV was a disaster that the series never recovered from. Doom 3 on the other hand was a mixture of "good enough" and nostalgia. Civ 3 was my favorite of the series, and Civ 4 is very sold as well.

But the biggest comparison point for Spore is Black & White. B&W was meant to be a revolutionary game. "Be a god," the claims went, "and watch the world change according to your goodness or evilness." (At one point, a $5 price premium--to be donated to charity--was considered for the white box version of B&W, but saner heads prevailed.)

It could've been revolutionary but for a few fatal flaws. The first flaw is that they made it into a game. Entertainment software is usually in the form of games, but some, like SimCity or The Sims, are more correctly called "toys". B&W had the mechanics of a toy with a game superimposed over it. (Developers talked about the game aspect constantly, even nervously.)

But the instant you make something into a game, you end up engaging the hardcore gamers who consider games as things to be beaten. (This personality is quite fascinating: Games are to be beaten, not necessarily enjoyed, even.) And so B&W was beaten quickly as the cracks in the painstakingly developed universe were found and exploited.

The second, more fatal flaw was that the measure of good and evil was--well, practically French. (No comment on the fact that developer Peter Molyneux's studio "Lionhead" is based in France.) In other words, killing, regardless of the purpose it served, tipped the scales to evil. You had to--as a deity--wait on your worshippers hand and foot to be good. (This also made your worshippers worthless.)

It was a virtual embodiment of the welfare state.

I enjoyed it, though, because I enjoyed the polish that went into making it. The interface was fun. The exploration aspects were fun. The sussing out of good and evil would've been more fun had it been done better, but it was still interesting.

Interesting is a good word. (Kevin Smith said that "interesting" is what they say in Hollywood when they don't like something.) But where I liked it, I was careful not to recommend based on that.

Spore, I expect, will also be interesting. Unlike B&W which was very geared toward hardcore gamers, I expect Spore to have broader appeal--so hardcore gamers will dismiss it as simplisticc. (A lot of hardcore gamers don't get the Wii, for example.)

At the same time, I'm not sure how compelling all of the games can be.

The Creature Creator--wherein you create the species that is going to evolve from microorganism to galactic conquerer--seems to be a brilliant and engaging toy, however. And I expect to see that used as a launch pad for more games and further evolutions of the Spore concepts.

I'll post The Boy's opinons once he's had a chance to delve into it.

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