I won't even start trying to explain what the image above is*, but it's from my game work. Things are moving forward, slowly but.... forward.
One thing the game has is a work-in-progress name: "No Mine's Spore". Most readers have probably already figured out what the name builds on. If not, it's a reference to the games No Man's Sky, Minecraft and Spore. All these three games, and many others, have been presented with amazing promises. Of the three, only Minecraft really lived up to some key promises, but those key promises were mainly "be fun and sell a lot of copies". That in itself is a smashing success in this day and age, but like the other two, the game early on had promises that inspired a lot of fans, but that were not delivered upon, or delivered upon in far less impressive ways than hoped for.
Again, for reference, here are a few of the things that people expressed hope for about those games early on, typically during their alpha or beta, but in some cases also just from unreleased presentations:
No Man's Sky: This was supposed to be the big space exploration game. Gazillions of worlds, each with possible beasts and fauna and geographies, even some traces of civilization. What we got were worlds that looked cookie-cutter, mainly just with different shapes of rocks, inhabited by weird some-assembly-required creatures and retextured plants, and fairly basic space stations with similarly assembled creatures inside. If we forget about the two big issues (multiplayer and some sort of interesting goal/gameplay), the twinkle in the eyes of hopeful fans was to go planet-hoping and experience weird worlds, made by a computer doing procedural generation like never before. But the PG was so limited and flat, and so many things got cut to reach the deadline, that it seemed, in many ways, more like a student project or outright scam than the gaming revolution that many feel was marketed to us.
Minecraft: Yes, it feels weird slamming on the (financially) biggest game ever. But go back a few years, before everything went bills and bling, back when it was Notch and a core team of people trying to push a small, succesful idea to the limits. Or better yet, go look at the difference between mods from early on and mods now, because Minecraft's biggest strength was something people had always been keen to ignore: Fan creativity. My pet peeve revolves around a mod that was made early on, called Cubic Chunks. For those who do not know, in Minecraft, there is a very clear limit to how high up or deep down you can place blocks. Bedrock, a nigh undestructable type of block, is found at the lower limit. At the upper, blocks just stop. You can go higher, but blocks cannot. I don't know the limit now, but I remember when it was 256 blocks, and even when it was 128. CC changed that. It made up/down just another direction, on par with left/right, meaning you could build millions of blocks high. I won't explain how; look it up, it's simple and brilliant. But the concept was never adopted. There were explanations and more, but for unknown reasons, nobody in charge seemed to want or believe in it. Other mods made similar amazing things, like rope bridges, vehicles, highly organized enemy hordes, and so on. But Minecraft never changed much, and these days, mods are mostly "this version of the old tools", or an added dimension that feels a bit like what we have seen before. They are nice, don't get me wrong, but Minecraft showed promise of, again, endless exploration, but this time, with a growth in variety powered by fans, ready to be adopted by the game designers. Minecraft didn't fail in becoming popular, it failed in growing beyond that. Except for a few doodads, players from 2011 can step into the latest version and see nothing different. It's like being handed a thousand LEGO sets and then be told that you have to follow instructions. You cannot draw outside the borders. Minecraft, intentionally or not, promised to be creative freedom. In some ways, it is, but in many, the idea died along the way.
Spore: Like NMS, Spore needs little explanation. It was presented as a gamified simulation of evolution, genetics turned into LEGO-like playthings. It ended up being 5 stages of Pacman and fetch quests, with the last stage (space) being a bit more open, but lacking completely in any kind of game focus; you picked up stuff and dropped it on other planets, in between, again, various fetch quests. The most popular part, which ironically was released as its own 'game' on the side, was the Creature Creator, allowing you to 'draw' living beings and see the game bring them to life, walking around and making noises. Like NMS, it was a promise of immense exploration, only in your creations rather than an expansive universe.
So why do I bring this up? In a way, because I still want all those things. I feel cheated and, perhaps, a little bitter. Spore made me not invest in NMS, because I felt like I had heard the promises before, and I was right. I enjoyed Minecraft for a very long time, longer than any game I have had (unless you count all Civ games as one game), but was frustrated when all the things I saw grow around it were left to wither, even as new things turned up (and later withered, too). I want a big universe to explore, in which both I and the game grow. I want to survive in harsh climates and build something bigger, without arbitrary confinements from developers trying to force their way of playing on me. I want freedom, in a way. And it seems that any time someone presents an idea tha tpromises it, some background politics (to which I count also marketing) ends up screwing my dreams over.
The question is, should we just let promises die, just because those who (intentionally or not) made them never delivered? Should we sit around and wait for whatever game made the promise to be patched and expanded until it, mayyybe, does? Or is it up to those who felt cheated or disappointed to try to keep those promises? Do we wait for delivery, or do we go the DIY route?
The reason I ask this (I assume that "then go do it yourself" is a kneejerk reaction from many, hopefully in a positive, supportive way) is that when you think about it, the DIY route smells a lot like plagiarism. Is it okay to 'steal' someone else's ideas, when they did not carry through on it? A lot of things get developed, and especially presented to investors, as "X, but with Y". Star Wars was famously sold to studios as "an Eroll Flynn (swashbuckling movie star from the early 1900s), but in space". It's a go-to way of making others understand your ideas, and you can see it in a lot of bigger projects. The original Warcraft and Starcraft games were essentially "Dune 2, but with orcs/aliens". Most military shooters are "DOOM, but in [insert historical period]". And half of all movies aimed at older kids or young adults seem to be "Harry Potter/Hunger Games, but with [insert minor twist]". Some succeed, some are too thinly veiled carbon copies. How much has to be your own ideas, and how much can be just you trying to do what you wanted others to do, but they never did?
For those who follow me on this blog, I am clearly struggling with my thoughts on originality, once again. But this adds, in my opinion, a small twist to the issue: It's not just about original versus unoriginal, but also the chaotic expanse in between, where random thoughts and abandoned inspiration have been left to float around, now and then washing up on someone's shore. It's about where ideas can come from without being lazy copy-pasting. My early work on No Mine's Spore has already made a simple(!!) engine for creating literally endless universes of blocks. It is still very clunky and completely boring, basically a test pattern of blocks, but it is the core of what Cubic Chunks promised to be. And along the way, I hope to pick up other unkept promises and realize them. But I do this with the constant thought of "am I even being original, or am I just being creatively unoriginal?".
Of course, the little voice that drives me just answers "who cares? You want it, make it!". I will listen to that voice, and later decide if I trust it...
* Okay, the image is me in the game looking down at a slope of blocks to check that (A) they become more detailed when approached, according to the octree implemented, and (B) that the red ones show up, because they are made red by the blocks around them, meaning very simple block interaction is working. But most of all, it just looks pretty to me!