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Balthazar Auger

Making History: Spore devs release early prototype

2 min read

Over at the community pages of Spore, the long-awaited (at least for me) “Sim-everything”, developers have released an early prototype, probably used to develop the space-phase, since it deals with gravitational interaction of particles.

From the article:

Usually these prototypes are never seen by the public, but we thought some of the more intrepid players out there might enjoy playing around with a few of our early Spore prototypes. Keep in mind these are not tested, supported or even easily explained.

I have tested this prototype, and it’s really not player friendly. However, since I started making video games, I’ve manipulated countless prototypes or small “code toys” quickly hacked together to prove a certain point or to test an idea. These objects end up being stronger references to the team than every document you will ever be able to write, and yet they are systematically forgotten after the game has shipped.

Some weeks ago, I attended Ralph Baer’s talk at Paris GDC. One of his main concerns was that the video game industry had no memory at all. We’re so distracted by the speed sequels follow each other and new consoles come out that we have no time to look back. Design documents are either left to rot in some old backup drive in the archives of some company or jealously guarded by designers afraid of people stealing their magic or whatever.

Releasing an early prototype like the Spore team just did not only requires a lot of guts, it is also a way of making History available to everyone. Along the same lines, I would be delighted to buy printed version of my favorite games’s design documents for studying and collecting.

Okay, so maybe I’m a game design freak, but I think it’s very important to have some record of the development process of the game, which ideas were left out, which drastic decisions were taken, etc. Such documents provide a wealth of knowledge for the aspiring or confirmed designer, and yet they are kept hidden in the basement like deformed children.

I believe the entire video game industry would benefit from a simple legal deposit scheme. Shipped a game? send a copy of your design document(s) to a competent organism. Once online, you can specify whether you want the document to be public or just let it wait out until no-one owns the rights anymore. I see nothing but benefits from this approach: better games by avoiding common mistakes, putting an end to constantly reinventing the wheel, but most of all, this method might actually advance the form of the design document, making it a tool useful to everyone instead of just an afterthought.

Who could be trusted with such a task? Why not the IGDA? There’s already a SIG dedicated to preservation!

I don’t want to sound alarmist, but I would like to finish this rant on a warning to every game designer out there: “Share all the documents you can now, you might regret it in 20 years”.

That was Ralph Baer talking about the documents to the Brown Box. If it happened to him, it WILL happen to us if we don’t do something about it.

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