Spore Launched

Wil Wright’s Spore came out today.

The Amazon reviews list it as 2-stars but that seems to be because of the “draconian” DRM. (I’m sympathetic to that but not considering it in this post.)

GameRankings reports an 86%, which is good (but not great) and which is probably not from the most clear-eyed reviewers.

While I have, literally, hundreds of games, I have little time to play. Since it has been ever thus, I’m at least smart enough to wait till the game drops into the $10-$20 range (or less, if I can buy a collection of several games for $20).

Althouse had a post up about regretting netflix rentals. I have tons of books I haven’t read, a few movies I hadn’t watched (before my collection “walked off”), some music CDs I haven’t played, and tons of games I haven’t played.

I don’t regret it, I think of it as a sort of defense against boredom.

Anyway, every now and again, I’ll buy a game first day, and Spore is one of them. (Heroes of Might and Magic 3, Heroes of Might and Magic IV, Doom 3, Civilization 3, Civilization 4 and Black & White are the others.) Spore was announced 3 ½ years ago, which, for perspective, was probably about the last time I held The Boy’s hand.

I confess that I have been dubious about the degree to which putting five games into one package can work, and I hear some complaints about that already. The thing about those games I do buy is that I’m not always looking for compelling gameplay, so I’m not necessarily disappointed in the way other hard-core gamers are when the final products don’t measure up.

Sometimes I am: Heroes of Might and Magic IV was a disaster that the series never recovered from. Doom 3 on the other hand was a mixture of “good enough” and nostalgia. Civ 3 was my favorite of the series, and Civ 4 is very sold as well.

But the biggest comparison point for Spore is Black & White. B&W was meant to be a revolutionary game. “Be a god,” the claims went, “and watch the world change according to your goodness or evilness.” (At one point, a $5 price premium–to be donated to charity–was considered for the white box version of B&W, but saner heads prevailed.)

It could’ve been revolutionary but for a few fatal flaws. The first flaw is that they made it into a game. Entertainment software is usually in the form of games, but some, like SimCity or The Sims, are more correctly called “toys”. B&W had the mechanics of a toy with a game superimposed over it. (Developers talked about the game aspect constantly, even nervously.)

But the instant you make something into a game, you end up engaging the hardcore gamers who consider games as things to be beaten. (This personality is quite fascinating: Games are to be beaten, not necessarily enjoyed, even.) And so B&W was beaten quickly as the cracks in the painstakingly developed universe were found and exploited.

The second, more fatal flaw was that the measure of good and evil was–well, practically French. (No comment on the fact that developer Peter Molyneux’s studio “Lionhead” is based in France.) In other words, killing, regardless of the purpose it served, tipped the scales to evil. You had to–as a deity–wait on your worshippers hand and foot to be good. (This also made your worshippers worthless.)

It was a virtual embodiment of the welfare state.

I enjoyed it, though, because I enjoyed the polish that went into making it. The interface was fun. The exploration aspects were fun. The sussing out of good and evil would’ve been more fun had it been done better, but it was still interesting.

Interesting is a good word. (Kevin Smith said that “interesting” is what they say in Hollywood when they don’t like something.) But where I liked it, I was careful not to recommend based on that.

Spore, I expect, will also be interesting. Unlike B&W which was very geared toward hardcore gamers, I expect Spore to have broader appeal–so hardcore gamers will dismiss it as simplisticc. (A lot of hardcore gamers don’t get the Wii, for example.)

At the same time, I’m not sure how compelling all of the games can be.

The Creature Creator–wherein you create the species that is going to evolve from microorganism to galactic conquerer–seems to be a brilliant and engaging toy, however. And I expect to see that used as a launch pad for more games and further evolutions of the Spore concepts.

I’ll post The Boy’s opinons once he’s had a chance to delve into it.

The Dark Knight Returned

I saw The Dark Knight again.

My original review, from six weeks ago is here. Some observations upon reflection:

  • It holds up rather well.
  • It’s at #3 on IMDB (under Shawshank and Godfather) which is still too high.
  • My initial appraisal of Maggie Gyllenhall was off. She really isn’t convincing as the tough-as-nails DA. What’s surprising is that, in retrospect, Katie Holmes was. But Gyllenhall is far more convincing as a hippie/folksinger/drifter than an authority figure, and sort of slouches and shrinks her way through this film.
  • Mostly unchanged on my view of Heath Ledger: He did good. But he’s actually not even in the film that much.
  • I was contrasting with Superman 3 and noticing that Bale does a good job acting even while wearing the cowl. I know people didn’t like the “Batman growl” he does, but it still works for me.
  • Aaron Eckhart has the toughest role: He’s a good guy in a way that’d perfectly comfortable in a movie from the ‘40s. For a guy who played a cigarette PR guy (Thank You For Smoking), he does sincerity really well.
  • Gary Oldman is too old to be Commissioner Gordon but it works.
  • Caine and Freeman and Bale should make a non-Batman movie together.
  • Joker’s claim to not be a “schemer” is not credible.
  • Watching Spiderman 3–with celebrations for Spidey–twigged a vague recollection of something. In the DC world, with Superman and Batman, the heroes are generally publicly praised. I think it was Stan Lee and Jack Kirby who introduced the idea of public opprobrium to comic books. I never once read an anti-superhero comic as a kid, unless it was due to a temporary misunderstanding.
  • The theater was about 2/3rds full. (!)
  • UPDATE: Also, Batman’s head was HUGE. That was one problem with showing him in full light. What’s up with his head being almost a perfect sphere with bat ears?

“Well, it’s a well run campaign, with midget and broom and what-not.”

Although the Coen brothers movies are a bit of an acquired taste for some, and a taste some wouldn’t want to acquire, O Brother, Where Art Thou? remains one of the great films of the last fifty years, with its mix of music, classical literature and southern-fried goodness.

What is amusing, however, is how little campaigning has changed since the antics of the ‘30s.

Don’t Be Eeeeeeeevil!

From the fevered dreams of a madman department (via Instawhatsis): Michael S. Malone posits that Google’s new browser “Chrome” is stealth bomb (stealth bomb? Let it go, I’m on a roll) in their silent war to CONTROL THE WORLD’s data.

There’s actually a rebuttal from a guy AT Google that of the “stealthy” point. I heard about it third hand, from someone who was annoyed by all the other people telling him about it. I downloaded it and–it’s interesting. I think it’s probably a look at the next evolution in browser design. It’s seriously uncluttered.

But of course I realized, in doing so, that this was going to be an entrĂ©e into gathering more data on us. Duh. That’s where Google makes its money. They are looking to control a lot and they make no secret of it. They’re counting on the organization/mining abilities they give you will compensate for lack of privacy.

There were similar issues with Gmail. “Oh, no! Google is going to give you all the space in the world but they’re going to pay for it by reading your e-mail!” Well, yeah. But they’re not judging you when they do it.

Of course, no one is actually reading your private e-mail. Don’t flatter yourself. Nobody cares. There’s just an algorithm, like the one that checks for spam, only this one checks for advertising keywords. Besides, don’t you know the rule of not sending anything over e-mail you don’t want the whole world to read?

Should we watch out for Google? Sure, it’s smart to be aware of any company that has such a huge influence on the world, ‘net or otherwise. And–most people don’t realize this–their company rule is not “Don’t Be Evil” it’s “Don’t Be Eeeeeeeeevil.”

So, there’s some slack there.

Manic Monday Apocalypso: Introduction

I thought it would be fun to start every week off with some sort of post-apocalyptic topic.

Nothing like a little doom-and-gloom to cure that “case of the Mondays” you have.

First up, Gamma World. Although I and my friends mostly played D&D, we dabbled in a few other games. The ones GMed by others never lasted long, though I don’t know if it was because they weren’t very dedicated, because I was so much better at running games, because I was a terrible player, or some combination all of the above. So for some reason I never got into sci-fi, and we flirted briefly with superheroes, but Gamma World was the only one that got much play when I was around.

It’s entirely possible, if not probable, that my friends played without me without telling me, and Lord knows I was consumed by music increasingly as my teens progressed. But I did get a call from a 7th grade pal in 10th or 11th grade saying my Jr. High group hadn’t played D&D since I changed schools.

Gamma World was highly derivative of D&D but had some cool highlights. There were little things–like the set came with a map of the post-Apocalypse USA, which, quite frankly, looks like what pass for global warming maps today.

Another cool thing about GW was that you didn’t just rolled your stats, you optionally rolled your mutations. These were, of course, comic-book type mutations, not things like “easily susceptible to cancer” or “unable to aim urine stream”. So you could have extra arms or legs or eyes, psychic powers, and I think even wings were an option. You could be a mutant animal, for sure. I think–like the superhero game–you could also pick a bad mutation to offset some good powers you had. (Much like you’d pick “kryptonite” for Superman.)

In retrospect, what GW really needed was a way to let GMs and players work out their own mutations.

Though GW was fairly generic, it also featured “social groups”. One group was for expunging mutants while another was for expunging unmutated humans. There was an animal group that was for killing all humans, and a robot group, too, I think. Not all the groups were about killin’, some were for trying to restore society or had other bases of organization.

Looking back at it, I think the real problem with the post-apocalyptic movie genre is that it seldom shows a fraction of the imagination GW creators did–and this is probably true of high fantasy and D&D, too, but high fantasy movies are really pretty rare.

When was the last time you saw a post-apocalyptic movie with a three-eyed, four-armed guy? Or a mutant animal? Or a bunch of rival societies, other than generic, purposeless, Road-Warrior-style thugs?

What puts the “pop” in apopalypse? (Work with me, here, I’m on a roll.)

Nothing, that’s what. The closest you can get is Futurama, which isn’t really post-apocalyptic.

The most recent versions of GW have been desultory enough to go out of print fast, which would be a shame, I guess, if I had time to play it.

Until next Monday, stay radiated, mutants!

The Seduction of B. Maelstrom

The splash I’ve gotten just from posting to a couple of Sarah Palin threads is astounding.

Political blogging must be so tempting. All those hits are just sitting there. You can poach (and people do) by attacking a more popular blogger and getting them to respond. You can post something inflammatory and get flamed, or get accolades from similarly inflamed minds. Get big enough and you can have conventions and internet TV shows, etc., etc., etc.

I mention it in part because Althouse used to do a lot more arty, quirky, apolitical stuff. The Palin storm is like nothing I’ve seen there: A couple thousand comments over the weekend. And I’m sure it’s not over. Compared to a well-mannered thread on “American Idol” or photo blog, the traffic is humongous. (And she’s cultivated a polite crowd over there that can mostly handle the bile that some folks seem to carry around in their cheeks all day, looking for a chance to spew.)

But after the election (and the post-election controversies) it’ll quiet down again, I think, and the blog will get more interesting again.


I was born at 6AM on a Monday morning.

At 9AM my mother called the office and said, “I won’t be coming in today. I had a baby.”

She’d hid her pregnancy successfully for 33 weeks. She didn’t want to get fired–or treated differently.

Also, my mom loves a surprise.