Spore — Is there an end? [edit: spoilers]

Regarding the new game, does anyone know if there is an end to Spore or what? It is starting to seriously annoy me. I hate games that don’t end except if they exhaust a player’s interest. I have reached the highest level in the space stage and it doesn’t seem like I am meant to do anything except more suicide runs to the centre of the galaxy.

Edit: Stephen Totilo of MTV’s Multiplayer blog asks the existential question posed by a ‘sandbox’ game where an ‘end’ essentially meaningless:

But in Space Stage, the supposed end of “Spore,” the player is essentially re-asked to examine their reason to care about the game. Will you be amused by being a galactic wanderer? Will you be frightened to have so many gameplay interactions to manage? Do you want to play this thing or look at this thing?

Of course, this general question can be asked of all video games. Australian rock band, Regurgitator, put it best in musical form :

EDIT: Here is one account of the end of Spore:

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iteration in gaming industry

Game developers 2K (created acclaimed Bioshock) developed an organic appreciation of the non-linear process of differentiating feedback at the heart of any creative endeavour:

If there’s an over-arching theme of our development, it’s that we, like many other developers, believe that ultimate success in this industry comes from iteration. You have to build, evaluate (and have others evaluate) and be prepared to throw things away and rebuild.

First page of this article here.

PC Gaming: Too Complicated?

IGN PC had a conversation (I think by email) with Randy Stude, president of the PC Gaming Alliance and director of Intel’s Gaming Program Office, and Roy Taylor, the PCGA’s CTO as well as VP of content relations at Nvidia about what the PCGA actually does. The PC Gaming Alliance is made up of various companies that have an interest in promoting PC gaming. Unlike consoles, such as the Playstation brand, X-Box or Wii, there is no single authoritative body or company in charge of guiding the market. PCs are an ‘open’ platform; this is part of the appeal for developers and gamers alike. A report on the state of PC gaming is due out from the Alliance in a few days.

What struck me as interesting in the discussion was this exchange:

IGN: In addition to the perception that PC gaming is expensive, there’s also the notion that it’s complicated. Too many decisions to make when trying to put together a machine, too time consuming to keep up over the years. How do you combat this?

Randy Stude: We hope to simplify the starting point for mainstream consumers; however the PCGA will not directly replace the platform development and marketing efforts of any member of the PC game industry.

Roy Taylor: I am not sure I agree with the question. Most games work “out of the box” now and certainly those that have worked with those suppliers with excellent support programs have benefited from ease of use which matches any console experience.

I think this is fundamentally wrong. Part of the reason gamers play on PCs is because they can engage with the challenges posed by constantly upgrading PC hardware and software technologies. You only have to browse various gaming or geek sites or forums to see this. As I argue in my PhD about car culture, these challenges are what define an enthusiasm. I suggest to a certain extent if gamers were only enthusiastic about the game and not ‘gaming’ then they would play consoles. Consoles are deficient because they do not offer a challenge. Making the PC ‘experience’ more like the ‘console’ experience is an incredibly flawed way to think about it.

Gaming challenges

Via slashdot, a post on puzzles in video games by Michael Abbott:

Despite my fondness for the adventure games of yore, it appears the days of puzzles in narrative games have come and gone. Puzzles – especially the serial unlocking variety found in the old LucasArts games – seem to have become a relic of a bygone era. Where they once provided a necessary ludic element to a—clever and often complex narrative – designed to add challenge and force the player to earn his progress through the story – few modern players have the patience for such challenges anymore.

If we follow the Alex Galloway/McKenzie Wark argument where games have a logic that needs to be learnt so the ‘rules’ can be exploited, then every game is a form of puzzle. Abbott is making a neo-Kantian point about the incorporation of time for reflection in this gaming logic. What Abbott calls ‘puzzles’ allow for a greater duration of reflection in the necessary circuits of action-reaction of gaming practice than the contemporary ‘action’-based games. The loss of reflection time is lamented as a generational shift in market-determined game design. This shift is perhaps also apparent in the rise of RTS games (often with RPG elements) over their turn-based counterparts. The duration of gaming challenges can be understood on an affective spectrum from immersion to patience. Broadly speaking, in the temporality of gaming a shorter duration between action and the contingent (albeit program-based probabalistic) outcome of the action produces a more immersive experience.

Various comments in the original blog post (linked above) talk about the boring “click everything” gaming action of Myst and the like. The entire gaming representational space becomes a low-level intensive space where anything could potentially become a necessary component in the action. Compare this to the dialectical opposite, the ‘horror’ aesthetics of Doom 3 where, again, basically everything — every ‘corner’ or ‘darkness’, which there was a lot of in the game — could potentially be the location of a necessary component of action (a DEMON!). The aesthetic architecture of contingency in Doom 3 produced a high-level intensive space that forced gamers to experience the game in a far more immersive way compared to puzzle-based games. The acceerated rhythm of short-duration contingency of intense action-reaction circuits defines the genre of FPS. To a certain extent however, gamers also rejected this mode of action as they got bored being continually interpellated into Doom 3’s atmospheric immersion ‘trickery’.

Materiality of Gaming/Learning

Slashdot has got around to linking to OCZ’s Neural Impulse Actuator (NIA) a brain-computer interface. Reviews of the NIA have been floating around for a while. The review on hothardware.com is interesting because in the introduction the impact of the device is framed in terms of existing interface devices:

When we first heard of OCZ’s interesting “brain-computer” interface a couple of years ago, we couldn’t help but have visions of The Matrix. The very notion of controlling a computer with the mind conjures up images of exotic, fictional technologies from sci-fi movies. We were also slightly skeptical about the NIA’s ability to improve our gaming experience, even if it were to work as advertised. Don’t get us wrong, controlling the computer hands-free with our mind sure sounds neat, but we really like our mice, keyboards and gamepads. Perhaps we’re old fashioned but there is at least one member of the HotHardware team that thinks the keyboard and mouse are the only input devices you will ever need, well at least for the foreseeable future.

I find this interesting because it indicates the emergence of a gamer habitus (albeit PC gaming). This section from the conclusion also reminds me of a section from Jennifer Daryl Slack’s essay on The Matrix and ‘becoming-adolescence’:

While we spent most of our time testing the NIA with fast FPS games where response time is of the utmost importance, it can be just as useful in other genres. In a RTS, you could use the NIA to bind build orders and unit commands. With a RPG, you can finally launch magical abilities the way they were meant to be cast, with your mind. The NIA is certainly not limited to games either. The highly versatile configuration utility and driver software allow the NIA to be used in any environment, including the Windows desktop. The NIA could become the center of your experience or it could just as easily act like a third hand, it’s up to you.

Unfortunately, the NIA isn’t without caveats. Before you can enjoy the unique gaming experience provided by the NIA, you’ll need to slog through day upon day of training to build up your skill with the device. Thankfully, training often involves nothing more than playing games. This is definitely the hardest game controller to master on any platform. The need to calibrate before each session is also a bit of a drag. However, if you persist, you’ll be rewarded with a truly unique experience. How many people can claim they won a game of Pong without using their hands or feet?

Training is not meant to be something that takes ‘days’. From Slack’s essay:

Learning With Eyes Closed
Resisting the prison of the everyday Matrix requires knowledge, information, and training. Education is generally acknowledged here to be crucial. One has to know how to fight, how to fly a helicopter, how to leap from one tall building to the next in a single bound, and so on. Members of the resistance acquire this knowledge plugged into a computer downloading programs. In his initial training session Neo is hooked up to learn in this fashion. In this fantastically speeded up and transformed version of neurolinguistic programming, a mind not only learns, but a body becomes something knowledgeable. In this way, Neo learns Kung Fu in a matter of mere moments. Then strapped into their chairs, he and Morpheus fight in virtual space. In this fight, we witness the transformation of Neo from a skinny, night-owlish computer hacker to a trim, muscular; and extraordinarily skilled Kung Fu artist. One does not need to learn the old way, where learning Kung Fu involved a lifetime of discipline and effort, of training and apprenticeship, of success and failure. One learns by sitting back and letting the machine do the work.
[…]
[Learning] in The Matrix happens to you, almost without exertion. You sit passively in a chair and the learning comes to you. What remains of exertion is slight. Downloading is exhausting, both on the mind and the body. Tank takes Neo through ten hours of “training” at his first session and is impressed by Neo’s endurance, declaring with delight, “he’s a machine.” But what we see is Neo sitting in a chair, eyes closed, getting “jolted” with knowledge. He has sort of a momentary hangover afterwards that doesn’t appear to be particularly taxing or to have any long-term effects. (pp. 18, 20)