Saturday, July 12, 2008

Introducing Our Next Colossal Timewaster

So a few posts back, I made a throwaway comment about playing the computer game Civilization. And wouldn't you know it, that throwaway line got a comment, while the rest of the post did not.

'S Ok. I've found that to be true about blogging: you can never tell in advance what random people out on the internet will find interesting in what you write. And I guess that Civilization has become enough of a cultural institution that people know exactly what you're talking about (and why you're saying it) when you mention it.

Q: So why haven't you blogged in the last week?

A: My wife and I were playing Civilization.

Q: Oh. Right. Got it. Now I understand.

So it is.

Well, a few months back I was reading on the Wired website about a new game from the designer of SimCity (Repeat after me: "Oh. Right. Got it. Now I understand..."), who is about to release a game that was originally named SimEverything, before they changed it to the name it will ship under in two months: Spore. The premise of this game is interesting to me: start with a microbe, help it survive in the primordial oceans until it can crawl out on land and start evolving; then help it evolve until it becomes sentient; then help it build tribes, then civilizations, then travel out into space and take over the galaxy.

That's a pretty big game.

Anyway, based on what little I've read of it, the game looks to be a cross between Sim City, the old Sim Earth game, Civilization, Age of Empires, the Sierra city-building games (Caesar, Pharaoh, Zeus, etc.) and a bunch of others. And what do these games all have in common?

That's right: by the time you look at the clock and realize how much time you've spent, it's time to get up, get breakfast, and go to work. Spore is going to be evil.


So, how does a drug pusher build a customer base?

Right again: they give out free samples. Eventually the people who receive those free samples get hooked. About the time the recipients start asking for the stuff, the pusher knows he has them, and he starts charging money.

Well, it appears that the creators of Spore are using this very strategy. One of the fun little things you get to do in this game is design the creatures that your microbes will eventually evolve into. So they released the Creature Designer early, and made an "evaluation version" available for free download. So I downloaded it today, and Poof! There went the afternoon.

These are just the ones that I made.
Yup. I gave this one three heads. Now, by this point my daughters had become totally fascinated with the designing of monsters, and had done a few themselves. We had been trying to make some pretty scary ones, but nothing had been scaring the girls--until I started putting multiple heads on the thing, just to see if I could do it. Yup. About this point they started screaming. Now, I don't think that was because the monster itself is particularly evil-looking; rather, it's because I wasn't doing it right, darn it! They're at the age where they're very sensitive to this sort of thing.

Prior to this, I'd been trying to make scary-looking ones, like this:
Don't know what it is, but I've always found scorpions to be really, really creepy.

Well, we also made our share of goofy-looking, frivolous monsters--just for the fun of it. I decided to see if I could get a reasonable approximation of Mike Wozowski, from the movie Monsters Inc. Behold my attempt:
The guys at Maxis, who did all the "Sim" games, hit upon a very noteworthy observation: many, many people out there prefer to create rather than compete. And this goes back to all those online fantasy games that have been out since the late eighties--while there have always been plenty of people who wanted to be wizards and warriors, there have also been plenty of people who just wanted to be the cobbler back in the village. Or the bartender. They wanted to inhabit the world, to interact; but they didn't want always to have to rescue maidens or slay dragons; they just wanted to enjoy being there. So they came out with their game The Sims--which was a people simulator, where you made normal people go through their everyday routine. You got to send them to work, have them make dinner, have them fall in love; you got to have them brush their teeth, go to the bathroom, and so forth.

And the game was a smashing success.

But then the guys at Maxis noticed something else: that even though the game itself was fun, there were a huge number of people out there that just wanted to design the houses that these people lived in. Let's face it, it can get old telling people to go to the bathroom every ten minutes.

But the houses! That architectural editor in The Sims was fun. The only thing that was annoying about it was that, since it was tied to the game, your funds were limited. But you could get the cheat codes from somewhere or other, and boost your budget, and design Mansions. You could design and model houses that would be perfectly sound--and quite comfortable--if someone decided to build one in real life. An entire generation of gamers got to learn a little something of Architecture. Often, people would play the game just so they could see what their houses looked like with people moving around in them.

Well, Maxis learned the lesson. This Creature Creator is really, really fun. All by itself! You get to make monsters, and the monsters have personality. Even when it's nothing more than a blob, because you haven't added arms and legs and heads to it yet, it moves. And then when it gets a mouth, it starts smiling or frowning, and grunting in response to the limbs you stick onto it. And it gets happy when you give it eyes--and becomes rather distraught when you delete them. Every time you add something, it tries to look at what you've done to its body, and it will let you know through its body language and grunts whether it approves or not.

When you've got your monster pretty much the way you like it, you can take it for a "test drive", where you can see it move about, dance, jump, get angry, laugh, and flirt. Yes, in the Spore game you apparently have to attract mates, and the dance moves they use to do so are pretty funny. (Think seriously un-selfconscious White Boy). You can also see what the baby versions of your monsters look like. You can see several of the babies in the above pictures.



Anna, if you're reading this, this is why I asked if you'd heard of Spore yet, and why I said, "everything I've heard leads me to think it would be just as dangerous to our family's 'together-time' as Civilization is." Although today, that wasn't quite accurate: the Creature Creator became our family's together time; everyone was sitting around the computer, back-seat driving. "Make it green! Give it more hands! I think it needs a pom-pom on its tail." It was loads of fun.

This game is going to be evil. Pure evil. We'll probably get it.

1 comment:

Anna said...

I haven't liked any of the Sims games, but it sounds like they may have hit on something this time.
Nintendo's Wii has had a similar effect, right? It's more than just a gamer's console.