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Spore Creature Creator out

If you can’t wait to get your hands on Will Wright’s new uber-game Spore until it’s released on September 7 (pre-order!), you can download a free trial of the Spore Creature Creator.

Where is Spore?

It’s been awhile since I’ve heard anything about Spore, Will Wright’s long zoom supergame. Last summer the word was that EA’s promo machine had gotten started too early and that the game wasn’t quite ready for primetime because it wasn’t “fun”:

The unofficial word from someone on the development team is that Spore the system is almost ready but Spore the game isn’t all that much fun yet. A recent round of user testing didn’t go so well. Hence, the delay.

EA said at the time that the release date would be after March 2008, which still seems to be the case. In an October 2007 interview, Will Wright said the game was about six months away from release, which means April 2008. Even so, Wired made Spore the #2 pick on their Vaporware 2007 list. Anyone have any better intel on a release date or if the game is more fun now? Hit me on my burner.

Will Wright’s long zoom game, Spore, has

Will Wright’s long zoom game, Spore, has been delayed until 2009. No one knows why, but I hope the answer involves porting it to the Wii. (via waxy)

Update: EA’s fiscal year starts in March, so it’s not delayed until 2009…just until after March 2008. (thx, zach)

Update: The unofficial word from someone on the development team is that Spore the system is almost ready but Spore the game isn’t all that much fun yet. A recent round of user testing didn’t go so well. Hence, the delay.

Notes from Will Wright’s keynote at SXSW 2007. “

Notes from Will Wright’s keynote at SXSW 2007. “Movies have these wonderful things called actors, which are like emotional avatars, and you kinda feel what they’re feeling, it’s very effective. Films have a rich emotional palette because they have actors. Games often appeal to the reptilian brain - fear, action - but they have a different emotional palette. There are things you feel in games - like pride, accomplishment, guilt even! - that you’ll never feel in a movie.”

Popular Science has a lengthy interview with

Popular Science has a lengthy interview with Will Wright about Spore, which gets into a bit more detail about the game than I’ve seen elsewhere. See also: Will Wright’s bibliography.

Will Wright’s bibliography

The recent New Yorker piece on Will Wright is a thorough profile of the game designer, but also functions as a bibliography of sorts for the games he’s created over the past 20 years. Bibliographies are something normally reserved for books, but Wright draws much of the inspiration for his games from articles, books, papers, and other games that a list of further reading/playing in the instruction booklet for SimCity wouldn’t feel out of place. Because I like utilizing bibliographies โ€” they allow you to get into the head of an author and see how they sampled & remixed the original ideas to create something new โ€” I’ve created one for Will Wright. Sources are grouped by game; general influences are listed seperately.

The Game of Life, John Conway.

Montessori school. “It’s all about learning on your terms, rather than a teacher explaining stuff to you. SimCity comes right out of Montessori โ€” if you give people this model for building cities, they will abstract from it principles of urban design.”

Urban Dynamics - Jay Wright Forrester. “This study of urban dynamics was undertaken principally because of discoveries made in modeling the growth process of corporations. It has become clear that complex systems are counterintuitive. That is, they give indications that suggest corrective action which will often be ineffective or even adverse in its results. Very often one finds that the policies that have been adopted for correcting a difficulty are actually intensifying it rather than producing a solution.”

World Dynamics - Jay Wright Forrester.

The Sims
A Pattern Language - Christopher Alexander. “By understanding recurrent design problems in our environment, readers can identify extant patterns in their own design projects and use these patterns to create a language of their own. Extraordinarily thorough, coherent, and accessible, this book has become a bible for homebuilders, contractors, and developers who care about creating healthy, high-level design.”

A Theory of Human Motivation - Abraham Maslow. Paper on human behavior and motivation.

Maps of the Mind - Charles Hampden-Turner.

Other Sim Games
Gaia hypothesis - James Lovelock. “The Gaia hypothesis is an ecological theory that proposes that the living matter of planet Earth functions like a single organism.”

The Ants - E.O. Wilson. “This is the definitive scientific study of one of the most diverse animal groups on earth; pretty well everything that is known about ants is in this massive work.”

Powers of Ten - Charles and Ray Eames. “The film starts on a picnic blanket in Chicago and zooms out 10x every 10 seconds until the entire universe (more or less) is visible. And then they zoom all the way back down into the nucleus of an atom. A timeless classic.”

Drake Equation - Frank Drake. “Dr. Frank Drake conceived a means to mathematically estimate the number of worlds that might harbor beings with technology sufficient to communicate across the vast gulfs of interstellar space.”

SETI. “The mission of the SETI Institute is to explore, understand and explain the origin, nature and prevalence of life in the universe.”

2001: A Space Odyssey - Stanley Kubrick.

Panspermia - Freeman Dyson. “This approach was directly inspired by Freeman Dyson’s notion of Panspermia - the idea that life on earth may have been seeded via meteors carrying microscopic “spores” of life from other planets. (Dyson’s concept is also the origin of the game’s title.)”

The Life of the Cosmos - Lee Smolin. “[Smolin’s] theory of cosmic evolution by the natural selection of black-hole universes makes what we can experience into an infinitesimal, yet crucial, part of an ever-larger whole.”

The Anthropic Cosmological Principle - John Barrow, Frank Tipler, and John Wheeler. “Is there any connection between the vastness of the universes of stars and galaxies and the existence of life on a small planet out in the suburbs of the Milky Way?”

The demoscene. “The demoscene was originally limited by the hardware and storage capabilities of their target machines (16/32 bit micros such as the Atari and the Amiga ran on floppy disks), they developed intricate algorithms to produce large amounts of content from very little initial data.”

General influences
PanzerBlitz - Avalon Hill. “PanzerBlitz is a tactical-scale board wargame of tank, artillery, and infantry combat set in the Eastern Front of the Second World War.”

Super Mario Bros. - Shigeru Miyamoto. “[SMB] encouraged exploration for its own sake; in this regard, it was less like a competitive game than a ‘software toy’ โ€” a concept that influenced Will Wright’s notion of possibility space. ‘The breadth and the scope of the game really blew me away,’ Wright told me. ‘It was made out of these simple elements, and it worked according to simple rules, but it added up to this very complex design.”

Go. “[Go] is a strategic, zero-sum, deterministic board game of perfect information.”


Sources: Game Master, The Long Zoom, Master of the Universe, Interview: Suzuki and Wright, Spore entry at Wikipedia, Will Wright entry at SporeWiki, Will Wright Interview.

Update: This interview with Wright at Game Studies contains a list of references from the conversation, many of which have influenced Wright’s body of work. (thx, phil)

Looks like a good issue of the

Looks like a good issue of the New Yorker this week, including a profile of Will Wright and a review of Steven Johnson’s The Ghost Map.

PopTech, day 1 wrap-up

Since my internet access has been somewhat spotty at the conference (I’m trying to pay attention and power is hard to come by here so the laptop is closed most of the time), I’m going to do rolling wrap-ups as I go, skipping around and filling in the blanks when I can. Here we go, soundbite-style:

Alex Steffen: Cars equipped with displays that show gas mileage, when compared to cars without the mileage display, get better gas mileage. That little bit of knowledge helps the driver drive more economically. More visible energy meter displays in the home have a similar effect…people use less energy when they’re often reminded of how much energy they use. (Perhaps Personal Kyoto could help here as well.) At dinner, we discussed parallels between that and eating. Weighing yourself daily or keep track of everything you eat, and you’ll find yourself eating less. In the same way, using a program like Quicken to track your finances might compel you to spend less, at least in areas of your life where you may be spending too much.

Bruce Sterling is the Jesse Jackson of technology. He has this cadence that he gets into, neologism after neologism, stopping just short of suggesting a new word for neologism. Wonderful to experience in person. Perhaps not as upbeat as the Reverend, though.

Bruce also related a story told to him by an engineering professor friend of his. The prof split his class into two groups. The first group, the John Henrys, had to study and learn exclusively from materials available at the library…no internet allowed. The second group, the Baby Hueys, could use only the internet for research and learning…no primary source lookups at the library. After a few weeks, he had to stop this experiment because the John Henrys were lagging so far behind the Baby Hueys that it is was unfair to continue.

Kevin Kelly noted that the web currently has 1 trillion links, 1 quintillion transistors, and 20 exabytes of memory. A single human brain has 1 trillion synapses (links), 1 quintillion neurons (transistors of sorts), and 20 exabytes of memory.

Kelly also said that technology has its own agenda and went on to list what it is that technology might want. One of the things was clean water. You need clean water for industrial manufacturing…so water cleanliness is going to be a big deal in China. In a later talk, Thomas Friedman said, “China needs to go green.”

Hasan Elahi, during his ordeal being mistaken for โ€” what’s the term these days? โ€” an enemy combatant, learned that language translates easier than culture. That is, you can learn how to speak a language fluently way easier than to have the cultural fluency necessary to convince someone you’re a native. In his interrogations, Hasan liberally sprinkled pop culture references in his answers to questions posed by the FBI to help convince them that he was a native. Workers at call centers in India for American companies are not only taught to speak English with an American accent, they also receive training in American geography, history, and pop culture so as to better fool/serve American callers.

“The best laid plans of mice and men turn into a nonlinear system.” โ€” Will Wright, with apologies to Robert Burns.

Speaking of Wright, a couple of Spore trivia bits. The data for a creature in Spore takes up just 3K of memory. And entire world: just 80K. And these worlds are amazingly complex.

Brian Eno: With large groups of people, the sense of shame and the sense of honor that keeps the members of small groups from misbehaving breaks down. The challenge for larger groups is to find ways of making honor and shame matter in a similar respect.

Stewart Brand: “We are terraforming the earth anyway, we might as well do it right.” Stewart also noted that cities are very effective population sinks. When people move to cities, the birthrate drops to the replacement rate (2.1 children per family) and keeps on dropping. Combine that with the fact that by early next year, more people in the world will live in cities than in rural areas, and at some point in the next hundred years, the earth’s population will start to fall.

It’s all in your head

The Brian Eno/Will Wright session kicked things off quite well at PopTech. Lots of interesting stuff to say about this one, but I quickly wanted to highlight two things that Eno and Wright said independently in their presentations. Eno:

Art is created by artists so that the viewer has the opportunity to create something.

Later, Wright said in relation to games:

The real game is constructed in the player’s head.

Eno started his presentation by wondering about a overall system for describing culture, from high to low. He and Wright may be onto something here in that respect.

Steven Johnson on The Long Zoom, “the

Steven Johnson on The Long Zoom, “the satellites tracking in on license-plate numbers in the spy movies; the Google maps in which a few clicks take you from a view of an entire region to the roof of your house; the opening shot in ‘Fight Club’ that pulls out from Edward Norton’s synapses all the way to his quivering face as he stares into the muzzle of a revolver; the fractal geometry of chaos theory in which each new scale reveals endless complexity.” And that’s just the introduction to an interview of Will Wright about his new Long Zoom game, Spore.