Spore still sucks…but I wish it didn’t
February 20, 2010 8 Comments
While I have made my feelings about Spore quite public, it’s still hard to remain angry at a game that you really wanted to love. Even after losing a CD drive to SecuROM, even after the shallow response to the criticism EA was receiving about the game, even after the insulting Creepy and Cute pack…there was still a part of me wishing that EA would find redemption in putting out their whorification plans to release 50 expansion packs, like they do for The Sims. At least in that plan The Sims actually became a better game.
However, nearly a year after its release, Spore is still a shallow game, struggling to stand up on the toothpick stilts its walking on as its publisher throws it into store windows. Instead of trying to improve the game immediately, we found the intellectual property being whorified in a different light. They resold some of the mini games to the DS and *shudder* mobile phones and now they’re going to put out console version remakes of some of the other mini games on the Wii as well. On top of that they also plan to release yet another standalone Spore-related game known as Spore Creature Keeper, which is apparently a “kid friendly” version of the Spore Creature stage. Color me confused, but isn’t Spore already kid friendly, what with all the squeaky cute noises and Bambi eyes?
To add further insult to injury, EA did eventually put out an expansion pack to Spore after they felt like they had rereleased their mini games well enough. Spore Galactic Adventures came out last month, boasting the Adventure Creator. Essentially what this does is it allows you to creature prop-centered planets and missions for your creature to land on and carry out once in the Space Stage. On paper it sounds like a neat idea–then again, so did Spore at first.
The reality to Spore Galactic Adventures is that it barely comes with any new content. Yeah, sure, editors are “new content,” but when you have to create it it’s just a smoke screen. Maxis apparently only felt compelled to create 10 different missions for this expansion pack, and when I mean “10 different missions,” I really mean “10 different objectives.” These objectives involve, “kill x,” or “deliver x to y,” or “find x.” And when we’re talking about the scope of the Space Stage, with over 1,000,000 planets…well, you can see where I am going with this. Out of the box Maxis gives you virtually zero to play with and it is then expected of you to spend copious amounts of time just to create one adventure. Of course, when you spend only 1/4th of the time playing the adventure than you did creating it, and then you couple that with the numerous pathing issues, and you’re finding that Spore Galactic Adventures tries to hide how shallow Spore is by introducing yet another shallow feature into the mix.
I’m not sure why it’s so hard for EA to listen to the major complaints surrounding Spore. It’s not rocket science. It shouldn’t be too hard to be able to focus on the stuff people want to see happen. Well, apparently it is. Rather than trying to get Spore to live up to the giant shoes it’s trying to fill, EA seems more content with wanting to ignore the fact that they are going to have to put in some effort to fix Spore, and when I say “fix Spore,” I don’t mean, “Add more editors.” So allow me to elaborate instead on what should be fixed or give an idea on how to improve this travesty.
One does not simply evolve into Mordor
Give us more stages. One of the biggest criticized features to Spore was that it was advertised to have a couple of stages that were eventually axed from the final game, with the most prominent one being the aquatic stage. Instead, your cell apparently evolves into a complex organism and learns how to walk all in one generation. Seriously, give us this one back. Not only does it expand the longevity of the game, it also works itself into plausibility. Another stage that I think that is personally missing is a “medieval” stage, or, at least, a stage that links Neanderthal creatures with Information Age creatures. I’m not entirely sure how that leap is made in a single bound, but it has to go. In the medieval stage you can “domesticate” creatures to ride, research weapons and horticulture tools to improve your culture, and lay siege to fortified cities (to where they can surrender after enough damage is dealt).
Improve on what you already have
This is probably the biggest one for me. All of the stages, right now, are mostly shallow mini games that you can pretty much find for free around the Internet or just as cheap with tons of more depth (Cell Stage = Flow, Creature Stage = Catz II, Tribal Stage = Populus: The Beginning, Civilization Stage = Civilization III). While some are certainly better than others (Civilization Stage being the obvious one), they could still use some improvements to make them feel less like a cakewalk and more like an engrossing experience.
The Cell Stage is far from its realization and has zero to do with the title of the game. Instead, your creature should be spreading spores after consuming other cells that would later influence the environment around them and create a greater number of your fellow cells. And seriously, get rid of all of this “defenses” and other ridiculous features, like mouths and eyes. Cells are not cute and cuddly. Instead, replace the necessary components to reflect the nature of your cell by modifying its attributes, such as if it is infectious, or if it is noxious, or if it’s basically a gelatinous cube.
The Creature Stage is missing much of its depth without the need for your creature to sleep, find shelter, nourish itself with water, or even have the ability to truly mate and create another nests. Seriously, if your creature is supposed to be dominant, then there should be other nests as you progress. On top of that, creatures (and not just your own) should exhibit natural animal behavior, such as going out and hunting for food, or exhibiting territorial priority (and not just when you wander into their nest). And please, for the love of Spode, make speed some sort of influence on your creature and have more prey creatures run away from your creature.
The Tribal Stage needs free form building placing, i.e. being able to relocate your tribe when you’ve exhausted the surrounding resources. As your creature “evolves” in the Tribal Stage they should also come to the realization of using tools (instead of you just robbing other tribes of them), such as skinning animals for protection. Include weather elements and cycles to influence the behavior of what was the REAL trouble during those times for your tribe. Don’t just make it a “kill or dance your way to victory” mini game.
The Civilization Stage can seriously use more complexity and a bigger playing field. Free form building placing, creating other cities, and being able to have access to different archetypes instead of means through conquering the city would be nice. There should be a gatherer unit that gathers spice instead of just placing a one-time oil derelict for you to make money off of. Standalone turrets, bases, and embassies would also be nice to increase complexity. This stage shouldn’t last 20 minutes (ten of which are spent just creating buildings and vehicles).
Space, the fail frontier
The Space Stage is absolutely daunting. The range and complexity of it all truly brings into light how big the game is. Of course, it’s a pipe dream, really, considering it’s really just a randomization game. And since the scope of this stage is the final one we face, it should certainly be the most refined.
One word: micromanagement. It’s such a damn shame that there is zero micromanagement to be had in the Space Stage. Every damn thing to do in this stage has to be done by you, the player, through your own controls. Every bio disaster, every pirate attack, every ally whining about something so trivial that it basically becomes a damn nuisance. One would think that, as you expand your empire, things would become easier. It’s the exact opposite; it just becomes more of a chore to play the game.
This is where automation comes into play. There seriously needs to be heavy automation in the Space Stage. I’m not sure why your empire is incapable of producing one spacecraft, but that needs to go. Completely. Instead, a system needs to be put in place on how system bio protection, economic trade, and military strength come into play.
First, each system should have a “security level,” an idea I’m stealing directly from Eve, ranging from 0.1 to 1.0. You colonize a world on a planet, but you only place one colony. This puts your security level for that system at a dismal 0.1. Each turret you then add for that city increases the security level by 0.02 (eight turrets in total, so 0.16 in total). A second colony offers greater protection, bumping up the base security level to a 0.3, reducing the likelihood of a pirate attack. A third colony bumps up the base security level to a 0.6, greatly reducing the likelihood of a pirate attack. Anything over 0.7, however, results in zero pirate attacks in that system ever again. So basically if you have three colonies on a planet with full turrets, you’re looking at a capped security level of 1.0. An Uber Turret adds 0.6 to the security level, so you could effectively create one colony on a planet and then place an Uber Turret for pirates to never bother that system. Of course, it won’t do you much good in defenses without turrets…
Which brings me to the dynamic aspect of automation. Each planet you colonize should effectively have a specialization that reflects what it produces as far as spacecrafts go. These three specializations are biological, military, and economical. So if a planet’s specialty is set to biological, then it will produce a biological spacecraft. In turn, after it produces a biological spacecraft, you can then set that spacecraft to patrol your systems, taking care of ecosystem disasters, improving the T-Score of your planets or of other planets in the system, and even helping out your allies if you wish.
So you can then pretty much see where I’m going with the rest of this. Military spacecraft can patrol your systems, increasing security level protection, respond to pirate attacks or invasion fleets, or even effectively lead conquests of worlds without you even having to be there, all through direction of a comm system. The economic spacecraft would collect spice from your systems and then traverse other systems to find the best prices to sell it to. They’ll even lead trade missions that have no goal with the idea of trying to buy another race’s system in the long run–they just trade spice to then be later sold amongst other empires.
Of course automation comes with a price. Each spacecraft is unique in its own, like a similar mini-U in comparison, and so it is a far cry from the extent of what your spacecraft can do. All spacecrafts are “born” with a basic level with basic tools. They don’t do as well as they would with more experience. biological spacecraft may accidentally kill the T-Score of a planet, or may fail to protect the biosphere of a planet; military spacecraft don’t have as many hit points, don’t fly as fast to respond to a crisis, and don’t hit as hard; and economic spacecraft can’t hold as much in their cargo, are slow to collect spice, and may sell it at a terrible price. However, all such setbacks are improved as the spacecrafts continue to perform the duties set out by them until they eventually “level” up. Biological spacecraft eventually get additional drones to help them out, economical spacecraft have persuasive captains to get the best deals on prices for spice, and military spacecraft can eventually add a “fleet” of mini-theys with half their stats (more fighters in a fleet for the higher levels).
This all comes in effect that you can’t really have a budding empire until you actually expand in reality. Sure, a planet may produce a spacecraft, but the time it takes to build one is dependent on how many colonies are on a planet, and they can only produce one at a time. And believe you me, we’re not talking about “done in ten minutes” of time; we’re talking about “you won’t be seeing a new one of these for awhile.” By this rule, your home world will obviously produce spacecraft quicker, as there are more cities on it, so taking over other empire’s home worlds can be lucrative in this endeavor. With this automation system in place, you can effectively do what ever the hell you want and not have a care in the world because your expansive empire can FINALLY take care of itself without your help. And, what’s more, you can even have them tag along with you to boost their experience if you wish–or lead massive invasions on planets. Your call.
Game over, man! Game over!
Automation is just one aspect that is begging to be put in place for the Space Stage. An actual end game approach is the other. You see, there may be hundreds of thousands of empires out there, but none of them really matter. Not even as allies. The only thing an ally contributes to you, as of now, is additional cannon fodder. I mean, yeah, maybe a star five galaxy has a nice spacecraft to add to your fleet, but they still get pissed if it gets destroyed, and once you max out on the available spots to have an ally tag along with you, then it’s also further pointless to ally with an empire. I mean, you can ally with all empires around yours and they will still attack one another (which leads to further headaches when they both ask you to assist in the annihilation of each other; ignore them both and they eventually dissolve their alliance with you).
On top of that the galactic threat of the Grox is still a facade, put in place as a tumultuous obstacle for the player to achieve an item that has a limited number of uses (such a huge anticlimax). Really, there is little reason to even go after the Grox. I mean, eventually your allies will be attacked by them, and then you’ll have to make the choice to either help your ally and ensure your doom, or tell your ally to piss off and enjoy saving your own hide. No matter the number of alliances you make, asking them all to attack the Grox will do diddly squat, as they will all lose on their own in fights against them (and, subsequently, the invasion fleets that will eventually cause a nightmare of a headache when your allies come a’callin’).
So with that in mind, alliances have to mean something. So, to counteract the emptiness of alliances, every Space Stage will have four galactic alliance groups. The first one will be simply called the Galactic Alliance, a group aimed at diplomatic solutions of allying with peaceful empires to subsequently achieve galactic peace. They are the governing force in the galaxy and are one of the largest groups by far. The second group would be the Galactic Guild, a space-trading group, which finds power through funds and offering their services to terraform and sell colonized systems. The third group would be the Galactic Mercenaries, a group of empires whose alliance is derivative simply from the idea that peace is attained through superior firepower and are not above from offering their services to those that belong to it. The fourth and last group would be the Followers of Spode, a group of fanatical zealots whose intent is to convert other empires to their cause by any means necessary.
While you may join the Galactic Alliance, it really means little unless you are voted on as one of the Council Empires (a la Mass Effect). Just being in the Alliance means you are privy to their trading and their limited protection. Instead of sending fleets to destroy your enemies, they will attempt, instead, to find a solution through diplomatic means, trying to find a compromise between your enemies (such as you giving up a system for them to leave you alone or something to that effect). Once you make it to the Council, however, you find yourself having to regularly attend Council meetings to vote on issues, such as Galactic Laws and the Galactic Code that would eventually shape the way the galaxy should work in their point of view. And, as a Council race, you get access to some pretty nifty technology, such as your own warp gate in your home system that connects to the Seat System, the main system where the Alliance holds their meets. On top of that, you can even propose wars and trade treaties with other empires, effectively being able to wield supreme executive power through political means. However, the primary idea behind the Alliance is to get other empires to join it so you can increase its power as a force in the galaxy.
The Galactic Guild plays more loosely on the rules of morality. While they may follow Galactic Law and Code, they’re not above trying to cheat other empires on deals, so if you’re not in the Guild, expect their prices and offers for services to be not at a discount price as it would be in joining them. Once part of the Guild, however, you are privy to better prices on trading and as well as items that would normally require you to earn the respective badge in order to use it. On top of that, the Guild offers services in terraforming your worlds to higher T-Scores and discounts on system deals, as well as tools to increase spice production, spice carrying capacity, and spice storage on a planet. The more spice your systems put out the greater your standing becomes in the Guild, until you are made the offer of Partnership and a portion of control of the Guild. Once a Partner you can even request the tow of planets to systems or mass produce spacecraft to create a vast army or even have your own personal navigator that can fold space (the spice must flow, after all). Getting other empires to join the Guild affects the market price of spice sold for empires that are not in the Guild.
The Galactic Mercenaries are ruthless. They are rather picky about who joins them, and doing so is only at the opportunity that they can make money off of your membership rather than the other way around. However, you do not need to join the Mercs to enlist in their services, though, if you do, it certainly does benefit a discount. Services include warring with empires, stealing other empire’s resources, or providing protection for empires under attack. The more contracts you carry out successfully, the greater your reputation is amongst the Mercs. Eventually you can rise to the rank of a Warlord, a highly respected position amongst the Mercs that has its perks in discount weaponry, system turrets, parasec weapons of destruction, and a rally beacon of immense proportions to wage war against an empire until it is destroyed. However, the Mercs are far from nice. They are just as likely to take a contract that involves wiping out a fellow member if it paid well enough or if they aren’t well-respected. Getting other empires to join the Mercs increases their power and also increases your reputation.
The Followers of Spode are those religious zealot empires you always find demanding that you pay an unbeliever tax because you do not follow the ways of Spode. To be a Follower you have to have the zealot archetype, or else you will be refused when trying to join. Once a Follower, you have access to a blanket of protection that the Followers offer, unlike the Alliance, which doesn’t fully protect you until you are part of the Council. However, protection has its cost, and you will find yourself paying taxes for your membership if you have a low standing in faith amongst the Followers. Faith is increased when you convert other empires to the ways of Spode or by completing tasks given to you by the Followers, such as the Cleansing of an empire or spreading literature to a system in order for them to secede from their empire and join the Followers. Once you have high faith, you will be able to join the Clergy, the hierarchy of the Followers, giving you access to technology that can allow you to mass convert an entire system, create systems, change spice production type on a planet, and collect taxes yourself for your empire’s coffers.
These four groups, in effect, offer a bigger picture to the galaxy, really giving you the feeling that you are indeed not alone one bit. On top of that, however, it unites the idea that only through acting together can you defeat the Grox, who, in affect, will, instead, play a much more active role in trying to expand their empire, as well as attacking other empires for no reason at all to make them into a much bigger bad guy. And hey, if those four groups aren’t to your liking, you could always make your OWN alliance group, complete with its own rules and regulations that you can impose. Just don’t expect the other groups to take to you so kindly if you refuse to combine groups.
The more the merrier
The Creepy and Cute pack was aiming at the right idea. Spore needs more complexity, more options behind the sort of stuff you can do with the editors; it needs more variety if it’s essentially going to be a glorified sim game. Things like being able to influence the life of your creature, like as to whether it will evolve into an intelligent aquatic creature way into the Space Stage, where you then have to place colonies under water, or being able to buy bigger colony packs or colony packs that are intended to perform mining operations on T0 planets (all at a higher price, of course). Things that make it turn into a change of pace, where your colonies don’t just gather spice, but also mine minerals to build auto replacements for buildings and vehicles, or gather food to increase the population rate on a planet and increase the work force. While I, of all people, understand that he who controls the spice controls the universe, I think variety can only help in the idea of trading for other things, and I don’t just mean artifacts.
On top of that, systems really need to have more than one or two planets in it. I’m really getting tired of looking at bare ass systems that really have no personality to them simply because they all have two or three planets in them. Being able to add satellites, space stations, and dry docks are all other dreams that should be realities in this game. For instance, a satellite orbiting a planet allows you to communicate with that planet from the far reaches of the star map instead of having to visit that planet in order to communicate with them (allowing you to further micromanage your planets in their production). Space stations could be placed in a system to further boost the productivity of the planets in the system, such as a higher population, a more stable biosphere, more spice production, or act as storage space for resources. And a dry dock could be put into a star system to allow that system to be able to defend itself from invaders traveling through the star map, or to repair damaged spacecraft quicker, or to increase the security level of a system with space turrets, or to be used as a staging platform and military rally checkpoint.
What’s really missing in it all, however, is the lack of true space travel. This “interstellar drive” crap can only last on the nerves for so long. Being able to buy your own stargates would be a big bonus to enjoying space a hell of a lot more. You simply buy a stargate set, you place the first one in one system and then you place the other one in the other system. No more black hole traveling. And to offset what some loonies might call “unfair” we’ll make it expensive, rare, and destroyable (as will be all other star system additions, like satellites, dry docks, and space stations).
There should be more communication options with other empires, such as a news option that allows you to gather intel on what’s happening in their region of space, like where’s the best place to sell blue spice, or who’s at war with one another, or where the latest Grox attack took place. Other things should include being able to persuade empires to stop attacking other empires, or to get them to trade with other empires, or offer them to buy one of your systems. Other social interactions should include celebrations or banquets for your two empires to get to know one another and improve relationships, instead of having to throw money at them or having to perform a tedious task for them. Things should be a lot more social for empires; they should let you know what’s on their mind or even approach you to ask them to stop attacking someone. It’s space, damnit. You should be having intergalactic communiqués about luncheons with your arch enemies.
The pipe dream of it all
Of course many (or all) of my ideas are a dream really. You can’t even mod them in the game, considering the limitations to hex editing. Without a proper game editor Spore has essentially been put on life support even by its own modding community, which is so small that it’s tough just to find and then even tougher to find quality mods. And with Galactic Adventures and the subsequent whorifying of the intellectual property of Spore, it doesn’t look like EA gives a shit either. Apparently they equate their success in sales, so since Spore sold well, that then must mean that nothing is wrong with the game and is why they continue to pretend that it’s fine in the state that it is in.
So with that in mind I concede that my ideas, which, in my opinion, would make Spore the kind of game it SHOULD have been, the sort of stuff of legends, might never see the light of day, not even within the mind of a modder. It’s sad when you really think about it. Here’s this game that is the pinnacle of spurning creativity and its own creators seem devoid of wanting to be even more creative with it or offer more creative options for it. Yes, sure, they’re releasing editors, I know. That still doesn’t cover up the fact that Spore is still a mind-numbingly boring and shallow game and will likely remain that way.
Originally written: August 2009