Certain moments, a man never forgets: graduations, weddings, the birth of his first slavering Scuzzraptor. Electronic Arts' Spore, a 3D Petri dish that allows evolution of custom-made creatures from unicellular microbe to space-faring conqueror, does for Darwinism what Super Mario Bros. did for magic mushrooms. When connected online, the game silently uploads and catalogues personalized beasts, buildings, and vehicles in a central database. It then grants creators virtual immortality by using the creations to populate fellow players' worlds.
Spore is the brainchild of legendary designer Will Wright (The Sims), poster child for an entire generation of joystick-addled MENSA dropouts since 1989's SimCity. On the one hand, the outing represents a watershed moment for user-generated content, allowing you to give birth to nearly any organism the mind can conceive. But seven years in the making, nearly five times the average 18-month game development cycle, Spore also serves as the genesis for a host of technological breakthroughs.
Art Imitating Art
Play itself is subdivided into five distinct phases (cellular, creature, tribal, civilization, and spaceflight) ranging from protozoa-gobbling arcade challenges to 3D real-time empire-building affairs. Each pays homage to a genre classic. For example, initial tidal pool scenarios resemble a hallucinogenic Pac-Man, or more cartoonish fl0w, for all you hipsters out there. Grow a couple legs, and emerge onto land, and creature stage challenges recall nothing so much as Diablo's loot-hunting thrills. Tribal scenarios were clearly inspired by real-time strategy outings such as WarCraft III. Later stages ultimately pay homage to Civilization and Master of Orion, with star travel even opening the possibility of visiting other enthusiasts' worlds.
At first blush, it feels like a collection of random titles in disparate genres brought together under a single thematic umbrella. Dig deeper though, and subtle intricacies slowly begin to reveal themselves, with actions taken in one phase echoing down the corridors of natural selection to affect play generations hence. Not 12 hours after last leaving the game behind, the subtle lure of having "just one more go" keeps tugging at the edge of my consciousness. Maybe it's having reached the tipping point at which I can finally crush the hated "pink" tribe that keeps stealing Chieftain Camae and baby Marruckee's food.