We can all agree that Spore didn't turn out to be the opus everyone hoped it'd be. While over the years we've had some insight as to what happened behind the scenes, I'd say Soren Johnson's recent critique really nails the game's biggest issue — it tried to be too many things.
A few days ago, Johnson, now design director at Zynga, posted a very open and honest assessment of the problems behind Spore on Gamasutra. Spore was an ambitious project from Will Wright that was meant to blend procedurally-generated content with constantly-evolving gameplay. In some ways it succeeded, but mostly it was meet with bad reviews and disappointed gamers.
Johnson, who joined the Spore team during the last 15 months of development, covers a great many issues he felt affected the game, though the one that resonates with me is that the team tried to make many games, instead of one game. From the post:
Spore's biggest issue was that the play at each stage was fairly shallow because the team was making five games at once. (At one point, Will described each of the game's five stages as light versions of classics — cell is like Pac-Man, creature is Diablo, tribe is Populous, civilization is Civilization, and space is Masters of Orion.) However, making five different games at once is a bad idea; making one good game is usually hard enough.
Each of the five stages had different controls, different interfaces, different nouns, different verbs, different goals, and so on. Some effort was made, of course, to share ideas and elements across stages; however, the compromises involved often watered down what was supposed to make each stage distinct in the first place ... Thus, the powers of ten idea put the team in a state of perpetual compromise where every major decision had to be considered according to its effect across all five stages.
What did you think of Spore? It might be a fun exercise to crack it open now, five years on and see how it's stood the test of time. Sure, it'll never have the legacy of a brand like SimCity, but could someone take its cauldron of ideas and create something terrific?
Spore: My View of the Elephant [Gamasutra]