Well, two years late, but it’s finally out – and better late than never, naturally. Spore is here, and I picked it up the day after it came out. And I haven’t played WoW since Sunday – the day before I got it. I don’t know what they’ve been doing for the past two years, as it seemed like it was probably just about ready for release when Will Wright did the original Spore demo…two years ago. However, I’ve always had the philosophy that if it’s not ready for release, don’t force it out – wait for it to be ready. Nobody has ever
said “hey, that game would have been a lot better if it were released two weeks earlier”.
So onto the gameplay. First we have the cell stage – which is basically like a glorified game of 360-degree Pac Man. In other words, it’s totally awesome. At the beginning, you select whether you want to be a carnivore or an herbivore – eating bits of meat (and other cells) or bits of plant matter. This decision isn’t terribly important, though, as you can collect other traits (mouths, tails, etc) by either breaking open bits of meteorite (the one that dropped you off on your planet) or killing other cells that possess those traits. You can then either switch food classes by equipping the appropriate mouth, or become an omnivore by equipping either the omnivore mouth or both the carnivore and herbivore mouths. It’s pretty cool.
My first creation was known as the Herbinomicon at its cell stage. I’d started out as an herbivore, then got an omnivore mouth and an assload of spikes and whatnot. It ended up being quite the force to contend with at the cell stage – the only thing that I wish I’d've put on it was poison. I tried out poison on my next two cells and it pretty much lets you do whatever you want. When a gigantic (compared to you) carnivorous cell tries to eat you, it won’t be able to because it’s too busy taking damage from your poison.
Finally, the last creature I’ve built (thus far) has been an Iksar – yes, like the Sarnak, from EverQuest. This is what it looked like at the end of its cellular stage. I gave it red eyes; cilia where its arms will eventually be and at the end of its tail; and spikes in Iksar-appropriate locations – on the head and tail. The final creature didn’t turn out as sweet as I was hoping, but it wasn’t bad.
Omninomicon (final evolution)
Next is the creature phase. Several billion years after the meteorite lands and you emerge as a cell, you crawl out of the sea. Except that you don’t necessarily have to be able to crawl – you can have a land creature with no legs, and it just flops about. It’s pretty sweet. Anyway, when I created my first (the Omninomicon, evolved from the Herbinomicon cell), I sort of minmaxed it – I didn’t really care how it looked, but I wanted to make sure it was the best it could be. Maxed out a bunch of combat/social stats, high health, flight, etc.
The next creature I made, however, I made with its appearance in mind. It was supposed to end up looking like an Iksar, from EverQuest, but it didn’t really turn out that well. For one thing, I just realized I forgot to give it ears. For another, there were no good scale textures in the creature editor. Which, honestly, really surprises me; there are a lot of reptiles in the world, you’d think they would’ve planned for that. Oh well – I just won’t try to make any more scaled creatures
Then, along comes the tribal stage. I wasn’t really a big fan of this stage – it wasn’t all that fun; it’s clear that the cell/creature and space stages were the main focus of the game. Anyway, there’s a little bit of customization – you get a handful of different clothing-esque items that you can place on your creature to designate it as the tribal shaman. The actual gameplay of the tribal stage, however, is a lot like a real-time strategy. It’s you and five other tribes; you can choose to either kill or befriend (by impressing, with music) each one. Each time you deal with a tribe, you gain one section of totem pole in your tribal camp – once you have five sections of totem pole (after dealing with all five tribes), you move onto the civilization phase. You can tame creatures as well, but I didn’t find any real point to it.
The Civilization stage, like the tribal stage, seemed a bit like an afterthought. It just wasn’t really all that fun. For one thing, the vehicle/building creator isn’t fun to use – I can’t really figure out why, it’s exactly like the creature and cell creators, but I just didn’t enjoy building my civilized structures, and neither did any of my friends who have the game. Maybe it’s because it was hard to make anything that looked cool or
goofy; who knows.
The whole goal of the civilization stage is to control every city in the world. You can do this by purchasing other cities, taking them by force, or taking them over religiously. Each one has its own implications on your alignment, although I can’t remember which one does what, except that taking them by force (obviously) pushes you toward red. Like the tribal stage, this is relatively boring and easy/short – although it’s definitely a better RTS than the tribal stage.
Then we get to space, the pièce de résistance
. The space stage is like everything I’ve ever wanted in a galactic conquest game. Creating a UFO was alright, maybe slightly more fun than other vehicles/buildings. There are no stats, however – when you create your ship, you’re only creating its aesthetic appeal. You increase your ship’s stats by unlocking new upgrades by getting badges, which I’ll explain later, then by purchasing the upgrade like an item.
The AI is pretty good, for the other empires. It seems like their personalities have two dimensions – motivation and disposition. Motivation could, for example, be technological advancement, or they could be religious nutjobs – I’m not sure about the complete list of motivations. Disposition is simpler – they can be nice, neutral, or mean. When you’re allied with a nice empire they have this habit of just giving you money at random times, which is pretty cool. Mean ones, however, are a huge pain in the ass – when you’re not allied with them, they basically charge you extortion fees (like “protection money” when living in a gang-controlled section of a city) – if you don’t pay them, your reputation with them drops.
Oh yeah, did I mention you have reputation with every other empire? Your initial rep with each one is based on their disposition – if they’re nice, they like newcomers; if they’re mean, they don’t. You can raise your rep in a large number of ways – by giving them money, doing missions for them, defending them when they need help, even simply trading with them.
Which brings me to another really cool aspect of the space stage – the spice trading system. Each planet can have one of five types of spice (or none at all). At any given time, any inhabited planet can desire each type of spice anywhere from very little (willing to pay under 1000 per) to a hell of a lot (willing to pay as much as 50k per), or anywhere in between. The amount of spice that each planet produces is dependent upon the number of colonies on that planet, and the efficiency of each colony – if you have lots of factories and they’re well-placed, that planet will produce spice faster.
The number of colonies you can have on each planet is dependent upon the T-level of the planet…which is a measure of how well it supports life. A planet can be T0 (meaning you can have a colony on it, but that colony is completely worthless and doesn’t produce anything) up to T3. The number after the T is the number of colonies that the planet will support – except T0, because you can have that one worthless colony. The T-level also dictates how many buildings each colony can contain. T3 planets can support full colonies, while T1 planets’ colonies can only have five buildings.
And that brings me to terraforming. This is pretty cool – you can make a planet better support life by changing its global temperature and atmospheric density. Once you get a planet to a new T-level, you need to stabilize it – which is done by adding more species of plants and animals to its ecosystem. Specifically, each T-level requires one small plant, one medium plant, one large plant, two herbivores, and one carnivore/omnivore. I, personally, just always keep a full set of plants and animals from my homeworld in my ship’s cargo hold at all times. With a higher level cargo hold that’s pretty easily doable.
There are two “ultimate goals” of the space stage. The first (the one that’s tracked by the bar at the bottom of the screen) is to achieve the title “The Omnipotent” – which is done by accumulating enough badge points. Badges are basically achievements; you get them for doing just about anything enough times. In addition to getting you closer to your ultimate goal, gaining badges also unlocks more items; for example, after terraforming enough planets, you unlock the terraforming abilities that you only need to purchase once, rather than having to use one every time you want to improve a planet’s T-score.
The second goal is to reach the center of the galaxy – which is protected by the Grox, a race of super-advanced, highly militant creatures. They’re very hell-bent on keeping you away from the center of the galaxy; I personally have not gotten there yet. I went through a black hole (which are like wormholes in Spore, yeah, it’s a very flawed idea, but oh well) that spit me out just a little ways away from their empire’s borders, found one of their planets, and gave them 100k as a gift. This put me at -20 rep with them – they hate everybody so much that you start out at -70. At -20 I was able to get them to give me a mission – to go collect a Gnome and bring it back to them. I flew a couple star systems away and they decided to just declare war on me – I’m not sure why. Then they blew me to hell and I haven’t gone back yet.
One could also consider it to be an “ultimate goal” to control every star system in the galaxy. I guess that would be 100% completion. It would take fucking forever though.
Anyway, that’s all I want to put into this, it’s pretty long already. All in all, Spore is definitely the best game ever created if you don’t have it yet, definitely get it. It wins forever. It’s also worth noting that it runs very well in WINE – with a couple source patches and a no-CD crack, it runs almost flawlessly. Go WINE devs