Spore: Hands-on Preview

Written by Joe Martin

February 13, 2008 | 07:59

Tags: #evolution #exclusive #hands-on #preview #sandbox #simulation #spore #the-sims #will-wright #wil-wright

Companies: #electronic-arts #maxis

Dear Editor

There’s a lot of things to love in Spore and we’re not even halfway through mentioning a quarter of them, but the thing that most people are interested in seems to be the variety of editors open for players to mess around with. With hilarious demonstrations from the likes of Robin Williams (though the interface in that video is no longer accurate), it’s easy to see why the editors are getting people excited.

However, the editors aren’t as straightforward as they look and it’s not actually as simple as just tossing a few hands onto a blob and putting that in the game. Instead, players are limited in terms of how detailed they can make their creatures and adding new limbs and so forth will cost you in terms of DNA points.

Yeah, I was surprised they weren’t called Sporepoints too – though I think that phrase has got some rather icky undertones when you think about it.

The fact that players have to spend and earn DNA points will be a clunky and unfortunate reality in the eyes of some - namely those who just want to create crazy aliens and leave it at that. The truth is though that the points system is well integrated and is a necessity to prevent players doing anything game-breakingly complex. DNA points are never too hard to come by either and you can earn them by attacking other aliens or by discovering fossils. Either way, it’s not just points up for grabs, but also whole new appendages or types of mouths that you add to your alien.

Spore: Hands-on Preview Creature Feature
Click to enlarge

Still, DNA aside, the Creature Editor can definitely be seen even at this stage as a clear success on the part of EA and Maxis. The creation system is simple and easy to use, utilising simple drop down menus and tabs. At the same time though it’s wonderfully complex and affords gamers tremendous creative freedom.

Creating an alien is easy. When you first enter the editor there’s a basic blob in front of you with a backbone running through it. Click and drag the specific bones and areas you want to play with and force them into the shape you want. After that you can add limbs and the like and alter them in the same way.

My first time in the game I jumped straight in at the start of the game, eager to see as much of the game as I could. If you want to then the game does free you up to skip to certain stages, but doing so will mean that you miss out on all the achievements and rewards. That’s fine though – as one of the producers pointed out to us, casual gamers who like a specific part of the game and want to play that aren’t interested in achievements. Hardcore gamers on the other hand will be interested in that and will be willing to play the game as a whole.

My first creature was a monstrosity and even as it grew up through the cellular phase it was ugly for me to behold – but at the same time I loved it. My beast was shaped like a cartoon greyhound with low back legs, high underbelly and defined ribcage. I covered the underneath in pincers that would afford it more aggressive attacks in true RPG style, gave it jagged spikes on the back legs, Velociraptor claws and a huge tail which ended in a spinning circular saw made of bone.

Spore: Hands-on Preview Creature Feature
The game can be played completely peacefully if you want

I had a few points left over at the end, so I dumped some rudimentary wings on its back, coloured it lime green in honour of Mankini Man and that was it. I had named the planet Cardland out of pure lack of imagination, so I named my alien race ‘Cardigan’ and shipped it out. Sure enough, it hatched out of its egg and was promptly eaten by something called a Valeroid. I cursed, stamped and screamed – an hour of hard work bought to waste. Memories of the twisters from Sim City came to mind and I started to wish Will Wright had never been born.

Thankfully, the game was far from over and I was promptly bought back to life. Another Cardigan was hatching nearby, so I assumed control and immediately took to flight. The animation on my freshly created content was perfect and Cardigan II as I had taken to calling him was able to scrabble all over the world in search of food.

It was fascinating and delighting to see that the Creature stage of development had some basic RPG elements to it. Each appendage and addition to your design gives them new advantages and abilities that fit well with the reality. At basic levels this translates to “Have wings, can fly”. At a more involved level though it involves specific uses and I quickly found out that, because I had chosen a mouth that looked good for the race of Cardigans, and not one that was useful then the race was a little limited.

Despite all the spikes, pincers and bonesaws on Cardigan II, he was actually a herbivore because the jaw I’d given him fitted that type of creature. Naturally, I wasn’t going to spend four or five hours playing a vegetarian, so I found a more interesting mouth, saved some DNA points and evolved Cardigan II to something a little meatier.
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