Friday, March 03, 2006


Good luck, Maxis (or not)

The parallels between the future Will Wright offering Spore and Peter Molyneux's Black and White are easy to conjure. On the shallow side, neat graphics (the zoom-outs in the spore video look very familiar), possible similarities in gameplay, and tapping in to the god complex of gamers everywhere. Legendary pre-release buzz is another common factor. The deepest connection seems to be the awe-inspiring stuff of gamer's dreams: a virtual world where anything is possible.

With the exception of my wife, who wouldn't watch the spore video because it was too long, this game has sparked the imagination of everyone I know who has seen it. I'm no exception. I do like sims and certainly I am a fan of MMOs. But why do we love the type of game that Spore and Black and White promise?

I'm not sure that anyone could answer that game concretely, but I will take a shot. My first guess is that gamers love the idea that a game is so smart, it will evolve beyond anything the designers predicted based on the unique actions of the player. Black and White actually partially delivered on this one. The creatures in B&W are able to learn. The interface for teaching is kind of crummy - you don't know what you're teaching and players tend to overtrain due to the wacky interface for it. Many creatures develop very strange eccentricities this way - mine loved to water trees, to the point where he did nothing but sleep, water trees, and scare villagers. Bill actually trained his creature not to poop. This was clearly an unintended consequence, and was fixed in the better-very-late-than-never first patch.

I love stories of the early days of Ultima Online. If you haven't heard of it, it is one of the oldest MMOs. UO was released in 1997 and predates EverQuest by about two years. I have heard a lot of meta-folklore about the early days of UO. One story that sticks out is the changeable world that marked UO's beginning. Players could compete for resources, animals could level up, and basically anything was possible. Perhaps needless to say, this did not go well. Within a few months, every tree and mine in UO was bare and if the packs of superinteligent max level wolves didn't kill you, the packs of murderers in every town would. These problems were eventually fixed.

Anyone reading this blog has probably given some thought to the simulation argument. If you think you haven't, follow the link and read up on it - this is undoubtedly a topic that has crossed your mind one way or another. It's only a thought exercise since it doesn't change anything one way or another. This thinking about what gamers like in games did lead me to it though. Let me propose a corollary notion. If simulations are possible and humans decide to start them, the technology will wind up in a computer game sooner or later. Chew on that - the possibility exists that you live in a computer simulation, and to add some scare on the top, the simulation is on an Xbox in some alien's living room :) At least if we're erased we won't see it coming.

So back to Spore. I wish Maxis luck, but I almost don't have to. This game is going to sell a billion copies. Given that, I almost want to wish them failure, because I have a sneaking suspicion this game is going to suck me in. Hopefully it will be released for the 360 so I can feel like I've gotten my money's worth out of it.

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