james debate
james debate

Saturday 13 September 2008

Will Wright is the legendary face of videogames design studio Maxis, now a part of evil empire Electronic Arts.

He is the man credited with pretty much inventing the 'sim' genre, and was the brains behind all the 'sim city' games and 'the sims' games.

Now, in his most ambitious project to date, Wright has attempted to create a game that successfully combines elements from all his old games, and other classics such as civilization.

The above photo shows my own creation, the Ephemeric race :)

More than that though, Spore is a game that offers some of the most amazing creation tools in any game, and far more user friendly than any normal 3d graphics tool.

In Spore, you design a creature from scratch, using what can best be described as a computerized clay modeling system. Clearly i'm simplifying it a bit, but that should give you an idea of what it's like. As you can imagine this gives you an unprecedented level of freedom with which to design your creature.

Once you've done this you can take this creation of yours from a tiny amoeba like cell stage, to the creature stage where you migrate onto land and attempt to survive in the wild, to the tribal stage when the first signs of intelligence in your species begins to show, then the civilization stage where you complete the conquest of your homeworld. Lastly comes the real meat of the game, the space stage, where you leave your home planet... and you find a galaxy full of thousands and thousands of stars, each with their own planets, many of them with their own life forms on it. It's fucking huge.

On top of this, most of the other life forms you encounter in the galaxy are unique creations by other players like you, downloaded automatically from the spore servers. And if that wasn't enough you also design vehicles, spaceships and buildings in a clay modeler similar to the creature creator.

There is no question that the creative tools on offer here are anything short of a technical miracle. The simplicity and (unusually) the complexity capable is absolutely remarkable and offer plenty of fun for creatively minded individuals in themselves. However Spore won't be a success unless the game itself is up to snuff. So the question is, how does it play?

Well the first stage is quite entertaining, an addictive arcade style game that you'll enjoy on your first playthrough, but let's face it, probably won't compel you to return and replay it over and over.

The second stage is pretty key, as it is the part of the game where you really design your creature and decide how he's going to look for the rest of eternity. It plays like a standard 3rd person action game with a few mini games here and there. Sadly these mini games feel a little bit weak and half assed and become tedious quite quickly. On the bright side though, this mode is far deeper than you realize upon first glance. For example during your play through you encounter signs that there are intelligences greater than your own at play. UFO sightings are common, strange lights in the sky, and you will occasionally run into things like meteor showers and 'supersized' creatures, all things that you can do in space mode. What all this does is offer a glimpse of the scale of this game, that even while you play creature mode and explore a planet that, at the time, seems huge and daunting, there is much, much more going on around you.

Next you have tribal mode, which plays like a mixture of the sims and games like populous. This is probably the weakest mode, though I still enjoyed it simply because it was the first moment that your creature, who by that point you've become quite attached to, starts to show glimpses of what he'll be capable of one day, the stage where he starts to master the world around him and offer some complexity to the game.

Civilization mode is like a mix of command and conquer, sim city and civilization, except very simplified. For example you can only make 3 different types of buildings, and 3 types of vehicles per city, one land vehicle, one boat and one airplane. This extreme simplicity might put off some hardcore gamers but for those like me who are simply caught up in the evolution of your creation, it will be an entertaining and rewarding era, if a little brief.

But of course, as I said, space mode is really the meat and potatoes of the game. It plays like a real time version of galactic civilization or master of orion, mixed with other completely unique elements such as terraforming planets, trading (a bit like elite) and still maintaining some of the sim city-esque elements. It is so absurdly huge that it takes a moment just to sit back and marvel at how incredible it is, and it is indeed a marvel that something so big and in depth has been created and actually WORKS.

This brings me to the bad side of the game. You will note that despite my generally glowing review so far I dropped a star fro the score below. This game could well have warranted 4.5 or 5 out of 5, but it falls short at one mark and this is why. It doesn't work all that well right now.

It MAY be the case that in the near future it will be patched and will work well, which is why i didn't deduct more from the score, but right now it is simply a very buggy ordeal. There are many many people out there reporting bugs, crashes, lock ups, and data corruptions all over the shop, as well as serious errors involving DRM and connection to the Spore servers and ea game store.

Personally I didn't encounter any problems until the space mode, and even then not until several hours into that stage. But when I did, boy did i get hit hard. After like 20 hours of effort put into my creature the game simply corrupted itself, and I had to start all over again. It would have been heart breaking if i hadnt had the foresight to back up my save games (i learned not to trust maxis with such things after similar incidents with the sims).

On top of this space mode crashes constantly, and there is no autosave. So if you do get this game make sure you save frequently and also make sure you backup your save games. alternatively just wait a few days or weeks until a patch comes out.

This however, for me, was not enough to significantly detract from what is otherwise an absolutely landmark game, a masterstroke, and once the bugs are sorted, and unmissable experience.


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