Spore, by Will Wright, was a very disappointing game for many people. Hyped for years, this god-game from a genius designer was supposed to be everything that previous sim/playbox games were not. It was none of those things.
I realized this morning what could have made this game so much better: rather than letting you control the design and evolution of a single species, which battles it out with neighboring species in tribal battles where extermination is rewarded (just like Civilization and countless other games), Wright should have gone the opposite way.
What if, instead of following the usual path of playing one civ/species, your job was to try to create the most diverse biological and ecological planet you could? It would be a fascinating balancing act, trying to introduce new species without eliminating the old ones. You might get extra points for introducing a predator but make sure the predator doesn’t eliminate its food source too quickly, or both might die off… The number of interesting combinations could be nearly infinite, in contrast to the almost endless but essentially boring superficial choices you have in Spore to customize your species’ looks (which have almost no impact on gameplay).
Of course Will Wright is probably most famous for SimCity, a truly excellent game even with its faults, but not many know he also made a game called SimEarth, which was very interesting but essentially a simulation that was difficult to interact with, in great deal because the game was too far ahead of its time. Maybe processing power is still not quite there to do a full simulation, but surely it’s hundreds or even thousands of times faster now as when SimEarth was around, taxing the 25Mhz 68040 processor of my Mac Quadra 630.
I hope Will Wright plays Dwarf Fortress, the most interesting sandbox world I’ve seen so far, and takes some inspiration from it, so that he can return to SimEarth and Spore and make a truly interesting biological/evolutionary game with endless gameplay.