The trend in gaming nowadays seems to be towards ever more goal-oriented and completionist designs, but once upon a time, gameplay itself was the reward for gaming. You didn’t need to level up or accumulate resources; you played it because the playing was fun. Your reward for beating a difficult boss was another boss.
The very concept of Thrive, like Spore’s, is inherently progressive, with each stage giving you the means to rise to a bigger and more expansive one - and that’s not actually a good thing. If I wanted such a game, there are plenty of better ones out there by professional studios.
Soren Johnson says that during Spore’s development, its creators were divided over two visions for the game: one that saw it as a gameplay experience, with lots of interesting and meaningful decisions, and one that saw it as a ‘toybox’ where players could stretch the boundaries of their creativity. In the end, compromise watered down both visions, creating a mediocre experience that catered to no one.
The best way of avoiding this is by looking at why people actually wanted to play Spore. One thing I consistently saw in the community (it was practically universal, in fact) was a focus on storytelling. People loved talking about their species’ life cycles or politics in a way that the game itself didn’t show. RPs about the rise and fall of empires dominated the forums. Even the descriptions of creations were often much more interesting than playing them. I think that might be what inspired Galactic Adventures (though the single-player experience wasn’t sufficient compared to what the game was supposed to be).
If Thrive wants to fill this niche, if it wants to deliver what actually drew people to Spore, then it should become the ultimate storytelling experience. After the first two stages, the game stop being about progression; rather, all stages should be fun to play in as they are. Allow us create the ultimate parasitic species, or become heat-resistance volcano dwellers, or spread a horrifying demon-worshipping cult to the far ends of our planet, or become nomadic space gypsies, without the pressure to advance or move ever closer to Ascension.
If that’s the game you’re making, I can guarantee there is an audience.
Interesting post. I agree that the game should be fun to play in itself. A few things I think about the game:
I like the idea of trying to make a flexible problem solving toolkit and then giving the player a bunch of difficult problems to solve with it. I think this is pretty interesting in the long run. I keep coming back to Kerbal Space Program as that has a great build, test, adapt cycle with difficult long term goals to work towards.
I also like the idea of having the stages be “rectangular” which means if you just want to go up through the stages it’s relatively easy (you can blast through the microbe stage in maybe 20-30 minutes if you want) and also if you want to really explore, try all the biomes, try and bunch of different planets, try different life cycles and ways of living it should take a decent number of hours to try out all the content.
I also really like story generators, like CK2, and so I definitely think that sort of gameplay is cool. One thing I think would be great for Thrive is making it really alien, with very different animals and landscapes from Earth, I think that would be extremely attractive in marketing materials and would be pretty fascinating to explore.
speaking of plant game play I think it should be a completely different play style then animals. I think if it was closer to plague inc. it would give plant game play a unique experience. It would start in the editor when you unlock chloroplast and add it to your cell then you get a pop up telling you that you’re going to change to plant gameplay. After you accept you go into a strategic view that show you the planet and your plant where the goal is to survive and spread. Through out the game you will evolve your plant to fit the environment, surviving animals, disease and weather to thrive.