In the weeks leading up to No Man's Sky's release, when the hype train was speeding heedlessly toward the collapsed bridge of reality, the gaming community's collective neuroses coalesced beneath the ragged banner of another game - Spore. "Will No Man's Sky end up being the next Spore?" fretted Forbes, while Quora quavered "Will No Man's Sky become another Spore?"
Will Wright, the man who created the best-selling PC game series of all-time, is wearing a leather jacket and smoking a cigarette outside Chaplin Theatre in Raleigh Studios, Los Angeles. He has just delivered a BAFTA-sponsored blow-by-blow account of his illustrious career, dissecting PC classics SimCity, SimAnt, The Sims and Spore and revealing his musical preferences (seventies rock, in case you were wondering).
Will Wright is lying flat out on the floor behind me, his head resting awkwardly on a small pile of books. Pieces of string are tied around his face and pinned to the carpet, with a plastic menagerie of weird alien figurines placed around his head and balanced precariously on the side of his face. I'm trying to play Spore on one of Maxis' laptops, and it's awfully distracting.
You can tell a lot about someone by what's on their desk, and Will Wright is no exception. He may have sold over 100 million copies of The Sims alone, but there's no solid gold plaque adorning his office door; instead there's a simple EA-branded sheet of A4, with his name printed across, that tells you you're in the right place.
Spore is either accompanied by sweeping statements proclaiming its genius or by confused faces wondering what all the fuss is about. It's certainly ambitious. And early last week - Tuesday for those who like specifics - we were treated to the first stage of its launch: the Spore Creature Creator.
Two hours is not a long time in gaming terms. Time enough for a tutorial, maybe, or a handful of cut-scenes - at most a quick blast through a first act of easy victories.
"Will really wanted to make a single-player MMO." With this blunt and baffling statement, producer Thomas Vu sums up the last, most remarkable thing of the many remarkable things about Spore. This is an entirely solo, yet massively multiplayer experience. At no point in Spore do you compete or co-operate with other players. But you're in their company - or that of their creations, at any rate - every step of the way, and it's a profoundly social game.
Part one of our strategy and simulation roundup covered Halo Wars, Civilization Revolution and Football Manager Live, amongst others. Here's the rest of the best.
Not long into our 30-minute demo of Spore, there's a knock on the door. A PR's head appears. "We need to limit the demos to 20 minutes," she says. There's a pause. One of the men demoing the game quietly replies, "Yeah. We can't do that."