Spore video

There’s a nice video of Sims creator Will Wright explaining the new game he’s developing, called Spore. (An edited-down version of the video, concentrating on the game play, is here. (Thanks for the lead, John!)

Very cool stuff, and I think a nice addition to the set of collateral material that gets at some of the aspects of either Croquet or Brie. A very nicely done thing to compare against

Spore and Croquet are quite different, of course. Croquet is not a game, although one can build games with it. Croquet allows synchronous collaborative worlds, in which what you control and manipulate is seen directly within the same simulation as someone else operating on another computer in the same world. By contrast, Spore is really single player, with the set of frozen parameters describing game elements being brought in asynchronously from either an on-disk database or from other players on the Internet.

But I think the crucial idea of Wright is that content – however described – should be produced by other players, not by Wright’s company. Brie could be described as applying that concept to the synchronous collaboration of Croquet (as is done here). [I admit that this is the crucial idea that I am most interested in. Wright identifies the crucial idea to him as being “compression.” He means this in many dimensions. On one axis for example, generative behavior and geometry affords huge compression versus storing pre-generated stuff as data. With respect to user interface, Spore consistently employs a very neat scale-distortion trick to compress the distances between objects of interest, making it much easier to navigate.]

Some other points of comparison:

Spore’s editors allow one to build cool stuff (creatures, cities, vehicles, …) out of parts, and with continuous variation of a large number of parameters. One could imagine opening this up so that hacker-users could define their own new parts and parameters to play with. Brie lets hacker-programmers do this. [Security model not yet fully described!] Moreover, suppose you find, say, a creature that someone else created that has a cool part or a cool behavior that someone else wrote. You can decompose the creature to get at this part or behavior, and use it to construct some wholly different creature.

That’s cool enough of itself, but the real idea is that parts and behaviors are not limited to creatures, vehicles, buildings, and whatever else a game design team might envision, but can encompass whatever it is you need to do real work. For example, some of the parts we’ve built include text whiteboards, Jabber clients to text-chat within or without the world, video for attached Webcams, and virtual computers appearing within the world that are fully functional and can be used by anyone within the world.

It looks like Spore has a wonderfully good UI for editing creatures and manipulating stuff in the game, and for navigating. Croquet doesn’t. Our thinking is that if users can create and share and recombine their own stuff, why not create their own user interfaces? A good test will be to see whether it is sufficiently easy for some user, somewhere, to create user interfaces as good as those in Spore.

Spore makes heavy use of an editor for creating and modifying creatures, buildings, etc. Wright talks about the importance of doing this within the flow of the game. The idea is to get away from the traditional game-developer’s work-flow of using a separate “level-editor” tool that is used in a cycle of edit, restart-game with new level, stop-game and revise level, etc. But Croquet is being developed by folks who come from the “late-binding” culture of software development, where one changes code and objects directly in a live running system rather than an edit/compile/run/stop/re-edit cycle. So naturally, Brie aims to let you edit objects as much as possible from the “game” or simulation itself, as it is running, rather than popping you to a separate editor. It remains to be seen how user-friendly such editors can be made.

Spore has a separate out-of-game process on the network that has a sort of God’s eye view of all the players, sorting game-choice options by what’s popular or what works. While this isn’t covered by the everything’s-a-peer nature of a lot of Croquet development, it is an interest of architects McCahill and Lombardi, and I think they’ll have more of this kind of thing as the Croquet architecture matures.

About Stearns

Howard Stearns works at High Fidelity, Inc., creating the metaverse. Mr. Stearns has a quarter century experience in systems engineering, applications consulting, and management of advanced software technologies. He was the technical lead of University of Wisconsin's Croquet project, an ambitious project convened by computing pioneer Alan Kay to transform collaboration through 3D graphics and real-time, persistent shared spaces. The CAD integration products Mr. Stearns created for expert system pioneer ICAD set the market standard through IPO and acquisition by Oracle. The embedded systems he wrote helped transform the industrial diamond market. In the early 2000s, Mr. Stearns was named Technology Strategist for Curl, the only startup founded by WWW pioneer Tim Berners-Lee. An expert on programming languages and operating systems, Mr. Stearns created the Eclipse commercial Common Lisp programming implementation. Mr. Stearns has two degrees from M.I.T., and has directed family businesses in early childhood education and publishing.


  1. While watching the Spore video I couldn’t help but think about the game’s navigation and how much of that was facilitated by the game controller. I wonder if there will ever be dedicated hardware for Croquet? In other words, a laptop/desktop/handheld/new-device designed from scratch to run Croquet and nothing else. I understand that the $100 laptop may have Squeak installed from day one. However, the graphic requirements for Croquet are much higher than just Squeak. If Croquet is meant to be a way to “invent the future”, why not take that approach a bit further and extend it to the hardware as well?

  2. I’m sure hardware and interfaces will be very different over the, say, 20 or more year time horizon of Croquet. Check out David’s vision at http://wetmachine.com/i

    Within even, say, five years, there’s planty to explore in the fanout starting from http://wetmachine.com/i

    But right now, our lab is focusing more on “what is Croquet and what do you do with it” rather than on creating new hardware to leverage something that doesn’t even have an end-user base yet. Besides, that’s just not our thing. Now, if creating hardware peripherals is your thing, then get to it!

  3. This is a striking video – very impressive. I would be ecstatic if a tenth of this technology made its way into Croquet. The Wikipedia entry for Spore gives a good high level overview of the game, but simply doesn’t impress like the actual gameplay video does.

  4. Hi Stearns,

    As a matter of fact, or should I say lately, hardware peripherals is getting to be more of “my thing”. I’m currently in the process of building a set of fablabs. One at the University of East London and another one in New York. This is one of the projects I’m currently contemplating on taking head on once the labs are built. Who knows, maybe I can start this now in the SETC/MIT lab in Boston. At the moment I just don’t have enough info on Brie/Croquet to judge what the minimal hardware specs will be. In addition to a dedicated tablet/handheld I would love to create a haptic interface for those that normally use universal access technologies.

    Any help in this effort will be highly appreciated.

  5. The gameplay only version of the video doesn’t give it justice, you can download a better quality version from SporeWiki

    _GDC_Presentation” rel=”nofollow”>http://www.sporewiki.com/20…

    Also all other information about spore can be found at SporeWiki.

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