I am posting this here, verbatim, before a heavy handed Maxis EA moderator (e.g. any and all of these douchebags) deletes the original thread, which is currently getting a lot of traffic due to Reddit.
It’s basically an in-depth researched post into why Spore ended up ‘cute’ and all of its scientific aspects which we saw in demos and heard Will Wright talk about prior to the game’s release nixed from the final game.
Spore’s one of the games that I was really looking forward to that turned out to be nothing short of a piece of dumbed down game that feels like a for intelligent design propaganda.
So there’s two sides of this debacle, the DRM issue and the dumbed-down gameplay. (The DRM issue has already been discussed thoroughly elsewhere, this topic is not about that.)
However, one man who is highly responsible for the dumbed down gameplay is Chris Hecker. (You may remember him as the Maxis employee who said the Wii is a “piece of ****” and merely “two gamecubes stuck together with duct tape”.) While Will Wright headed the movement for science to take a primary role, Hecker apparently thought that would be too complex for the wider audience, and that instead cells should have eyes and creatures should wear sneakers. Excerpt from the Seed article:
This was Spore’s central problem: Could the game be both scientifically accurate and fun? The prototyping teams were becoming lost in their scientific interests. Chaim Gingold, a team member who started as an intern and went on to help design the game’s content creation tools, recalls a summer spent playing with pattern language and cellular automata: “It was just about being engaged with the universe as a set of systems, and being able to build toys that manifested our fascination with these systems and our love for them.” But from within this explosion of experimental enthusiasm came an unexpected warning voice. Spore’s resident uber-geek and artificial intelligence expert Chris Hecker was having strong misgivings about how appealing all this hard science would be to the wider world. “I was the founding member of the ‘cute’ team,” he says with pride. “Ocean [Quigley, Spore’s art director] and Will were really the founding members of the ‘science’ team. Ocean would make the cell game look exactly like a petri dish with all these to-scale animals and Will would say, ‘That’s the greatest thing I’ve ever seen!’ and some of us were thinking, ‘I’m not sure about that.’”
Soon rival camps had formed. New recruits were taken out to lunch and covertly probed to discover where their natural leanings were. Quigley’s microscopically accurate concept drawings were vandalized with stuck-on googly eyes; there were suggestions that it might be cool if the creatures wore sneakers. It might have been painful for the founding members of the science team, but Quigley acknowledges the need for compromise. “From a single-celled organism through the four-and-a-half-billion year history of life on Earth to a self-projected future where we are gallivanting around the stars? I mean, it is so absurdly vast, so radically outside of any scale that people can really empathize with, we knew we had to turn it into a toy.”
Note that Chris Hecker states that Will Wright would be ecstatic about what he saw, things more like the earlier demos, while Hecker was opposed to this. There are numerous accounts on the official forums of people stating that they more enjoy the early prototypes than the actual gameplay. The hype was generated by the science-heavy early prototypes, and the actual reaction to the game has been mediocre, now that it lacks those science elements.
Further information posted by an ex-Maxis Intern on the game, now that the game is released and his NDA isn’t a problem:
First I’d like to dispel the rumor that the 2005 demos were “rendered” or “heavily scripted”. I’m not 100% certain to what extent the demos were “scripted”, but at the stage of development when I was there the builds of the game already had most of the mechanics that we see today.
The creature editor that was available at the time had some of the most amazing procedural animation work I’ve ever seen anyone develop. Perhaps, somewhat more innovative than what we see in the game today (more on this later).
Creature creation seems over-simplified
This was a big deal for me. In the extremely early versions that I toyed around with, I was able to make creatures that shifted under their own weight. Creatures that exploited the length of their arms or legs for greater reach. Creatures that behave and move true to how they were built. A short bunny-creature would definitely be out-run by the long-legged dragon-giraffe. That was very neat, and it implied several exciting possibilities in gameplay.
For instance, creature morphology actually mattered. This implied deeper strategy to creature creation. You have a small inkling of this in the Cell stage where placement of parts somewhat mattered. For example, spikes placed behind your creature saved you from being bitten when chased. But, the strategy that earlier prototypes implied went beyond placement of parts. The length of limbs or spine felt like it mattered. If you had a forward-heavy animal with legs placed in the back, it would run poorly as it tries (and fails) to counteract its own weight.
And, a later post:
Oh boy here we go with the “prove it” post :)
I’m in the credits as Michael “Flux” Chang. Go check it in the credits section of the options menu.
And here’s my old website from college (2005) users.design.ucla.edu/~mflux along with resume and all of that jazz. Anyway, take it or leave it. Those are my thoughts.
As said in the Seed article, apparently poor Hecker was having “Strong misgivings about how all this hard science would appeal to the wider world.” The poll on the official forums currently suggests that 75% of the forum users would have preferred a “Science-Spore” while only 6% dislike such an idea. (16 people, compared to the 192 wanting Science-Spore)
The Gamespot review gave it 8.0. IGN gave it an 8.8. Press average is 8.1. The consistent cons listed are generally a lack of complexity, and oversimplification.
Another Excerpt from the Seed Magazine article:
Steve Grand, who made the big sim-life hit of the 1990s, Creatures, also faced the task of reconciling the limited behavioral range of virtual life-forms with the advanced expectations of players. “There are two ways to tackle this problem,” Grand says. “Try to make the behavior look more real, or stop lying to people. As far as I can tell, Spore takes the former approach, to gently and quite openly fool the user into thinking she’s engaging with real living things, while Creatures took the latter — I did my best not to fool anyone, even if that meant the results weren’t so playable.”
Spore’s decision — to preserve the illusion of life at the expense of the actual facts of life — made for some substantial casualties. First to go in the cute-versus-science war were the extreme ends of the scale — galaxy formation and originsof- life simulation — dismissed as being too abstract and dissipated. Next, small and then big laws were shattered and remade. Wright’s determination to represent faster-than-light travel as impossible crumbled in the face of making the spacefaring section of the game enjoyable. Evolution, despite his staunch Darwinism, became a massively telescoped process that depended on the external, deliberate interventions of the players. And so, instead of becoming the ultimate science project, Spore gradually became the ultimate game.
The snag is that Spore didn’t just jettison half its science — it replaced it with systems and ideas that run the risk of being actively misleading. Scientists brought in to evaluate the game for potential education projects recoiled as it became increasingly evident that the game broke many more scientific laws than it obeyed. Those unwilling to comment publicly speak privately of grave concerns about a game which seems to further the idea of intelligent design under the badge of science, and they bristle at its willingness to use words like “evolution” and “mutation” in entirely misleading ways.