Mark Sachs (ksleet) wrote,
Mark Sachs

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The secret is to bang the rocks together, guys!

The biggest news in video gaming right now is of course that after years in development, Will Wright's ambitious new title SPQR is finally out on the shelves. Starting as a tiny group of castaways in the pre-modern Mediterranean Sea, players will reach dry land and build their own customized Roman Empire as they move up through Tribe, Village, City, and Republic phases --

Wait, let me check my notes a moment.

Oh, right. Sorry, let's start again.

Fig. 1: Someday, all this will be mine.

So yeah, Spore. I'm going to have to say that so far, I quite like it. My little purple fishy guys, the Terrest, have been just evolving up a storm on the planet of Granfalloon. Starting in the Cell Stage, I was able to design a highly successful omnivorous creature; combining a proboscis with spines works quite well. On land, I actually kinda-sorta followed real evolution instead of going too crazy switching things up -- you can completely redesign your creature with every new generation if you want, but I played it more conservative. The results are kind of neat to see in sequence.

Fig. 2: Ontogeny recapitulates phylogeny.

(Side note: As seems to be a common experience, this more successful species is actually my second try at the game. Usually you'll make a hash of things at some point with your first species and want to start over. Indeed, the less said about the Crimony from the planet Ham Star, the better. Those poor bastards. Talk about an evolutionary dead end.)

On the negative side, the Creature Stage does play a bit like a MMORPG, in that if you fight somebody you end up mashing skills on cooldown timers to do it. I'm on record as insisting that is not actually gameplay. Still, that's not the whole experience -- far from it -- and you do end up really bonding with your creature. (Assuming it's not a complete tool like the Crimony, that is.) Keep an eye out for the UFO, incidentally.

At press time I'm about halfway through the Tribal Stage, which plays like a very simple RTS. Good thing it's simple, as I'm terrible at those. At any rate, we have a little village, we have a bunch of domesticated animals, have annihilated one other tribe and are best pals with a second, and right now I'm trying to ponder how to tackle the remaining two on the map. The Civilization Stage awaits and then finally we shall find our fishy destiny among the stars!

Let me finally add that on the intro screen, you can grab the galaxy with your mouse pointer and spin it around, and it makes a really cool "whooo-ooo-oooom" noise as it does so. So that's another selling point.

I suppose the two remaining questions are: first, is this the sort of game that has long lasting appeal? That I honestly couldn't say. There have been very few games lately that created a genuine long-term experience for me, other than Team Fortress 2, and that depends on the multiplayer aspect. Spore does of course have the user content creation thing going on, and supposedly the space game is the deepest part of the out-of-box experience. It should have been easily possible to make the space game as deep as old exploration classics such as Elite and Frontier. That of course does not mean they actually did so; it often seems as if the secrets of deep gameplay were lost in some great cataclysm long ago in the Before Times. But who knows? It'll be impossible to answer this question for at least a little while, at any rate.

The other question is the big DRM controversy. Spore is locked up by multiple different forms of digital rights management, in what was probably a foolish move -- the game was showing up on torrent sites several days before its official release, which pretty much shows how well that worked out, and now all that's left is the consumer outrage. To be honest, a lot of that outrage has got to be just people who are habitually angry finding something new to be mad about, but the fundamental point is sound: the only real result of all this copy protection is that the pirates get a better product, since theirs isn't protected.

Now me, I can't really bring myself to skip a game I've been looking forward to based solely on abstract principle. Some DRM-y systems are acceptable levels of inconvenience for me, and there are ones such as Steam that manage to provide enough countervailing benefits that I'm not bothered by them at all. But, if I couldn't play a Mac version (where the worst DRM-ware doesn't get installed at the system level) I would have at least thought twice before picking it up.

At any rate, I have it now, and I guess you can subscribe to my stuff somehow under the name KSleet. And then maybe it'll show up in your game, possibly! I've made a few other guys in the creature creator as well, and have a bunch more ideas percolating. You could probably make a really good Trogdor in that thing.


Fig. 3: All ready to BURNINATE! It's a little scary that
it took me all of about ten minutes to make that.
Tags: games
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