Tuesday, December 9, 2008

"Spared no expense."

This September, having just returned to school for the fall semester, a friend of mine, a guy I would by no means consider a video game enthusiast, asked me how excited I was about Spore, a game I was not familiar with at the time. I responded that I was not familiar with it at the time and I that I would appreciate it if he would enlighten me. He told me about how it's going to be the coolest game ever and was created by "the guy who made the Sims" (but not the guy who made Sim City, I noted). By the sound of the thing, it seemed pretty nifty: you take a species from the cellular level up into an interstellar space empire, how could that suck? I was on board for the time being.

Apparently though, what seems like a cool idea for a Sim Species(?) turns out to be a $50.00 package of mini-games: more Game and Watch Gallery than Sim anything. Pac-Man, WoW, Age of Empires? Thank you, I own these (well I don't own Pac-Man, though I'd like to) and don't see a need to compile them all into some sort of ├╝bergame, a sort of horrfiying chimera, an abomination before the Lord.

That being said, one should not assume that I'm in any way anti-Will Wright or something like that; the man's legacy has earned him the right to do whatever he wants as far as I'm concerned. I've been playing the Sim series forever and ever. I once took a summer day camp class on them. There I played Sim City 2000 to my heart's content and I also discovered such classics as Sim Ant and Sim Earth. In retrospect, this was either the most terrible parenting decision on my mom and dad's part or the best: paying someone to sit in a high school computer lab for 4 hours and watch your kids play video games, and not the bad kind with the guns and the blood but the good kind where they learn things? Actually, now that I think about it I'm going to make my kids attend this thing, it was great; I can't wait to have children!

But of all the Sim games, there was one I treasured most of all and no it's not the Sims: though I did spend a good deal of my time ages 13-15 making Sims that kind of looked like me and girls I liked have sex in that sweet heart-shaped bed. I was not at all creepy in high school, I swear. Regardless of its ability to simulate the hot underage coitus I would never experience, Sim Life was the jewel in my PC crown back in the day.

For the unititiated, Sim Life essentially lets you create an ecosystem (or series of ecosystems) and fill it with flora and fauna to run around and do whatever it is flora and fauna do, like screw each other and eat each other and evolve and stuff. It was pretty fun: the way it worked was you basically picked out what kind of organism you were intelligently designing based on their diet, habitat, size, and intelligence etc. The window for creating lifeforms was called the BIOLOGY LAB. You had three panels that each represented some aspect of the creature you were making (the head is diet and intelligence, the body is size and habitat etc.) You mix and match animal parts and I was initially attracted to it based on a board game whose name I don't remember that had a similar layout and premise that my friend Robbie Colbert and I used to play before we took up the Star Wars Roleplaying Game (I was a Rodian bounty hunter). Due to my childhood proclivity towards dinosaurs (honestly, if I could go back and start my life over again, I'd be a paleontologist) most of my creations were giant, cold-blooded, stupid, and usually carnivorous. This apparently doesn't work as a model ecosystem due to the lack of genetic diversity and whatnot and I frequently had mass extinctions to deal with. Lame.

While not the same game, if you take concepts from this game (basically creating life and having it interact and evolve with other biological entities) and combine them with some other stuff from outside the simulation genre, you Spore. What pisses me off about this Spore (which I still haven't played and are therefore likely unqualified to compain about) debacle is that it seems like nothing in this game is unique, on paper anyway. If there's something I'm missing and this game is actually incredibly innovative, I'd love to hear about it, but for now it sounds like a collection of other well-worn genres packaged together and inevitably diluted to be more accessible to "casual" gamers. Lame.

Not that I have a problem with the increasing accessibility of the video game medium, but I really wish that there would be more of a push to get people into the classics instead of rehashing old games in newer, flashier packaging, and then writing an article about it in Time and talk about how even grandma's playing on the Wii now.