What’s wrong with Spore
I thought this was exactly the type of this Spore was avoiding. Shouldn’t I be able to make this decision by actually playing the game? If I eat a plant, I’m an herbivore; if I eat a creature I’m a carnivore.
At any point in the first two stages - Cell and Creature - you can call a mate by pressing a button, which takes you to the creator creator. Why not let me swim around or walk around until I find one?
The creature creator lets you buy pieces to place on your creature. You can also sell the pieces for the same price you bought them for, at any time. This means you can strip down and recreate a brand new creature at any time. It would make a lot more sense to have some limits, so if you give it ten legs, you can’t suddenly remove them all later. If you paint him red, you can’t paint him green two minutes later.
And there should be some kind of evolution. So if your creature gets in a lot of fights with other creatures, it develops sharper teeth, longer claws, or tougher skin. If you play more as a scavenger, or only kill weaker creatures, you develop more stealthy traits. Again, I thought this was the point of Spore.
What’s more, most of the decisions you make when creating a creature don’t matter. Some pieces give you abilities or stats, but most of them don’t stack and it doesn’t matter where you put them. The green creature here has the same stats as the red creature, and performs the same in the game. In the creature stage none of the stats stack, and the sizes and positions of the pieces don’t matter. One set of claws is as good as two. So all you have to do is find the piece with the highest value for each stat and toss if somewhere on the creature.
The procedural nature of Spore means the graphics can’t be as good as anything premade and optimised. And no one ever said the game would be gorgeous. But there’s a lot of some for improvement, especially with the landscapes. Just throwing in some more plants and using high resolution textures would make a huge difference.
And there’s no antialiasing, which is very noticable at times.
The editors in the later stages let you choose from a bunch of pieces. Way too many. I think the spaceship editor has a couple hundred. And they don’t have any stats or serve any purpose. And then you have to paint it. That’s not fun, it’s just tedious.
What’s right with Spore
I’ve been sitting on this post for a while because I don’t know what to put here. Not because there’s nothing right, but because it’s so hard to describe it. Looking back, I feel like I spent a lot of time just mindlessly clicking around with no real intentions, no threats, and no excitement.
That’s all because it’s more of a toy than a game - something we all knew going in. It’s up to you to provide the fun and the greatness. LEGOs aren’t fun. Neither are PlayDo or GI Joes. But they let you think; they let you get away; they let you make your own fun. In fact they promote it, and so does Spore.
The space stage is clearly the best, both in terms of how fun it is and how well it was made. For a while I didn’t think so. Flying around space seemed just as pointless as the other stages. But I think there’s a point where you realise it actually takes some skill and strategy. Your decisions, like who to attack and which star systems to colonize, matter even in the long run.
But I think the best thing I can say about Spore is that I think it will last. I think people will be playing and talking about it for a long time. Five years from now people will be describing new games by comparing them to Spore. We’ll say “It’s like the part of Spore where…” and “Remember in Spore when…”
How to fix Spore
Here are just a few changes I think would greatly improve the game.
If there’s ever been a game that screams “Autosave!”, it’s Spore. Especially in the space stage. There’s very little change in the pacing, so it’s easy to lose track of time and to lose track of the last time you saved. There are no major events. No point where you feel like you’ve finally accomplished something. It feels a lot like an MMORPG, so you get in the habit of just expecting everything to be saved automatically.
Just saving every time you complete a mission or earn a badge would work great.
Combine the 3rd and 4th stages
I’m not even sure what they’re called. “Tribal” and “City” maybe. It doesn’t matter - they’re terrible. There’s no strategy, very few choices, and no fun. It’s just, “Go talk to this tribe, now go attack that tribe”, then “Go visit this city, now go take over that city”. Combining them would make it feel more like you’re making progress.
You start out with just a tribe and some sticks for weapons. You socialize with other tribes. You gain knowledge. You develop better tools and buildings. And finally you take over the planet.
Fix the graphics
As difficult as graphics programming is, this one should be easy. It’s all procedural, so just increase the detail and the amount of stuff that’s drawn until the computer can’t handle it. My machine never stutters, but I constantly see objects popping and fading in. I’m not looking for Crysis, just some sense of actually being in a forest or meadow, instead of a desert.
And for God’s sake, give me some antialiasing.
Overall, I’d sum up the game like this: I was expecting to be saying, “Look what the game is doing now” while I play, but instead I’m saying, “Look what I can do in the game”. I was expecting more behind-the-scenes. A lot more. Instead of actions having consequences, the consequences are the actions. Instead of eating meat to become a carnivore, you have to choose carnivore to eat meat. Instead of jumping and running to develop stronger legs, you choose the legs from a menu to match what you want to do. Instead of researching technologies so you can build faster and stronger vehicles, you can just use all the parts from the start.
There are no indirect results of anything you choose to do. Everything has a direct and immediate consequence and that’s it.