Planning Spore

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Some people become planners over a long period of time. For me, it was sudden. I became a planner when I got hold of Will Wright’s Sim City in the summer of 1989.

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Since then, Will Wright has gone onto build blockbusters including Sim Earth and The Sims. His most recent project – for those who don’t know – is Spore.  The game allows a player to control the evolution of a species from its existence as a multicellular organism to a spacefaring sapient creature.  It has been under development for years and is expected to be released this coming spring.

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Earlier this month, Wright gave a demonstration of his game at the 2007 New Yorker Conference. There are plenty of demos on the web already, but what this interview had was a thought-provoking Q&A session after the demo.

Write, one of the great planners of modern times, made two comments that struck this planner as profound.

The first comment was in regards to the issue of gaming reviews. Write notes that the gaming programmers of the world have not built a common vernacular to describe their work, thereby making it difficult for journalists, game reviewers and the like to qualify games with the same systems (e.g., stars, thumbs up) they often give to movies, music, and other forms of media entertainment. The fact this rating system remains nonexistent is but one more reason the world of marketing has trouble understanding how to tap into the gaming culture (beyond the G*ddamn in-game billboard).

The second issue he raised was how Spore and its genre is going beyond the traditional gaming style. Like my beloved Sim City, Spore has no goal and no end but what the player determines. There is little carnage and fewer adversaries other than your own skill set, imagination, and free time. Moreover, the game changes with the decisions you make. It is not a single path whereby a guy, be it Zelda or Master Chief, wreaks carnage, nor it is a specified rectangle where automated players chuck around a ball.

According to Wright, Spore and its ilk are designed so that “players are building a [path] in their head. The players are constructing the model as they play.”  In the interview, Wright went onto say “We build programing that starts modifying itself around what you enjoy doing. What your skill set is. What your aesthetics are. It can start modifying itself around you. THIS MAKES THEM A WHOLE NEW FORM OF MEDIA.”

Well, I don’t know if this is a totally “new form” of media, but it is definitely progressive. TiVo has a lot of the same traits, as do some of the new media search engines that aggregate your tastes and make recommendations you may not expect. But Wright does have a point; the largest untapped realm of game development is the type of game that changes its fundamental elements based customer control.  Smells like a virtual world, no?

There are plenty of other nuggets in the interview that make it worth the watch, including Wright’s thoughts on how gaming technology mirrors the Renaissance. I highly recommend it: CLICK HERE for the full presentation/interview.

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