Monday, April 25, 2016

Spore: Galactic Adventures - 8/20 hours

I'm doing an early post because I spent almost the entirety of my last two hours playing around with the Adventure Creator and I figure I should devote a post exclusively to this feature, because I don't think I'll be using it again.

Like all of Spore's creation tools, the Adventure Creator is extremely powerful for how easy it is to use. Basically, all you have to do is pick out the individual elements that make up your adventure's setting and cast, either making your own or picking from your Sporepedia, and then just drag them from the side of the screen to wherever you want to place them in the environment. Then you can rotate and resize them with a few clicks of the mouse. The behavior of characters can be tweaked by double clicking them and then adjusting a few sliders in the menu that pops up. And you can add sound and visual effects the same way, picking from a huge list of options and then just placing them in the environment just like characters and buildings.

I have absolutely no issue with how the Adventure Creator works. It's a great tool to put in the hands of ordinary people and it allows them to jump right in and create working video game scenarios with just a few minutes of training.

No, my issue with the Adventure Creator is that it is orders of magnitude more complex than any of Spore's other creation minigames and as a result crosses the ineffable line that separates "play" from "work." I dabbled with my adventure for two hours and got about 10 seconds worth of game out of it. To actually create a fully functional and presentable five-minute adventure would have taken many more hours.

Now, I'm the last person in the world who's in any position to criticize a hobby for being too much like work (if I'd written as much fiction as I have blog posts, I'd probably have finished three novels in the last two years) and I actually like the work-like aspects of many games (which is probably why I enjoy the survival crafting genre as much as I do). And if Maxis had just released the Adventure Creator for free as its own thing as a kind of "hey, here's a simplified game engine to play around with" I'd have no problem with it.

However, they didn't do that. They charged money for it. And then they structured the Galactic Adventures expansion pack around the assumption that their customers would flesh out the pack's content with donated labor. As much as I might like the Adventure Creator on its own terms, there's something about that kind of presumption that rubs me the wrong way.

I suppose you could level the same accusation at the base Spore game, and it is definitely true that the wide variety of user-created creatures is a huge part of the game's draw, but it doesn't feel the same to me for a couple of reasons. First, making a creature only takes a few minutes, so there's very little commitment and investment involved. Second, when you create a creature, it's primarily for your own game and the value is intrinsic to the activity itself. Any benefit to Maxis from users downloading your creations is incidental. By contrast, Adventures demand an audience. People aren't going to be writing stories to tell themselves and they're not going to be setting up scenarios just for the pleasure of running through them. Sharing is almost the entire point. Finally, Maxis did, in fact, release the Creature Creator for free, so at the very least they weren't necessarily charging people for the privilege of working for them.

I don't want to give the impression that I'm super-outraged or anything, but it does strike me as just a little bit shady. Still, trying to make my own Adventure has given me a whole new respect for even the "crappy" user-created Adventures. They clearly took a lot more work than I ever suspected.

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