More Concept than Game
If you have any knowledge about current video games, then surely you must have heard of Spore by now. If you read any online game review sites such as IGN or Gamespot, then surely you must not only have heard of Spore, but have been salivating over its possibilities for a few years now – I am one of these people. I first heard of Spore, roughly, a year-and-a-half to two years ago. I saw a presentation, via Google Video, of Will Wright (the designer of Spore and The Sims, as well as the co-founder of Maxis (Spore’s development house)) explaining a “little game” Maxis has been working on. Ever since I saw that lecture, (which I think took place at the 2006 GDC) I have been obsessed with it. The demonstration Will Wright gave at that presentation, and subsequent ones, has been pretty much the same and pretty much amazing. He tells the audience that, in this game, you’ll go from being a single-celled organism living in a drop of water to a galactic god conquering other civilizations and altering the evolution of other species. Forums became ablaze with speculation, adding to the hype – and, I was right there with them. Fortunately, now that the game has launched, I can say that most, if not all, the ideas are intact, though gameplay has issues.
The game is divided into five distinct segments.
It all starts here - you begin as just bacteria that, by chance, happens to land on a habitable planet, via a crashing meteor. Will Wright, in many of his presentations, has described this phase of your story as being akin to the gameplay of Pac-Man. The mechanics are quite simple, addictive and rewarding. You’re a single-celled organism that, depending on your choice of being a carnivore, herbivore or omnivore, can eat other living things or portions of floating leaves. As you eat, you get bigger and receive DNA points. As you get more and more DNA points, you can choose to make a mating call. After have successfully fornicated with another member of your species, you can evolve your simple, little creature. Add a flagella or a spike to make you faster or more dangerous. Your progress is maintained on a neat chart. The gameplay here is perfectly fine. Once you’ve evolved and become big enough, you sprout legs, leave the water, and walk on land.
The creature stage begins as you and your buddies walk on land, and create a little nest. Depending on how you created your creature, it will react to its surroundings with what God (…you) gave it. Will Wright has said this phase has similarities with Diablo. This is where the gameplay starts to become annoying. You control one your creations at a time. Your goal is to go off into the big world and, either, kill other species or befriend them with song and dance, all for more DNA points. That’s all you do. It becomes quite repetitive. As you finish quests, your brain will get bigger; you’ll make love with other members of your species; and you’ll reshape your creature.
More of the same occurs in this stage. As oppose to controlling one creature, you control a tribe of your creations. The stage plays out, as noted by Will Wright, as something like Populous. Hardcore RTS players will be pissed off when playing this portion. It’s so simple and repetitive, despite having some interesting aspects of evolving your creature and tiny “village”. All you do is gather food, and fight or befriend other tribes with larger, more elaborate, song and dance. I’ll put it this way, if you like the pablum served up on the of gaming consoles, the Wii, then you’ll like this. You’ll like Spore.
More of the same occurs in this stage. It’s like the tribal stage but you’re dealing with cities instead of little villages. Your goal is to, yet again, gather resources, fight or religiously convert or buy out other cities. Everything in the city is customizable. As you collect more resources, you get more money to create units to do what you want. This stage has been likened to . Again, there is no real challenge here, and it got to the point where I was just doing my quests so I could get to the space stage. Eventually, you’ll earn enough cash to create your own UFO. Finally, the thing I was waiting for in this game has been given to me.
I have come this far, and haven’t even mentioned Sporepedia. Spore, at its heart, is a community. With Sporepedia, you can upload your creatures to an internal database and the best part is that these creatures will populate other people’s adventures. In this stage, you’ll be able to visit a limitless amount of other worlds and see both user-generated and Maxis-generated content. You can destroy or befriend civilizations or shape evolving ones. You can alter or destroy worlds with enough cash. You can abduct other species and create a zoo planet. It’s really quite awesome. For me, this the best reason to play Spore. Given the stage’s scope, there’s really nothing like it. Everyone should experience this, either by using a cheat or by trudging through the previous stages of the game. It’s worth it.
Will Wright says, in one of his recent lectures, that the best, most involving, games contain the user dismantling the design given by the makers of the game, and redesigning it themselves, so as to create an experience that is unique to them. He gives examples of other open-world experiences such as Grand Theft Auto, where he says he doesn’t even follow the story, but creates his own in his mind. These principles are very evident in The Sims but not so much in Spore. Mostly, Spore’s gameplay isn’t very good, though who could really blame Maxis? It’s such as an ambitious undertaking that it would be impossible to create the depth that is evident in the ideas behind the game into the gameplay – but, this could all change when the inevitable add-ons are released. In spite of all this, the game looks and sounds great, withstanding some minor collision detection problems. As a package, Spore will keep you busy for a long time, if you can overlook some of its annoying gameplay.