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March 15, 2005 8:25 PM   Subscribe

The Most Ambitious Game Ever? At this year's Game Developers Conference, Sims creator Will Wright's upcoming game Spore drew standing ovations. Not to be outdone, Peter Molyneux (of Populous and Black & White fame) revealed his own ambitious game-like project The Room. While the top game designers have freedom to play, independents rail (read Greg Costikyan's amazing bit in the middle) at the restrictions of the publisher system. For those who doubt games can be art.
posted by blahblahblah (60 comments total)

 
I can't wait to play Spore and Project Dimitri, when they come out in 2010.

Meanwhile, there is still doubt that games can be art?
posted by TwelveTwo at 8:32 PM on March 15, 2005


No doubt that games can be art. Just doubt that they'll do anything but suck.
posted by Saydur at 8:39 PM on March 15, 2005


Games = Suck?
posted by TwelveTwo at 8:40 PM on March 15, 2005


Are there any screenshots of Spore to be had? It sounds awesome. As in, I would upgrade my computer to play it.
posted by josh at 8:49 PM on March 15, 2005


TwelveTwo: Spore's coming out soon.
Impressively, the game seems to be in an advanced state of development; although there were moments of slowdown during some of the later portions of the adventure (particularly when Wright's UFO annihilated a hostile planet downloaded from another user) both the adventure and the editors demonstrate a high level of polish. Additionally, Wright demonstrated every phase of the game, as well as the transitions from one state to another -- making Spore less a pipe dream or act of bold chicanery than a looming reality.
posted by Tlogmer at 9:03 PM on March 15, 2005


Alright alright... 3Q 2008.
posted by TwelveTwo at 9:08 PM on March 15, 2005


I saw Spore - it actually looked playable and polished, (and really pretty!) but it won't be officially demo'ed until E3. Will makes fun games, and everyone was salivating to actually play it. The Room, however, looked like it would be fun for 5 minutes, and Peter Molyneux generally talks a bigger game than makes one (see: Fable, Black and White, the Movies)
posted by blahblahblah at 9:08 PM on March 15, 2005


We ooh'd and awe'd to Fable. And were disappointed.

The first sims was neat. Second one was a shitty rehash.

I don't need a whole world to control to have fun. Last year taught us that all we need is a ball and some low-poly things to roll said ball into.

These new games on the horizon might sound neat, but damn, I had a lot of fun with that experimental games page a few days ago. I understand that someone needs to make the BIG games since there's lots of people convering the small ones, but I'm not hailing them as the next step in gaming until I see and play them for myself.

Do we call a trailer for an unreleased film art? No. So stop calling unfinished games that. You might as well be PepsiBluing an unfinished product.
posted by qDot at 9:12 PM on March 15, 2005


We ooh'd and awe'd to Halflife 2 and Halo 2. And were right.

Spore is what my dad and I fantasized about when I was a kid. We wanted to mash all these kick-ass Maxis games together.

I want a game that I can explore for a fucking YEAR. Not replay for a year, but play FOR THE FIRST TIME for a year. An epic scale of game-making that would require a whole new business plan to be possible.

And I want a decent "Chronicles of Narnia" MMORPG.

And a kite.
posted by NickDouglas at 9:16 PM on March 15, 2005


Do we call a trailer for an unreleased film art? No. So stop calling unfinished games that. You might as well be PepsiBluing an unfinished product.

Uhm. A film trailer for an unfinished film may not be art, but the unfinished film itself certainly is. Furthermore, finished scenes from an unfinished film are too art. Your analogy just doesn't stand.
posted by Evstar at 9:26 PM on March 15, 2005


There are some screenshots here. If nothing else, it looks really pretty.
posted by krazykity16 at 9:30 PM on March 15, 2005


Half Life 2 that required a year to play would cost many college students their majors and could have a global impact on white collar industry. In other words, the terrorists will win if we let this happen.
posted by Dean Keaton at 9:43 PM on March 15, 2005


Ohmygodiwantthatthatgamesobadgiveittomegiveittomenownownow.
posted by cali at 9:46 PM on March 15, 2005


I was never one of those people who enjoyed REALLY long games. 20-30 hours is good for me.
posted by AMWKE at 9:47 PM on March 15, 2005


would cost many college students their majors

Meh. What would I do with a BA in English?

I do wish these screenshots weren't so ominously cartoonish.
posted by NickDouglas at 9:51 PM on March 15, 2005


Personally, I think the screenshots look great. (But then I liked the look of Wind Waker, too.)

I also think this game looks like an early frontrunner for the new Best Game Ever. Thanks for the link, blahblahblah.
posted by BackwardsCity at 10:05 PM on March 15, 2005


Peter Molyneux (of Populous and Black & White fame)

I think you misspelled 'infamy'.
posted by wolftrouble at 10:22 PM on March 15, 2005


"Fable" was the single worst game released last year, so I have little faith in anything that Peter Molyneux says from now on.
posted by jimmy at 10:38 PM on March 15, 2005


This Spore game seems almost identical in concept to a very old SNES game named E.V.O.. You played through different eras of biological history, "evolving" your character through a status screen where you could spend points on improvements such as new fins or gills or claws or teeth or legs or whatever. It played as a sidescrolling platformer, but with Secret-of-Mana like mechanics, hack and slash with XP for kills. Of course it was basic, as it was SNES. Good, though.
posted by mek at 11:19 PM on March 15, 2005


As interesting as it sounds, my optimism is guarded due to the interface and engine requirements that are needed to encompass as wide a variety of gameplay as what the previews are describing.

I hope it pans out. Molyneux comes up with some interesting ideas, but Wright's simulations are games first and foremost, and fun through and through. If there's someone out there who can pull off a project of this conceptual scope, my money would be on him.

mek: E.V.O. was cited, but Spore is attempting to bridge many more genres than that.
posted by DaShiv at 11:28 PM on March 15, 2005


Awww crap the first link beat me to the EVO reference. I'm going to go crawl in a hole and die now.
posted by mek at 11:29 PM on March 15, 2005


After looking at the screenshots and reading the captions, I have mixed feelings about this game. Will Wright does some amazingly addictive and fun games, but this seems like a glorified type of RTS game.

One of the captions:
This is during the "tools" part of the game, where you have to learn how to create a society. Notice the little spears in their tail/hand and the two creatures playing the drum.

Another caption:
After you get tools and advance enough you can build large cities. All the items in the city are player created using the same dynamic interface as the creature creation. At this stage of the game it becomes sort of a hybrid RTS/SimCity.

(Ah well, I guess this answers my complaint)

This just simply seems like you're switching epochs in an RTS game once you get enough food, wood and gold... But is that how the whole game is going to be? i.e., you go from a single cell to multiple cells once you collect enough radiation or something? :-P
posted by RockBandit at 11:35 PM on March 15, 2005


Perhaps through collecting Evolution Points!
posted by TwelveTwo at 11:39 PM on March 15, 2005


This just simply seems like you're switching epochs in an RTS game once you get enough food, wood and gold...

I can see the forum postings now...

"ne1 have buildz 4 teching 2 city in 10 mins and civ in 15... Im trying to dropship rush asap, k thx bye!"
posted by DaShiv at 11:45 PM on March 15, 2005


After seeing those screenshots of a game with seemingly huge ambitions, I remembered something: This is the same person who gave us SimEarth - probably one of the most dissapointing things I have ever played. Basically it played itself and you paid for the priviledge of sitting there and watching it.
posted by vacapinta at 11:52 PM on March 15, 2005


I thought Fable was awesome.
posted by bobo123 at 11:59 PM on March 15, 2005


SimEarth -- that takes me back. I remember that when I got myself a copy, I played it on my Mac IIci for 17 hours straight -- no sleep, no food, and I don't think I even went to the bathroom. But then, I never played it again.
posted by paladin at 12:02 AM on March 16, 2005


would cost many college students their majors

I'm old. I missed many classes of the hardest course I ever took (physical inorganic chemistry) in 1981 playing the premier game at the time--Asteroids--at the Student Union Building of the University of British Columbia.

These new games are awesome. My dream is to some way use their sense of immersive reality to further education: one would enter the world and in the course of gameplay absorb, as one does, all the details of the environment, but these details would encode some real-world set of facts. i.e. you could learn the basic principles of DNA replication by playing a game whose purpose in doing so wouldn't be at all apparent--it would just be a fun game. (Like minded individuals are welcome to contact me!)
posted by Turtles all the way down at 1:45 AM on March 16, 2005


oh man, civ phase. i so wish i could be playing civ II instead of studying for finals right now, and that game is what, ten years old? these new ones are so serious a threat to my academic career that i shouldn't even be clicking the links.
posted by radiosig at 2:18 AM on March 16, 2005


I'd definitely like to try "The Room". Computer games have never attracted me, this is the first of these things I'd like to play around with.
posted by Termite at 3:05 AM on March 16, 2005


Populous was incredible.
posted by e.e. coli at 3:28 AM on March 16, 2005


I'm perverse. I've always been more interested in the idea of computer games than in playing them. I'm old, too, I remember the transition from pinball to video games in arcades (in my case, the local university student union). I've been imagining the future of video games for thirty years.

So I'm always interested in what Wright and Molyneux have to say. I've followed Wright from the beginning (and, incidentally, people nowadays don't know that he was peripherally involved with the Santa Fe Institute for awhile); I've always had a hankering to get my hands on SimRefinery. As games however, none of Wright's games except for SimCity (the original) has really kept my interest for very long. I was completely fascinated with his concept for Sims, and I expected to love it. I didn't really. But I still wholeheartedly approve of it.

Likewise, I closely watched the development of Ultima Online. I didn't play it that much.

I was very interested in Black and White. I actually did play it a fair amount; I didn't find it as disapointing as other people did. The way the creature "learned" was awfully darn cool.

I don't know what to think of Spore. The idea is great. It may or may not be fun to play. And The Room is interesting for all the reasons they made it: not as a game, but as an exercise in constructing small, limited realities that are as "real" as possible, then altering the rules in a variety of ways that open new possibilities in the "gamer's" mind. (You know, Molyneux seems to me almost like an R&D, basic science guy with regard to video games. Not a games producer, but a researcher.)

Oftentimes I'm somwehat disapointed with the current state of video games. I'm always wanting more realism, more interactivity, more possiblity, more AI, whatever. I want the game Ender played in Ender's Game. Or Stephenson's A Young Lady's Illustrated Primer. But I've felt this way for thirty years. And I wonder what the younger me would think if he were shown some of the current state-of-the-art of video games? I don't think he would be disapointed.
posted by Ethereal Bligh at 4:10 AM on March 16, 2005


Well, I'm glad video game development has progressed to the point where we have masturbatory airheads like Molyneux making "art" to laugh at.

Spore looks incredibly great, I'm glad Will Wright makes games. Now I just need to start saving up for the $5,000 computer I'll need to play it.
posted by blacklite at 4:55 AM on March 16, 2005


More game hype that will never be lived up to? You know it!
posted by Onanist at 5:09 AM on March 16, 2005


I can't wait to play Spore and Project Dimitri, when they come out in 2010.

Incidentally, at that time people are expected to be eagerly awaiting Gran Turismo 5, and Duke Nukem Forever.
posted by clevershark at 5:27 AM on March 16, 2005


Speaking of Molyneux, rumors say that in a startling departure from the previous installment, B&W2 may actually be (gasp) reasonably playable. Even if it's "yet another sequel", I'm hoping it'll pan out as an actual game this time instead of a proof of concept.

clevershark: Duke Nukem Forever, circa 1999. I've given up on Team Fortress 2 by now (the sequel to my gateway drug to the Internet).
posted by DaShiv at 5:32 AM on March 16, 2005


I like Black and White and found it as easy to play as any other 'god' game. I just wish it had more levels.
posted by asok at 5:44 AM on March 16, 2005


I saw B&W2 demoed at GDC, and it did look more playable -- the creatures are smarter and more optional in play, and it combined aspects from RTS to make combat more interesting as well. Still, not a radical departure from the original game.

I also forgot to point out above that one of the coolest things about Spore is the way that content creation is shared. Will explicitly wanted to avoid having to create all the content for the game, so Spore actually asynchronously downloads other peoples creatures, buildings, planets, and civilizations to fill out ecological niches, etc. in your game. Since all of the content is procedurally generated based on the creatures appearance, a creature takes up 1 or 2 kilobytes -- the computer then generates how they walk, act, and even coloration based on its form. Much like how the emotion sliders in the Sims 2 determine the characteristics of a sim and how they will act in different situations. The examples of how this worked were very impressive.
posted by blahblahblah at 5:47 AM on March 16, 2005


I like how Spore appears to link player "level" to physical size and scale. This elegantly solves the high-level vs. low-level problem with massively multiplayer games. Especially where high level players could easily whomp lower level players (can't see them? Can't whack 'em), transfer items which would unduly change the low level dynamic (my +6 chainmail of doom lets me cruise right through the ogre camp), or simply get bored of doing the same thing over and over.
posted by Mercaptan at 5:59 AM on March 16, 2005


Interesting that both games deal with drastic changes in scale. The influence of Katamari Damacy?

I wonder where Wright could go after Spore? What game do you build after you've built one that covers all space and time?
posted by gwint at 6:18 AM on March 16, 2005


Mercaptan: nice extrapolation! Though there may be practical problems with not being able to reuse area content.

In that regard, it might make a kind of sense if higher-level players got smaller, rather then larger. You start out on tiny newbie island.. and stay there. But by the time you're at level 80 you're adventuring across a vast atomic landscape.

Also, the idea that it'd take a mob of a hundred gnat-sized players to take down a newbie is entertaining.
posted by catachresoid at 7:39 AM on March 16, 2005


The influence of Katamari Damacy?

I had assumed Katamari lived in its own fantastic little universe, cut off from the rest of the gaming world, an Eden we would one day praise in song and legend.
posted by NickDouglas at 7:50 AM on March 16, 2005


When I was a little kid, my brother brought home a Nausicaa: Valley of the Wind anime video and watching it, I wanted one of those wing-thingys to fly around in. I always wanted a videogame version of that video.

In recent years I've played Spider-Man 2 and it was quite beautiful, swinging around the city. I wanted, however, to be able to peer into the office buildings I crawled on and watch people photocopying, surfing the net at their desks, that sort of thing. Then I thought, how cool would it be if they set up videocameras all over Manhattan, recorded for about an hour, extrapolated that information and put it in the game. And then I thought, that's insane. It would take the resources of a small country to do something like that. I mean, people are starving. In the end I thought that what I should probably do is get one of those radio-controlled helicopters and attach a videocamera to it and fly it around the city.

I've been playing Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas, and I would personally classify that game as beautiful. The variety and novelty of what your character can do gently unfolds during the story. I'm quite looking forward to it coming out on PC so I can download the mods that people make. There are huge tracts of bare land for people to populate this time with amusement parts, stunt parks, etc.

The year I was born Atari released Pong as a home video game. I feel happy and blessed to be around to watch Pong become HL2, GTA:SA, Sims.

May you live in interesting times.
posted by Sully at 8:09 AM on March 16, 2005


Seconding the love for Fable... not sure why it disappointed you guys. It's simple to play without all of the usual nerdy nonsense in rpg's (the endless stats and over-riding importance of the k3wl l33t armor weapons etc)... the visual style is superb, its like a fantastic pre-raphaelite dream world.
posted by Spacelegoman at 8:17 AM on March 16, 2005


Will explicitly wanted to avoid having to create all the content for the game, so Spore actually asynchronously downloads other peoples creatures, buildings, planets, and civilizations to fill out ecological niches, etc. in your game. Since all of the content is procedurally generated based on the creatures appearance, a creature takes up 1 or 2 kilobytes -- the computer then generates how they walk, act, and even coloration based on its form.

Yikes. It sounds like this game has one HUGE problem; it fails to account for the fact that a great number of people on the internet (if not the majority) are idiotic jerks. Add to that the idea of procedural generation of features, which almost totally prevents any kind of balancing that could be imposed on it, and you can quickly see where this is going.

I can just see the 13-year olds running around disrupting everyone's magnificent, carefully engineered ecosystem with their omnivorous super-bacteria, mega-kudzu, little green men, or whatever the system's procedural interpreter happens to make ridiculously overpowered. A system this complicated will be easy to break, and some people seem to exist to break systems and ruin other people's fun. And that's not even considering cheat-hacking and such.
posted by Mitrovarr at 8:43 AM on March 16, 2005


Populous was incredible.

And responsible for a generation of people growing up thinking that "populace" is spelled "populous." *sigh*
posted by kindall at 9:01 AM on March 16, 2005


Oh man I'm so excited. How could this have been kept secret from me for so long!?!?

And I fully expect this to come out not for at least a couple of years. Enough time to get a new computer!
posted by agregoli at 9:42 AM on March 16, 2005


I can just see the 13-year olds running around disrupting everyone's magnificent, carefully engineered ecosystem with their omnivorous super-bacteria, mega-kudzu, little green men, or whatever the system's procedural interpreter happens to make ridiculously overpowered. A system this complicated will be easy to break, and some people seem to exist to break systems and ruin other people's fun. And that's not even considering cheat-hacking and such.

My guess is that Wright and company have indeed thought about such things and put mechanisms in place to counter-balance them. That's the sort of issue for which game testers are employed, and it may well be an issue that's constantly being tweaked during development. But I doubt that they would overlook it entirely.
posted by ludwig_van at 10:30 AM on March 16, 2005


I can just see the 13-year olds running around

Actually, I think that would be fun. What were the Napoleonic Wars, after all? People running around ass-kicking each other. Turn it into a game without any real-world bloodshed, and you've got some sweet action.
posted by NickDouglas at 10:54 AM on March 16, 2005


This looks good.
posted by linux at 11:30 AM on March 16, 2005


The most ambitious, or certainly the top 5 MOST ambitious games out there, is still Natural Selection, Classic game mode.

RTS/FPS with 2 completely different sides (range vs melee) with 2 differnt command structures (communal vs top-down). All done for free on the HL engine.

Yes, I'm a fanboy, so take my words with a grain, or truckload of salt.
posted by eurasian at 11:58 AM on March 16, 2005


I don't need a whole world to control to have fun. Last year taught us that all we need is a ball and some low-poly things to roll said ball into.

What game was this?
posted by gummo at 12:11 PM on March 16, 2005


I really can't understand the appeal, in Spore, of mashing several games into one so that you play the first, then the second, then move on to the third, ... What if, for instance, I figure out that segments 2 and 3 of the game suck, but there's no way to jump to 4 without having built up stuff from 2 and 3?


(Of course, if it's like the Sim games that are fun once and then boring, this isn't a problem.)

Over and over I read that the big problem facing game developers is that games are so huge now, that the cost of development is prohibitive. Why choose to make it worse? Cynical answer: it's a good way for big companies to set the bar to make it hard for small ones to succeed. I don't really believe that Will Wright is motivated that way, but I'm certainly ready to believe it of his paymasters.
posted by Aknaton at 12:12 PM on March 16, 2005


I don't need a whole world to control to have fun. Last year taught us that all we need is a ball and some low-poly things to roll said ball into.

What game was this?

Katamari Damacy.
posted by bobo123 at 12:28 PM on March 16, 2005


here's a review. if you own a ps2 and haven't yet bought katamari damacy, do so post-haste. best $20 you can spend on that system.
posted by jcruelty at 1:19 PM on March 16, 2005


games as art? sure. as for trailers being art, i believe if done right, they can be considered art as much as any short film.
posted by NationalKato at 2:03 PM on March 16, 2005


There's a big long article about Spore at gamespy . Lot's of lovely detail, but light on the screenshots.
posted by Sparx at 2:36 PM on March 16, 2005


Weirdest thing about this: this is not the first game using this concept, or even style.

A long time ago, so long that I have no name for the game, but I remember reading a review back in the pages of Video Games and Computer Entertainment around 1984 (that year is a huge guess), I remember reading about a computer game, for the likes of the Apple II, which was composed of a series of mini games that took the player from protozoan life through to the end of civilization via nuclear annihilation. Of course it didn't have RTS aspects but I'm surprised by the simularity between Wright's idea and what I remember. (Of course, he probably has never heard of it.)

Man, I wish I still had my game magazines from that time. I don't think issues of this are available anywhere on the web either (I've not heard about it since), so the identity of the game itself may be lost to the ages.

But anyway, I wouldn't call it the most ambitious (computer) game ever (made). Ambition isn't making something "big" (on some arbitrary dimension), but more like taking a difficult premise and making it work, even when others might advise you not to. Staking new ground, that kind of thing. If you buy that measure, then this wouldn't be the most ambitious game ever made -- but Will Wright's SimCity, which no one thought would work and went on to become a tremendous seller, or Will Wright's The Sims, which after his success with SimCity, still took him years to get people to believe in it enough to make it, one of those just might be.
posted by JHarris at 1:31 AM on March 17, 2005


Oh, and as for games being art....

I have absolutely no doubt they can be. The following games qualify as art on some level (not a complete list): SimCity, Ico, Animal Crossing, WarioWare, Katamari Damacy.

Video games can be art. But it happens only rarely. And it's unlikely to happen with any project that the majority of the gaming culture can get excited about ahead of time.
posted by JHarris at 1:35 AM on March 17, 2005


its funny but through a lot of the article i was thinking about how awesome katamari was, good to see the respect is here too.

sims kind of sucked, and i thought the concept was bad - it was just those catz and dogz "games" but with humans. fun for two minutes but with wide appeal.
spore sounds like it will be briefly touching on the strategy of several different established genres without getting too in depth. At best it will probably be a good introduction to several different genres of games.

does anybody else remember the glory days of the first ps? there were so many strange and wonderful games for that guy, like tail of the sun, bushido blade, IQ, Deception, so many original concepts, katamari is the only game ive played recently that has a strikingly different concept.

And as for some other games with great artistic merit, I would say civilization III (can't vouch for 1 or 2) is loaded with commentary on the independence of culture, domination and moral standing. And on a different level, morrowind which I think draws you into another world and let's you go really in depth in any number of things you want to do - wether it be study history, find rare artifacts and resell them, try and achieve a place in society, or just go kill everyone on the whole island. So much gameplay without even advancing in the plot at all.
posted by klik99 at 9:51 PM on March 17, 2005


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