This is pasted from my blog. I wrote this last October, roughly a month after Spore was released, so try to take the info concerning Spore under that context since it's probably outdated (i.e. no announcement of an expansion at that time). A large percent of it is actually about comparing Maxis' major games with each other, but through that comparison I try to make a point about successful and unsuccessful (in my opinion) ways to implement creativity in a game. Shiny pics included to break the wall of text.
Still playing Spore?
Spore is a PC game released last month and this post is mainly addressed to enthusiasts who've been anxiously waiting to get their hands on it, expecting a new Sims in terms of creativity and replayability. Now, if after playing for a week or two you start wondering if there's something wrong with you because you're starting feel you're running out of things to do, in other words to get bored with this "limitless" game, then this is for you.
This post isn't a review nor a DRM-hate post. But since I'm at it, I'll express my opinion on that issue in short. Someone asked in a forum how would we feel if the burglars complained to us for installing a antitheft alarm system on our house. I replied that the example was irrelevant, since the antitheft system wouldn't disturb the rightful visitors of our house. In Spore's case however, it's like we installed an machine carrying out obligatory rectrum examinations to whoever enters our front door. Considering that the burglars wouldn't enter through the front door and the visitors wouldn't enter through the windows, who is at loss?
One of my Sims 2 Houses
Back to the subject. I don't know about you, but I keep my Sims 2 installed on my hard drive since it came out and once or twice a year, I place my social life in standby mode and plunge into a demonic state of house building and plug-in hunting. Those who do the same know what I mean... the time crawling through new plug-ins to download is comparable to the time you actually play. Anyway, I play for about a month, get bored, stop and repeat the process after about a year. Another game I do that with is SimCity 4. It's this creativity that builds up over time, month after month, that just EXPLODES when you see a well designed house or a complex interchange while you drive, making you want to build something as beautiful as what you saw ASAP!
A Sims2 club I made
My Sims2 3 take on a 3-story apartment building
Both games were made by Maxis. Coincidence? Of course not. Clearly, Maxis knows how to nail replayability. Therefore, Spore, designed with the same frame of mind by the same people, should easily have all the features that make a game make the players come back to it regulary, even years after they first played it. Does it?
Random shot from one of my SimCity4 cities
Sunset at above the city
After playing through Spore long enough, I have my doubts. In Sims, the thing that makes me come back is that the game provides the necessary tools to transfer with a high degree of accuracy, a construction from my imagination to the game. Same thing for SimCity4. Furthermore, addons made by both games' very active communities add to that toolbox, constantly raising that degree of accuracy with which I can materialize my ideas inside the game. The scope of these constructions are relatively large, and making a house or a town exactly how I want it can take several days or weeks, and it still wouldn't be perfect enough. My task also consists of not only making one building/city, but to create a realistic, seamless group of those objects that look good together and that work. At least that's how I draw enjoyment from these games.
A region shot showing two interconnected cities
Now which of these abilities does Spore offer me? Let's see... I can shape creatures, make some buildings out of building blocks and some vehicles out of parts. Now, the shape creature part is like Create-a-Sim, only the sim is like dough and you can mold it to whatever you like. In sims this proccess takes at most an hour if you're really anal. Same thing for Spore, since someone who's played a video game before can finish the first two stages in perhaps less than an hour. Actually it's not bad. It's pretty good , considering the fact that you still wanna fiddle with it even after you realize that the different placement of the same part has no impact to its abilities. After the 2nd stage you're no longer be able to modify it, except for some difficult-to-snap-on-your-creature "clothing". From then on though you'll never see your creature up close again since the gameplay takes place in a more macroscopic scale, except for some dialogue windows which show a moving portrait of your creature, which will probably turn you off since the clothing you "snapped" on it will most likely twist in weird angles, bend and clip through your creature as it makes bodily expressions.
My terrible Spore creature
Next we have the buildings. This doesn't need half as much analysis as the creature part, since it's clear that after the otherwise entertaining process of constructing them, they attain a less than minor role due to the fact that again, you don't have an incentive of zooming into them; something that adds to that problem is the low resolution textures they have in the game after you exit the creation screen. As for me, I want my creations to have a feedback mechanic, to show me if they work or not, so that each time I have a problem to solve. That is, how can I make the thing I have in my mind, with a given set of tools, be actually functional when transferred in the game. The same applies to vehicles. My first war vehicle looked like a hedgehog, with cannons extruding from everywhere. I expected a fountain of bombs flying around it each time it fired, but little did I know. The most purposeful design actually is that of the spaceship, since that's what you'll be looking at most of the time, not the creatures nor the buildings. So you have to make it nice.
My attempt at a Spore human
Finally, let's expand on the subject of the space stage, which is the actual game. Because, let's not fool ourselves, the other stages are there to teach someone who hasn't played a game before, how to press the buttons. From a creativity aspect, the space stage has the least to offer. Terraforming? The tools effects are so random that you'll probably crack the FBI database codes before you make a river the way you actually want it. Secondly, you may be playing for days and still be missing more than half of the terraforming tools, since you have to go and find them among 49876497 star systems. From a gameplay aspect, there are undoubtedly many things to do. But after some time you'll feel you've done almost everything. Terraformed planets, destroyed colonies, completed missions, conquered/bought systems, defended planets and reaching the center of the galaxy. They're sure to keep you busy for a certain amount of time. If you're a completionist, you'll start new creatures, each with a different evolution combination for getting all different abilities. You'll then proceed to complete all achievements for each of your creatures. Surely, doing all this will keep you busy for several weeks. After you do everything though, possible but time consuming, you'll stop playing. The point is whether you'll come back to play again after a year or so.
The sharing of content doesn't add to replay value in my opinion. Sure, it's fun to have a universe populated by other people's creations, but it's not an incentive to replay the game in the future, like you would with the Sims or SimCity. Also, unless you consider user creations as "mods", Spore doesn't have any obvious modding possibilities like the other two games have, that being another thing undermining the replay value.
These were my thoughts on whether Spore succeeds in offering the level of replayability Maxis' previous games offered. In my opinion it does not. Do you see yourself coming back to play Spore in a year or two from now?