The most fun I’ve ever had

lava“You fell in the lava!”

I’ve said this countless times in childhood, pretending that some particular surface was “lava” and everywhere else was safe.

“The lava is good for your health,” my cousin Johnny would say when he wanted us to fail at a game so that his turn would come faster.

Occasionally, when taking a walk with my wife, I still insist that the grass is lava and see if I can’t nudge her off the sidewalk and into the impending mortal doom of…walking on soft grass.

This simple and universally understood game was the inspiration for my second adventure in Spore galactic adventures:

You’re marooned on a planet of…well, you know…and the heat is interfering with your transporter signal. Fortunately, it just so happens that there are a series of platforms and jump pads in front of you which can lead you to the safety of high ground! That is…if you can navigate them successfully and not plummet to your fiery demise.

Platformers have been a crowd favorite almost as long as video games have existed, and one of my personal favorites is the all-too-rare breed of 3D platformer, successfully realized in Mario 64.

But if I thought playing a 3D platformer level¬†was fun, it has nothing on designing one — at least not for a creative mind like mine. Deciding just how high to place each platform, just how large the landing area has to be, and just how highly powered each jump pad is were just of a few of the things I enjoyed about the process.

The most brilliant aspect of Spore GA is that when you’re adventure building, the playtest button is right in the editor, and takes literally zero time to load. Wonder how your jump pad will work? Hit ‘play’ and find out.

I spent hours at this, making certain the level I built was difficult, even intimidating, but beatable. Like most platformers, if you know exactly what to do and where to go, it’s far easier than stepping into it for the first time.

But the real reward came when I had finished the adventure and got to see my wife play it the first time through. Her exclamations of delight and frustration were more rewarding to me than just playing a video game ever has been — and if you know me, you know that’s saying a lot. The infuriated look she gave me when an apparently “safe” platform warped her back to the beginning of the level was so priceless it sent me into gales of laughter.

So far, more than 40 people have played the adventure, and it has a well-liked rating in spite of the fact it is also ranked in the highest difficulty class. And I have already all but forgotten my first Spore GA creation, a plot-based mini-RPG with 11 different goals across 8 acts instead of just one. But if I had to guess at this point, I’d wager I’ll be building more platformers than stories.

Avoiding lava, especially while flying high through the air in inhuman leaps and bounds, is just plain fun.

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