Tuesday 19 August 2008

Spore in Space

I've been playing with some of the Spore prototypes available from the website, and I'm enjoying and intrigued by them. From a game design perspective, it's great having early prototypes available, as you can see some of the thinking that has gone into the game, and the ribs of the final design are very visible. I'm surprised that more people haven't reviewed these, simply to see what the final game may be like but there is a difficulty curve associated with the lack of documentation, and the risks of an untested build. As highlighted when you download them:

Usually these prototypes are never seen by the public, but we thought some of the more intrepid players out there might enjoy playing around with a few of our early Spore prototypes. Keep in mind these are not tested, supported or even easily explained.
I started with Space, on the basis of a semi-review by Stromko on this thread. I have to agree with him, in that the Space prototype is the most enjoyable initially because it is the most game-like. You start off zooming around your solar system, terraforming the other worlds and boot strapping your colonies using plants and animals from your homeworld. Once you've collected enough revenue to build a star drive, you can go conquer the galaxy, using much the same methodology, encountering other alien races along the way and harvesting their species.

What is lacking in the prototype is any real feeling of agency - that is, whether your choices create any kind of difference. As soon as you figure out that altitude is the only real measure of whether a species propagates or not, and that using atmosphere generators seems without drawback, it is just a matter of flattening out the planet to a smooth ball at the right height and dumping a single ecology worth of species on the surface. You soon get access to volcanoes, comets and other terraforming tools, but since the species you carry in the cargo holds propagate without limit, there is very little incentive to use these extra tools. In fact, after you purchase the star drive, you'll see your own species colonising nearby solar systems independently of you.

It is hard to judge a game from a work in progress, but I hope they've increased the level of player involvement because at the moment it feels like a sand box that builds its own mountains and tunnels. The Spore prototypes I've tried are dangerously close to being zero-player games. And where is the fun in that?

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