Battle of the Games Legends: Will vs Sid

Alex Kidman
15 October, 2008
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First of all, some ground rules. Talking about large scale games “made by” a single person these days is a ludicrous affair. Outside a very few spheres (oddly enough, iPhone game development is one of them, but that’s been largely populated by clones of existing games or genres), you can’t put together a “big” game as a solo effort. Still, that doesn’t stop games companies from trying to pitch “names” whenever they can.

Some names do reverberate around in gamers’ heads, thanks largely to the (generally) decades of quality development that they’ve offered. Gaming is also nicely multinational, with names like Miyamoto, Kojima, Pajitnov and Molyneux for example. Or, in the US-centric view of the world, Meier or Wright.

Just in case you’re scratching your head and still not recognising anyone from that list, Shigeru Miyamoto’s responsible for most of Nintendo’s Mario games (as well as a bunch of other well known franchises), Hideo Kojima’s responsible for the Metal Gear Solid games, Alexey Pajitnov wasted billions of hours of company productivity (inadvertently, I should add) by inventing Tetris, and Peter Molyneux was (and is) behind everything from Populous to Fable. Meanwhile, my US examples, Sid Meier and Will Wright, have been teaching the world about civilisations (well, Civilizations, if you’re American, and he is) and people (via Sim City/Ant/Earth/Life/s/s 2) for about twenty five years now.

Those of you who listen to the Australian Macworld Weekend Edition Podcast (that is all of you – right?) will be aware that I’ve commented on Will Wright’s most recent epic game, Spore somewhat recently. Even a month after I started playing it, I’m still having fun with it, but as Tony Williams said, it’s not a game that’ll outsell Wright’s “The Sims” any time soon. Playing with Barbie dolls (albeit Barbie dolls that need to go to the toilet and can have pixellated relations with each other) is probably more fun to the general public than playing with aliens.

I do like Spore, and I’m pondering introducing it to my kids – not so much for the RTS combat engine as the ability to easily create singing, dancing muppet-style creatures – but I’m also wary of the fact that EA’s chosen to limit the number of times it can be installed (currently capped at five times). I’m not a fan of product activation or limitations designed to “defeat” piracy, largely because they don’t tend to deter the pirates, and instead tend to just annoy the end customers.

Thankfully, you can pretty much decide if Spore is for you (or not) by downloading the free Creature Creator demo. If that excites and engages you, there’s a very good chance that the whole game will. If you’re left feeling more “Meh” about the whole thing, then save your gaming dollars.

At around the same time that Spore turned up, the good folks at Feral Interactive also sent me another game, this time from the brain of Sid Meier. And while I could (and would) argue that while Will Wright’s procedural brain was much of the inspiration behind Spore, but probably not all of the programming or graphic design, I can’t exactly make the same claim about Pirates!

That’s largely because it’s a reworking of a game that Sid brought out on PC (and Xbox, and strangely, Playstation Portable) a couple of years back, but was itself a graphic re-imagining of what was originally a Commodore 64 game. There was a Mac version of the original, too, back in 1988, and I’ll go out on a limb here and suggest that it won’t really run very well under Leopard.

Anyhow. Feral’s grabbed the more recent remake, and made it all nice and shiny and Mac compatible. Quite Mac compatible, in fact – unlike a lot of Mac games, it’ll even run on the lower-end systems that rely on Intel graphics chips, like my beloved Macbook. And just as with Tetris, my productivity suffered because it’ll run on low end hardware.

(Author’s side note: In-between first writing this and it going online, Apple’s only gone and put decent graphics processors in the MacBook, such that they probably would run Spore now. Oh well…)

Pirates is arguably one of the first examples of what’s now commonly called a “sandbox” game – that is, a game with very few scripted boundaries, one that allows a great deal of player creativity as you play. A bit like Spore, then, but twenty years earlier. You certainly couldn’t get Spore to run on a MacBook, or indeed the Mac SE that the original ran on in all its greyscale glory.

In any case, Pirates can also call itself a “Sandbox” game with a bit more authority, seeing as how it’s got plenty of sand in it. You’re tasked as a privateer in the Caribbean, with a marque of authority from one of four European nations, and then play out the game as you feel best doing. You can play it as a kind of nautical Elite, just sailing around trading precious goods, or go for a strategic game, entering into the wars of each nation as the political tide ebbs and flows, or just go into fully fledged buccaneer mode, although peg legs are not provided. A saucy wench awaits you in every port, and if your dancing skills are up to scratch, you may even marry a pretty Governor’s daughter.

So then. Onto the battle, my friends. Wright vs Meier. Who will win?

Well, in one sense, everyone. They’re both good games that do play to a strategic mindset, and being able to play both is definitely a boon. Spore is easily the better looking game, and one with more overall depth – you can’t do a whole lot of ship design in Pirates, or for that matter musical composition. It’s great that EA’s developed the Mac version concurrently with the PC version, but to be honest, Pirates is still as good as it was back in 2004… and 1988. It’ll also run on more Macs and is cheaper to buy than Spore… and with less DRM. Which, let’s face it, is at least mildly amusing for a game that’s actually about piracy.

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