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Great expectations

Spore came out this past Sunday, to anticipation and hype not seen in the video game business since last year’s Bioshock. This is a game with a sky-high budget that gamers have been hearing about for at least two years (Ars says it’s been in development for ten), so this week is when we finally get to answer the question: “Was it worth the wait?”

The problem is that the “we” I’m referring to here is my gamer friends. You know, the ones who play video games frequently. You know, the ones who aren’t (and show inclination towards) playing Spore. No, the people I know who are playing this game are my art student and band member friends who are about as likely to pick up a serious computer game like Everquest as Picard is likely to go into selling licensed, pre-owned automobiles.

I haven’t the faintest inkling why it would be the case that this would be a game for non-gamers — a bold statement I base on my observational study of all ten of my friends. It probably doesn’t hurt that this particular programme runs on lower-end hardware due to it’s “mediocre graphical presentation” (quoth Ars Technica’s list of bad things about the game). This means that those whose computers’ daily fare is chewing through spreadsheets and knocking out flash trash (a phrase I use with the greatest endearment to Desktop TD) can now navigate the murky primordial soup and promote protozoa into a space-faring race.

Or maybe the graphics look dated because it’s been in development for a decade? When this game kicked off, it was all about the Pentiums and Half-Life had just hit the shelves.

Anyways, what I do know is why I’m not playing. In a word, Bioshock.

Released last year after eons of press coverage, this distopian first-person shooter was a shoo-in for most “Game of the Year” awards. See, the gaming press sung this game’s praises for months to the point where it was hard to believe that anyone could continue to exist without infusing their infusing their meager life with this experience.

So, I picked up a secondhand copy. The allegedly revolutionary storytelling was done with cutscenes and a guy talking to you over radio. Interesting story, but nothing new. Effective, but not revolutionary. The weapon upgrade system that boosts your killing power to keep pace with gradually-tougher baddies? Effective, but not revolutionary.

My favorite? The setting in a secret underwater city in 1960, an erstwhile Randian utopia gone horribly wrong, designed to “provoke thought” about the implications of such a society. Except that the “going horribly wrong” process was the result of the adoption of a system of genetic self-modification that caused a non-trivial portion of its subjects to become psychopathic murderers. The end result was a spooky setting with danger everywhere: effective but not revolutionary.

But Bioshock is a good game, because it does what it does well. Similarly, I have no doubt that Spore is a good game. In due time, I’ll lay my hands on a copy and see for myself, but I’m not really expecting it to be this amazing game that will change the gaming landscape.

For 2007, instead of Bioshock, I’d say Team Fortress 2 did that. At the very least, it was amazing. The 133.4 hours I’ve spent playing it in the last year certainly agree.

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