computer games maintenance

Review of Will Wright’s Spore – UNDESTROYED!

My wonderful review of Spore (which Dave McGraw described as “accurate”, IIRC) I thought was lost and gone forever. This is CLEARLY a conspiracy from EA/Will Wright (the review was quite scathing :)).

But … thanks to Gavin “Just pulled from my google reader archive. Hope it helps.” Bowman, here it is:

Game Review, from a professional game developer (me) who happens to have played very many games, including the original SimCity when it first came out (I was very ickle back then; it was my first favourite computer game. Ha.). I am not a games journalist, this is not a very good review. But you might find it interesting or helpful in your purchasing decision…

NB: this is not a generous review; at this point, I have had to restart the entire game (between 1 and 15 hours play time depending on where you get to, all lost, each time) from scratch 4 times because it regularly corrupts its save file and is hardcoded to prevent you from having more than one save file. I am not particularly happy. I now quit every 30 minutes and do a manual backup of the save file by copying it from its secret arcane directory to somewhere else on my hard disk. Sigh. Just like the 1980’s of playing games in DOS.

The game has 5 levels, and a creature creator. Please go buy the Creature Creator, its cheaper than buying Spore. The Creature Creator … is fun. You can buy the Creature Creator as a separate program, for a lot less money (it only costs $10, instead of $50 for Spore!). Why would you (oh why oh why did *I*?) pay extra for Spore?

AYWAY. On to the review of Spore. Spore is made of 5 Levels (that’s $10 per level)
Clone of fl0w, with nicer graphics. As soon as you start having fun, it kicks you out and tells you you “must” stop playing and go on to the next level. Play however you want, up until that point. (Sidenote: fl0w is actually a FREE game. You don’t need to buy Spore to play it)
Clone of any 3rd person RPG, with weaker mechanics (really, really simplistic). Game is designed to be won by walking up to everyone and talking to them. If you try to fight them (even though it says fighting is an option) it is much harder. Don’t play the way Will doesn’t want you to play!
Clone of a really really crap RTS. All sides are identical, but with some minor specializations that have very little effect and are random, but you steal from people when you conquer them, so you end up eventually with all skills. Because there is NO BALANCING of units and nations, if you try to fight them (even though it says fighting is an option) it is much harder. Don’t play the way Will doesn’t want you to play!
A standard RTS … with an original idea! (just one; Will was already working hard the day he came up with this one – but not TOO hard; don’t want him to get tired, do we?). The original idea is that each time you capture a city, you get to either create all the units from that nation, or you get to add 5 to the total number of your own units you could have on the map at once. Also, note: whoever did the design for this actually bothered to play an RTS in the last 10 years – it has the standard A beats B beats C beats A balancing, including one nation that literally cannot fight, and one that doesn’t destroy buildings when it captures cities versus one that does destroy them.
Clone of GalCiv, a very old game, that was a lot better than this, had much better gameplay. The graphics for this clone are much much better – very nice, in fact. I think they spent the entire game dev budget doing the graphics for this part of the game. It’s not worth what they paid, but its the prettiest part by a long way. Once you work out what you’re supposed to do, it takes about 6 hours to win, starting from scratch.

A few interesting things that suggest Will Wright and his team have never played a real computer game in their lives:

1. No progress is saved. You can play for 40 hours non-stop, complete 5 stages, and if your computer is crashed you lose EVERYTHING. Except the things you made int he creature creator. HA! THAT’S FUNNY! WHY THE HECK DID I PAY EXTRA FOR SPORE WHEN I COULD JUST HAVE BOUGHT THE CREATURE CREATOR???
2. You cannot manually save in this game more than once. You have one save slot that is constatnly overwritten when you save. This would be OK, except:
3. About 1/3 of the bugs in this game corrupt your save file. Since you only have ONE save file … that means your entire game to date is destroyed. Kaput. Dead. Don’t play the way Will doesn’t want you to play! (actually, what does that even mean here? Maybe: Will felt that live is harsh, and you shouldn’t be allowed to play your own game? I mean … WTF? QA? Guys? Have you HEARD of QA departments – every games company has one – they check your game WORKS before you ship it?)
4. Once you get to a particular stage, you can start a new game from that stage. Only, you lose ALL of your special abilities if you do this. Each stage earns you one special ability for EACH of the remaining stages. By the fifth stage, you have FIVE special abilities that are all potentially game-winning. If you have none, you’re f***ed. Don’t play the way Will doesn’t want you to play! You MUST restart teh game from scratch EVERY TIME YOU PLAY, SUCKERS! HAHAAHAHAH!

EA ripped me off

This is the reason for the DRM: someone at EA looked at the game shortly before launch, and went:

“OMGWTFBBQ!?! We’re going to be ****ed at retail! Every reviewer is going to say -Rent, don’t Buy- [hint: that’s exactly what you should do; don’t buy this game!], and every full price copy will be back on shelves within 24 hours as a 2nd-hand coopy, with us geting zero revenue. Quick, DO SOMETHING! STOP THE RETURNS! STOP THE 2ND HAND SALES!”

And so … the DRM.

There were some good ideas in here, somewhere

I am looking forward to seeing the Cell Stage appear – for free, with badges – on Kongregate, but done better, with more levels to it, and lets you play FOR AS LONG AS YOU WANT, rather than kicking you out just as it stats to get fun. It was the most fun part of the game. Also: I could rewrite the whole of it, minus the Creature Creator and the cute animations, in under a week. I can think of a dozen people off the top of my head who could do it in a weekend.

EDIT: to be clear, I’m talking only about the Cell stage there – and hey, as noted above, it’s already available for free as fl0w, just without the RPG elements. The Creature Creator parts *are* difficult and hard and great. Let’s not forget that.

In fact, I’m sure all the stages will appear on Kongregate soon, EVERY SINGLE ONE done better than Will and his team of muppets. And they’ll ALL BE FREE. Because even teenage children writing games in their bedrooms at home seem to know a lot more about “gameplay”, “fun”, and “casual games” than the best that Maxis could put forth. And what they know is how to clone the crap out of a very simple good idea done badly (which is what Spore is, if you take away the sold-separately Creature Creator) and do it a lot better. Amazing.

Will Wright didn’t actually say, but should have: “We think Casual Games means: give people soemthing that looks fun, and take it away from them the moment they start to enjoy ourselves. We played Bejewelled a couple of times. We felt that was all we needed to know about the industry”


PS: please note: this post is NOT tagged MMO or massively multiplayer. This game isn’t even multiplayer, let alone MMO. Everything that could have made this game great has been carefully and surgically removed. I will kick anyone who even dares suggest that this has anything to do with online gaming. Oh how we’ll laugh at Spore and EA when Little Big Planet comes out and pisses all over the trainwreck of stupid design that was the “online” parts of Spore.

PPS: The Creature Creator is really Very Good. More, please! Perhaps someone could write a game, that uses the Creature Creator, so that you can do cool things with your creatures?

PPPS: When I say “write a game”, I mean “something that is fun”. I’m not asking much, I just want fun at a very basic level. A Pokemon clone would be lame, but, you know, it would be good enough. What would be really cool would be if – instead of stealing ideas from other people and doing half-arsed copies – you made a new game, with new ideas, and new gameplay. Please? Please, anyone? EA? Perhaps you could get one of your studios to write a game around the Creature Creator? I know you haven’t thought of this one yet, instead you went and did that weird mess called Spore, but there’s always second time lucky, isn’t there?

PPPPS: there’s now a subtle hint in this post on how to save yourself 80% of the cost of buying Spore, and still get 90% of the fun. See if you can work it out ;)

PPPPPS: yes, I am a bit bitter for having paid money for this that I almost certainly cannot return to the shop nor can I sell back second hand thanks to the DRM. Great. I’m not in favour of software piracy, but games like this make it start to look extremely seductive. With DRM like Spore’s, that prevents resale of the game, I think I’m starting to understand the “I pirate games so that I can try them before I buy them” argument.

3 replies on “Review of Will Wright’s Spore – UNDESTROYED!”

Well, thanks to the DRM I didn’t buy Spore, but it’s nice to know that I haven’t missed anything.

“PPPPPS” – right. Or they simply buy second hand. I content that a proper returns mechanism for games would significantly slash the second hand games market and also have a minor impact on piracy rates.

…except… you CAN’T buy this game second hand, because of the DRM (although rumour has it that’s going to get vaped in an update Real Soon Now, I’ll not believe a word of it until I see it – the last headline “EA relaxes DRM” was a blatant lie spun up by marketing droids, so the precedent doesn’t look great :))

Yep. So basically this game, since it’s not second hand, vanishes pretty quickly (especially with the short shelf lives of games these days) into the mists of time.

I also feel that too few (non-MMO) games publishers put far any effort into making a games catalogue rather than a series of hits.

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