Complexity in “Spore”

Today Andrew Hinton shared a great video of Will Wright demonstrating “Spore” for the Long Now Foundation. It’s an amazingly ambitious game, and showcases the potential for games to change the way you look at the world.

As software, I think it’s interesting how they’ve distributed the burden of complexity. On the one hand, the developers have created relatively simple algorithms that produce very complex, multivariate outputs. The game allows players to create their own creatures that will live in the Spore universe, body part by body part.  For example:

Four-legged dinosaur-like creature from Spore

A product of Spore's creature creator

The interesting thing is that the little critters are imbued with this sort of mystical mathematical soul. Wherever you position legs on a creature’s body, the computer figures out how that would affect its gait, balance, and stride. When you map a stripes onto its skin, it crunches a few formulas to figure out how they should flow from body part to body part. Simple algorithms are processed by the player’s computer to produce very complex results.

On the other hand, the rich diversity of life in the game is a product of the collective efforts of the many people who will be playing it. Rather than limiting themselves to a handful of creatures they prepackage with the game, they leave it open to the masses of players to build a complex game experience for each other.

So in a way, Maxis is working in two fundamental raw materials: the computational power of the players’ computers, and the limitless capacity of human imagination. The human investment is amplified by the algorithms, and the result is something much more complex than any person or software developer could ever create on their own.

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1 comment so far

  1. kirabug on

    So in a way, Maxis is working in two fundamental raw materials: the computational power of the players’ computers, and the limitless capacity of human imagination. The human investment is amplified by the algorithms, and the result is something much more complex than any person or software developer could ever create on their own

    Both of those aspects are incredibly impressive in and of themselves, but I really think the true accomplishment is not the raw materials but the fact that they’ve processed those raw materials into something with such a friendly and open interface and addictive creation play that there’s already around 24,000 videos of these critters on Youtube.

    Granted, the volume is in part because they had the foresight to include a Youtube exporter, image exporter, and animated gif creator directly in the software. The rest is pure distilled fun. Will Wright has topped himself again.


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