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Players from around the world started poking at the cube. There was a stupendous prize inside that would take players, working in unison, ages to unlock. Presumably to alleviate boredom, Curiosity gamers tried to make their mark, by chipping out the shape of some letters or a simple picture.
According to an official time stamp on Twitter, in the wee hours of November 5, some players had actually already downloaded into the game. They were cracking blocks. And on day -1, what did they etch into that massive blank block?
Why are people doing this? Oh, this called for investigative report, of course! This article, which is all about the results of that investigation, is, obviously, NSFW...
Following a struggle with the tech folks following a fault in the SimCity press servers, the lost city of Fahey's Folly—aka the SimCity on the Edge of Forever—was found once again. In celebration, I unleashed red-hot dino fury.
Since I'll be using my own Origin account and retail servers for our upcoming SimCity review, Fahey's Folly didn't have long to live anyway. I think destruction by a Spore-looking Godzilla stand-in is what the city would have wanted.
The scaly bugger doesn't do all that much damage anyway—this video is actually the third of three dino attacks. Thanks to the GlassBox engine, any destroyed buildings are quickly replaced once the rubble has been bulldozed. Natural disasters just aren't what they used to be.
EA assures me that the bug that kept me from my city was an issue with the private servers the press preview are being held on, and should not affect retail customers, so hopefully noone should have to lose something they love, get it back and then kill it ever again.
At least not in SimCity.
But being a PC gamer...as far as I've been able to tell, that happens on purpose. That's something you declare. It's no accident. It's an effort, a conscious act.
I once was a PC gamer. Then I stopped, for years. Soon, I'll start again. I'm ready.
For most of my gaming life, the no-stress ease of the gaming console suited me well. I drive automatic transmission after all, not stick. I don't have any desire to lift the hood of a car. Tinkering is barely a pleasure; maintenance is something to pay others for. I recently installed a ceiling fan and only shocked myself slightly. That was enough home improvement for me.
The PC gamer, I've observed, is the person who will lift the hood of a car. They tinker. They fix. They expect things to not run perfectly and they assume the responsibility to make them run better. The console gamer waits for a patch. The PC gamer finds one. Or makes one.
I was a PC Gamer in 1985, when, despite my complaints, my parents bought a Commodore 64. I still recall my bizarre reaction, as I complained to my mother that using a computer was "cheating". Strange, I know, but that's how I first came to think of computers. To me, they were shortcut creators. That was their power. We did word processing through Bank Street Writer and practiced typing with a game that involved a wizard whose spell-casts I can still hear in my mind today.
We got a lot of games. Snooper Troops stands out, as does Test Drive and a batch of Accolade adventures. I played Spy Hunter off of a cartridge and Impossible Mission off of a floppy disc. My favorite game was LucasArts' Labyrinth, a text adventure that turned into a graphical adventure based on the Jim Henson movie. But here's the perfect PC gaming twist: We made some games. Basic stuff. My brother and I typed in programming code from Run magazine. I have no idea what we typed in, and I'm sure we never intentionally deviated from the code listed in the magazine. Nevertheless, that was as under-the-hood as I'd ever get.
I liked playing games on a computer, partially because that was the only machine we had games on. We'd had an Odyssey 2, not an Atari, but neglected it by the time the C64 arrived. Maybe it broke. I don't remember. We'd eventually get a Nintendo Entertainment System, later than any of my friends did, and soon we'd have an IBM PC, too (maybe a 286; probably a 386). My brother preferred the computer; I glided toward Mario and Nintendo. He played Microsoft Flight Simulator. A lot. Downstairs, my C64 pulled me back in because we got a modem for it. I logged into a service called Quantum Link, the proto-AOL that included Club Caribe, a LucasArts-looking graphical chat room with avatars and palm trees and whatnot. The gaming diet in my home was typical. We got Tetris on the NES and we got SimCity on the PC.
SimCity became an obsession. SimCity produced the worst gaming purchase decision of my life, when my mother gave me the choice of getting SimCity CD or SimCity 2000. The latter was an actual sequel; a complex improvement over the original. But I asked for CD, a re-packaging of the original game, but with live-action cut-scenes added in (click on the one in this article, if you dare). Thanks, PC gaming: you were making me feel stupid even back then.
We got Myst, of course, and I think I solved all of it. Took notes, even.
Our IBM 486 begat a Pentium 1? 2? I don't recall. One of those went to college with me, along with a copy of SimTower and some helicopter sim. This was 1994, and it was the year I learned about minimum specs and started loathing PC gaming. SimTower only ran well when my tower was one story high. Add more floors and the game started to chug. The helicopter game was smooth during take-off, but not during the moment of having a missile fired at me. I'd brought a Super Nintendo with me to college as well. It did not cause me these kinds of problems. Yoshi's Island just worked and only slowed down when you hit the fuzzy enemies that were programmed to make it seem like Yoshi had suddenly become drunk.
PC gaming began to piss me off. My computer was sort of new and already couldn't run new games well. I think we bought me a new computer. Soon enough, it was lagging as well, and soon enough I was buying my last PC game. I used my computer in college to write term papers. I used my Super Nintendo as a trade-in for a Nintendo 64. I didn't hear about any PC games that were as cool as Super Mario 64 back then, and, as it's been chronicled, I totally missed Doom.
In my later years in college I worked part-time at a magazine. The art director there was the first person I met who loved Macs. Somehow that led to me goofing off at work sometimes, playing Spaceward Ho!. This art director guy, Ken, raved about a Doom-like game for the Mac called Marathon. I had no interest. I had GoldenEye on my N64. I didn't need any other first-person shooter. The thing I liked about Macs, from the way my friend at work described them, is that they seemed airtight. They seemed hassle-free. They seemed, more or less, like consoles. So when I went to grad school right after college, I got my first laptop. It was a Mac. So was my second, and nary a game ever ran on those machines. Gaming was for my N64, then for my GameCube, my Game Boy Advance, my PlayStation 2, or, briefly, for the Dreamcast I borrowed from a friend.
I'd often hear that PC gaming was better, but when I'd do the math, I'd realize it was also ridiculously more expensive. So I lived without it. I lived without Civilization and without Quake. I lived without Baldur's Gate and without Fallout. I never played Half-Life, never touched Deus Ex. When I only owned a GameCube, I knew enough that I was missing things to spring for a PS2 and then an Xbox, but PC gaming lived on the other side of a wall I could not afford to surmount, not with the fear that as soon as I bought a PC for today's games, I'd discover it couldn't run tomorrow's.
In my second long-term job after grad school, I made a friend who loved Fallout and who foisted a dual copy of Fallout/Fallout 2 into my hands. I don't remember which computer I tried it on. I think I had a Windows-based tower PC at the time, not for games but for word-processing, checking e-mail and using the web. I loaded the first game, liked it, but got stuck. I'd made my hero too mediocre. He couldn't talk his way past some mean guards. Couldn't fight them too. I backed away from PC gaming again. I moved in with my girlfriend and she went out for a full Saturday once. During that Saturday I went from level 1 to level 12 as a Tauren Druid in World of Warcraft. That was the first and last MMO I'd ever played. Too much work.
My fear of PC gaming persisted. Being a PC gamer would demand too much, I had decided. Too much money. Too much time. Too much work. It was ridiculous to me that just about nothing could run Crysis. I could sleep at night without having played Doom 3. But from time to time I'd hear about a new PC game that must have reminded me of the top-down fun of those old SimCitys. A guy named Peter Molyneux concocted the likes of Black & White and The Movies, sims about being god or a movie mogul, respectively. Games like this started arriving in my mailbox from game publishers who wanted to catch the eye of someone who was now a game reporter. I had no computer that could run things well. Loading a PC game, for me, was like making a new friend, waving to them and then watching them have a heart attack.
PC gaming frustrated me, because I could not make sense of it. Search engines never produced the right solutions to my technical woes. I had the wrong drivers or the wrong graphics card. I didn't know. Maybe more RAM would help, or maybe my processor just sucked. I didn't want to guess if the game I was buying was going to work. I didn't want to always feel that, even if it did, it could run better if only my machine was different. I got an Xbox 360. It didn't give me these headaches.
People began talking about a game called Spore. It was only going to be on PC. I was a game reporter by the time it was close to release. I interviewed people who were making it. So I bought a gaming laptop—yes, a laptop, an acquiescence to the New York city-dweller's lack of space. It ran Spore—the first video game I spent $1500 to play—just fine. Too bad the game wasn't that good.
As I made a name for myself as a video game reporter, the good people behind the Independent Games Festival invited me to judge indie games. They'd send me half-made works of wonderfully imaginative creators. After years of playing consoles games—after years of never having touched a mod—the first batch of indie games I downloaded to try on my gaming laptop were the rawest games I'd seen in decades. The rawest games I'd seen since those ones my brother and I typed into our C64. I struggled to get some of these games to run. Some were bad; some just badly made. But they fascinated me. I played Braid this way, more than a year before it came out. I played batches of physics games and shooters, some weird adventure games and other creations that were more abstract.
For several years, I only played PC games once a year, when it was time to judge games for the IGF. That was an uptick in my rate of PC gaming. It gave me one thrilling week per 52 when I was gaming on the frontier rather than on the safe terrain of the Xbox 360, the Wii and the PlayStation 3.
A few years back, I had the sense not to tell the folks at Valve Software that the Steam press account that they gave me—the account that would unlock, for free, the majority of games available on Steam—was something I couldn't really use. I could play some indie games, but I couldn't run a lot of other games from Steam. Or, maybe I could. I wouldn't. I'd fancied myself a gaming omnivore, diving into games on any console or handheld, but I'd made a dietary exception for PC gaming. That was just too much. And, I must admit, I did not mind the signs of PC gaming's decline, because I knew it would leave me fewer gaming platforms to worry about. (To make matters worse/slightly-better, I did use my Steam account to redeem Bejeweled 3, which I liked very much. Defcon, too.)
My gaming laptop is now obsolete. It hasn't been able to run any new games of note in a few years. I'd stuck to consoles, handhelds and iOS devices for my gaming since then. In these last few years, I fully lost my ability to call myself a PC gamer, something this chronology shows I let slip away, bit by bit.
I can no longer ignore it, and I now feel as if I am missing an extraordinarily exciting section of gaming. I won't ignore it any longer.
Two years ago, I should have been playing a lot of Minecraft and The Witcher. One year ago, I should have tried Amnesia. This year, I should have been playing DayZ. I couldn't play Star Wars: The Old Republic. I can't play League of Legends. I could Bootcamp my Macbook Air, but I don't think that would be the right way to dive into the world of the so very many fascinating, indie games being made for the PC.
My computer gaming diet can't simply consist of the oddly captivating FarmVille 2 that runs now in my browser. I need to try FTL. I need to be ready for Cube World. I need to play a Paradox game, at long last. And I need to be ready, appropriately enough, for a new SimCity.
There is a cardboard box at my feet right now. In it is a brand-new gaming PC. It's a laptop, space still being tight. But it's my ticket back. I don't know if I ever really was one, considering all the classics I missed, but I'm ready, at least to make the effort. I will be a PC gamer. It's finally important to me.
If you've ever seen Will Wright, the big brain behind games like The Sims, Spore and SimCity, deliver one of his humorous, hypnotizing talks, you're probably going to want to settle in and watch this one too. If you've never had the good fortune to be assaulted by Will Wright's smarts, well, you're in luck.
Earlier this year, Wright spoke at the Summit on Science, Entertainment, and Education, tying together a ton of ideas, anecdotes and thoughts on games, toys, science and a bazillion other things and how they might relate to education. He'll talk about video games and his own experience in development in this roughly 20 minute talk, but he'll also blow your mind in other ways.
If you've got the time to spare to hear Will do his thing, watch the above recording of his Summit speech.
Darkspore is a bit like classic action title Diablo, with a twist: Instead of concentrating on leveling up a single character, you're working to level up a team of heroes, three of which you bring on every mission.
While Darkspore can be played alone, the developers hope that gamers will take on missions in groups of four players, cooperating as they work their way through the game.
Darkspore was created using the robust creature creator and procedural animation engine developed for Spore, but that's where the similarities between the two end.
Because the game uses the Spore engine, players can customize their characters much more than with the typical game. That also means placing the items you get in battle anywhere on a creature. Armor placement, in particular, has a surprisingly high degree of freedom.
The game includes three classes and five fighting styles. The classes fall along the typical archetypes found in role-playing games. The Sentinel is a very strong, melee-centric character similar to a tank class. The Ravenger is like a rogue with very fast movements and the ability to dodge off-setting how fragile they can be. And the Tempest is like a mage or priest, specializing in area effects and healing.
The game's different types of characters change the way a character attacks and defends.
The Necro is all about death and the supernatural with powers like the ability to drain health or terrify enemies. The Cyber is a tech creature that can build lasers, bombs, turrets and traps. The Bio uses the power of plants and animals and has attacks like poison, disease and a "root shield." The Plasma uses fire and lighting to do a lot of damage and perform stun and chain attacks. And finally the Quantum bends space and time to attack with abilities that allow them to warp time, speed up or slow enemies down and pull and push enemies.
The combat has a fairly straightforward resistance system. If you're attacking someone of the same class as you, then you do half damage. That's it.
As with games like Diablo, a big part of Darkspore is about the loot. But in Darkspore you don't just collect items and power-ups, you also collect new characters.
You then form these characters into squads of three, which can be selected to drop into a mission with.
My play through of a mission opened on the planet of Cryos. As with Plants Vs. Zombies, the mission screen gave me a sense of what sorts of creatures I'd be encountering on the mission. The idea is that you can use that information to better decide which squad you want to bring into the mission.
Enemies are randomized, so they're different every time you play a mission, I was told.
Once on the mission gameplay feels very familiar. The isometric view shows your character and the characters of the three other players around you. You can also see the surrounding terrain and nearby enemies. I moved my creature with a mouse and clicked on enemies to attack.
Each character has a default attack and two special attacks, used by pressing 1 or 2. The character also has three special abilities drawn from the rest of your squad. These three abilities, used by pressing the 3, 4, or 5 buttons, never change in a mission. But the two special attacks depend on which character you have selected at the moment.
While playing through the game you can at any time press a button to switch to one of your other squadmates. The switch occurs as a sort of teleport that wipes whatever magic or poison effects you might have on you at the time and temporarily blows back nearby enemies. Because the act of switching characters can be so powerful, that ability is on a timer, preventing you from constantly switching characters as you work your way through the game.
The game felt a bit like playing Diablo in space. Because I played a single mission I wasn't able to get a sense of the game's storyline, but the mechanics of battling through a mission were fun and addictive.
Once finished, the missions screen comes up and breaks down your stats. The game then asks you if you want to stop with the mission and collect a single high level piece of loot or if you want to risk continuing to the next mission and perhaps get more, better loot.
In my case, the game was offering a single level 14 items, but said I'd receive two level 21 items if I survived through the next mission. If I died I'd get nothing.
I can see this risk and reward system for staying and playing turning Darkspore into a very addictive game.
And there were some other neat things the developers told me about built into the title.
The game uses an artificial intelligence director to help adjust key moments in the game and the difficulty and quantity of enemies on the fly, an idea taken from shooter Left 4 Dead.
As with Diablo, Darkspore has a variety of loot items that range from common to rare. At the end of a mission, once you decide you want to take the loot, the game tells you your chances for getting rare items and then tells you what you've received.
You also earn DNA and experience points. DNA is used for adding parts to your creatures. You can also trade parts online through the web.
Judging from my time with the game in Germany, Darkspore is the sort of game I could see myself playing and playing a lot.
Here's the reveal trailer for Darkspore, the intense, fast-paced action role-playing game set in the colorful, friendly Spore universe.
I never expected to see a trailer this dramatic for a Spore game, but it makes sense. The latter portions of Spore, where you actually ventured out into space, were some of the more interesting bits. It's nice to see EA expanding on that bit.
The creators of Spore are going to the dark side with an all-new "fast-paced and intense" sci-fi action-role-playing game known as Darkspore, coming to the Mac and PC next year.
In Darkspore, players must recruit creatures from across the galaxy to build an army of beasts, each with unique abilities "to wield as your living weapons." Deploy your galactic army against "infected planets" to battle the forces of Darkspore. Players can outfit their creatures with weapons and armor to augment their abilities, as well as customize that interstellar zoo with the Spore Creature Editor.
Darkspore promises an "epic sci-fi campaign" that can be played in single-player or cooperatively, with multiplayer competitive arena battles rounding out the list of reasons you'd want to play more Spore games.
The game is due to hit multiple platforms in the spring of next year, with downloadable add-ons already planned. Darkspore will get more attention at this week's San Diego Comic-Con, but for now, enjoy your first screens of the game.
The segment has a simple premise: as computer programs become more advanced, our emotional connection with their creations grow ever stronger. And when they become so advanced that we can't tell what's "real" from what's our own creation, does that make us gods?
Or, as the NASA guy at the end speculates, does that just as easily mean we could be Sims in somebody else's universe? All very high-brow stuff, so if you need grounding, try and work out why a man as rich as Will Wright must be can't seem to get his hands on a pair of cufflinks!
Your Second Life [Through The Wormhole, thanks Marco!]