Electronic Arts has released a “Spore” API, which for the first time will make it possible for fans of the hit evolution game from legendary game designer Will Wright to create their own applications.
And if you’ve got a hankering to get started making some neat new Spore apps, Maxis has you covered: Spore API. Or you might even want to enter into a contest to win fame and fortune (actually, an unspecified NVIDIA graphics card).
I really enjoyed Maxis’s Spore…for about a week. But like so many others, I found that the actual gameplay just didn’t have the depth to hold my attention over a long period of time. But now Maxis is readying an expansion pack called Galactic Adventures that, from the video below at least, seems to add more gameplay, plus our #1 gaming buzzword of the 21st century, User Generated Content. Spore creators can now add “Adventures” to the list of things they create and share with other Spore enthusiasts.
I’ll be taking a pretty hard look at this one as it develops. It seems to be that Galactic Adventures could be an add-on that completes Spore and makes it a deeper, long-term game, or it could be throwing good money after bad. Guess we’ll see this spring when it releases.
Frankly it is somewhat irresponsible of me to say very much about Spore right now, since I’ve yet to get my first species into space. But I’ve been playing the game exclusively for the past two evenings and wanted to capture thoughts while they’re still fresh.
I’m going to sidestep the DRM question, even though it is a fairly important one. I don’t like it, and wasn’t going to get Spore because of it, but some people whose opinions I respect were really enjoying the game so I opted out of the battle. Hey, I did nukes and the draft, I’ll leave DRM for another generation.
So on to the game, phase by phase.
Cellular phase: This has often been compared to fl0w and rightly so. You swim around eating other cells and critters to collect “DNA” that you use to buy parts for yourself. These parts make you faster, more maneuverable, more deadly, etc. This part of the game is 2-D. Creature creation is pretty simple and so is the gameplay. It isn’t all that compelling, but nor is it all that long. It’s like a warmup (it’s worth noting that once you’ve played all the phases once, you can start a new game at any phase, so you could skip the cellular level in subsequent games).
Creature phase: Here’s where you use the Creature Creator that Maxis released as a stand alone. When you start, there aren’t many parts to buy. You have to discover parts by rooting through piles of bones or by dealing with other creatures. You’re once again earning DNA which you spend on the parts you’ve found. The Creature Creator is a ton of fun to mess with, and you can jump back into it any time by ‘mating’ with another of your species. This is a sure thing; no flowers, dinner or wine required.
This phase played like a single-player MMO. To attack, you initiate combat then fire off special skills, each of which has a cool-down timer. Buying new parts lets you ‘level up’ your special skills; each part has ratings that impact skills. I was playing a carnivore which meant I got to eat everything I killed. Quite handy and no waste! You can also befriend other species by singing and dancing for them in a kind of Simon-esque mini-game. They sing, you sing. If they dance, you dance. You need to be as good as, or better, at whatever they’re doing in order to impress them. Impress a few and they become allies.
As you proceed through this level, you get to build a group of helpers from your species and/or allied species. In this way you could, in theory, make up for weaknesses in your own species. If your dudes can’t dance, you could in theory get allies who could, though how you’d win them over in the first place isn’t yet clear. Perhaps you’d evolve yourself to be a good dancer long enough to get the allies, then evolve back into a combat-heavy form?
Anyway, I found the Creature Phase to be an awful lot of fun. I can’t wait to try it as an herbivore. Oh and just for grins, swim out to sea for a while and see what happens.
Next is the Tribal Phase. Once you enter the tribal phase you can no longer change your body, but you can change outfits. Outfits, once again, increase various skills. You can also start to buy buildings here, if you find the technology in the world.
You’re still competing with other species in this phase, but on a larger scale. Your tribal hut becomes the focus of your attention, as if it gets destroyed, its game over for you. Also babies are hatched there. Sharing the world with you are other ‘sentient tribes’ as well as groups of ‘animals.’ You can domesticate the animals and keep them in your village, where they’ll lay eggs which you can eat. Or you can kill and eat them during lean times if you like. They don’t seem to procreate, though.
Once again, as you advance, you get more followers. If you’re a pacifist you can try to make friends with other tribes, which wins you points and gets you gifts from your new friends. Or you can use your military might to exterminate other tribes (via destroying their tribal hut).
In my game, this phase went on for a while because I wound up in a stalemate with another tribe. I had my tribe maxed for my level and couldn’t take out the enemy, but they couldn’t take me out either. And we’d become sworn enemies so I couldn’t try to turn things around. Eventually the enemy made a half-assed attack on my people, weakening himself enough (without doing much damage to me) that I could counter attack and tip the scales.
I’m not sure how I feel about the Tribal Stage yet. I think I would’ve liked it more if I hadn’t been so anxious to get to the next stage. As it was, it felt too long to me. More games are required before I decide, though. It was definitely the most difficult phase so far.
And now I’m in the Civilization phase, which is very accurately named. It plays very much like a simple version of the Civ games, at least so far. I haven’t completed it yet so can’t comment too much on it yet.
That said, you have to create a City Center, House, Factory and Entertainment Center as well as land, sea and air vehicles all in fairly short order. I found this a bit disruptive, to be honest. I had this map of the world in my head and a plan of who to try to ally with and who to attack and suddenly I get shunted off to the Building Creator to design a factory. You can, optionally, just pick a vehicle or building from the Sporeopedia and in the end I just did that with some of my buildings. I think for the next game I’ll “pre-build” these things so I have them ready when I hit this phase. As far as I can tell, they’re all just decorative; at least, you have all the parts at hand from the start.
I should note that I started my game on “Easy” just to get the lay of the land. Easy so far has been very easy, aside from the Tribal Phase stalemate. The Cellular phase was just OK. The Creature phase was lots of fun. Opinion still reserved on the Tribal Phase and the Civ Phase, but I think they’ll both be more fun at a higher difficulty level and once I have all the controls down to second nature.
So far I’m having fun. Angela got a copy and she’s just been happily creating creatures; I’m trying to get her to start doing buildings and vehicles. 🙂
So the open beta for Warhammer Online starts on Sunday (the 7th), but for some percentage of pre-orders, it apparently started today as a second preview weekend? Honestly I haven’t been paying attention. My gaze is firmly fixed on September 14th, when Headstart Access opens for Collector’s Edition pre-orders.
My only fear is that my guild is playing in the betas, getting to know each other, forming friendships, and I’m not a part of that. Hopefully I’ll be able to ‘socially catch-up’ when the time comes. I just am really afraid of ‘burning out’ on the early levels if I run through them yet again before launch.
I’m awfully excited about the launch of Warhammer though.
In other news, I canceled my Spore pre-order….or tried to at least. I called Gamestop too late to prevent it from being shipped, but I’ll return the game to a local store when it arrives. I’m still playing LOTRO pretty heavily, I have Warhammer incoming in 9 days, and I’m not a fan of Spore’s SecurROM copy protection.
I’m playing the hell out of LOTRO these days, but there isn’t a lot for me to say about the game that hasn’t been said a hundred times before. It I was high enough level to be enjoying the latest new content it’d be one thing, but I’m still hunting the Lone Lands looking for Wargs. Don’t read that wrong, I’m having an absolute blast, but I’m not doing anything ‘newsworthy.’
In the absence of real Warhammer News, blogs are turning towards navel gazing and in some cases sniping at each other. I myself spent some time arguing with Sara Pickell in the comments of her blog, which was ultimately not a good use of my time or hers, since the topic at hand seems to be an emotional one. Sorry, Sara.
Spore will be here soon, I guess next week. Not convinced it’ll be great, but that didnt’ stop me from pre-ordering. I think it’ll at least be interesting from a ‘student of games’ point of view. And then a week or so later, Headstart for Warhammer Online starts. So lots of excitement coming in.
And thanks to Grimjakk, I just ordered an “Omnibus” edition of some Warhammer novels to get me in the mood for the game. I so blindly followed his suggestion that I’ve already forgot the title. Heh.
I dunno, I’m a little sick of the hyperbole of the blogosphere. So many bloggers declaring absolutes that aren’t, citing facts that only exist in their own mind, and so on. We all get swept up in these things, I guess. But it’d be nice if we could all try to remember that just because we feel certain things are or are not important, it doesn’t mean everyone else feels the same way.
I try to avoid “Collector’s Editions” of games since the regular versions tend to be pricey enough, but this time I got sucked in. Gamestop has listed the Spore Galactic Edition for $79.99, currently scheduled to ship on September 7th.
Extras of this addition are:
‘Making of Spore’ DVD video
‘How to Build a Better Being’ DVD video, by National Geographic Channel
‘The Art of Spore’ hardback mini-book
Fold-out Spore poster
Premium 100-page Galactic Handbook
I’m banking on Will Wright being heavily involved in the Making Of video, and I’m interested in the Nat Geo DVD as well. I’ve heard the latter referred to as “The Human Toolkit” in other places, and it apparently uses Spore’s graphics to discuss evolutionary theory. I figure if I get 2 half-way decent DVDs as extras, that’s worth $20, and the rest of the junk and cool packaging are worth another $10.
Now let’s just hope the full game is 1/10th as compelling as the Creature Creator is.
I finally got my hands on the trial version of the Spore Creature Creator. Full version is apparently out tomorrow and will cost you $10, and the trial is said to include about 25% of the critter parts.
First things first… messing with this toy is awfully fun. It’ll take you about 10 seconds to learn the basics of building creatures, and not much longer to figure out all the controls. The Creator is (or will be soon) available for Windows or OS X and you really owe it to yourself to give the trial a go.
All that said, now I’m going to be Mr. Negative, since there’s plenty of positive press about this toy. My biggest disappointment so far (and this is based on the trial, perhaps the full version offers more options) is how generally similar all the creatures turn out. At first glance you’ll say I’m nuts, but look at them for a few moments and you’ll see all the lines tend to be pretty similar.
Maybe its because the artists haven’t gotten the hang of things, but I think the problem comes down to the limitations of the tool. The basic body shape tends to be a blob with a single spine. Always a single spine, you can’t fork it or have a dual-spined creature. Each vertebrae can be enlarged or shrunk in order to shape your ‘blob’ but there are limits to this. You can’t taper the end of the spine into a whip-like tail, for instance.
Also, there is no concept of a discrete head. Instead, you create a head by swelling up the end of the spine, then sticking on a mouth/snout selection and adding eyes, ears, horns or whatever to the head-blob. But this means you can’t make, for instance, a wedge-shaped head. At least I haven’t figured out how to. It’s going to be round or cylindrical.
Now in all fairness, considering that whatever you create will animate, dance, be happy, sad, roar, punch or sumo wrestle at the touch of a button, it’s still pretty darned impressive. It would, I suppose, be quite a challenge to programatically extend these animations to a 2 spined creature with an ovoid gap in the middle of its body, or an upright octopod with a head, 12 tentacles and no body.
But I’m a greedy SOB and I still want more. Hopefully the full version will have a better selection of tails, horns and so forth.
In the meantime, we can watch the Cant (half cow, half ant, all attitude) dance.