9/24/2008

Legendary Game : Spore (part I)

After nearly eight years in the making, the world saw the release of Spore from Will 'Toy Maker' Wright's Maxis studio. Spore has been touted and speculated as a god game or a simulation of everything; however, in our humble opinion it's neither a game nor a complete simulation, at least not in the strictest sense of the words. What Spore offers is an opportunity for a controlled experiment in nature, or evolution if you will.


Speaking of evolution, the game tends to throw our traditional understanding of the Darwinian theory of 'survival of the fittest' out the window as you have fair amount of choices to ensure your species survival and dominance in the universe. Having said that, the game design doesn't stray too far from our understanding of evolution and offers the progression stages starting with a single-celled organism all the way to what we may consider peak of a civilization -- space exploration.

Starting your journey



Your creature's journey in Spore begins as a humble single-celled organism, whose sole purpose in life is to consume and multiply. Determining your creature's traits at this stage are two main factors -- your dietary preference (plant-eating, carnivore or omnivore) and your survival tactics (aggressive, passive or adaptable).

This Cell Phase is basically a top-down view of your creature eating and growing on a 2D surface. Since I was an herbivore, I was swimming around looking for plants to chew on. As you eat, a progress bar at the bottom of the screen will track your progress to the next phase. You will have to keep your distance from other carnivores -- since to them, you are on the menu. Occasionally you will discover useful body parts that can be used by you inside the game's editor: such as a spike on your back to hurt those pesky predators.


Irrespective of the means you choose, the end entails making your creature's DNA complex enough to grow 'legs' and move on to the land above. Before exiting to land and entering the Creature Stage you are given a special ability, to survive in the outside world. I was given the Siren Song, for example.


With similar choices offered at the Creature Stage, your main goal is to collect more complex body parts that you will use to enhance your creature through an incredible fun and simple to use tool kit. In this phase, the game will also generate species around you, to balance the ecosystem. The world around you is thus filled with many different creatures; you will also find many dead animals as well as skeletal remains. These skeletal remains can be scourged to discover new parts that can be later used in the editor.

Do the dance


The Creature stage of the game ends with the consequence that your creature will emerge as the dominants species in the world, right at the top of the food chain. Since you are the only sentient species on the current planet, the power struggle shifts to intra-species strife for domination or survival.
At the end of the tribal stage, the biological blue print of your creature will be set in stone and the way forward at this stage is through collection and implementation of various tools that'll lead you through to the civilization stage. The game introduces balance by spawning bigger and stronger creatures around you. I turned into a carnivore after a while by editing and adding a new carnivorous mouth piece. I realized that as an herbivore I was very passive and harmless, hence was hunted quite easily. A few modifications later -- I got me an offensive bite ability as well the ability to sprint -- attributes of my new-found body parts.



In the creature phase one can earn DNA points by either eradicating other species -- this is done by killing 5-7 members of the species, or by being friendly and impressing 3-5 members of that species. It's your decision, and as you complete the tasks your progress bar grows towards the next Phase.

An interesting anecdote: During one of my hunts, I saw a huge herd of creatures running away, after a while I heard a strange noise and before I could comprehend, I saw a giant spaceship looming overhead. I was quite shocked and not knowing the ship's intentions, I fled. The ship started abducting many creatures and after a while, it just flew away. I saw a couple of creatures waving at the ship with gloomy faces, as the ship had abducted one of their own.

Every time you are ready to evolve and add new parts to your creature, you have to mate. The creature phase can be quite action-packed if you are a carnivore. After earning a decent amount of DNA points your brain gets bigger and you can now add a member to take along on your adventures. In plain language, you start a pack. You can make allies by singing to others: a small mini-game starts and if you are able to impress, you win an ally. This socialization is not limited to singing and there are other abilities like charm and dance which are earned depending on the body parts you use in the editor. However, a tribe might demand you dance for them to become allies -- whenever one asked me to dance, I eliminated their entire species. I remember earning an achievement (yes the game has achievements) as I eliminated about 20 species to earn DNA points.

Once again, at these stages of the game -- starting from your arrival on land to the peak of your civilization, the course of the species is determined mainly by how you use your acquired technology and your social interaction with other species, tribes and civilizations.
In the tribal stage your goal is to grow as a tribe and dominate others. You start off by hunting and collecting food. Once you have enough food, you have to produce more babies and increase the size of your tribe. More food leads to more development, which can be used to create tools. These tools can be used for making allies or for eliminating rival tribes. I faced five tribes, I dominated and captured 4 of them and made the last remaining tribe my ally. Every time you eliminate or become allies with a neighboring tribe you receive their tribe Totem to indicate your victory. Once all the tribes have been defeated you get to advance to the Civilization Phase.

Part II

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