Trent Polack's site for cats, games, game development, and undeniably powerful sociological insight all with a healthy dose of narcissism.
The Landsharks Shall Inherit the, uh, Randomly Generated Planet
Published on September 7, 2008 By mittens In PC Gaming

After ending my very first Spore gaming session a few hours after I startedmany hours after I started I sat back and thought about what I just played. Spore isn't an easy game to classify so much as it is five different games to classify all wrapped in an incredibly polished, coherent content creation sandbox. At numerous moments in my session that took me from the very beginning of a new species up through the beginning of the fifth and final Space Stage I sat back and realized that I'm the only gamer in the world who will have taken a blue race that resembles land-sharks called the Asplodians through each stage of the game but, when I was done, I won't be the only gamer who has had the divine pleasure of seeing my little blue carnivores in a game world due to Maxis' endlessly intelligent and well-assembled online distribution of player-created content. If anyone wants to play with my beautiful little blue babies, add "mittense" to your Spore buddy list.

First, to anyone who has yet to play, I'd recommend doing what I did and getting as many friends' spore buddy names as possible before starting and then, optionally, disabling content from anyone outside your list. It's far more enjoyable for me to see a creature in the wild, click it, and see the name of a friend or coworker and silently judge that person based on their creation than it is for me to see a giant walking pair of tits from El337nubPWN3r. And there were a great many times where I was faced with skyscaper-tall "epic" instances of my friends' creations that picked up my baby blue dinosaur-shark hybrid, gnawed on him a bit, and then threw him into the ground and killed him -- such an instance has probably tainted my friendship with that person irrevocably.

The first stage, where you're a tiny little wormthing with chompers swimming about in a primordial ooze, is a surprisingly enjoyable fifteen-to-twenty minute game of lion-and-cat-and-mouse where the lions and mice get bigger with your player-controlled origin of an eventual species. It is during this period that a player can get accustomed to a simplified version of the Creature Creator that will power the stage following this introduction to the game. Going into Spore I assumed this stage would be the game's weak point but that's not even close to true. The cell phase is a rightfully short-lived blast and I'm looking forward to doing it again when I create my next species.

The creature-driven phase that follows this is best described as a mix of the Spore Creature Creator (can I use this retail subset of the game to describe this?) and World of Warcraft. The player takes his newly land-bound creature from its non-aquatic immaturity to its near-civilized phase throughout this hour-long battle for supremacy as the player bands with the rest of his species to eliminate the other new nests that populate the world. This stage is, hypothetically, about making new friends and enemies in a world and defining a species' eating habits in a learn-by-eating method of sustenance through plants (herbivore), other species (carnivore), or a mix of both (omnivore). Killing or befriending other species will increase your DNA bar (experience bar) and each major experience block gives your creature a larger brain with the final block setting off the light bulb in a creature's head that he can use sticks to roast marshmallows.

The third stage is a tribal stage which tasks, emphasis on the word task, the player with guiding anywhere from six to a dozen of his units towards tribal victory in a real-time strategy-lite game. The idea behind this phase is alright, what with all of the inter-tribal negotiations and/or warfare that yield an increased familiarity with tools as a means to slice people, gather food, and impress other species with but, much like the forthcoming fourth stage of the game, too little of tasks that the player has to deal with in this phase can be completed with very little thought or effort from the player. The only meaningful choice in this segment to be made is whether a player wants his species to progress to the next stage by killing all of the fellow tribes, impressing them with their culture and music, or, uh, a third option? The customization options given to the player in this phase are as hollow as the gameplay mechanics as the only things a player can do are to equip nine variations of "clothing" per each of the five clothing types (helmet/chest piece/shoulders/accessories/one other) to increase the tribe's proficiency in combat, gathering, and culture.

The fourth stage is the civilization phase that gives players access to city customization (city hall, factory, entertainment, houses) and various vehicles (land, air, and sea) to wage the same sorts of war as in the third stage on a bigger scale. This civilization stage is made far less tedious in that it not only makes players balance numerous cities, compared to the third stage's one-tribe-only management, but it also provides a wealth of, admittedly shallow, content creation segments for each of the vehicles and buildings. There are also super-abilities of types that depend on the species a player has created over the preceding stages (warfare, culture, and that pesky third thing I can't remember since I killed everything I came in contact with). I used a nuke at the end of the stage and won which, really, is the best way to win. The biggest disappointment in this section is the really shoddy implementation of the vehicle creation compared to every other aspect of the game; a player can deck out a vehicle with weapons and thrusters and feet and all that jazz but, when it comes to actually utilizing it, the unit just moves and attacks with a generic animation. I can't even express my disappointment that my Asplodius Puppius walker land vehicle didn't use his head-mounted missiles to blow things up. I almost cried. Then I realized I had a landshark in the cockpit (or so I imagined) and that made it better.

I was told by all of my non-US friends, since we were one of the last countries to get access to the game, that the Space Stage is where a majority of the game time will be spent and now that I've reached it I can see why. The player gets access to an interstellar spaceship and is given a variety of missions, quests, and a very, very large map to explore in what has been described to me as a sort of 4X (explore, expand, exploit, and exterminate) game. I've only gotten about an hour in to this stage but, thus far, I've gotten missions to meet new alien life form, establish trade routes, and terraform planets. What I didn't realize was, when terraforming, I can't just throw the species in my cargo hold to the ground of the planet or they die. So, uh, yeah. Now I'm going back to my home planet and "borrowing" some species to populate this alien world.

At this point, I can safely say that my expectations for the game were met and exceeded on almost every level. For every fault the game has, like the stupid vehicle creation limitations and the yawn-casuing tribal stage, there are a dozen other game mechanics that aren't only fun but contain their own metagames for a player to discover. And every aspect of the game is archived and categorized in one of the most important game mechanics I've ever seen: The Sporepedia (below). Now, back to my interstellar landsharks.


Comments (Page 1)
on Sep 07, 2008

I see my Restoahub! Woo! 

You've communicated it much better than I could have. 

on Sep 07, 2008

I haven't gotten as far as you, but so far the game has been great.  Great article! 

on Sep 07, 2008

i Still need to buy it but I doubt I'l be able to get into town for awhile, I WANT IT SOO BAD.

on Sep 07, 2008

Thanks guys. Also, my super awesome Spore Profile page.

As you can see, my blue medieval warrior landsharks are amazing.

on Sep 08, 2008

Hmm. Maybe I will get this game. Thank you for the info.

Also, it might just annoy slurple. 

 

on Sep 08, 2008

I like what Spore is trying to achieve, with the different stages of life populated with others creations. On that level the game exceeds very well.

Its just a shame they put so much effort into that aspect of the game, that they didn't think about giving the different stages any real replayability.

Coupled with the fact the Space stage has some seriously bad design decisions (having to babysit everything, inability to create additional fleets to do what you want) it just left me with a feeling that its only a matter of time before we end up being shovelled with expansion packs.

on Sep 08, 2008

Its cute looks act like a metaphore to its self. Its new, its got something fun and cool but it still has to grow up before it reaches the 'big leauge'.

 

The kind of technoogy they used in other games could have amazing results. Maybe someone will try now...

on Sep 08, 2008

personally im already bored with the game.  nice game but not amazing.  still i dont regret buying it.

on Sep 08, 2008

I'm  glad you are enjoying the game, but for me it feels like a watered down version of what it should (could?) have been. There is no real evolutionary path based on player actions (you can change the way your creature looks, including abilities, practically from the ground up even at the last moment in Creature Stage) and later stages, especially Civilisation and Space, do not feel as if you're guiding a species as much as if you're babysitting a bunch of, excuse my frank words, morons. Black & White had a better "guiding a civilisation" feel to it and in that game you could also drop giant rocks on people's heads if they were getting cheeky.

Stages themselves also feel too repetitive and shallow. It's not so much about building a civilisation or making your fledgling tribe prosper as it is about spamming units and mindlessly sending them against whatever city is closest - sure you can try the diplomacy and all that, but why bother when the end result is the same. City planning is also staggeringly shallow, with only three types of buildings available, and also only three types of craft you can design (unfortunately, those guns turn out to be cosmetic stuff only - your vehicles do not actually fire them).

And the biggest gripe of them all - you can't actually lose the game, can you? I mean, if you die at cell or creature stage you just respawn which makes sense of a sort, but what if your tribe gets wiped out (pretty hard to achieve that one) or if you lose your last city or planet? Again, no biggie.

Black&White had a system which, I feel would have worked far better than Spore's as far as species learning and evolution is concerned. Where your creature changes based on the actions it performs, not based on the body parts you collect in the world. Eat a lot of fruit? Become a herbivore. Eat a mixed diet, omnivore. Jump around a lot and your legs get bigger and eventually you develop wings. Charge at other stuff alot and your grow horns. Spit, and you grow venom glands. The possibilites would be endless and so would the fun. As it stands, the whole game is based around a creature creator and "dress-em-up" extravaganza which extends even to planets. It looks pretty but I got bored of it pretty quick. In a way, its ironic. You've got full control over your species - but your actions and decisions do not feel like they matter at all.

on Sep 08, 2008

Hm. I actually missed the release.

 

I'll pick it up today though. Any advice on the different versions (normal / galactic)?

 

PS: My Spore playertag is pndrev - feel free to add me.

on Sep 08, 2008

I'm actually really dissapointed and bored with the game.  What really killed it for me was during the creature stage when I realised that my creature wasn't on an evolutionary path at all.  I could just completely redesign my creature in every way just by clicking the mating call button, it felt like a cheat and from that moment on the idea of this evolving creature from single cell to space totally lost it's magic because the later stages bore no real link to my sea creature at all.  Not to mention the shallow gameplay....

on Sep 08, 2008

Really you liked it?

 

I did'nt, I wrote a review for the British Amazon but they are still not allowing reviews, my review follows:

 

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A Mile wide and an Inch deep.

 

Rarely in the course of modern gaming has a game been hyped so much by so many only to disappoint so totally.

 

The game is divided into segments covering everything from the cell stage of a creature right through to a galactic empire. Each and every stage is extremely simplistic at best. The highest praise I can heap on the game is that is has character. It’s quite charming growing your creature from a single cell to a walking tall tribesman. But each stage is just a point and click exercise. In the cell stage you click on stuff to eat and your cell swims towards it. You see a bigger predator you click away from it.

In the Creature Stage you do the exact same, you click on food to run over to eat it, or click away if you find yourself getting attacked by something you can’t handle.

Tribal Stage consists of just 6 buildings, and one will do just fine to be honest. Again, just a case of clicking on whatever the objective bar tells you to.

The civilisation phase plays like an extremely simple RTS, with just one resource and 3 vehicles. And much like the other stages the only tactic you need worry about is making sure you have more Hp’s and more firepower than whatever you click on.

The Galactic stage again is in theory like any other Space sim, but one that has been grossly oversimplified.

I could not recommend this game for anyone other than younger children, or people who very rarely play games and are more interested in cute graphics than content.

For anyone else there are games that do each stage 100 times better. Sins of a Solar Empire or Galactic Civilisations for the Space stage.

Civilisations 4 or Sim City for the civilisation phase.

Medieval 2 or even the dumbed down  Settlers 4 for the tribal stage.

And any beat em up for the creature stage.

 

All this let down before you even get to the horrific DRM on this game. Its so restrictive you should know your renting the game not buying it. For example I would normal truck this game straight down to the games shops to sell second hand. But I can’t do to the over the top DRM. And since you can only change your hardware or format your drive a total of 3 times before the game refuses to play it will last me at best 6 months. Mind you, not that I would be playing that long anyway.

What a waste of money.

 

on Sep 08, 2008

I'm gonna have to heavily disagree with that review. Although the first 4 stages may be simplistic - they're fun, and that's what it's all about. Now.... the space stage is just huge. I will have to disagree with anyone saying it is not fun and deep, because it is. There's nothing like going over to a planet and abducting an AT-ST creature.

on Sep 08, 2008

I think it has a lot to do with how much you bought into the hype. The same could be seen with Oblivion. People who hyped it endlessly were disappointed. Those who merely expected a good RPG and were prepared for a few mods enjoyed it immensely, myself included.

 

Of course the stages themselves don't live up to competitors like GalCiv or SimCity. They're narrowly focused games specialising in exactly that aspect. Also, you can't loose. You also can't loose in the Sims, and given that both Spore and Sims come from the same studio, it shouldn't be surprising. Sims (like Spore) are about setting goals for yourself, trying things out in a giant sandbox and not having to worry about winning or loosing.

 

If you want a game that is nigh impossible to win, try a few Angabdn variants. I have, and they are fun, always being on the verge of loosing, constantly fighting the odds. For Spore, however, I wouldn't want that. I play Sims. (I admit it. I need help...). Simple gameplay, simple fun, not much to worry about.

 

It's all about expectations you put into a game. Spore, hyped as it was, doesn't even try to compete with serious strategy titles. How could it?

on Sep 08, 2008

I'm with KingBingo on the DRM. A game which only allows three activations (and one extra if you are lucky on the phone) is simply a no-go for me. There is no game in the world good enough for me to accept that kind of nonsense.