11 September 2008

Spore: six hours in

I preordered Spore from Amazon in December of 2007. It arrived yesterday. I'm talking here about my impressions.

OK, first, I have only six hours of play time in on Spore, so really, these are just first impressions. I’ve played through the first three stages and am poised to begin the civilization stage. My review of it, I’ve come to realize as I wrote the below, is unapologetically positive. I realized, of course, that I was having fun playing, but now I realize that I love the game. It has shortcomings – the controls are hard sometimes, but overall, I’m really enthusiastic.

The creature creators – particularly once you get into 3D (i.e. everything after the cellular stage) are really fun to just mess with. There are game-play repercussions to the choices of what you attach and where, but even without that, just seeing what you can do is awesome fun. In the end – regardless of how Spore lives up to expectations and hype, just the creative acts alone will make it worth $50 if I honestly appraise things (time and money).

At each stage, so far, the game-play changes significantly. It both gets more complex as you advance and also changes how you accomplish things. I’m playing an herbivore and that informs the choices I have throughout play.

In the beginning I was just hunting bits of green stuff and trying to avoid being prey. The way you grow and level (up through strata of the tide pool? down? Or maybe just in that you’re aware of things at a different scale but in the same space?) is a nice gimmick and the play remains the same but the graphics are rich enough that even though there’s not much to it, it’s fun and rewarding just playing the light game and looking around.

When you advance from one stage to the next, you are presented with a history of your development which focuses on what all you accomplished during the last stage but includes the whole history. It’s fun. Just looking at how your body has morphed at each “generation” is kind of neat – particularly since you remember back to how you were making decisions.

When you crawl out of the sea, new parts – arms and legs most obviously, become available. And you gain a third dimension. You can fight or befriend other nests of critters and you have some basic missions to fulfill to gain DNA points (or whatever – the currency that allows you to alter your form). And you can (and must, I think) build a pack of companions that will help you make friends or eat foes. I stumbled upon gliding wings and found that increasing my flight ability made it fast and fun to get around (and out of danger) in this stage. This is also the first area where maneuvering with the WASD keys was hard. Turning is something I still haven’t mastered. The mouse-look doesn’t work like it ought, I think.

This brings me to another realization about Spore. They give you enough guidance to steer you along the right path, but really figuring out how to play has enough holes in it that you’re figuring stuff out. (Now that I think about it, maybe the manual tells more – maybe even too much, I dunno, I only read the first page.) But, so far at least, the figuring out is nicely in what Vygotsky called my Zone of Proximal Development – which means that the learning task is stimulating and not discouraging.

In the third stage your form is fixed and the creator aspect of play involves dressing your tribe; designing their costume. It’s quite fun. The game play was pretty dull real-time strategy play. Harvest food, domesticate pets – though I’m not sure how to use them yet, make babies, outfit your tribe and assign them tools – that sort of thing. And then you can either impress and ally with other tribes or destroy them. I think your strategy at the beginning of this stage depends on what tools you start with. If not, that kind of sucks, but oh well. I befriended two and destroyed three – even with the intent to follow as pacific a course as I could. Destroying enemies is hardish. If you want to figure everything out for yourself, skip the rest of the paragraph.............The strategy that I settled on was to equip my entire tribe with burning torches and just attack their main building. You get slaughtered but suck up tons of their resources. You want to have built up a food supply first because as you die, you’re laying more eggs. Probably you got wiped out, but reproduced faster than them. So now, you outfit the tribe similarly and repeat the attack. This time you win. I actually hope it’s not as formulaic as all that, but it worked like that for me on my first game.

That’s about all I can think of to say just now. I’m having fun with it.

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