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Topics - H3g3m0n

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Spore: General / My review/dissection of the game.
« on: September 06, 2008, 12:59:15 am »
Firstly the game is fairly good and well worth getting, it look pretty and can provide some amusement, but its not as good as you probably imagined.

The Multiplayer aspect
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Firstly the multilayer aspect sounds cool in theory, where your planets are populated by billions of possible random creatures made from people all over the world, but in reality you need to manually subscribe to sporecasts or, or download individual creatures. This kind of kills the surprise you get on discovering a new creature since you have probably already seen it in the thumbnail. You also have problems of multiple creatures that are exactly the same (I made the mistake of adding the Oddball spore cast, it has one basic creature then about 100 variants on it, including things like the same creature but one letter of the alphabet on the side). Many peoples will make multiple creatures as they evolve or tweak them, so if you add a buddy you could end up with several creatures that are exactly the same depending on random luck. There is also the problem of tweaking someone else creature and having it listed as your own even if you didn't change anything or much, there really should be a thing that says what it was based on (although if you do completely change it then it would be odd).

You also run into the problem of weirdness of content, for instance I added things like superheroes and videogame characters, in theory it would be cool to find a spiderman empire but when you also have a DarthVader empire, the sonic the hedgehog one at war mr. peanut one which is near the ghoomba empire it just gets a bit old and you start wishing for them to go back to regular creatures. You probably would do well to remember to add at least one "my boring or miscellaneous stuff" for each interesting feed.

There is a great potential for someone to make a script that generates a random sporecast that just chooses random creatures and just randomizes the feed every 5min to half an hour so your game gets a continuous feed of new content, that way you should get some of the funny ones as well as plenty of general ones (Although then you have quality issues). It would be great if spore allowed for things like meta-aggregators (Think Digg for spore creatures, or a feed for all the featured content) and in theory it could work since all the data is sent embedded in the images so you could just add a general RSS feed and have it scanned for image files, but since its all hosted on there servers and and only be added to the game through their interface it doesn't seem possible and your limited to what they allow which currently is just people picking content. The other problem is that 90% of the feeds from people probably won't be updated for very long.

You really need the ability to remove a creature (there is a ban button but it sends a report too). This would help with duplicates (or things that are just crap).

General game overview
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I have basically 'beaten' the game in about 2 days of fairly solid play, with most of the badges and unlocks (although there are a few still to go but I can see the descriptions).

The cell stage is fun, it could have been a bit longer.

The creature stage was also a bit too short, there could be more to do in the world.

The tribal stage was ok.

The civilisation stage was actually quite awesome being a simple yet fun RTS.

The space stage started cool but got old quickly. And then it kept going and going. It was basically as long as the other stages combined and was just tedious after a while. There was no end, basically the last level up is exactly the same as all the other level ups, the only 'end' is reaching the center of the galaxy (which is just tedious rather than a challenge since you basically have to fight/run through a few hundred outposts, my solution was to run untill i was on low health, then put a colony in the area to heal and whatnot then go again, I'm not stuck in the middle with a competly disconnected empire getting warning about the collapse of my old one until I can get back out far enough to where there are black holes.

Overall all the stages where too simplified, its like 5 games but each having 1/5 the complexity of a normal game. They did transaction from one to the next fairly well.

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The first 2 stages are where all the creativity is supposed to go, its also where most of the programming work (or at least hype) went to make things like procedural textures and procedural animation, but they play such a short part of the game and once you have done them its over, from the later views the texture on the creature is hardly seen and a basic colour would have worked as well, its hard to even see the details from the spaceship, you also carn't go back and evolve another species without starting the game all over again and loosing all the abilities you gained. You can jump into a creature creator or whatnot but its not the same as growing it yourself.

I don't really have much to comment on the tribal and civ stages. The tribal stage seemed to leave the lest impact on me although it wasn't bad or even boring just low impact. It did serve as a good halfway point between the creature and civ gameplay. Civ stage was fairly fun.

Space Stage
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The space stage started out well, there was some interesting plot at the start that quickly disappeared seem only to serve the purpose of introducing you to the gameplay mechanics at that stage then buggering off never to be seen again. The leveling up worked fairly well, especially as you got new space drives and got to go to more areas of space so the universe slowly got bigger, it went from being a few local systems to going around the galaxy in steps.

Then it just went downhill.

One problem is that the underlying system seems to be turned based, so all the events happen at once. The other problem is the events that happen arn't very interesting, they also interrupt what your doing, you might have a cool plan to establish a colony or try and find a lot of blue creatures to put on one planet but every 5 min you will get annoyed by a disaster message. This gets much worse when you become very powerful such as weapons that are close to instant kill and an invincibility shield that lasts ages since its more of a chore where you have to go somewhere rather than a challenge. And there is no death penalty whatsoever so you can just keep respawning until you win anyway. Not doing well at the missions when you are attacked means you need more money to rebuild, which means more trade runs.

The collections where pointless, since you arn't going to fill up your hold with heaps of random items so you can sell them all at once, you can also find the same items which is annoying when you want to collect all the planet changing stuff since you keep getting the same things.

There is also very little point in doing to much beyond a specific sized starsystem, you just need spice producing planets to fill you up then take it somewhere where they will pay a lot. You could probably be quite rich with 3 well built up pink spice planets since it seem to sell for the most then just go places until you find someone who will buy it for $40k each. This kind of makes it pointless. The trade system is also to basic, normally there are complex supply and demand algorithms running under the hood of these kinds of games, not here. My first thoughts where that planets would be unlikly to pay for spice if a nearby system had it but there is nothing that complex. It also seems to just change randomly (or maybe when you furfull a specific demand then a turn event happens).

The procedural-ness
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One of the major let downs I feel was the uniqueness of things in the universe. The procedural generation fails to make anything remotely unique, its all the same. Its the gameworld equivalent of static on the tv, sure its random and at first mesmerising but soon it is uninteresting after staring at it a while it just begins to numb the mind and turn grey. Firstly the universe is massive and there are heaps of stars, the 3D navigation works really well, planets have things like rings, random terrain and there are asteroid belts and such, but all the plants end up looking the same, sure there are random landscapes, they are really well generated, but at that point you don't really see or care about them much just flying over them fairly quickly, random colours and such but one you have seen a selection of them that is it. Also all the gas giants seem to be duplicates of each other within a system (you can't do anything with them, they can have moons though). All planets seem to be the same sizes (this seems more obvious with gas giants that seem to be exactly the same within a solar system and only vary in colour outside of it). There are very few objects of interest out there, binary stars, a proto-planetry disc, blackholes and the galatic core (also nebula's which you can't do anything with and just seem to be static objects), in the collections panel of objects of interest, it lists about 6 different combinations of binary stars out of the 10 items it considers interesting, 2 others are both when you reach the center. For the solarsystem generation, it seems they just choose a random number of objects, then for each one a random distance for the orbit and a random choice of the types AsteroidBelt,GasGiant,PlanetSmall,PlanetMedium,PlanetBig,random chance of planet rings and random chance of a moon, and then add some comets for visual effect, they should have generated a random sized planet in a range rather than a few categories, had things like random orbits (some should be elliptical), random chances or weird rotations on planets and such.

There are probably 1 or 2 things yet to discover, there are at least 12 'storybook planets' listed as badges to achieve, i haven't seen any yet but I'm not expecting anything miraculous and there is an Earth and the rest of the Sol system which at least one person found (no Pluto now its a dwarf planet), although apparently there is nothing unique about them other than earth having a realistic terrain map. Maybe there are some other unique systems to find but if that was all that there was to Earth its unlikely.

On the creature stage there was some stuff of interest such as a UFO that came and abducted creatures and a meteor storm that happened, as to the first it seems to have happened to a lot of people judging from forums comments, it might just be scripted to happen at a specific part of the game rather than a random event. More stuff like this randomly happening could have definitely make the game more interesting, but it seems like it just isn't there, there are maybe half a dozen unique things to see/find/witness in the entire game and it looks like most of it is prescripted. Nethack is a great example of a game with interesting procedural generation (although they have had about 30 years to work on it), if you don't know it, its a free opensource textbased ascii graphics RPG, it does things like theme areas, so one level can be a dwarf town and such, its more than just random mazes, but the generation in Spore is just about a random universe. There are too many things like rings around planets and asteroid belts that they aren't unique finds, just more normal junk. There aren't thing like, more than one moon around a planet, moons with moons, large asteroids (although some of the plants look like asteroids and there is a basic asteroid belt), really zany things like double ringed planets, suns to close to blackholes, planets that have suffered from an impact and broken up. All the uninhabitable planets look the same (either frosty or lavay, there are no Mercuries or Marses for instance. Our solar system has more uniqueness than you will even encounter in the entire spore universe. They should have generated many more objects, since its procedural they can just keep adding complexity even if a lot of it is only visual. Right now exploring is boring since it all looks the same.

The races fit into about 5 categories, which once again grows boring when you are meeting so many of them, also since it need to support generated content they don't always work visually (Its hard to take death threats from Kirby seriously). Star Control was an awesome game where the races had unique personalities. I highly recommend people look The Ur-Quan Masters which was SC2 released for free in opensource, http://sc2.sourceforge.net/ its a bit dated but awesome. Seems the solarsystems in that are somewhat more complex (although the planets themselves arn't).

This was kind a let down, the game programmer (I'm doing a unicourse) in me hears things like 'procedurally generated universe', drools and thinks 'that must be awesome to make, there will be so much to do', problem is they don't seem to have spend very much time on that aspect of the game, sticking more to the creature generation (which is also cool from a programming perspective). Initially I was thinking things like make a star shape, blur it, add the cloud noise. swirl it around then you have a probability distribution map for stars for density but the galaxy itself doesn't even seem to be procedural they might have just done the map in photoshop since everyone has the same galaxy (it does kind of make sense to do it this way if your giving everyone the same galaxy, and the galaxy is big enough to do that with). I assume the star placement itself is procedural but not random. As for adding stars to the sections of the galaxy, you use the pixel coordinates of the image map as a random seed number then seed a random number of stars based on brightness of the color at the pixel coordinates (also it would modify the height variance as there is more thickness near the center). There is a bit more to it since they must be in reachable distance and such (you probably build them like a tree going from star to star in a random direction and making some that line up with at least one star in the adjoining grids).

The planet shaping tools are too simplified to be useful, I remember spending hours in simcity4's terrain generator doing things like making the largest impact crater possible to put my city in but I barely spent 5 min in spore, you have basically no control over shaping the planets, you carn't even make a river go where you want. They also have a recharge rate that stops cool things like trying to make a huge deep hole or the tallest mountain possible or a consistent theme for the entire planet unless you are really patient. A raise/lower land beam would have been a massive improvement (you basically have missiles with a long reload rate), maybe its not technically possible due to the procedural systems in use I dunno. The colouring of planets is also too simplified, the generated ones have some very crazy colour schemes, and there seems to be several layers of colours but you can't do anything like that just once colour for ground, water, atmosphere. The planets are rendered beautifully and work well in the solar system view. I can understand wanting to make it simple to appear to everybody, but I think most people will want access to the complex stuff, right now its simple enough for a child of 5.

Overall the sandbox game play just isn't that gripping, its too limited, and overly simplified, people like to build things so they can knock them down but its like the blocks have been glued together or sealed in a transparent polymer. The game places too many limits on creativity. It seems the game is really more of a testbed for technologies in many ways. I believe there could be a good market in selling things like procedurally generated universe libraries (actually I think a lot of the cool technology shown off was talked from other places, I remember a cool tool called Pinocchio that could make a character walk based on a mesh, although in this case they can specify the joints specifically, procedural universes have been done before in Elite and Star Control and the ones in spore don't seem much more complicated when it comes down to it).

Spore 2 could be very awesome, if they take this technology and spend the next few years adding character to it and make gameplay elements more complex.

Maybe they will add some cool stuff with patches, but I doubt we will see much since its not a MMORPG, they have little reason to keep supporting it. Although Maxis do seem to add some content to stuff after releases a such as building to simcity, there isn't likely to be major changes to the gameplay that was also before they where brought by EA. Wikipedia says EA promised to add new editors such as flora so maybe there will be some stuff but I don't we will see the basic universe algorithm change.

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