posted 9/24/2008 by Randy Kalista
other articles by Randy Kalista
One Page Platforms: PC
Through the epochs, your creature grows and grows, until one day it develops the technology to “return” to outer space -- after all those millennia ago, crashing as a simple-celled creature in the ocean, encased in a meteorite. And once you’ve attained space travel, the camera pulls back even further (powers of ten) until a sense of déjà vu strikes, and you look and feel like that simple-celled creature paddling for survival in that gigantic body of water all those millennia ago. Only now you’re in a spacecraft capable of faster-than-light travel. And that gigantic body of water is the Milky Way. Your rivals in the galaxy (and you) no longer grow physically, but grow territorially, enlarging not through tissue and muscle growth, but through crossing entire parsecs and colonizing solar systems.

The scope becomes daunting, by any stretch of the imagination. And where the journey began with evasion and hunting, it ends with micromanagement and democracy. Or missiles and laser fire, if that’s your particular brand of politicking.

While the physical evolution of your creature feels stunted and superficial between stages (pull off a superfluous cilia here, tack on a set of ostrich legs there) the shifts in a creature’s social makeup are well-oiled and invisible unless you seek them out before each level’s conclusion. The evolution of ‘character’ over billions of years -- between socialites and predators, friendly and aggressive types -- operates with a seamlessness that the BioShock team should take notes on (versus that game’s “do good things for little girls” or “do bad things to little girls” dichotomy of choices). Further, Spore’s no-hitching gear shifts between developing an economic, militant, or religious society is an excellent tutorial for the good/neutral/evil character development that Mass Effect’s team should be scribbling onto their notepads (as opposed to Mass Effect’s bifurcated push-up-for-good-answer, push-down-for-bad-answer Q&A sessions).

Couple all of these stunning developmental achievements with the massively single-player community-sharing tools, and you’re introduced into a creative spirit’s polygamist paradise where creature-swapping is commonplace and your offspring could be rendered extinct in another player’s universe, or stomping as a gargantuan ‘epic’ creature across another’s tribal grounds. All of this community interaction takes place with or without eagle-eyed monitoring, as you soar ever closer to unlocking the “42” achievement when you finally reach the galaxy’s center (hat tip: The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy).

Each game of Spore applies something of Occam’s Razor as a developmental guideline at first: The simplest gameplay approach is often the best. But, by powers of ten, a creature’s scope of responsibilities, needs, and capabilities grows by orders of magnitude, as do the longer-lasting effects in a player’s mind.

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