Tuesday, September 9, 2008


I surrendered to the Spore hype machine yesterday, dropped by Best Buy on my way home and picked up a copy. (It didn't hurt that I had $40 in Reward Zone certificates thanks to an acquaintance buying a laptop on my RZ card.)

If you're unfamiliar with it (as in, you're too cool to play video games), Spore has you develop a new species of creature from a single cell organism to a thriving civilization capable of exploring the galaxy. It may not be the best game for people who don't believe in evolution.

(Soapbox: I'm all for high schools being required to teach creationism, just as soon as every church, synagogue, mosque, etc. is required to teach evolution. Oh wait. That's stupid. There's a place for one and a place for the other. How about we leave it that way? Back to the game.)

So far... I don't know. It's really engaging, no doubt about that. I'm  not sure, though, if it's just a novelty experience or a good game. I've only made it through the Cell and Creature stages, which are just two of the five stages in the game, the others being Tribe, Civilization, and Space. My kids were enthralled with it, though. They sat on my lap for more than an hour while we picked out different colors, styles and body parts for our creature, Two-Eye. (Two-Eye has, and always had, three eyes. Why my daughter insisted on that name is beyond me. Not so much for her with the counting, I guess.)

I really, really enjoyed the Cell stage, which is a little bizarre because there's not that much to do. But it's just as cute as a... ur, bug. I mean you've got you're little bug and you swim around and eat and try not to get eaten yourself. As you eat, you grow and earn DNA points. When you have a enough points you can issue a mating call and produce offspring. (If only mating in real life were so easy.) There's very little to it, but it only takes about an hour to progress through the stage and it oozes so much charm it's impossible not to love this stage.

The second stage, Creature, I thought was more of a mixed bag. At this point your cell has grown and evolved into a creature capable of making landfall. The creature building part of the game is still a lot of fun. My kids, in particular, loved this part.

As you move across dry land you meet other creatures, drawn from not only the minds of the developers at Maxis, but also the Sporepedia of user generated content. I love that you can make a buddy list of Spore players you know and have the world populate only with creatures from Maxis and people you know. As you go you obtain more and more body part types that you can use to evolve your creature, giving him more aggressive/physical abilities (biting, charging, striking and spitting) or more social abilities (singing, dancing, charming and posing).

This is all great, but what I don't like is that there are really only two ways to accomplish your goal of evolving your brain big enough to achieve sentience: fighting and friending other creatures. Making friends involves impressing three creatures of the same species, which you do by using your social skills in a Simon Says sort of mini-game where you talk to and then mimic what another creature does. Fighting other creatures simply involves killing three of the same creature type. Either action grants you more DNA points and evolves your creature.

What sucks about this is that it's very, very repetitive and limited.  The cell stage was too, but I think that fit a theme, what with you being a microscopic organism and all. Plus, the Cell stage was short enough that you really don't have time to get bored with it. The Creature stage seems like it should offer more than the same friending or fighting actions over and over and over again. At one point I went an hour unsuccessfully trying to impress other creatures. (Some of that's my fault as I didn't have a handle on what I was doing. But still.) It's a big world you can explore. There should just be more to do that can evolve your creature besides sucking up to other creatures or exterminating them. I do understand the drive for simplicity at work here, but if that's the case, maybe it would be better if you only had to impress or kill two creatures of each type rather than three. Even that small change would prevent a lot of repetition at this stage.

Anyway, the game must be doing something right because I'm really looking forward to getting home tonight and taking old Two-Eye through the Tribe stage. Hopefully, I can get more impressions of these later stages up over the course of this week.

You can find my Sporepedia page here. Feel free to buddy me up, if you've got the game. If you do, be sure to leave a link to your page in the comments or send it to me via email.