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GA Player Review: ParadoxJuice

Posted by ballightning on July 19, 2009

ParadoxJuice was one the constructive writers on the Spore forums before Galactic Adventures came out, and has now posted up an interesting review on the game.

When Spore first came out, many gamers got ticked out and simply left the game on their shelf, while others noticed the true focus of the game-creating creatures, vehicles, and pretty much everything in the galaxy. Maxis seems to be both cashing on to this and trying to bring back the gamers who shelved it with GA by giving players a level creator plus a new level up system.

Lets get something straight-this isn’t really an expansion to the space stage. The space stage gameplay has been almost completely untouched, except for new player made adventures being given to you instead of the old ‘find this artifact, abduct that species’. The new adventures take place on planets, which will be placed in the galaxy in a nearby unexplored star system (or, if there aren’t any, those useless gas giants will be replaced). Trying to fly down to these planets will force you to beam down to the specified starting position and start the adventure. This keeps happening after the adventures completion, where flying down will just make you replay the adventure.

If anything, the charm of this game is two new creators, the adventure creator and the captain outfitter-the latter really isn’t a creator, at least not as much as the other ones are. You simply take one of the creatures you’ve already made, and are given 32 new captain parts (plus the old outfitter parts) to put on your captain, and you still can’t change the parts already on the captain. The captain parts come with themed powers (they’re organized in rows of parts with the same theme), which include weapons, social parts, jetpacks and more. The best thing has to be the power handle. Previously, changing the shape and size of a part simply did nothing but make your creature look cool (or not so much…), and there are thousands of creations where I can only imagine people went “LOL BIG LEVEL 5 HORNS KILL!!!”. But the captain outfitter changes that-the power handle lets you change the way the new parts look, plus it changes their effectiveness. The bigger the weapons, the more energy they use, but the more effective, and the opposite is true-the smaller the weapons, the less energy they use, but the less effective they are. If you run out of energy, you can’t use the new parts. It slowly recharges over time (somehow…solar power?). This forces people to actually think about what their doing, so they may put on big guns at first (which admittadly looks badSPORE), but once they realize how slow they are they’ll likely change their captain and think about things. Unfortunately, some of the new parts don’t require energy at all, and some of them have improper effectiveness:energy ratios, such as the Powered Armour, which summons a forcefield to protect you-but requires much more energy then its worth.

Now, this is all great, and I really hope Maxis will think about including the same balance in Creature Stage, which alone would make the stage a lot more fun. But, there are still problems, especially with the social parts. What are they for, you ask? The same lame little mini game you had the option of playing to make allies in Creature Stage. This minigame lacks any challenge, and it is simply about if you have the right parts. If you didn’t, you’d have to go back to your nest and evolve the right parts. But in GA, you can’t do that. You have to quit the mission if you don’t have the right parts-and its impossible to know if you’re going to have the right parts or not before entering the adventure, making you lose relationship points with the empire who assigned the mission. The new social moves look pretty cool-making holograms and explosions of confetti, but only the first 3 times. The social game still sucks, and all the (good) diplomatic adventures involve “Bring item X to place Y”, usually followed by puzzle solving.

Adventures are made up of acts, eight at the most, and each act has a maximum of three goals, all of which must be completed to complete the act and move on. Completing an act is not like moving on to a next chapter, as the gameplay goes on between acts without pausing. When making adventures, you can place any creatures, vehicles, or buildings from the Sporpedia on to the planet, plus you can change the shape of the planet, which functions like putting on parts in one of the other creators (except the parts are hills and lava pits, not to mention change the temperature, the time, the colour, and more). Once one of these assets is on the planet, you can change the size and behaviour of it. You can give it text to say, either randomly or when clicked, though we only get a small amount of space to type, which is unfortunate-in my opinion, each page of text should take up a bit of space on the complexity meter (which is quite big, by the way), instead of limiting us to just five pages. Text can be given to anything, even buildings. The things only creatures and vehicles can do include changing who their allies and enemies are, wether they wander or follow a path you lay out for them, how they react on site of the player, their health, how much damage they do, and more. Creatures have an advanced behaviour panel (which isn’t explained on how to access in game so many people don’t know about it…hit control and click on the aggressive switch), which allows much more customizability-though, it still is hard to customize combat, as all creatures will always follow the same attack pattern, never even using flight or their comoflauge.

Now, luckily, one of the problems that was awful with all the other creators, people who are forced to make content in game being lame and making something simple and quick, is avoided with the adventure creator, as you don’t have to use it in game. The captain outfitter must be used, but luckily, you won’t randomly walk into captains in game. Though, even after searching Sporpedia, I haven’t found one that really looks bad. Though, there still is abuse, perhaps worse then before. You see, once you complete an adventure, you get points based on the difficulty, which is made up of a simple amount of winners:amount of losers ratio. But, every adventure awards a default 15 (I think) points before enough data is collected to give it a proper difficulty score. So people really quickly create thousands of super easy adventures and reap the rewards-and unfortunately, these get leaked into your game and you have to play them.

Another thing which deeply annoys me about the adventure creator-absolutely no triggers. In all other games with level creation, there were triggers, and these triggers were what allowed you to make really interesting things. But the closest thing we get is acts-assets behaviour panels can be different in each act, so someone can be an ally in one act and an enemy in another-but this hardly satisfies, as it is limited, we are only allowed eight, and they all have to be activated for the adventures completion. The Spore Community, even with their great creativity as shown with other creators, have yet to make anything more interesting then a simple “go here, fight that, talk to me, bring this here, you win”. Without triggers, it seems impossible. You can’t allow players to make enemies weaker upon solving a puzzle, you can’t make enemies fluctuate between offense/defense, and theres a lot you can’t do.

There are other problems with the adventure creator too, thousands of glitches, with collision detection (especially noticable with vehicles), the AI (the captain will, when ordered to pick up an item, kick the item away with their feet and chase after it), and countless others. One in particular is cursing me-whenever I try to create an adventure, the game goes to some kind of black screen where I can’t place down any assets and I can’t change any of the terrain. So, I may be speaking negatively of the adventure creator, and some of what I’ve been complaining about may be possible, but I simply haven’t gotten the chance in what I believe is now a month of free time with GA to use the adventure creator because of the black screen. I feel cheated out of it.

There is a lot of new content usable with the adventure creator-new items, such as a pad that makes you jump upon contact with it, even if you usually can’t (you can change the size of the jump and launch the player into space), teleporters, throwable hand grenades, keys that open doors, and more. All of these can be made invisible/visible, or turned off so that they don’t even function (useful when you want teleporters to only work during certain acts). They can also be disguised as creations from Sporpedia. There still could be a bit more, as I’m missing the melee weapons that you can equip during an adventure, but hopefully it’ll be added. Theres also new visual effects (fire and lasers) and sound effects, including music. This really seems to prompt an expansion with a music editor (one thats better then that crummy anthem editor). I know that the flora editor has been wanted for a long time, but in GA, flora is hardly ever used. Most adventures don’t have flora at all, partially because you can’t customize it (which would build upon your story, though there are hundreds of new Maxis made flora), but also because they don’t seem to add much to the adventure. They just get in the way and mess up AI. If you could climb them or get food from them like in Creature Stage, maybe then we’d see a purpose, but we can’t and we don’t.

Presentation-5/10: The game has improved the graphics to the core game, and some of the fire effects look good, though this isn’t a top notch 360 game. The creators still use a simple drag and drop interface in areas I thought it wouldn’t be possible, but all those glitches drag it down.

Gameplay-4/10: The games diplomacy minigame is still a minigame, and if anything, has become worse. Combat feels bad, as pressing the attack buttons makes your creature walk up to its target (which it needs to click on first), pause, then attack, where most good games allow you to simply attack.

Interface-7/10: This is the same interface as Spore, and it still pleases, as its very easy and intuitive to use. It get a few points because you have to think about the shape and size of your parts, which are balanced well for the most part, and I enjoy that extra thought.

GRAND TOTAL

16/30: GA is good, especially if you’re a fan of Spore, though it has a lot dragging it down.

Patch

These are things I think should be added in a GA exclusive patch.

-Fix the Black Screen!
-Fix all the collision detection issues.
-Let us drive vehicles. I think I stand for everyone when I say the entering-vehicles animation isn’t important, just have us teleport in, the same way we do when we enter the level. It gets the point across.
-Fix the controls. Currently, our captain will simply kick items around instead of picking them up. Also, allow us to attack the air, to miss an attack, ’cause right now, the fighting feels very clunky and slow.
-Fix the social game! Theres no skill in it, just a wild guess as to which parts we need. Make it more like a rythm game. If possible, give us some kind of downside for losing the game.
-Better AI. Fix the weird glitches with them not working at all on buildings, and let us choose specific moves for them to use.
-Give us items that can be picked up and used in the middle of an adventure. For example, a sword that, when picked up, replaces our strike ability with the ability of using the sword. Disguising these items and changing their effectiveness is a must. There could be ones for all the combat abilities, social abilities, and maybe even misc abilities (I bet this would help when we’re making a platforming adventure and don’t want to put jump pads everywhere so that jumpless creatures can play, plus a lot more), maybe even some way of blocking attacks, this would really deepen the combat.
TRIGGERS!! We need ’em. They could work like the music, where we drag and drop it into the environment, choose how its activated, and choose what happens when its activated. A new goal ‘activate trigger’ would also be cool.
-Lurk moar. There are thousands of other suggestions on these forums.
-Make enemies unable to attack through walls. Its really messed up when your just wandering around a facility when suddenly a ball of energy comes out of nowhere and kills you.

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6 Responses to “GA Player Review: ParadoxJuice”

  1. The_Noob said

    Did you know that ParadoxJuice is helping to make a new game called Evolutions! which was once a hoax, but is now a game that will soon be up and ready!

  2. Jonathanrex1 said

    His review has many good points in it. Triggers and being able to ride vehicles are a must for a patch.

  3. kiwi_tea said

    Ugh. I wrote a massive reply and then my browser crashed.

    Basically: Triggers are great.

    However, the primary problem with both Spore and GA is: They’re too linear.

    Players have no options in gameplay within Spore outside of changing the sprites. There’s no depth, not because the gaming systems are too simple. Simple systems can make for great gameplay. The systems are too linear, repetitive and restrictive. I think they’ve probably enormously over-compensated while trying to combat the pitfalls of sandbox gameplay. It’s the only way that I can understand what has happened to Spore and still take Chris Hecker’s word that the gameplay wasn’t dumbed down to appeal strictly to an audience below 12-years-old. The dev team obviously thought: “If we give them too much to do, the game will suck.” That’s true. It’s the risk with sandbox gaming, that it’ll be too much work and not enough fun. But you don’t solve that by removing effectively all the linearity. Nothing wrong with the plot they have, but you’re bound to an overly simplistic set of totally confining rules every time you play the game. I’ve played through the game several times now, never completing space stage, and it’s just *boring*.

    GA doesn’t fix that, as ParadoxJuice points out. And while GA provides a fascinating and powerful game-making experience, it’s seriously hindered by the game’s terrible, terrible physics. The adventure editor also totally disallows non-linear plots. You can mix up the outcomes of an adventure a little, but not without consuming more acts than it is worth. Lord knows I’ve tried and tried for weeks now to make an adventure that won’t feel like I’m funneling the player through a rigid scenario. You know, GA’s adventure editor is better at making coin running missions a la Super Mario than it is at making short, eight-act RPG adventures. Players simply don’t have enough options to warrant elaborating on plot. The editor forces creators to just get players in, give them a little bit of a short puzzle, and get out. Combined with the bad physics and consequently clumsy and boring combat, and it’s gotten old fast. The poor combat rules out good fighting adventures, and the enforced linearity rules out good plot-driven adventures any more complex than ‘This is our king. He grows fruit over there. But look, a monster! Retrieve the fruit! Fight the monster! Insert-clumsy RPG puzzle somewhere here. Silly dance and here’s your 60 points’. My adventure Zoobeedoobee Valley is basically at full complexity, and it’s very limited. I will continue to push the software, but it needs enormous changes on several fronts.

    I have three recommendations for improving GA. – outside of introducing branching storylines as they dropped that and I don’t expect it’d be easy to patch in:

    1 – Wot ParadoxJuice said. Triggers. They’d make an enormous difference, and they’d mean creators could conserve their precious, precious acts. Acts are, at the moment, the primary means of creating momentum. But they’re conflicted, because they’re also dividing lines. Even two triggers per act would revolutionise adventures. It would allow us to create the illusion of a non-linear world, without over-doing it, and without using up all our acts.

    2 – Get the game’s physics working right. We can work around some of the more obscure clipping issues, but the collision detection needs fixing. It’s broken.

    3 – Most controversially, I’d love to see a basic, three-item inventory. We have items with various properties. We have Sporepedia cards. It would be brilliant to see a new Captain item that allows players to carry three items in a basic-as-heck menu, perhaps similar to the text-based actions menus we see in The Sims franchise. A feature like this, combined with a triggers feature, would make far more compelling, options-based adventures.

    It wouldn’t take much to make the adventure editor more versatile. New features should probably take a back seat to the major, major problems with the game’s physics. I’d be interested to hear what other creators think of my inventory idea. I think, when it comes to triggers, everyone is one the same page.

  4. kiwi_tea said

    Whoops, mistake: It should be, ‘But you don’t solve that by force players into a the boring routine.’, not ‘But you don’t solve that by removing effectively all the linearity.’

  5. kiwi_tea said

    You know, GA’s adventure editor is better at making coin running missions a la Super Mario than it is at making short, eight-act RPG adventures.

    Also, I really think this fact obliterates Maxis’ claims that Spore; Galatic Adventures was to be great for story-tellers. If it can’t do barest-bones RPGs (which traditionally offer players at least some choices), then it’s not good for computer game narratives.

  6. sciocont said

    Is you reading, Maxis?

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