Written by Colin on 9/08/2008

Spore

Spore's coming has been heralded for years. The game has been talked about continuously. It has received countless "most-anticipated" recognitions. So why in the world does it have SO MANY PROBLEMS. Before even getting to the actual gameplay you get to deal with something called DRM. And not a copy protection DRM, a Internet-required-or-no-play activation. To kick it all off, you can only install the game using your serial on three (3, tres, etc.) computers. I bought this game for $49.99 + tax yet it seems like I am renting the game. What happens when I have to reinstall the game after a wipe or my harddrive crashes? Do I get to deal with the wonderful EA customer support system that the videogame industry so loves? Of course, seeing as I am the only one playing the game, three install should be more than enough for the value of the game. That would be the case if I haven't already had to install the game twice so far in less than 24 hours. Why? One word explains that: cider.

So what is Cider you ask? Cider is basically an system that allows Windows-based game developers to make their game work on a Mac (Source). What's the problem? Cider is essentially a tool for allowing games to be ported to the Mac (Intel only) with minimal effort. It really means that it lets the developers be lazy and have the game kinda Mac native. The problem is that the porting methods and the manner in which it is run on Macs is extraordinarily inefficient. And when I say inefficient, I mean God-awful-horrendously-terrible. The game cannot be played on my 2.2Ghz MacBook Pro with a 128MB GeForce 8600 GT and 2GB RAM, which is well above the minimum specs for the Mac system. I cannot even imagine the gameplay on a Macbook with the integrated Intel GMA graphics card (also listed as compatible). Why? Cider, of course. The game port must have terrible memory leaks or something because even with all the graphics settings lowered to their lowest values and playing well below the resolution of the display, the gameplay is slow. To make things even worse, the gameplay slowed down the longer I played! I tried restarting my computer and making sure no background processes or apps were running in hopes of a better result, which of course did nothing to improve the problem. I looked in the Spore forums and saw that this was not an uncommon problem for Mac users and decided that I would have to pull out my old Windows Boot-Camp installation to be able to play.

Fortunately there was enough space for the game to install and after letting Windows XP update for about an hour, I sat down to play. Just to overzealous and hope for the best, I set all the graphics settings at their highest possible. I would only have to work down through them to find the best balance for gameplay vs quality. Of course, I never got that far because the game played perfectly on all the highest graphics settings except for lighting which I lowered to medium. Why? I know/knew my computer was more than enough to handle the game. The Macintosh side couldn't handle the strain of the crappy Cider technology handling the Windows-designed game. The Windows side played like a charm. If Apple wants to find more games on its computers, it really needs to push for a movement away from software like Cider to game developers actually making it for Mac rather than kinda porting it. I finally was able to play the game and now I can finally talk about the actual gameplay...

I've only just reached the tribal phase because of the massive amount of time I wasted getting the game working at all and so far it's been decent. The Cell phase was decent although the movement of your creature isn't that efficient especially when using the arrow keys. It's not something that I'm likely to repeat simply because it is so simple. The Creature phase was far more entertaining because you are actually designing more complex creatures and can finally attack/befriend other creatures. It's a little odd using the number keys to control the attacks/actions simply because they are far up on the keyboard, but it works fine. I especially like how creatures are downloaded from other players at the same stage because of the insane diversity it creates for the gameplay. I'm looking forward to the Tribal phase and the phases above that because those most resemble RTS games.




Hopefully Maxis and EA will release a patch/update for the Mac system so that it actually becomes playable because it is quite inconvenient having to boot up Windows to play the game. I'm sure the DRM and limited installations will be resolved in the coming weeks as the Internet revolts against the system as it always does. In fact, it has already begun on Amazon.com as people have been flaming the review system with 1-star reviews in protest of the DRM and lackluster performance on many computers (see here). The reviews are overwhelmingly negative, as they should be. Spore has truly been a disappointment thus far for me because of my inability to play the game on my computer (short of swapping OSs) and the slow beginnings to the game. Hopefully the next game Will Wright makes will be better. And hopefully EA will get its head out of the clouds and get rid of stupid DRMs on its games.

/rant

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