Next Gaming in Evolution – part 2

6 09 2008

First two parter on It’s Alive!!

For some background on our topic: Science in the new Spore Computer game visit: Spore Official Site, Carl Zimmer: Gaming Evolves, Joan Bushwell’s Chimpanzee Refuge and/or the first part of this post.

I’m going to be rather brash and provide some constructive criticism on a game that I haven’t played yet, and isn’t even released in Australia yet…

The user-driven nature of Spore is going to be very hard to remove in a gaming market. A game isn’t a game if a user isn’t able to meddle with it. Even Sim-Earth, which allowed you to tweak planetary climate conditions, still allows some lee-way towards IDiots. Hell, IDiots even use computer evolution simulations by proper evolutionary biologists as *proof* of ID. So I’m not going to suggest too many improvements on that aspect, aside from perhaps a version that allows attributes to be generated in a more random fashion than spending points in a shop. I don’t think this would float in the market though, modern gamers are very much used to be able to get what they want.

To combat the games “one dimensional march”, perhaps mods or sequels that introduce “end-game” style content for the pre-intelligence mini-games in the greater Spore game.

For the beast-stage game, the user could try and make their creature survive in wake of another creature holotype achieving sentience. I think this could have a capacity to have some environmental messages in there. The user would be charged in ensuring their species does not go extinct. This could be achieved in several ways:

  • the high road – adaptation – adjusting to threats such as hunting (build up defense like – venoms, quills, mimicry of predators), habitat destruction (adapt to extreme habitats or adjust to city life), and pollution (avoid eating plastic bags, drinking polluted streams) – standard time-based victory
  • the middle road – domestication – either by becoming tasty, cute or just generally useful enough that the sentients will actively try not to wipe you out. Be careful though, the balance between being domesticated and being hunted to extinction may be very tricky to reach. Case study: The Aurochs.
  • the low road – nature fighting back – why let yourself be hunted to death, having sentience doesn’t necessarily mean they have to be top of the food chain – I think this would prove a popular victory path – standard winning by ensuring the other guys (in this case the human equivalents) are wiped out

For the tadpole-stage game. I was intrigued by the NYTimes comment amount the small sea-critter being eaten by leviathans out in the depths, forcing it to go onto land. Why not allow your creature to become the leviathan. Again conservation could be brought in by drawing from the fate of whales, sharks and other ocean dwellers.

The ocean depths being analogous to space in terms of a Final Frontier would really open up opportunities for some very exotic environment and alternative creature animations.

Further discussion below the fold…

My other only niggling negativity about Spore is limitations on victory in the other newstyle stage (civ games being nothing terribly new) – the tribal-stage. This is an almost unique style mini-game. I do not know many games that exist in the post-sentience pre-fixed culture period of civilization development.me its one of the most anticipated aspects of spore.

Unfortunately, in being pioneers, the game designers appear to have streamlined processes and limited culture development to two victory paths: war and music (culture). You either beat up all the other local tribes until they accept your leadership, or impress them with your music tastes.

I think limiting “culture” to just music and dance is a little too much simplification. While all us evolutionists are cringeing at DNA-points, I think their might be a fair share of specialists in fields like sociology, anthropology, and archaelogy cringeing at the idea of reducing tribal relationships to fighting and singing.

Taking some cues from what may be Spore’s competitor, the Civilization series*, more aspects of culture such as drama and literature (which could be combined with music), science/technological superiority, and yes, every scientists’ favourite pal, religion.

Now you would be able to encourage strong ties by sharing art, through sharing of oral traditions, cave art, sculpture, sagas etc; sharing technological discoveries; sharing religious and mystical beliefs – worship of the same celestial beings, gods, animals and traditions; and of course bashing your neighbours skulls in until they agree with you.

In addition, the antagonistic and synergistic relationship between these cultural pillars could also be investigated on other levels. They do not exist as seperate entities. Even with just war and music – songs are written about wars, and wars can be started from songs (or at least godawful poetry that alikens your neighbours queen to sheep’s rear).

Scientific discoveries promote new forms of expression and aggression, religion can start songs just as easily as it can start a war. And the relationship between science and religion can also be synergistic at times – with mystical beliefs such as astronomy, alchemy and even animism fueling human interest to investigate the world around us.

Balancing would be key to this. Too many wars can suppress developments in technology and art. A hedonistic art-crazed civilization won’t fare too well in wars. And it’s just as plausible for peace-loving^ religious theocracy to arise and suppress creativity in art and technology, as it is for technocracy to do the same to art and theology.

The end result of your tribes method of domination would certainly have effects on your beginnings in the next civ-stage of the game, and also influence your neighbouring cultural civilizations.

I think having the religion aspect in their might be a very positive thing. It would give a many number of gamers who have exposure to a single religion, an understanding how religions arise and collapse, and the powerbase they can create. By allowing the user to shape his creature’s religiousity – whether it be worship of rocks, animals, ancestors, natural phenomena, activities etc. (slowly leading to anthropomorphic representations of these – the gods/god – oops, one-dimensional progression again…) – and then use such beliefs to influence his tribes power. A tidal wave worshipping cult is hardly going to prove well during an eathquake against a cult that worships giant gophers. And what works better to con the masses than almighty invisible being that does everything that ever happened, happens today and will happen tomorrow?

If you have other feedback, or perhaps your own creative suggestions on what might be done to address the scientific shortcomings of what still promises to be a genuinely kick-ass game, please let me know. That’s how the internet works.

*alternatively, I think Spore might be thought of as Civ-killer, akin to iPod-killers.

^you know the kind of peace created by “dealing” with any troublesome types


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30 06 2010
Game: I wanna play forever « It's Alive!!

[A look at other computer games for the classroom]

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