This past week my graphics card in my computer finally succumbed to time and died. It wasn't anything special, so I wasn't too surprised to see it go after 3 or so years. Right now I'm using the onboard card that came with this prebuilt and it's capabilities stretch as far as FreeCell. So, I decided to go through my very small stack of PC games to see the potential for what fun I could be missing. It basically consists of World of Warcraft, Diablo II (which I snagged for 3 bucks at a garage sale many, many years ago), and Spore.
Looking back at the reaction of Spore's release through video game sites and the general gaming community is strange to me, and I almost feel like I dodged a hype bullet or was maybe playing a different game, because I loved it. It was a game that was completely breathtaking to me in every possible way when I didn't expect it.
Many people hav e their different strokes for what hits their sweet spot, and I've always been all over the map. Video games have always been the purest way of experiencing ideas, stories, characters, art, and music for me, and I assume that's true for many other constant gamers. And some how, some way, this game was just one of those games for me.
My favorite crossover genre of all time is SciFi/Western. Not exactly a common combo but every time I see someone tackle it, it's alw ays magical. Even before my deep love of Firefly, there was Outlaw Star, one of the only few animes I watch. There was The Gunslinger (which is less space scifi, admittedly). But these all stemmed from the fascination of space I've always had. And those two shows, Firefly and Outlaw Star, both feature a group of virtual nobodies who are alone in space. Silently terrified at the thought of all the standard fears of space and what it means to be so nothing within something that is, well, everything.
That idea of the fear of possibility is unsettling some people. Possibility is a great thing, but it gets scarier the broader it gets, and nothing is literally broader than space. Spore is a slow burn. The stages of the game follow all the tropes you expect them to glance over. They're minimalistic in the way they present themselves and are only complex-ified by the player themselves when they create the various creatures or objects that soon populate their world. It's when the game gets to space and all of the things you have done previously are done. You create your spaceship, and that's the last amount of creative input the game gives you. The home planet you leave is entirely made of everything you put into it. You started literally from a microscopic being and you meticulously craft every single thing that makes that world home to you. And you leave it behind.
Maybe that idea didn't hit home with some people, but it hit home with me. That world was everything you made it to be. And the game as I now know i t hadn't even started yet. Sp ace mode starts and you are a bit overwhelmed. The first time you take flight to another populated planet, it hits you. You fly your spaceship low to the planet and you see creatures and towns with their own flair and you realize how that right there could have just been everything you did in the game so far. So you zoom out from the planet. You zoom farther and farther and when the iconic galaxy swirl of the universe is positioned on the screen you realize the scope of th e game. There are literally an uncountable amount of other planets that populate this whole entire galaxy. It's baffling . It's unnerving. And it's unsettling in the possibilities it presents.
Now, the game-play aspect of space mode does dissolve into spice trading, fending off the Grox (who are astonishingly an expansive empire), and formatting planets to fit your terra-forming needs. I personally loved the idea of it all. Terra-forming itself has always been an awesome concept to me and it was an immensely fun mechanic to balance various planet's temperature and atmosphere into a habitable planet which then led to more spice trading, which did admittedly get a bit tedious.
But the sheer scope of the game at that point was truly mind blowing to me. What really gave me the most memorable experience stemmed from an achievement in the game to visit the c enter of the galaxy. There was no mission given to do this, it was simply an achievement placed in the game that anyone could aspire to get if they felt like it. For me, it became the climax of the game and further established the game into one of the more memorable gaming experiences of my life.
After making a bit of money and upgrading my ship a bit, I thought I might tackle the achievement. It's a long journey to the center of the galaxy. This feat is all the more troubling when you slowly begin to realize that the further you get to the center of the galaxy, the more concentrated the amount of Grox controlled planets is. And they REALLY aren't the neighborly type.
It's a frightening thing to delve into unknown territory. It's the same exact feeling I get starting any game with an open world element to it. You're afraid that at any point you might be heading into the wrong territory at that point in the game. Like running from Elwynn Forest into Duskwood on accident in World of Warcraft and realizing you have made a glaring and horrible mistake. I've been very apprehensive anytime I begin a game that I know to have that open world element because it is physically taxing on me. I have to slowly learn how to traverse this alien landscape while I'm still fumbling to understand the mechanics and ultimate goal of the game. It's a very daunting and terrifying experience each and every time. And the payoff later in the game is always amazingly rewarding.
But Spore was this much grander beast that scared me more than anything. I would spend a chunk of time traveling. Maybe occasionally take a new planet and establish a trade route with some lone civilization I've befriended and restock on some essentials, all the while getting farther and farther away from that home planet I now felt apart of. Continuing towards this ultimate goal fighting off Grox. Running from them. Overcoming them. It's an insane feeling and almost like space planet parkour as you dodge around these Grox colonies seeing just which planets you might be able to reach as you inch to the center of the galaxy. You're fed up with bothering with these bastards and are zipping through planets with ease, getting the hang of it just as if you were playing an old Sonic Genesis game, all the while still leaving behind that ho me planet you forged so long ago. Reaching that center never means so much to you as it does when you get there. Every planet you pass is a reminder of where you started. Of the cities you designed. Of the other creatures you conquered. Of the tiny, microscopic cell you started from.
Maybe Spore was a game I loved more for the concepts and ideas it made me mull about. Maybe it was its charming simplicity that drew me in. But looking at my dusty PC tower and then back at the case of Spore I hold in my hand I know I'll never forget the time I did spend with it. Sure, I haven't touched the game since that week I was enthralled by it, but I don't need to. There have always been games that some people for some strange reason latch on to. I'm sure there's someone out there who thinks Bubsy 3D was one of the milestones in gaming. And I will stare strangely at them. But maybe now, I'll have a small bit of resolve in my glare, because I've experienced that love for a game others may not have.