(Although perhaps a bit late on my part, heheh.)
Will Wright responded directly to the community and thread in this post:
MaxisWill wrote:I’ve just recently tuned into this thread on the forums. I usually try to keep more up to date but I’ve been traveling way too much lately. Wow, there’s some rather intense discussion here I see about the design decisions we made in Spore. I think it’s really important for me to jump in and clarify a few things from my point of view.
First let me say a few things about the “Cute” vs. “Science” perspectives in Spore. It is true that during most of the design process we had team members on different sides of this debate. While I was officially on the science side at the same time I always saw this as a crucial tension that I wanted to foster, in other words I didn’t want the science side to win, I wanted to make sure both sides were represented in the game to some degree.
Two of the Chris’ on our team (Chris Trottier and Chris Hecker) were the most vocal representatives of what I started calling the cute team but they were by no means the only ones, they represented quite a large portion of the team. And their agenda in our design process was most certainly not to dumb-down the gameplay but rather to foster emotional engagement with the players in the game experience. An early example of this was the decision to add eyes to the cell game which in no way changed the gameplay, but we found for certain players made the cell experience more humorous and personal.
I see that many of the criticisms about the depth of play in Spore seem to be personally directed to Chris Hecker in particular. This is both ironic and incorrect. Chris was the leading talent behind the voodoo math of the procedural animation system in Spore, the system that brings the creatures you design to life. As the author of this system Chris was quite aware of how flexible and also how unpredictable it could be. I had many discussions with him in particular about how much of the players design decisions would affect the actual performance of your creature in the game world.
To take a quick tangent let me use the creature design vs. performance as an example. We had competing issues to face. First, we wanted the creature’s design to impact its in-game performance. Second, we wanted the economics of the editor to be simple and understandable and connected to performance. Third, we wanted a high amount of aesthetic diversity. We didn’t want there to be one ultimate design direction that the simulator was forcing all the creatures into. In other words if to be fast you had to have long legs that would have met the first goal, conflicted with the third goal and made the second much more complex.
As the lead designer my goal through most of the project was to make sure the gameplay didn’t end up too complex, which resulted in simplifying many of the level dynamics and editor consequences. I felt like we were already asking quite a bit from the players as we took them through the various level genres. This was totally my judgment call and not even part of the agenda of the “cute” team, and certainly not the fault of Chris Hecker. So to make a long story short I’m the one to be blamed for any faults in the gameplay, that’s my job on the team.
Chris is one of the most talented people I’ve ever had the pleasure to work with in the game industry and he takes his craft quite seriously. So it’s been very disturbing for me to read how he has been unfairly vilified for what were in fact entirely my design decisions.
A genre-spanning game like Spore is almost by its very nature experimental. Not only do we not have an existing game to learn design lessons from, we also don’t initially know what the demographic of our players will be (and hence their expectations for complexity and depth). As we move forward with the franchise we plan to listen closely and learn. Our plans for the first Spore expansions are already revolving heavily around what we’re hearing from our players so far.
I want to personally thank everyone who’s playing Spore, especially for the countless, wonderful creations that have been posted to Sporepedia. And I also want to give thanks and encouragement for the discussions here on our forum that will help us make Spore a cooler experience for everyone.
This has been directed to in a sticky on the boards:
My response can be found here:
Many thanks to Will Wright for responding to our questions and issues, and with both honesty and humility. Thanks to the Maxis employees and SporeMasters for allowing the community to speak our minds, even when our comments have gotten out of hand. In this topic post, I later state:
Omni wrote:I hope that Maxis announces that it intends to rectify this odd deviation from their plan through expansion packs...
Will has indeed said just that. It seems to me, this is just a case of "people make mistakes", especially when forging new ground. After this, I have regained a good part of my faith in Maxis, and look forward to what they have in store. (Can't necessarily say the same for EA, though. Freakin' EA.) I'm still a little disappointed with what we received in the base game, and will keep that in mind. But at least we can look forward to a Spore more like the Spore we dreamed of.
I'm not happy with having to pay more money for it, but I can understand why it must be done. These things don't pay for themselves. Or, not if given away freely at least. Perhaps they will surprise us with a happy mix of patches and expansions. Only time will tell.
Thanks again to both Will Wright and Maxis.
(The original post is available below for future reference.)
This was originally a post to get people at xSpore up to date with the findings of the official forums, but it came out well enough I decided to post it here as well. My suggestions to Maxis are included near the bottom in a quote block.
Official Forums: Seed article about devteam's debates over science vs cute
Seed Magazine Article it Refers to
Official Forums: Thoughts on Spore from an ex-Maxis intern.
Official Forums: Should Maxis make Science Spore?
Particular post about Chris Hecker
So there's two sides of this debacle, the DRM issue and the dumbed-down gameplay. (The DRM issue has already been discussed thoroughly elsewhere, this topic is not about that.)
However, one man who is highly responsible for the dumbed down gameplay is Chris Hecker. (You may remember him as the Maxis employee who said the Wii is a "piece of ****" and merely "two gamecubes stuck together with duct tape".)
While Will Wright headed the movement for science to take a primary role, Hecker apparently thought that would be too complex for the wider audience, and that instead cells should have eyes and creatures should wear sneakers. Excerpt from the Seed article:
Seed Magazine wrote:This was Spore's central problem: Could the game be both scientifically accurate and fun? The prototyping teams were becoming lost in their scientific interests. Chaim Gingold, a team member who started as an intern and went on to help design the game's content creation tools, recalls a summer spent playing with pattern language and cellular automata: "It was just about being engaged with the universe as a set of systems, and being able to build toys that manifested our fascination with these systems and our love for them." But from within this explosion of experimental enthusiasm came an unexpected warning voice. Spore's resident uber-geek and artificial intelligence expert Chris Hecker was having strong misgivings about how appealing all this hard science would be to the wider world. "I was the founding member of the 'cute' team," he says with pride. "Ocean [Quigley, Spore's art director] and Will were really the founding members of the 'science' team. Ocean would make the cell game look exactly like a petri dish with all these to-scale animals and Will would say, 'That's the greatest thing I've ever seen!' and some of us were thinking, 'I'm not sure about that.'"
Soon rival camps had formed. New recruits were taken out to lunch and covertly probed to discover where their natural leanings were. Quigley's microscopically accurate concept drawings were vandalized with stuck-on googly eyes; there were suggestions that it might be cool if the creatures wore sneakers. It might have been painful for the founding members of the science team, but Quigley acknowledges the need for compromise. "From a single-celled organism through the four-and-a-half-billion year history of life on Earth to a self-projected future where we are gallivanting around the stars? I mean, it is so absurdly vast, so radically outside of any scale that people can really empathize with, we knew we had to turn it into a toy."
Note that Chris Hecker states that Will Wright would be ecstatic about what he saw, things more like the earlier demos, while Hecker was opposed to this. There are numerous accounts on the official forums of people stating that they more enjoy the early prototypes than the actual gameplay. The hype was generated by the science-heavy early prototypes, and the actual reaction to the game has been mediocre, now that it lacks those science elements.
Further information posted by an ex-Maxis Intern on the game, now that the game is released and his NDA
isn't a problem:
mflux wrote:First I'd like to dispel the rumor that the 2005 demos were "rendered" or "heavily scripted". I'm not 100% certain to what extent the demos were "scripted", but at the stage of development when I was there the builds of the game already had most of the mechanics that we see today.
The creature editor that was available at the time had some of the most amazing procedural animation work I've ever seen anyone develop. Perhaps, somewhat more innovative than what we see in the game today (more on this later).
mflux wrote:Creature creation seems over-simplified
This was a big deal for me. In the extremely early versions that I toyed around with, I was able to make creatures that shifted under their own weight. Creatures that exploited the length of their arms or legs for greater reach. Creatures that behave and move true to how they were built. A short bunny-creature would definitely be out-run by the long-legged dragon-giraffe. That was very neat, and it implied several exciting possibilities in gameplay.
For instance, creature morphology actually mattered. This implied deeper strategy to creature creation. You have a small inkling of this in the Cell stage where placement of parts somewhat mattered. For example, spikes placed behind your creature saved you from being bitten when chased. But, the strategy that earlier prototypes implied went beyond placement of parts. The length of limbs or spine felt like it mattered. If you had a forward-heavy animal with legs placed in the back, it would run poorly as it tries (and fails) to counteract its own weight.
And, a later post
Oh boy here we go with the "prove it" post
I'm in the credits as Michael "Flux" Chang. Go check it in the credits section of the options menu.
And here's my old website from college (2005) users.design.ucla.edu/~mflux along with resume and all of that jazz. Anyway, take it or leave it. Those are my thoughts.
As said in the Seed article, apparently poor Hecker was having "Strong misgivings about how all this hard science would appeal to the wider world."
The poll on the official forums currently suggests that 75% of the forum users would have preferred a "Science-Spore" while only 6% dislike such an idea. (16 people, compared to the 192 wanting Science-Spore)
The Gamespot review gave it 8.0. IGN gave it an 8.8. Press average is 8.1. The consistent cons listed are generally a lack of complexity, and oversimplification.
Another Excerpt from the Seed Magazine article:
(This section is in a quote block as it is not as neutral as the rest of the post.)
Seed Magazine wrote:Steve Grand, who made the big sim-life hit of the 1990s, Creatures, also faced the task of reconciling the limited behavioral range of virtual life-forms with the advanced expectations of players. "There are two ways to tackle this problem," Grand says. "Try to make the behavior look more real, or stop lying to people. As far as I can tell, Spore takes the former approach, to gently and quite openly fool the user into thinking she's engaging with real living things, while Creatures took the latter — I did my best not to fool anyone, even if that meant the results weren't so playable."
Spore's decision — to preserve the illusion of life at the expense of the actual facts of life — made for some substantial casualties. First to go in the cute-versus-science war were the extreme ends of the scale — galaxy formation and originsof- life simulation — dismissed as being too abstract and dissipated. Next, small and then big laws were shattered and remade. Wright's determination to represent faster-than-light travel as impossible crumbled in the face of making the spacefaring section of the game enjoyable. Evolution, despite his staunch Darwinism, became a massively telescoped process that depended on the external, deliberate interventions of the players. And so, instead of becoming the ultimate science project, Spore gradually became the ultimate game.
The snag is that Spore didn't just jettison half its science — it replaced it with systems and ideas that run the risk of being actively misleading. Scientists brought in to evaluate the game for potential education projects recoiled as it became increasingly evident that the game broke many more scientific laws than it obeyed. Those unwilling to comment publicly speak privately of grave concerns about a game which seems to further the idea of intelligent design under the badge of science, and they bristle at its willingness to use words like "evolution" and "mutation" in entirely misleading ways.
Omni wrote:My Opinion:
It seems to me, the cute crowd led by Chris Hecker is responsible for a number of things. The ecosystem dynamics were removed. The Creature Game was replaced with a simple "Good or Evil" RPG where you either play Simon Says or grab your +5 Swo- uh I mean Hand and go grind on a few Generic Monster Nests. In addition, for the purpose of "creative freedom", a ten-foot tall SPORE can be as effective as a Lion in combat, as fast as a Cheetah, and as stealthy as a one foot tall chameleon. And because this is so, the Sporepedia is filled with such impractical creations.
Maxis moved away from Will Wright's original design choices and away from the theme of the original prototype. The resulting game is conceived as not meeting the expectation created by seeing the prototype. Why they chose to overturn the design decisions of their lead designer is beyond me. It seems to me the past few years were spent making the game less entertaining than the prototype, because the prototype was "too complex" for us dull consumers. We wouldn't be able to take that hard science. Ironically, I hear better reviews of the gameplay of the free released prototypes than the game itself.
I hope that Maxis announces that it intends to rectify this odd deviation from their plan through expansion packs, including a complete overhaul of the Cell Stage and Creature Stage, at minimum. The forced linear progression of the game and forced evolution should also be removed from the Cell and Creature Stages, as it is not faithful to the freedom of the advertised product. (Evolution to a better brain should be optional, at least in the Creature Stage, as it was in the earlier videos.) I do not believe that we have a right to demand it be free, as the development costs of this game are already astronomical. This may have not been as much of a problem if they hadn't been spending the past few years removing content.
tl;dr version (Too long; didn't read):
An employee named Chris Hecker decided that the game was too complex for "average folk" and managed to convince a bunch of people at Maxis, so that Will Wright was forced to give up on making the game scientific and they spent a year or two removing content from the E3 demo instead of adding new things. Apparently science limits creativity. This is why the gameplay feels like an undeveloped MMORPG and the animation went from "innovative" to "generic and boring". This is a gross simplification of the situation and potentially biased. Reading the whole topic is suggested.