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The Creative Lure
Jamais Cascio, 6 Apr 05

spore.jpgSometime later this year, or early next, I will disappear for days, possibly weeks. When that happens, you'll know that Spore has arrived.

Spore is the new title announced at the 2005 Game Developer's Conference by Wil Wright, the genius behind Sim City, the Sims and a variety of lesser-known computer toys (he hates to call them games). Spore is nothing less than the ultimate world-building simulation. Start with single-cell goo, then evolve through multicellular life forms, move onto land, develop social creatures, start cities, and eventually start colonizing more planets. And none of it is pre-programmed -- everything, from the creature movement to social interaction -- is emergent, based on simple rules and the results of player creative decisions.

Wright popped back into the editor to show us all just how flexible it could be. His goal was to make the editor a toy, something gamers would love to spend time with. "Lure the players into being creative," as he explained it. Sure enough, just about anything was possible with the editor: Wright demonstrated an upright dog whose front legs were twice as long as his back legs, a creature with an enormous floppy eggplant-shaped head that had no less than a dozen hungry beaks, a six-legged critter with two snapping heads that skittered along very fast, and finally a fully-functional Care Bear. (!)

Regardless of what you could dream up, the game would find a way to make it work. Top-heavy characters would bobble along awkwardly, creatures with branching networks of a dozen legs would learn to walk, and animations for fighting and eating would be generated on the fly.

Spore includes city creation, with player-created architectural designs. It includes economic, social and military interplay between different societies on the world players make. It includes tools for terraforming other planets, when players get to that point. And the vast majority of it is based on emergent properties of simple rules, not pre-scripted events and behaviors. Players will have the ability to shape all aspects of the worlds they make. Players will be creators, not just manipulators. And if desired, players can download creatures, societies and designs made by other Spore players.

Gamers are all abuzz about Spore, in part because, despite its evident complexity, the game as demonstrated at GDC appeared extremely accessible and easy to learn. (My favorite gamer comment about Spore? A tossup between "I want to have Wil Wright's baby" and "I, for one, welcome the return of Wil Wright overlord.") The real question, from a worldchanging perspective, is whether Spore will be another Sims -- an interesting time-sink -- or another SimCity -- a learning tool. I know which one I'm hoping for; I'll let you know when it comes out. Or, more likely, a few weeks after it comes out; I'll be busy building a world.

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Comments

I used to fantasize about making games like this. I even did a BASIC game called WorldSmiths that kinda-sorta simulated a galaxy worth of civilizations. (More a kind of very specialized spreadsheet.) When Wright released _Sim Earth_ I realized I was totally outclassed and gave up.

One of the very best things about having a great big dog is that you can't ignore them when they need to go out. If I lose myself in a game, Kira -- normally a very polite dog -- will rear up on her hind legs and cuff me until I help her answer the call of nature.

If you'd like, send me your home address. If you don't post here for more than a week I'll break in, drag you out into the sunlight, and teach you how to walk on dirt again.


Posted by: Stefan Jones on 6 Apr 05

Since there are so many eyeballs, especially 14 to 34 year-old male sets, loooking at games, and since we're a civilization that might either crash or soar, could real world issues be embedded into game designs? Isn't there something else MasterChief could be doing to save the world beyond splattering gooey guys? How might those of us concerned about sustainability reach out to game designers so that they might explore integrating some of these concepts in what they do so well?


Posted by: Will on 7 Apr 05

Imagine a municipality that bought into the virtual world paradigm. Its new and just being built out so they require engineering drawings in forms that can be imported into a 3D virtual municipality. There are two levels of reality, what's going on in the real world where architecture in the 3D world matches what's out in the real world and a sort of fantasy architecture where people can play with ideas as entertainment.

If you want, you can take your fantasy creation and transpose it into the real world. local contractors will have accurate plans and be able to quickly price out the project, the program itself will tell you who has to approve and if any code variances are required. You get faster construction, complete analysis of the consequences of various ideas and a fun tool that also models the real built environment in a useful way.


Posted by: TM Lutas on 7 Apr 05

For awhile, there were some municipalities that were using SimCity as "training" for civic employees, urban planning. I think the primary lesson was that you have to learn to balance all the needs and wants of a community.

For example:

http://www.americancity.org/article.php?id_article=21

http://www.cebe.heacademy.ac.uk/learning/habitat/HABITAT4/simcity.html


Posted by: bjd on 7 Apr 05

Mayors who train with SimCity do have a nasty habit of encouraging monsters to visit when they get bored.


Posted by: Stefan Jones on 7 Apr 05

That looks like a great game! Spore will definetly end up in my worldchanging weekend!


Posted by: Rikkert J. Swets on 10 Apr 05



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