Spore: Things To Know…

By Kieron Gillen on September 5th, 2008 at 11:38 am.

SPACE!!!!

We’ll be doing a verdict next week, but for now, here’s the three things you should know about Spore.

1) Spore is a four hour character creator for a polished version of Space Rangers 2. It’s neat.
2) Ignore anyone’s opinion who’s played it less than – oooh – eight hours. There’s certainly good reasons to dislike or even dismiss Spore, but it takes that point before you see past your preconceptions.
3) There is no Autosave. I repeat: there is no autosave.

And a load more detail beneath the cut.

For example, I’ve been following the reviews and meta-gaming them a little.

There’s been some talk about it from comment-thread cynics as being another Black and White. As in, a game that recieved enormous scores from confused reviewers – presuming because it was so unusual it was probably good – and down the line pretty much everyone decided it was a load of old tosh. Funnily enough, I’m seeing it in exactly the opposite terms – I think reviewers are afraid of being the Black & White reviewers and are deliberately upping their criticism – which is one reason why even the positive reviews seem to be full of complaints.

In short: I suspect if Spore was released with less hype, it’d have had better scores. I suspect the fact Spore is so unlike anything else – by being a bit like everything else – that reviewers are slightly nervous around giving it too good marks, in case no-one likes it.

But that’s me thinking too much – there’s a second and more profound reason why the reviews read so down, and it’s a direct result of the traditional completely-descriptive feature-list style of reviews meeting Spore’s everything-and-the-kitchen sink design. A review has to describe everything in the game, which means that each of the five stages tend to get the same amount of space in the review. And since the first four of those stages are really sleight, there’s lots of room for slagging.

This is a complete distortion of the game.

The first four stages you’ll play through in four hours tops. The space stage is at least twice that, and probably a lot more. When you play the earlier games, it’s clear there isn’t much more depth there compared to a normal strategy game… but they’re designed to be comprehensible and entertaining for that very brief period of time. The problem with that is, on the first play through, you’re being mildy entertained and wondering “is this it?”. Spore is a big game – in terms of scope – and its actual experience is actually quite intimate. It’s not blowing you away in the way that you’re expecting it too.

But the game fundamentally changes when you reach the Space stage – it’s the one part of the game which is absolutely on par with any other game of its type – which is pretty much Space Rangers and sod all else in recent years (Comparisons to a game like Galactic Civilizations are deeply misplaced – you may as well say that Mount & Blade doesn’t stack up against Age of Wonders). It has a mass of mechanics – many of them introduced in the previous four hours, in a subtle and elegant way – and is a real, proper game, a pop-cute Elite with terraforming.

In fact, it IS the real proper game, and that’s what I mean by point one. You realise that the previous four hours weren’t actually the real game. They were about creating a customised race which you have a degree of affection for, with traits shaped by your actions in four stages. When you downplay the importance of the earlier stages in your mind, they make much more sense.

When I first played through them, I thought I’d never want to do them again. After the realisation, I’ve done the early stages another couple of times – in fact, the shallowness was actually a boon. When you know the mechanics, you can burn through them, with the experience enlivened by the slight change in methodology you’re following as you’re trying to create a different sort of creature (i.e. I’m using Religion to conquer rather than armies in the Civ stage so I can be a more altruistic nice space race). If they were much deeper, the simple process of making a new race for the real game would be extended pointlessly. You’d be far less likely to do it.

In other words, when you stop thinking about the early stages as the real game and something more akin to a character creator, you start having a lot more affection for them. The Cell and Creature levels are the most entertaining of the two (And the cell level, funnily enough, is the one where your creature design skills most actually impacts the game, in terms of you working out where to put your spikes to maximise your killing machine, and where the economics of what to buy next with limited resources bites hardest). The tribe is pretty vacuous, and the one I’m terribly glad doesn’t go on any longer. The World stage is a little more interesting, but carries a relatively heavy weight of demanding you to design most of the buildings and vehicles, which can make it seem to drag a little.

(Spore Anxiety comes into play here. As in, the pressure to actually create something that’s not rubbish, as you know your friends will see it and if it’s not at all interesting they’ll think less of you.)

But – really – I’m spending too much time discussing them. To be actually truthful to the experience, the early stages should be completely minimalised in a review. If there’s a total copy count of 1000, I more truthful division of the writing would be about 300 words on the creators, 500 words on the space stage, a quick 100 words on all four developmental stages and 100 words snarling at the lack of the bloody autosave.

My advice with Spore is just to relax. It’s a novel game that does a lot of things differently from almost everything else, which makes direct comparisons a little misleading. Don’t think of the hype and see if it takes you under its spell.

Oh – one final thing. The game doesn’t really do the fail state thing, but it doesn’t mean that it’s impossible to fuck up. It’s certainly possible to make a big enough mess of a game – the Space Stage is most likely but if you’re really confused I suspect you could do so at the Tribal stage too – that starting from Scratch is just about your only option. Or, at least, the only option if you want to have fun. Its concept of difficulty kind of reminds me of Darwinia’s, oddly enough, but that’s over-digressing. If you’re in a position where you don’t think you can win – normally in Space when you’re being raided constantly with no where near enough resources to forge a peace – you can’t win and should give up and try again.

(At which point, I suppose, you probably should be glad for the lack of autosave, as long as your previous save game was fine, you can load from there.)

But me? When I fucked up space, I just restarted from the beginning with a whole new race, as I decided I fancied being a bit of a space hippy rather than a warrior. Which surprised me. It’s not normally the sort of thing I do.

I suspect Spore will end up surprising many people.

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120 Comments »

  1. AbyssUK says:

    But the question that nobody has answered is has space been populated my hordes of multicoloured penis monsters yet?

  2. duel says:

    thanks for swaying my vote, i feel like i really want to go buy the game today now.

    i remember watching the first demo’s of spore back in 2005 when will was doing presentations on procedural gaming. i was hugely excited, but its changed alot since then.

  3. Mike says:

    This really has been quite a strange game reception-wise. I think almost everyone was worried their particular opinion would be wrong as it neared release. It all sort of got mashed up in a peculiar combination of told-you-so press releases and bizzarely-weighted reviews.

    One thing I did find odd was the disparity between some reviews and their scores. Some seemed very disparaging, yet gave scores which seemed to correlate with a much more praising review.

    Looking forward to my first playthrough sometime early next week. I think the community aspect is enough to make it a worthwhile jaunt.

  4. Kieron Gillen says:

    We should probably start listing names – I’m MissAdaLovelace.

    KG

  5. Mindtrap says:

    I’ve been waiting for Spore since….2004
    allot changed since then, the hype went away and came back several times. Still, i cant wait to get my galatic edition on the mail. i mean…it’s spore. it’s diferent. and it is so diferent from everything else that most people are not prepared to fully understand the impact of it in the gaming industry. i hope we see more about spore in the future. in the meantime, we have the spore meta-universe to fill up with our creations and big penis thingies.

  6. Turin Turambar says:

    It’s not the first time i see this comparison with Space Rangers 2. Which it is good!
    But while it will be more polished, i don’t know if it will be as good as SR2. Is the dynamic economy as complex? and the race relations? and the dynamic war? Do they have awesome text quests? :P

  7. Bobsy says:

    Aw, whatever happened to Brem X Jones? I loved that guy.

  8. Kieron Gillen says:

    Turin: I was surprised when I saw Gamespot throw a SR2 reference in there. I thought I was going to be alone on drawing that line.

    I suspect it’s less complicated, but it’s more robust – the pieces are very clear. Also, you’re working on a more race-scale immediately.

    There are no text quests, alas, but there’s quite a bit more exploring, for my money.

    Bobsy: He’s saved for special occasions. I am legion. I contain multitudes.

    KG

  9. Ian says:

    The question I’d like to know is whether I’ll actually be able to log in to it this weekend — seems like they’d succumbed to the ‘release-day-server-authentication-blues’ first thing this morning!

  10. Gap Gen says:

    I think hype has killed a lot of games. Invisible War, Bioshock – both had expectations far beyond what they actually were, and so people hated them for it. People hated Invisible War for being a pale shadow of its predecessor, and Bioshock for not being an arty FPS with RPG elements. Both are good games, but expectations killed them (well, maybe not killed. Both did fairly well, despite the invectives).

    I’m interested to find out how much simulation there is in Spore – Sim Earth already did an impressive amount in simulating everything on the planet, and I don’t know whether the desire to be mainstream and fun will have watered down the detail, or whether, like Sim City, the detail of the simulation is part of the charm, maybe even the whole point of the game.

    And I guess people who complain that you can’t be an aquatic species, or be an interstellar plague of bacteria should probably just wait for the inevitable cash-in expansions.

  11. Mike says:

    I’d quite like a BBC Wildlife add-on where David Attenborough narrates the entire life of your species. And sombre music plays.

  12. Yargh says:

    to my shame I got wiped out on my first run through the tribal stage (hint: breed first, meet the neighbours later), the game just wound the clock back to the beginning of the stage and I started over.

    At which point I stumbled across a gigantic version of my octopus from the creature creator (sporepedia seems to be down now or I’d link to it) and promptly ran away…

    Space is feeling a little like GTAIV for me at the moment though: keeping alliances up means constantly having to entertain your new friends, ignore intersystem phone calls at your own risk as it tends to offend and being invaded is a right pain.

    I think I’d prefer for life to be a little more rare in the galaxy so I could take my time exploring, terraforming and uplifting tribes. Right now my corner of the galaxy is pretty busy and I’m seeing evidence of several wars just outside the borders of known space…

    I have some hope that some later techs will allow me to keep my relationships up with less intervention (there appears to be an embassy in the tech tree) so this current panic could only be a passing phase.

  13. Buckermann says:

    By the way, this is MissAdaLovelace place on the sporepedia.
    AND ALL YOUR STUFF SUCKS!
    … not really. And there is a reason why I don’t link to my creations. Because they do indeed suck.

  14. SwiftRanger says:

    Space stage really is the meat of Spore idd but there are some missed opportunities: why didn’t the giant monsters from Creature and Civ stages transfer over? Why is interactive combat in space absent (you can’t actually shoot back yourself, only the auto-turret does that)? Why do you have to do with a single ship and some ragtag allied peeps when other empires invade with huge fleets, all at the same time even (of course, also at the same time when ecological disasters, the Grox and pirates pop up all over the place)? I can play the Space stage for hours and hours but it ain’t perfect either, it’s a lot better at what it does than the previous stages though.

    Also, there are still many people who can’t register the game (me included).

  15. Him says:

    Interesting Spore Anecdote: Made it to the creature stage, happily wandered around making friends with the other animals, noticed a strange shadow on the ground.
    I look up. There’s a giant spaceship above me. A GIANT SPACESHIP. Sadly, I couldn’t get myself abducted by it, but a number of the creatures I was attempting to charm found themselves scooped off into space. Nice little touch, that one.

  16. Yargh says:

    @SwiftRanger actually the giant creatures do get carried over, I helped one of my cities fight one off with the UFO, damn thing nearly shot me down by spitting fireballs at me. You don’t get distress calls about them though.
    There’s also a ship tool that allows you to gigantify any creature.

  17. Alec Meer says:

    Swiftranger – the giant beasts do carry over, on some planets at least. Plus you get the ability to make any beast giant later on. Entirely agree with you on the space combat stuff though – darting about the galaxy to deal with multiple invasions/crises is a massive pain given you’ve only the one ship.

  18. Meat Circus says:

    gypsumfantastic

  19. Man Raised By Puffins says:

    I’m RaisedByPuffins, assuming my Creature Creator profile carries over.

  20. Josh says:

    While I admit the lack of an autosave feature is annoying, as PC gamers don’t we all generally hit the quicksave hotkey fairly regularly anyway? Additionally, is it that much of a pain to manually save?

  21. wut says:

    “Funnily”??

  22. Tom says:

    I knew Spore would be a slow burner.
    However one thing I can’t stand in games is when to keep alliances you have to entertain. It always seems convoluted to me. Why can’t you maintain alliance relations through resource sharing for example?! Set up trade routes between worlds and then protecting these routes becomes the game. I don’t want to have to go somewhere and watch my little character dance with the neighbours or whatever…

  23. Yargh says:

    @Tom having a trade route open does help the relationship, but I still get regular messages about them losing interest in the alliance.

  24. The Sombrero Kid says:

    i thought spore was really good, but it’s true, you will get frustrated with the limitations but it’s for you’re own good, not many people can and do goto the effort to make a fully 3D model never mind animate it, the limitations are there so you can do it easily and to encourage your imagination

  25. jamscones says:

    jamscones

  26. Nimic says:

    I concur wholeheartedly with this article. Though I’m perplexed that you say people will spend at most 4 hours on the first four stages of the game. Personally, I spent at least 6 hours the first time, and just around 4 the second go.

  27. Commando says:

    From the way it was presented it was logical that everyone expected the creature stages to be the biggest and best when they are actually moderately disappointing due to lack of things-to-do. The cell stage was well paced and meaningful but the others fall down from being too shallow, with few meaningful decisions and poor balance.

    But I excuse it for when I was fleeing in terror from an Epic Eyemonkey and a UFO flew past and beamed up a random creature.

  28. Kieron Gillen says:

    Nimic: Well, I may be underestimating the time required – it’s not that I’m clockwatching. It’s certainly possible to speed up the process considerably second time around. Depends how much you want to enjoy the view, or power-game through.

    KG

  29. Paul Barnett says:

    Has it got the girl gamer joy of the sims? When you say Space stage can I still play doll house dress up?

  30. ack says:

    Which flavour of DRM comes along with the final release? That’s the point that will make/break my decission.

  31. Nimic says:

    @Kieron

    Yeah, I think it’ll vary a lot. Personally I tried not to rush through anything, preferring to enjoy my first playthrough. Now when I do it, it goes a lot faster. I haven’t actually completed the game, though, I keep starting new planets. I just love the cell phase too much.

  32. framstick says:

    well colour me dull–spore is just quite a shallow game -with albeit great creator tools and nice art and sound design.the whole procedural design thing seems only to extend to the animation system and textures—the whole game play element is very procedural . What i would like to see is a games journalist-(there are plenty here i believe) stop giving Mr Wright such an easy ride- and ask why he felt the need to wimp out on all the difficult design decisions. They hyped it- and then found it to hard to tackle so concentrated on the content creation asset management etc etc.. this is very much a case of a creator being less than his influences …Mr wright perhaps needs to just knuckle down a little and tackle the difficult stuff….

  33. Zeno says:

    I had my first “Spore Moment” about two minutes into the Creature Phase. I was going up to this little furball creature and singing to it, when out of nowhere a bigass Praying Mantis thing comes in and slashes me down. It was beyond hilarious.

  34. EyeMessiah says:

    “Just knuckle down for the first 4-6 hours, it gets a better after that.” – isn’t terribly encouraging for me. Particularly given that the space stage is something that a lot of people have complained about. I get that the game has some (maybe many) impressive moments, but overall, are people finding the core gameplay to be fun to play? Or is it more of a tour of “oh that’s neat” moments?

    Also, if the reviewers should be minimising coverage of everything before the space stage, maybe that’s an indication that these stages should have been handled differently by the game?

  35. Colthor says:

    @ack:
    According to all the information so far it’s got the same ‘phone-home-on-install/limited-activations nonsense as Mass Effect.

    But if that’s somehow changed then I’d be sorely tempted to buy a copy myself this weekend.

  36. Rob Lang says:

    My wife and I sat down and played Spore for 2-3 hours last night. I don’t know exactly how long because we had that Civilisation Effect where time just dribbled out of the window. That’s happened to me before but never to my wife. She tends to get lost reading ancient poems about gods raping lesbians, lesbians raping animals and men watching.

    We got up to just before the Tribal stage and we’re loving Spore. We’ve made some cute herbivores (left up to me, I’d follow Kieron’s war-death-kill-murder carnivore line) and made friend with loads of other races. Seeing all the new races was great. The Maxis ones tend to look like recognisable creatures whereas player made ones look like liquid mental.

    Even at this early stage, I get the tingling feeling that the choices we’re making are going to have a big affect later. You can swap body parts like crazy early on to fit the profile you want but as the points you get to spend on parts dries up, your choices are limited and you can get stuck with decisions you made.

    Anyway. I love it and have been looking forward to it since I read about it in PCG. Civ but from The Beginning.

  37. Razerious says:

    Installed it at 1am. Played for what I thought was a short while. Looked at the clock again. 4 am. “I’ll just finish up this building design,” I thought to myself. Time went by. 8 am. Went to bed.

    Yeah, there’s definitely a Civilization effect in play there. It’s just a lot of fun. I love playing around with all of the designers (creature, building, vehicle). I actually think I’m at about 40/60 in terms of what I’ve spent time on in-game (playing/designing).

  38. CakeAddict says:

    Well I’ve hit the center of the galaxy (I actually liked what happend next) It’s a pretty good game, but I think I’ll be bored with it in the next few days.
    But it’s one of those game you play once in a while.
    I’ve got the same with black&white, I do find those games in some regards similar.
    Both great concept and refreshing gameplay, but not enough of it or not deep enough.

    They could have done with spore a lot more especially considering how much time went into that game.
    (perhaps they already made 10 expansions of content that was suppose to be in the normal game….)
    Certain parts (Tribal, Civ) felt really rushed and half-baked, which I don’t get with the amount of time they put into the game.

    I find that it lacks a lot of stuff and it can be annoying (Grrr pirated and eco disasters) but it’s still a fun game if you can look past those things.

  39. Kieron Gillen says:

    EyeMessiah: Sorry, man, but you’ve completely missed the point.

    EDIT: I’ve never said the first levels aren’t fun. I’ve never said they should minimise the coverage – I actually say they should give it coverage on par with its actual status in the game, instead of grossly over-covering it. And the whole point is that Space is both a real game and – for me – enjoyable.

    KG

  40. ILR says:

    Yeah, I got the Space Rangers 2 vibe from the Eurogamer review as well. Even though that game didn’t exactly set my gaming world on fire, Spore still seems crafty enough to be checked out by the end of the year.

  41. Jigglybean says:

    I was left disappointed so far. I’ve just discovered fire now, so I will see how that unfolds but the first few ‘levels’ are nothing more than uninspiring.

    The graphics are nothing like the screens being thrown around. I did lower my expectations for this one and so far, I have had to lower them even further. Can/will it redeem itself?

  42. Nimic says:

    In my mind I’ve got quite a few niggles about Spore that I would like to see improved. Things like autosave, more fleshed out phases, etc. But when I stop to think about things, and from time to time I do, what better way to gauge if I like a game or not than to see how much time went by without ever really feel like doing anything else?

    I started playing it right after midnight local time (when it was released, had it pre-loaded already, not that downloading it completely again would have taken very long with the 10.8 MB/s I got with the EA Downloader). I was sitting on Skype with my cousin, who had also gotten the game, and we just played the game while talking about our impressions, giving eachother any useful tips we could discover, etc. Suddenly, I looked at the time, and it was 7 and a half hours later.

    Like I said, it’s not a perfect game in every way, but there are preciously few games that I could play for 7+ straight hours. Probably only Football Manager 0x, and World of Warcraft back when I was still playing it. I’m a bit of a pessimist, so I know I’ll keep “telling myself” about the small faults, but as long as I’m enjoying myself playing it I don’t need the perfect game.

    That said, I agree with what someone said up there, that it’ll probably, eventually, become the sort of game you play now and again.

  43. Noc says:

    Well, Jigglybean, maybe if you sit tight long enough someone will write an article talking about the role the early stages play in the game as a whole. (cough)

  44. Him says:

    If I have a problem with Spore, it’s most concisely described like this: Spore is a toybox. The toys are earned through exploration. The exploration required to earn those toys is painfully dull, achieved through rote repetition of tasks.
    To elaborate; I’d like to wander around the universe exploring. Every time I try to go for a wander I run low on energy and have to engage in what feels like the arbitrary trade of spice, or am called back home to deal with a minor crisis. The ‘game’ interferes with me playing with the toys. I’m aware that I can unlock a bigger energy battery, and that by trundling to different star systems I can unlock an engine with greater range, but I’m going to engage in those tasks *anyway* so why constrain me until I’ve gone through enough pain? Not how I’d chose to open up a toybox for someone to play with.

  45. SwiftRanger says:

    “Swiftranger – the giant beasts do carry over, on some planets at least. Plus you get the ability to make any beast giant later on.”

    Aye, I was wrong, just spotted one on my homeplanet even out of the blue for the first time. It would have been cool if the missions were intertwined with their appearances to make things a bit less repetitive (get the artifact from their belly or their nest or something like that).

  46. BKG says:

    Nice talk though, I found this considerably more useful than most reviews. From reading around the game seems almost forgotten at the “endgame” state in space, as most reviews seem to follow the evolutionary path and end with a short “and then you conquer the great infinite expanse of space” after talking about all the smaller, finite bits at great length.

    Still, I wonder how this’ll pass the Girlfriend litmus test, she has a habit of breaking the best games I present with irregular demands, like preferring to play Civ 4 with war turned off as it’s more satisfying to just build up her empire. I can foresee her finding an intermittent stage between pond life and the interstellar empire the most fun and balk at having to run up to, play and restart for that preferred morsel. My money is on tribal phase, in fact I should actually ask her if she’s aware of space ship design tools, or indeed anything beyond getting her creature creator stuff brought to life.

    Sadly my dealer has let me down so I may need to wait til tomorrow to get stuck in, but I can’t help but feel the whole thing has been a bit misrepresented by being brilliant at something that’s only a very small part of the whole package.

    It raises the question though, when you can have fun making obscene penis monsters, is it unfair that the game then asks you to conquer the universe with them?

  47. Fat says:

    I spent around 7 hours on the first 4 stages due to exploring for a couple of hours on the creature stage. I was disappointed it was so empty and short because it was clearly the best stage, imo.

    Got to space and i think it was all a bit fiddly and more scope on OMG LOOK HOW BIG IT IS rather than filling it out with more and more interesting things/missions to do, instead of the same old crap.

    Infact, that’s all Spore really ended up being to me. A game packed to the brim with ‘creations’ but not really much at all to do with them, despite having FIVE stages/games. Space is the only fairly long stage, the others are a joke. Too short.

  48. crisis says:

    Him – I imagine I’ll feel the same way when I get it, but I don’t anticipate it being a problem. Once the grind annoys me I’ll just download a maxed-out savegame.

  49. CubicU07 says:

    Anyone played the flash game fl0w? I was a bit disappointed when the supposedly “different” and “unique” gameplay of Spore ripped off the popular flash game, added a little variation and made it their first stage…

    Really… the first stage where you swim around finding stuff to eat is exactly like fl0w up to the screen moving upwards as you grow (for fl0w its moving downwards and moves when you eat a red cell), and the unique (for fl0w) environmental music.

    Did they actually hire the guy who made fl0w? or did Will Wright ripped him off?