Will Wright's Spore Set for Release
On February 12th, I was heartened to receive in my e-mail an announcement from Maxis Software that their upcoming game, Spore had finally set a release date, September 7, 2008. Originally titled “Sim Everything” by designer Will Wright (the inventor of every Sim game ever made), Spore's development started in 2000, and was announced in 2005, as a response to current gaming trends. Namely, the desire to “make a whomping big game that requires a whole separate computer to use.” The centerpiece of Spore is it's use of a technique called “procedural generation” to minimize size requirements as well as mold the game to the player.
If you've ever turned on iTunes' Visualizer, you've seen procedural generation at work. Procedural generation makes it so you never see the same visualization twice. In video games, procedural generation allows developers to forgo the Grand Theft Auto style of game design, where every building in the game has been specifically drawn, programmed, and placed on the map. Instead, the game builds the map each time the it is run, constructing the buildings largely at random. The effect is that gameplay is constantly changing and no two playthroughs are ever the same, which adds tremendously to the replay value.
Procedural generation also allows for the the game to be significantly smaller. A fantastic example of this can be found in a freeware game called .kkrieger (the extra period isn't a mistake). Released in 2004, the game generates a single level that, in modern gaming would probably be 200MB of memory. .kkrieger is only 96kb large. For comparison purposes pretty much any essay you've ever written is as large or larger than that. Sure, the game is pretty awful, it's graphics are something out of 1999 and God help the player if they should bump into a wall (you're stuck!), but it proves it's point. Even games back in 1999 weren't that small.
Now, Spore itself is not that tiny. The general buzz among gaming bloggers is that it'll be around the size of Sims 2 or slightly larger. But, that space requirement is nothing, when you account for the fact that this game, which models the process of evolution and development on life on planets, generates entire universes and everything in those universes for the player.
Spore , if it ever comes out (before the September date was specified, they'd announced they were shooting for April or May), allows a player to guide an organism from cellular to sentient life in the stages of evolution, controlling it's shape, characteristics, coloring, behavior, culture, architecture. I mean, look, there is a reason “SimEverything” was the first title.
A vast majority of the content in the game is produced by players. That's right, not the player, players, plural. Every time a player makes a new organism, building, vehicle, spaceship, whatever, it's now available for use by every other gamer playing Spore . And if the game decides that your creation match a style similar to another player's, that player will be allowed to choose your creation. It's like match.com, but for gamers who aren't actually looking for human interaction.
Because the game builds the world your organism first appears on as well as the lifeforms it encounters using procedural generation when you begin the game there is the potential that entire games could be generated for the player, based on preference. Furthermore, the music in Spore is also procedurally generated, adding to the experience.
While neither Spore nor .kkrieger contain any plot, it's entirely possible that future games might generate characters, plotlines, even dialogue for the gamer. In other words, games might eventually tailor themselves to your wants and needs. Which would mean I would never have to do a review again. Hey, wait a minute, maybe this isn't so great.