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I tend to be a guy who just doesn’t like computer and/or console games. I really do not know why. I think partly, it is because my hand-eye coordination is a bit lacking. Partly, it is because I would rather be learning, building, and figuring things out than playing video games. There are a number of notable exceptions. I always buy all of the Myst games. I loved the 7th Guest and 11th Hour. I also really like the little partly-logic/partly-skill/partly-luck of what people are calling “causal games”–the sorts of things you can load onto your cellphone or PDA, then start and finish an entire game in 5–20 minutes. Every video game I have played has generally been on the computer or smartphone.
The long line of game-specific hardware I have owned can be summed up with this list: Atari 2600 (late 70’s or early 80’s), Nintendo Entertainment System (1986), GameBoy (1989), Atari 2600 2.0 (1995). End of list.
What kind of weirds me out is that I find that I am getting excited about two upcoming game-related news items. The first is the Nintendo DS Lite. I have no explanation for this. The DS has been out for a long time, and I really couldn’t have cared less. The DS Lite is just a smaller version of the same. Wireless and multiplayer sound fun, though. I’m not even sure of the scope of games are available for it; I do feel a little interest in Brain Age (which is less of a game and more of a daily brain exercise), the updated Tetris, and... uhhh... well, Opera (the web browser, which isn’t really a game, either.) Animal Crossing sounds like it might be fun, but it will probably end up being another The Sims for me: I played that for a week, then got bored because real life is inherently a more rich experience than simulated life.
The second thing I am excited about is Spore. Previous to yesterday, I knew nothing about this, but then Digg filled up with articles about it and a few people on LiveJournal mentioned it. I watched the hour-long GDC presentation about it and thought to myself, “that looks cool!” I wanted to buy the game, even though the presentation was a rough demo and a final version was obviously months, if not years, away. Later in the day, I saw a video of the 20 minute E3 presentation. Only a few months had lapsed between filming the two videos and it is already starting to look like a finished product.
So anyway, for those saying to themselves “what the heck is Spore???”, I will attempt to explain. It is sort of a game and sort of a bigass evolution simulator. You start with a microscopic life form. It goes around and eats other microscopic life forms and avoids getting eaten by yet others. It is sort of like Pac-Pan, where you eat the pellets and avoid the ghosts. You eat enough pellets and you get to spawn the next generation of little cellular blobby thing, but in the process you get to induce mutations (yeay, Darwin!) Give it another flagella to move fast or a pointy head to bust open cells, or whatever. A few generations later, this tiny lifeform grows and mutates into a small aquatic creature. Again, it swims around and eats things while avoiding getting eaten. Its movement and actions are determined by its appendages and shape, which are determined by the various mutations you gave it and continue to give it. It eventually grows bigger and climbs on land. The one in the demo was sort of a lizard with three tripod legs and a scorpion-like tail with a pointy hand on the end. Later, there are more of your creature and they build up a primitive culture–they learn how to use fire, spears, drums, and such. You can help shape their morals. Do they drum and dance around the fire ritualistically with spears, do they attack neighboring villages with the same spears, or do they build things and trade with other species? A bit later, you zoom out and start dealing with more modern cities. They get technology–both good and bad, vehicles and weapons. They get economy. They get politics. Eventually, they take over the planet, either by force or treaty. When they have enough technology, your point of view clicks back one more setting and you can visit and colonize neighboring planets. With more technology, you step back again and can visit neighboring star systems and communicate with other lifeforms.
The whole game starts with cells and keeps dialing back the view until you end up hopping around the galaxy. Everything is dynamic and created by you. You’re not playing “the green orc guy,” you’re helping along a creature that is absolutely unlike any other that anyone else playing the game has. Not only that, but the creates you make get sent out over the internet and when the game is looking for other animals with which to populate your planet, it borrows from that pool of creatures to create a balanced ecosystem. You’re never the top of the food chain. The variety of creatures and cities that were demoed is amazing. You can have Dr. Seuss, you can have H.R. Geiger, you can have anything in between. You can have Care Bears.
I may not be explaining it well, so it might be a good idea to just sit down and watch one of the above videos.
So anyway, that’s the other thing I am excited about. It is not exactly a “game” because there is no winning move or endgame or even story. It just looks like a crazy-detailed simulator, and I’m still trying to wrap my mind around the relative scales of each piece of it.
So, simulated life? Above, I said that I disliked The Sims because it was a simulated life, yet I am drawn to Spore, and it, too, is a simulated life. I guess the difference is that the one simulates a real person’s life–wake up, go to work, come home, eat, poop, make friends, etc. The other is more open-ended and allows more abstract results. Similarly, I played around with Second Life a bit–it is supposed to be a current-day Metaverse (a la Snow Crash), and I can see that. Your avatar is a person that walks around and talks to other persons. The system looks like a well thought out and high-tech system and even allows you to build your own objects and attributes with a little programming. It just does not seem to capture my attention, though. I’m not sure why.
Still, it is probably good that most video game related things really do not grab my attention. I spend enough time on the computer as it is.