"Spore" might be among the worst names for a game ever, but the game is pretty unlike anything else. When winter refuses to quit its stranglehold on the seasons and you start getting desperate for entertainment, weird-sounding video games start to sound good. So there I was in Wal-Mart, an experience I dread, staring at the unchanging rack of video games there. I had gone in to purchase Red Alert 3, the latest in the Command & Conquer franchise, but saw Spore and the Spore "Galactic Edition" sitting there on the shelf for the same price. One thing I learned from World In Conflict last winter (besides Soviets are evil and must be destroyed at all costs, yet again) was that if you can get the Collector's Edition for the same price as the regular game, you might as well, and enjoy the bonus poster and bonus DVDs. At the worst, it's something to watch for half an hour on another sub-zero night.
Gamers have railed against Spore because it has some of that authentication technology that is intended to prevent piracy but can potentially make the game unplayable if you install it too many times. I guess that didn't bother me, since by the time I want to install it a 4th time, I will have moved on to something else. That griping aside, let's talk about how interesting this game is.
First of all, the artwork is incredible. It's made ten times more incredible because you can actually create cool-looking 3d models very easily and they fit right in. What's more is that when you're online, you can share your models with the world. I like the idea that my dinosaur is out there interacting with other people in their games. Likewise, their creatures appear in my game, too. The downside to this can be that you might make a really unstoppable carnivore in one game, but that thing might be hunting you when you play as a different creature! All in all, that is an awesome concept.
In Spore, the main theme of the game is that you have this creature that you are constantly evolving. You start out as a single cell trying to survive in a swirling, liquid environment. You have to get food and avoid being eaten yourself. You choose in the beginning whether to be herbivore, carnivore, or omnivore, a choice that will impact a good portion of the game. As you swim around and eat, you earn "DNA points," which can be redeemed to add on new adaptations you sort of discover as you go along. When you choose to mate, you can alter your creature substantially and by your own will - no selective breeding, just "intelligent design." However, the traits you choose are limited by what you have "discovered."
Eventually, you end up sprouting legs and going onto land, where it becomes a different kind of game. Instead of just eating, you can now interact with neighboring creatures socially or through combat. You can make friends or just extinct entire species, or some combination, depending on your creature's traits. Your creature slowly gets bigger and develops a bigger brain, and you begin to realize that the big rocks from early on were actually bones of gigantic animals. Spend enough time running around like a little dinosaur you can eventually advance to Tribal level.
Here's a quick animation of my construction of "Bronchitisaurus."
The purpose of Tribal level is to, again, either ally or destroy neighboring tribes, but now through more advanced means such as weapons, musical instruments, and gifts. Convert or destroy all the tribes, and then you become a continental civilization.
You see where this is going.
Once you are a civilization, you no longer control an individual animal of your species. Instead you control vehicles of the air, land, and sea. You also create buildings to look however you want. The vehicles can be equipped with stuff to pursue military, economic, or religious avenues of converting other civilizations. Eventually, when you convert or destroy everyone, you then have a global civilization that progresses into space. You can even compose your own national anthem using the mixer, and even composing your own melody (not that it has any bearing on anything whatsoever, except that you will be subjected to it throughout the rest of the game whenever you visit your cities).
The shocking thing for me was discovering that, despite all of the powers-of-ten increases in the scope and scale of the game leading up to the space launch, it continued onto the galactic scale. I actually blurted out the words, "It's full of stars," straight out of 2001: A Space Odyssey. I later discovered that there were, indeed "2001" references sprinkled in the game, including a tool you can later develop to deploy a monolith to a planet to promote its inhabitants to a higher level of being. Anyway, the game becomes enormous and lengthy at the point you reach space. It's also an entirely different game as you work to terraform planets, harvest spices from around the galaxy, and explore while continuing to discover other creatures, ally and trade with them, and fight them. It goes on and on. I played for 15 hours yesterday and never got to the center of the galaxy. I don't think the purpose is to reach an identifyable destination once in space, though I have had clues that something happens when I get to the center. I thought it would be fitting if I got there and discovered a god-being in my own image, but, alas, I have not found out yet.
While the game portion basically consists of 5 mini-games, the true fun of the game lies in the artistic creations you can make. I spent a lot of time today just making creatures. Interestingly, the game has a function to upload videos of your creatures right onto YouTube. For me, the most fun is making animals because they are just the most interesting to me. Anyway, here are some of my creations so far:
They range from the cute "Wee Pig":
To the tolerable "Duckysaur"
To the horrifying "Tooth Fairy":