A reader sent me a link to this video of Spore by Will Wright—it’s the new simulation/god game/tinker toy by the maker of SimCity and the Sims. It looks very, very cool, and I think I’m going to want a copy when it’s available for my computer—but one thing has to be cleared up.
This is not a game about evolution.
It’s highly teleological, with a preset goal of achieving high intelligence—which is a painfully unrealistic and skewed perspective. Why shouldn’t we be able to play to become the very best squid we can be? I guess it’s necessary to constrain the advancement path of the game to something manageable, but I hope they’re crystal clear about the fact that they’re modeling something that does not resemble evolution much at all.
It still looks fun. It looks like they’ve overcome some of the limitations that made the old SimLife and SimEarth such bores, but there’s always the risk that every game here will also end up being the same, with just some more elaborate cosmetics.
Yeah, I was going to mail a link of that to you, but I figured you already knew. I’m giddy with anticipation.
I wish they would make one of these that IS about evolution. Where you either control the creature or the environment through successive generations and see where you end up.
S Doyle says
Not only is it not a game about evolution, but it seem to clearly be a game about Intelligent Design, in which the player is the designer/creator.
Looks to me like a game where an invisible designer makes directed and forward thinking choices for the purpose of achieving intelligence and a human-analogous society.
Wonder what the Discovery Institue will think?
Andrew Willett says
If I had to guess, you probably could make ‘build a better squid’ your main objective. Just play the game in without using the tools that bring you to the next stage of gameplay: instead of saving some of your development points as you go, gradually banking them so that you can ‘buy’ sentience (as Wright describes), you could just keep spending points to craft better and better tentacle configurations. It wouldn’t be what Wright envisioned, but from how he describes his expectations for the game he’d probably be open to other approaches anyway.
They have: it’s called SimLife. Its engine was deeply flawed, though.
Eric Paulsen says
I too am looking forward with great anticipation to the release of this game but like PZ would like to have the ability to follow my own path. I can see a game in which I spend all of my points becomming the ultimate bacterial pathogen, never leaving the single cell (or at least microscopic) realm of gameplay. Could I infect the entire universe as I am uploaded from game to game leaving only desolation and dead planets in my wake? Perhaps I could evolve a sentient race of plants or a collosal fungus turning the planet I reside on into a vast hive intelligence. Able to create living space faring vessels piloted by my pod-grown progeny!
Probably not though.
You and me man… *does the eye-to-eye hand gesture*
If the IDers try to hijack this game, I’m going to get extra pissed. By Bog, I know they’re going to do that too.
This game represents an interesting concept; Evolution by Design. Who can say for certain that there isn’t some invisible force driving life to evolve over time? I strongly favor the science of traditional Darwinian evolution to ID. I still find this game demo to be very cool and basic concept interesting to think about.
I despise ID as much as the next guy but I have no problem with a computer game like this. It sounds sort of like the older game “Black & White” in which you play God to civilizations on a little island. The concept of God is a very convenient paradigm for giving a player influence over a game world, and it’s been used a lot toward that end. Everyone knows these games are fictional, and if it has any influence on real beliefs at all, it’s probably to help trivialize the idea of God in the mind of someone who takes it seriously.
James Gambrell says
I think you guys are underestimating the impact of this game, it looks like it might be the most important development in gaming in the last decade. Its not about realistically modeling the development of life, its about open-ended gameplay finally made interesting by new methods of programming that allow for a lot of emergent behavior from primitive objects.
It should also impress a lot of kids out there with the scope of the universe and the excitement of exploring it with science.
James Gambrell says
As this article (http://www.gamespy.com/articles/595/595975p1.html)
explains spore was originally designed as an experiment with a new model of game development designed mainly to save money. Pretty incredible!
Alexander Whiteside says
I thought the same thing when I saw the video. They seem stuck with this idea that you’ve got to have a smooth, prescribed progression and some freedom within that (like Fable). I’d rather they’d gone for something potentially much more frustrating, but ultimately more free-form.
“Its not about realistically modeling the development of life, its about open-ended gameplay finally made interesting by new methods of programming that allow for a lot of emergent behavior from primitive objects.”
This could be a huge leap in game development. Just recently some game companies were saying they’d need tens of thousands of 3D modelers and texture artist to produce enough content to meet the growing demand. If you can generate most of what is displayed procedurally, you can save a lot of development cost and time. The only problem I see is that is it a lot harder to code a program to draw a 3D object exactly how you want than to just created it in a modeling program. Where procedural creation works is when you want to just repeat doing the same procedure but that can produce a boring 3D landscape of similar objects.
“It should also impress a lot of kids out there with the scope of the universe and the excitement of exploring it with science.”
Let’s hope it does.
Super site. Great time waster.
Here is a clip for PZ: Octopus eats shark
While the game seems cool from a game-design perspective, it falls flat on its face biologically, which is unfortunate. I wrote a post analyzing the lack of evolution in the game back when the first previews were coming out; the post is here: Spore – a biological perspective.
the amazing kim says
Kayigo – my but that’s impressive.
It kills the thing by suffocation, I presume? Didn’t know they could do that.
amazing kim – I’ve never seen anything like it, and found the clip by chance. Impressive is putting it mildly. If you’d have asked me to bet on the outcome of a steel cage match between an octopus and a three foot shark, I would not have guessed the one with rows of razor sharp teeth would lose.
Honestly, a game involving intelligent design would be much more fun than one involving evolution.
I haven’t found a computer evolution simulation yet that’s not teleological. I can’t think of a way to simulate evolution without using a prescribed goal. Maybe I missed one, has anyone come across any examples?
A purely evolutionary game wouldn’t leave the the player with much to do, would it? God games need a god, after all.
I think there’s a huge amount of fun computer-based evolution experimentation to be done, you’ll just have trouble selling it as games…
My favorite example of evolution on a computer has always been the stuff Karl Sims did in the early 90’s….
That his little creatures found ways to exploit his physics engine is priceless…
But if you are building a video game I ultimately believe you have to steer the experience. Just like a movie, unless you direct it somewhat it is going to be boring. Even movies based on real life events don’t just run 10 years of recorded footage, or present things exactly as they are, otherwise you’d be bored silly. It might be more correct, but even if it is one perspective, it is nice when the important events are focused on. In video games you need to craft an experience that helps direct people to something with an interesting outcome.
It might be that if you could create an evolutionary game it would be fun to play with, however to truly create an evolutionary process requires computing power beyond what is currently available even in academia, let alone a home pc…. although I have to admit I’d probably spend alot of time tinkering to see what kind of crazy creatures I could create…. 8)
I imagine that in an evolution game you, the god player, would steer it by manipulating the environment: cause more sunspots for a few hundred years, or increase the rate of continental drift, nudge a tropical storm to become a hurricane, drop an asteroid on the planet, defuse the ticking supernova 35 ly away, etc.
You may argue that it’s still teleological, and that the player-god is steering events. Yes, but so what? Picking up a steel marble and dropping it into a hole is boring and trivial. But doing it with nothing but a pair of flippers, that’s pinball.
Part of the fun, I figure, would be if the living beings evolved to fit the environment you provided, not necessarily the way you intended them to.
what some of you don’t understand is that they are trying to make the game interesting and playable to EVERYONE, if they made it more biologically correct people would be irritated by the fact that their creatures did not evolve they way they wanted,even if their envisionment would not have been able to survive in that environment.Nothing prevents you from staying as a squid and being “the ultisquid”, but that would get very boring once you achieved your goal.
Im definitly going to buy the game, it looks funny as hell, though im a bit disappointed that it isnt the MMO i thought it was at first…
Well then again, i would get pissed at UFOs killing my planat all the time..
Bjorn Watland says
The “evolution” aspect has been completely removed from the game. You get to pluck off and add parts of your creature at will upon mating. The benefits you see are dependent on what parts you put on, with no good or bad side effects, besides making your creature really large, and trying to make it fly, but all of the other little doo dads just give you abilities which let you impress other creatures, or assists in combat.