Will Wright, Spore, and a new version of Word War vi
June 15, 2008:
Came across this very interesting TED talk with Will Wright (the guy who created The Sims line of games) demoing Spore.
From a computer game design perspective, this is pretty neat stuff, the user-generated, procedurally augmented, and procedurally generated content of the game is pretty neat, and my little (by comparison, tiny, microscopic) game uses a lot of procedural techniques for generating levels, so this is something which interests me.
As neat as it is, one thing that bothers me about this talk of Will’s is that he talks about teaching people a lot of things about evolution, ecology, climate change,etc. by allowing them to play with a simulation. One thing he doesn’t mention, but which is pretty blatantly obvious, is that the simulation is, well, wrong to the point of bordering on just plain crazy. For instance, adding CO2 to the atmosphere causes global warming in the simulation… to the point that the planet melts?. That’s crazy.
The one that bothers me the most though is that he talks about evolution, but his model of evolution — which is normally random mutation plus natural selection acting on those mutations — leaves out the random mutation part. Instead, the random mutation seems to be replaced by giving the player a toolkit to design a creature however they like. Well, that is not evolution, Will Wright. I wonder if he’s just so isolated from the huddled masses that he doesn’t realize just how badly misunderstood evolution is among the general populace, and doesn’t realize that everyone won’t automatically know that what he’s presenting as a simulation of evolution is so incredibly far removed from what evolution really is. If he’s trying to educate people, as he seems to claim, he’s doing a terrible job of it. The other possibility is that Will Wright himself doesn’t understand evolution at all, not even a little bit. That seems unlikely. Maybe he just did a bad job of presenting that aspect of it and the game does a better job? That also seems unlikely.
As entertainment though, it looks pretty impressive.
As for my own game making activities lately, I’ve put Word War vi 0.15 up on sourceforge (source tar.gz file.) I’ve made a few tweaks to the radar to make the humanoids and player a bit more visible, and I’ve made the keyboard and joystick controls customizable via a ~/.wordwarvi/.exrc configuration file. You can also set default values for the various command line options via the .exrc file.
Here’s a little video showing the changes to the radar:
Edit: Oct 23,2008: There is an article here in which several scientists play and critique Spore. Summary: Spore fails at science, despite the misleading advertising hype.