Wednesday, 7 January 2009

Spore (PC)

It's time to talk about Spore. Designed by Will Wright (who gave us Sim City and The Sims) and produced by Maxis there has been a lot of hype surrounding this game, partly because it took so long to develop. In Spore, the player gets to follow and make choices about the evolution of their species through a series of phases: Cell, Creature, Tribal, Civilization and Space. Now I got the game back when it was released in September and got through the first four stages relatively quickly, but then I hit Space. I'm not even sure you can compare the Space phase to the previous ones because it is ridiculously huge. In the earlier phases, it is fun to watch your creation evolve, but it also feels like there is a lot of repetition going on e.g. in terms of how you interact with other creatures, plus I don't get why things like the camera controls seem to differ at each stage. But anyway, once you get through all that and unify your civilization, you discover space travel and the game is suddenly huge. Honestly, I've only had time to seriously play it over the holidays but it's only since reaching space that I really began to enjoy it. Maybe I'm just not that excited by creature creation (see pic below), or designing my own buildings and vehicles, and perhaps I just prefer being able to explore space and communicate with other races. But I think I can also blame the massive scope of the game for how long it's taken me to get into it - there is so much to learn and get a handle on, especially within the Space stage, I guess I felt like I didn't have the time to give it the attention it seemed to require.

The experience has also made me wonder about what my longer term motivators are for playing too. I mean, the game obviously requires quite an investment from players in terms of both time and energy, which doesn't pay off straight away, so why did I bother? It's reminding me a little of why I kept up with Portal - I think part of it in my case was because the hype, and later conversations with friends, made me want to know what all the fuss was about. I guess knowing about the various stages in advance also meant I kept wondering what would be next. I think the Space stage might be the game I wanted to play all along - but I do think it really is quite overwhelming when you're not convinced you have enough time to get the hang of it.

As much as I've enjoyed playing the Space stage though, I've not been entirely satisfied with my experience of playing Spore. There were a few little things - like having trouble keeping track of missions that were in different parts of the galaxy, getting confused by the wormhole numbers and having no way of noting within the game which wormhole would take me where etc. But what really annoyed were the Grox. SPOILERS AHEAD! (in case you wanted a warning...). After a playing while you encounter the alien race known as the Grox. As far as I can figure out, they're just not very nice. They attack your planets randomly for no apparent reason, and they have colonised hundreds if not thousands of planets in a belt around the seemingly mysterious centre of the universe (see pic below), so their space ships just shoot at you when you try and get through. I assume they've done this just to be annoying and to stop you from getting to centre. I realised pretty quick it would take forever to try and defeat the entire Grox race, and since my Dodos are quite a peaceful race anyway, war didn't seem like the best idea. But they are also ridiculously hard to make friends with and anytime you enter their space to even have a conversation they just don't stop shooting at you!! Frustrated, I turned to Spore Wiki for some advice. I decide I would just make a break for it - stock up with loads of energy and health packs and keep going till I reached the centre. Which I did, and it didn't take that long (though your ship moves a lot slower the closer it gets to the galactic core).


And what happened next? A strange yet amusing encounter with someone called Steve, 42 (in a nod to Douglas Adams and the Hitchhiker's guide), enlightenment (nothing specific, you are just told you have achieved this) and a gift - the Staff of Life. The staff sounded kinda cool but I didn't know what it was supposed to do, so I went back the wiki and was told it could terraform a planet to level 3 in just one go - but only up to 42 times (and so now I'm annoyed by the limitations imposed by the Hitchiker's refernce) . Meanwhile, I'm in the centre of the galaxy and the goddamn Grox are still shooting at me! So I used my get home in one jump ticket and quit the game. The way I see it, reaching the galactic core wasn't enough and there are now only two ways I feel I can achieve a sense of completition with this game - ally with the Grox (at the expense of making every other race hate me) or wipe the Grox out (which is going to take forever). So paradoxically, wanting to make friends with aliens everywhere has led me to think that I'm going have to resort to ethnic cleansing...

But my holidays are pretty much over, and it's back to the UK tomorrow so I'm just not sure I'm going to have the time and energy to keep playing. I'm just not sure the feeling I get from eradicting the galaxy of the Grox is going to be worth it. I'm not sure I ever expected an "ending", I knew Spore wasn't that kind of game, but I think I wanted something more like Civilization where you get a score or something. I mean, have I done well or not? I'm trying to remember if I felt a similar way when I used to play Sim City games? Have I just got less patient with games that demand more from me? And does it matter when I have deBlob, Sam and Max: Episode 1,World of Goo and Braid to play? I'm either more easily distracted these days or just have too many other games to play...


7 comments:

Costas said...

My problem with Spore is that it didn't feel like there was enough of a game in there. I played only up to the Tribal stage and from what i hear, like you said, the Space stage is where it really takes off. But i got bored before that.

Too repetitive andi didn't think it was that open ended. It was more like i was just designing how my creature looked like than anything else. Judging from the creatures uploaded some people had amazing ideas and talent. It just was not my thing.

It's biggest success is probably the software technology to create these creatures and not the actual game itself. A technology we might see being included in other EA games.

As for the too many games, welcome to the club. There is just not enough time and unlike films games just take too much of our time. You just have to be even more selective.

I also have Deblob. Played it once for an hour or so but did not get it to it. Let me know if you will play it so that i also give it another go and discuss it. Have heard good things about this one.

Jo Iacovides said...

I think you made a pretty good point about the creation side of the game being the most successful aspect of Spore - but I guess I would have to agree that's that while it's interesting to see what other people produce, it's not really my thing either. I think user generated content just seems to appeal to a different kind of player. The Space stage is worth playing though, and was my favourite bit of the game. It's just a shame that some people are being put off by having to "get through" the earlier levels.

Will definitely have a go at de Blob and let you know what I think when I get a chance. I think I might have to work on being a bit more selective too. Good luck with getting through your games pile!

James Aczel said...

By coincidence, Gill Kirkup has just blogged about motivation in games. She asks about the similarities and differences in motivation between games and (formal) education.

Jo Iacovides said...

Thanks for the heads up James - looks like a really interesting post.

Gadzooks said...

About those Grox, I can help you beat them or whatever. I'm good with Grox.

Gadzooks said...

Thanks. I din't know about the Staff.

Jo Iacovides said...

No worries Gadzooks, glad to give you a heads up. I'm not playing Spore much these days but I did have a look at your blog too - thanks for the tips!