Category: Spore

The Culturepin is about a lot of things, but it is primarily about contemporary culture.  I say this to allay any confusion that may arise in my readers about the recent pattern of discussing video games.  But if home video game consoles/entertainment centers are not a bona fide part of our daily life, then I don’t know what is.  Unless you’re Amish.  In which case you are not reading this blog.

I want to offer some insights into the gameplay of Peter Molyneaux’s pre-Fable 2 release: Pub Games that offers a Vegas-meets-Ren Faire scenario that after some investment of time affords an enormous amount of satisfaction.

The lure of Fable 2 Pub Games is the fact that money earned (“won”) can later be merged into your main character in the game (once it is released October 21st.)  Seemingly simple at first, certain complexities creep up as you delve deeper.  For example, the real money to be made comes from playing the tournaments which, mercifully, afford you 1000 gold of play money to get in and get you started.

I was immediately partial to Fortune’s Tower – a form of Poker wherein you place bets against the odds of an increasing number of cards that threaten to double up and knock you out of the proverbial ring.  The most important thing to know when playing Fortune’ Tower is that if your row of numbers does NOT equal 15 points or more, then you are losing money on that round.  However, if you are down more than a couple of rows and the GATE card has already been used, take what you can and get the hell out because you will likely bust.  So in spite of anything I say after this about how I bet, it follows the above strategy.

I found the most success taking my chances – betting high in the first of twelve rounds and tempting luck as far down the pyramid as I could go before busting.  If you manage to get to the bottom of the pyramid without having to call on your Gate card, that offers you a Hail Mary pass on any double-ups, you have a good chance of winning the value of all the cards on the table.  If I continued to lose with my high-roller bets as I went through the rounds, I would back my bets all the way back to the minimum by round six in order to prevent further annihalation.

Then there is the Roulette/craps hybrid that is my Achilles’ heal.  By pressing the left trigger you can see the odds against all positions on the table – I play this like I play real Roulette – insisting on my favorite numbers (usually loved ones’ birthdays), Pairs, Triples, Runs and Keystones and stick with that.  The reason being – if the dice roll in your favor you win big and likely finish in the top five which grants you the special item card you are going for.

One of the things it took me a second to figure out is how to level up.  You do this by playing solo and not in tournaments.  Evidently, the longer you gamble and the higher the stakes, the more XP you get.  I can tell you whther or not the amount you are betting is pegged to the amount of XP though; its like in Vegas – you stick at those slots long enough and you miraculously start receiving free drinks.  Stick with it and before you know, new game options will open up.

See that "A" button for "Spin?"  Learn to use it to win big.

See that A button? Learn to use it to win big.

But let’s get back to to the third type of tournament in the game: The Spinnerbox.  at first I could not for the life of me figure out how a game of pure chance could ever grant me the win.  Then I realized that you can stop the Spinner at any point by pressing the A button a second time, rather than wait for the slots to stop spinning.  In tournament mode, understanding this is key.  What is even more “key” is getting the hang of the sweet spot: as soon as you start the Spinner, watch the discs cock up and get ready to roll.  The instant before the spin, hit the A button again.  It’s a feel thing, but I swear on my life, once you grab that sweet spot, you will win every single time. I don’t know how this could be an exploit – it has to be built into the game or otherwise how would you win a tournament, which seems to be based on how many times in succession you actually manage to hit the sweet spot.

Give it a try. I assure you this is the way to win and win big.

Fable 2 promises to be a rich and evolved next-gen game.  Molyneaux himself has admitted that he doesn’t want it to be a game that you play multiple times but rather delve into deeply on the first and only pass.  They have programmed an exhaustive amount of complexity into how your character unfolds so that the ultimate climax to the story is a long way coming and the journey to it is as dense and interesting as possible.  Something, that I wish the creators of Spore had implemented.  I love Spore, but the urgency to get to the final stage left me wanting.

Exploring the deeper possibilities of the this mere Xbox Live teaser to Fable 2 means really good things are on the horizon.

Please be sure to leave your comments on this article – I am interested in hearing your own experiences at the Albion gaming tables.


Will Wright, the genius behind the SimCity/Sims Online franchise is on year who knows what of developing Spore – a profoundly complex AI engine that looks like a cross between Playdough and Lego Mindstorm on the surface. This is not by accident – when I saw Mr Wright speak at the Banff Media Conference several years back, he confided that one of the things that most influences his game design is Japanese zen gardens – the idea that though the landscape has been radically altered, dozens of iterations later it appears as though it had always been that way.

Spore is about building new organisms, or a combination of organisms from the uni-celled beginning to complex space colony end.

Sims is about moving virtual Barbie dolls around and seeing how they feel about each other and themselves. You can not micro-manage them, only give them subtle catalysts to work from.

But there is also another kind of playing God that doesn’t have any game-designer objective behind it. That is the merge between old terra-forming software like Bryce 3D and map-making for gamers who love first-person shooters.

I am hacker when it comes to playing games – most gamers are – we like to see what we can can break about it before we commit to finishing it. Even Will Wright admitted this; the first thing kids do when they encounter a new game is figure out what the limits are – can you walk off the path, flip upside down, self-destruct, kill others, etc. This is how we learn the laws of its universe.

When I used to play Everquest – I had no interest in actually questing – I was more curious about using it as my new instant messeger. I would meet people in Qeynos and we would wander over to a willow tree I had found and chat. The game for me was to see how long I could engage total strangers in stimulating conversation, enjoying the vistas, without ever having to kill anything. Why does that almost sound creepy?

So you can imagine my interest when I see a map-maker become available in a first-person shooter like Ubisoft’s Far Cry 2. Check out this vid:

I have little to no interest in shooting anyone. But I have a lot of interest in creating landscapes that I can walk through – not as some omniscient invisible Arrow Key Monster checking out my Thomas Kincaid wannabe digi-art (a la Bryce) but rather as a developed avatar with rich 3D, ray-tracing and texture on a next-gen console.

Halo 3 also worked towards this with its Forge software. And Bethesda’s Obilvion on a PC is simply a dream for world-building – there are currently over 4500 modifications online created by user that you can implement into the world and see how it unfolds. Not all the mods work together, and many are redundant in ways that prove disastrous to running the game without a crash – but when you get the combination just right, you can get a near-cinematic experience with endless variation that has no time limit and no rules. My girlfriend and I use to play with a hyper modded Oblivion and then go out to a garden and comment on how much nature looked like the game.

And if you were to believe Plato. or the Baghavad Gita’s discussions of maya – then you would recognize this is hardly a new idea.