Pharyngula

Anyone played Spore yet?

I have very mixed feelings about this game, but I’ve ordered a copy anyway (Skatje told me I had to). I’ve played with the creature creator, which is actually rather fun…but it’s really just the most elaborate version of Mr Potatohead ever designed. What I’ve seen of the game itself puts me off a bit, though. It’s not going to teach one single thing about evolution, and actually teaches several things that are anti-evolutionary. It’s a design toy, not any kind of evolution simulator, but people are gushing over it as if it might actually improve the image of evolutionary biology.

So I have reservations. I’ll hold off on final judgment until I actually play the silly thing. However, my reservations are nothing compared to this guy who has started an anti-Spore website, because it teaches kids evolution and…

The object of the game is to evolve from a “spore” into demon-like intelligent space creatures that violently take over the galaxy.

Hmmm. Maybe it won’t be so bad.

Comments

  1. #1 Tony Sidaway
    September 10, 2008

    Ah, but directed evolution. As approved by Pope Benny.

  2. #2 Luke
    September 10, 2008

    To be fair, it’s not intended to be a simulation of evolution. Just a fun video game.

    From what I’ve heard from people who’ve played it, the evolution sections are pretty superfluous, and the meat of the game is the last section, where your species becomes space-faring and can start trading/colonizing/making war.

  3. #3 Richard Harris
    September 10, 2008

    The object of the game is to evolve from a “spore” into demon-like intelligent space creatures that violently take over the galaxy.

    Seriously, this implies purpose behind natural selection! And there ain’t no such thing. This is surely very bad for all the science based upon Darwin’s greatest idea. Is it some feckin’ Xian plot to discredit rationalism?

  4. #4 Badjuggler
    September 10, 2008

    Video games seem to be the biggest waste of time since golf.

  5. #5 Jimmy Groove
    September 10, 2008

    I’ve played it, and no, it’s not a good evolution simulator in the slightest. The first part of the game is a mix of that web game Flow and the old SNES game E.V.O. From that, it goes on through a bunch of other games that hit different genres.

    All and all, it’s not bad, and it might get kids interested in evolution, even if it starts them off on a bad foot.

  6. #6 freelunch
    September 10, 2008

    Richard, don’t get so upset. It’s a lot easier to get a teleological evolutionist to give up on teleology than it is to get the anti-science creationists to consider the idea that evolution really happened because that’s what the evidence tells us.

  7. #7 Mike
    September 10, 2008

    I want to play the space section, but I find the civ section too boring to progress. So all I’ve been doing is the creature stage over and over, creating lots of gorgeous killing machines.

  8. #8 SteveM
    September 10, 2008

    There have been a number of science shows recently on The Science Channel and The National Geographic Channel that used Spore as a jumping off point to present the real meat of evolution. The NGC in particular presented a really fascinating look at evolution in terms of evo-devo and the role of “switches” in modifying common underlying body plans into the multitude of varieties we see. I think this was the first time I’ve seen any TV show use the term evo-devo.

    So maybe Spore itself may not teach “real” evolution but it could spark an interest in finding out what this evolution stuff is all about anyway.

  9. #9 Jessica
    September 10, 2008

    My son is dying to play this game. We are homeschoolers and have spent weeks on the Big Bang and evolution. So, when we finish up the evolution unit, I am going to have him design a creature and then justify all his design choices using what he’s learned about evolution.

    This is not just an excuse for me to buy the game! ;)

  10. #10 JB
    September 10, 2008

    @Richard Harris: I love that you used the term “Xian”! I had begun to think that my friends and I had made that up. Glad to hear it’s actually being used.

    As for Spore, I currently only have the Creature Creator (and that’s fun). But, I do plan on buying the full game, whenever I get to a store. I have high hopes.

  11. #11 Kel
    September 10, 2008

    I’ve played it, it’s not an evolution sim but it’s still fun. Actually it gets a bit tedious in the creature phase, but the design is still cool.

    Also it teaches you the most important lesson about evolution: natural selection. i.e. there are creatures trying to kill you left, right and centre. It makes me glad I don’t have to live that constant struggle for survival.

  12. #12 Kral
    September 10, 2008

    There’s very little depth to it; it’s main value is as a giant dollhouse, or possibly a blood pressure test once you encounter the incessant virtual nagging of the space portion of the game. Will Wright’s already said in reference to Spore’s not exactly mind-blowing review scores that he prefers high sales to high review scores, so it’s almost like he’s producing video game fast food – quantity over quality.

    The SETI people are hoping the references in the game to their project will interest a few new heads. After all, you have to get kids interested somewhere, and beating them over the head with the science involved probably isn’t going to motivate them the same as following alien signals back to a home world that you can set on fire for a laugh.

  13. #13 FlameDuck
    September 10, 2008

    Perspective? It’s a game. Chastising Spore for not being an accurate simulation of evolution, is like chastising Grand Theft Auto 4 for not being a very accurate murder and crime simulator.

    Incidentally Spore is actually more a cross between Lamarckism and Creationism than Darwinism. However it’s still a very enjoyable game, if somewhat shallow and dumbed down at times.

  14. #14 Snitzels
    September 10, 2008

    The comments on that guy’s blog are so funny… Especially on his first post down at the bottom, the first few are great.

  15. #15 Trish
    September 10, 2008

    Nah, I’ll stick with World of Warcraft.

    Every time there is some type of environmental change (patches) some classes can adapt, others move to the bottom of the food chain. Some class ‘mutations’ can also be advantageous inspiring other to create more of these particular classes .. while mutations in other classes are not helpful so they’re simply not used.

    (um .. lol)

  16. #16 NoAstronomer
    September 10, 2008

    Would it help if the objective of the game was:

    to evolve from a “spore” into intelligent space cephalapods that violently take over the galaxy.

    ?

  17. #17 debaser71@gmail.com
    September 10, 2008

    I have Spore and I think it’s so so as a game. It’s too easy and the ‘end game’ is IMO repetative and boring. I do though like the creativity and sandbox qualities.

    Anyway the game has little to do with evolution other than that you are changing your organism over time based on the environment (mainly the aggression and power level of nearby creatures). So there is change over time…but yeah IMO to tout the game as some sort of evolution simulator or teaching platform (I mean other than teaching art and form) is stretching it quite a bit.

    btw Rock Band 2 is coming soon..yeah and supposedly you’ll be able to ‘import’ all your RB1 stuff. So RB2 is like a RB1 upgrade.

  18. #18 Paceetrate
    September 10, 2008

    I have it. I’ve played. I’m now hopelessly addicted. XD

    Although, in a hilarious twist of irony, my creatures wound up being devoutly religious and took over the planet by converting everyone. lol

    It doesn’t simulate evolution by natural selection, it was never designed to, and the people hyping it as such need to get kicked in the head. I blame eternally bad science reporting.

    If you ignore the hype and just play it, it’s a very well designed and fun game. It does show decently well how small changes can lead to big differences over time (because you almost never have enough DNA points to radically change your character in one go) but that’s about where the similarities end.

  19. #19 JStein
    September 10, 2008

    I’ve bought a copy, but have been experiencing some technical issues, as I have a mac, and the downloading program (not the actual game program) has been opening as a text-edit file.

    Hopefully I’ll figure this out over the weekend.

  20. #20 Darth Wader
    September 10, 2008

    That guys blog actualy said “convert children to evolution”. Oh no! Someone is trying to convert little Timmy to thermodynamics, and little Suzy to germ theory.
    You’d think a loon like that would be more worried about all the world-ending black holes the LHC will shoot out.

  21. #21 schism
    September 10, 2008

    I contend, as I did at Bad Astronomy, that a game realistically based on evolution would be boring as hell (to non-biologists, who probably have better, more expensive simulations anyway).

    Also…

    …and actually teaches several things that are anti-evolutionary.

    This is essentially the same assertion made by Christian sites, breathlessly babbling about violent games turning kids into mindless homicide machines. Entertainment is not necessarily education, just as creating critters won’t turn them into IDiots.

  22. #22 Becca Stareyes
    September 10, 2008

    Phil Plait posted a link to an article where the creator, Will Wright, noted that originally it had been more evolution-based, but that while random mutations were realistic, they were less fun for the testers. So, at least he understands how evolution works.

    (Which begs the question — how could one create a game that both models evolutionary biology, but retains the players the ability to make decisions (giving them a sense of control and involvement)?)

  23. #23 Bilsko
    September 10, 2008

    I was really excited when I heard about Spore a year ago and saw the early preview videos… my first games were in the SimCity family so I was excited to see what W. Wright would do with Spore.

    I almost put in a pre-order with Amazon but forgot to actually do it and am now glad I did.

    The game still looks very engaging and I’m sure is lots of fun, but I’ve read HORRIBLE reviews about the DRM – and what types of controls the game installs (a la Sony rootkit). Boingboing pointed to a trend among Amazon reviewers that are giving the game only 1 star for no other reason than the restrictive DRM. Many of those reviewers praise the quality of the game but resign to a 1 star review because of the DRM problem.

    So I’m holding out on buying the game until I find out more.

  24. #24 q
    September 10, 2008

    This is very confusing to me as the creature creator definitely feels more like intelligent design than reality.
    Judging from my first run through the game, if Spore was an actual evolution sim then there would be a lot more animals running around completely covered in spikes.

  25. #25 Tom
    September 10, 2008

    On the plus side, you get a pretty good demonstration of how even small changes can give you a competitive and survival advantage. Adding more flagella to my little herbivorous spore helped it beat competitors to food sources and helped it avoid predators (as did the big spikes I grafted to its backside!).

    On the extremely negative side, you FIND new features in the corpses or decaying skeletons of other creatures and can then incorporate them into your own creature. It’s more of a magical-thinking view of “evolution”: “If you eat the flesh of the leopard, you too will become faster” — that sort of thing. I suppose you could say its like mitchondira or something, where you’re incorporating something completely. But then that’s the only way to evolve; there’s no mutation.

    So yes, a fun toy, but it has only superficial bearing on evolution.

  26. #26 dNorrisM
    September 10, 2008

    On NGEO last night(How to build a better creature), Neil Shubin designed a passable Tiktaalik with Mr. Wright.

    His critter then picked up a flaming branch and tossed it up in the air, AKA 2001 A Space Odyssey. The stick then fell on his creature and caught it on fire.

  27. #27 Jen
    September 10, 2008

    Anybody else remember SimEarth?

  28. #28 db0
    September 10, 2008

    Unfortunately, the game is more based on Intelligent Design than Evolution. It’s a shame really.

    You can find my own review/rant here if you’re interested.

  29. #29 K
    September 10, 2008

    Been playing for 3 days now. Spouse works at EA. I’ve now entered space. My first creatures are aggressive carnivores but I’m thinking of creating a bunch of herbivores for them to fight with or eat…whatever.

    You know, I always said that Pokemon did more for evolution than textbooks. It made ALL kids at least familiar with the concept.

  30. #30 Narc
    September 10, 2008

    It sounds like an interesting game, but I’m skipping it because of the DRM issues. I’m sorry, but the idea of having to actually ask permission down the line to use a game I bought and paid for legally is something I find repugnant. And if they decide to refuse me permission, what do I do then?

  31. #31 Andrew
    September 10, 2008

    Becca Stareyes:
    “Which begs the question — how could one create a game that both models evolutionary biology, but retains the players the ability to make decisions (giving them a sense of control and involvement)?”

    One possibility would be to take the actual creatures out of the player’s hands and instead have you influencing the environment. The creatures would then go about trying to survive, reproducing and randomly mutating while you provide the selection pressures. It probably wouldn’t be as fun in game terms as allowing players to design the creatures but it could be an interesting compromise between a realistic simulation and a proper game.

  32. #32 Jason Dick
    September 10, 2008

    One of the nice things about the game with regard to evolution, though, is that it shows that there are a huge variety of ways to survive and prosper. Nowhere is this more apparent than at the creature stage, where you can choose to befriend or attack anybody, and can also make a creature that can just move really fast to get away if there’s a problem. Your creature needs no weaponry at all in order to beat the creature stage easily. You can also make creatures that are stealthy, but I haven’t tried that out yet.

    The same is true, to a lesser extent, at the civilization stage, where you have the choice of conquering, either through religion or military might, or just buying everybody out. I found that buying everybody out was, by far, the fastest way to do it.

  33. #33 Cerberus
    September 10, 2008

    Yeah, it’s not really a good evolution sim, but there’s still a lot of nifty aspects to it. For instance vestigal body parts and I made my creature exhbit a lot of slow growths. That and the generational timeline at the end of each section really does show some very interesting evo devo aspects especially if you’re a tinkerer more than a wholescale revisionist. It was also coming up with a psychology behind my creatures in the civ section in the design of the houses and vehicles.

    That said, the space section sucks so far. It may be great for people more fully into Star Trek than I am, but for me, it’s really kinda overrated. That and the Civilization section was kinda annoying in that the only paths open to me were capitalist, religious, or military leaving me to concoct a wild fantasy about how my “religious” conversions were really attempts to foster socialist revolutions.

    I think in a lot of ways, it reminds people that science can be fun (like when you’re stabilizing biodomes in the space section) like SimEarth (another god game) used to and will likely become a tool for showing stuff even if the physics allowed my intensely front heavy flying monstrosity to be a strong candidate for survival.

  34. #34 vfr800guy
    September 10, 2008

    It’s a game people, my wife likes it (I made a special trip to the store to pick it up for her). She’s a big fan of the Civilization series, so it’s right up her alley. Come on, what would a person do with a “game” that faithfully reproduced evolution. Absolutely nothing!! (worst game ever), and it would take billions of years to “play”.

  35. #35 isaac
    September 10, 2008

    It’s not going to teach any useful lessons about evolution… Spore is a fun game, and not much more, though the hype would have one believe otherwise.

    That said, the game does have a nice feature; it keeps track of all the changes you make to your creature. Looking back at the changes, a nice chart tends to emerge that shows an evolutionary progression of your creature. Even if the method that creates the chart isn’t correct, the outcome is nice.

    Here’s the chart of the creature I’m playing as, as it goes from cell stage to space stage:

    http://isaacwilliams.net/uploads/frillo-evolve.png

  36. #36 Quiet_Desperation
    September 10, 2008

    I love that you used the term “Xian”! I had begun to think that my friends and I had made that up. Glad to hear it’s actually being used.

    The use of Xian dates back to the 1600s.

    As for Spore, I was really looking forward to it, but now it sounds like your creature decisions don’t matter a whole heck of a lot in later stages other than them looking different. I had hoped decisions early on would have an effect on, say, the form of government that develops, or perhaps no government at all. It sounds like a space dev sim with four tutorial stages.

  37. #37 Salt
    September 10, 2008

    Just remember, the quality of the game notwithstanding, the game is the result of the evolutionary process the same as the Comodore 64 evolving to the modern PC… and all were intelligently designed.

  38. #38 Jason Dick
    September 10, 2008

    As for actually simulating evolution, I’ve been thinking for a long time this might potentially be quite fun. My idea would involve pitting player-designed creatures/civilizations/whatever against competitors/opponents that were designed through evolution. The player would be supplying part of the selective pressures by how they interact with the other organisms, while there would be lots of stuff going on in the background that would supply the rest. Either way, it’d be a dynamic experience that, if designed well enough, would show groups changing, branching out, and dying off.

    The primary concern that I can see would be that it would be extraordinarily difficult to make it so that the creatures don’t break the evolutionary pressures and end up getting stuck going always in one direction all the time (e.g. always choosing lots and lots of spikes instead of anything else).

  39. #39 ellindsey
    September 10, 2008

    I’ve been playing it. It’s amusing, but kind of disappointing. It’s essentially five different games stuck together, each of which is very similar to other games already on the market, but shallower and less interesting than those games. It might have been more interesting had there been some attempt to model ecosystems or making evolutionary development dependent on more than grinding missions and picking up new creature parts off the ground. I love the creature, building, and vehicle editors, but in the end anything you do with them is just cosmetic as the performance of your creature is based on what parts you have equipped, not the design. It’s fun but I can’t see it being interesting for more than a few weeks.

  40. #40 Quint
    September 10, 2008

    Video games seem to be the biggest waste of time since golf.

    Who cares what you think? People are going to enjoy things you don’t. Deal with it.

  41. #41 Darth Wader
    September 10, 2008

    There is no way to make an interactive evolution game. A realistic evolution game would just be a screen saver.

  42. #42 Realist Golfer
    September 10, 2008

    Posted by: Badjuggler | September 10, 2008 9:36 AM

    Video games seem to be the biggest waste of time since golf.

    Hey BadJuggler…

    Golf is a wonderful exercise in Physics pal, for those of us who have some coordination…..obviously from your name, not you.

  43. #43 Mike
    September 10, 2008

    Just remember, with Spore as with anything else, with great power comes great responsibility:

    http://cad-comic.com/comic.php?d=20080627

  44. #44 Quiet_Desperation
    September 10, 2008

    Ultimately, Spore is just something to fill the time until Fallout 3 is released.

  45. #45 Brian
    September 10, 2008

    You can make a very respectable imitation Cthulhu in the game. That is all ye need know.

  46. #46 Andy C
    September 10, 2008

    If you’ve actually seen anything that Will Wright has written, he actually comments on the fact that when the concept was first drafted they were looking to develop a game that tried to more closely match actual evolutionary processes, but found that the game simply wasn’t engaging in this form, and so sacrificed realism for gameplay.

    The game itself is ok, the cell, creature, tribe, and civ stages do seem to be a bit of a means-to-an-end though, I was hoping for more in these stages… hopefully the space stage will make up for it.

  47. #47 Graculus
    September 10, 2008

    @Richard Harris: I love that you used the term “Xian”! I had begun to think that my friends and I had made that up. Glad to hear it’s actually being used.

    Uh.. it’s been in use since the FOURTH fucking CENTURY by the XIANS themselves. It’s the “signo” in “In hoc signo vinces”. It’s not an insult.

    Dammit

    I’m soooo glad to see that Xians aren’t the only ones who are completely ignorant of history.

    [end rant]

  48. #48 chuko
    September 10, 2008

    Way back in 1992, Will Wright (and company) designed a game called SimLife that simulated populations of plants and animals. Evolution by natural selection took place if you just let it run.

    Of course, it was a game, so it needed some kind of active role for the player. So you could design organisms yourself, or you could simulate artificial selection and breed your critters to be more docile or brown or whatever.

    While I liked it, the game was a flop. The problem with evolution by natural selection as a game is that there’s no room for an active intelligence; where’s the game in that?

  49. #49 Brigit
    September 10, 2008

    I’ve been waiting for this game for ages (yeah, sad I know)and just when it arrives, the only PC in the house with acceptable specs got its power supply screwed. :(
    Now I can’t play my SimsCity Society or get my hands on Spore. I guess I’ll do more benchwork then.

  50. #50 theinquisitor
    September 10, 2008

    Spore is an intelligent design game, but I don’t think there’s anything to be concerned about. There may be some initial confusion about whether this game represents evolution among the laypeople, but this will only serve to start a conversation about it where eventually those who know will be able to explain. They may even begin to realise in a very explicit way that life on earth is clearly NOT intelligently designed because it shares so many inherited characteristics and doesn’t look anything like the lines of development in Spore. No vertebrates with 6 arms. Ever. But in Spore, you can get that in one generation.

    Sim Earth is an old game that does attempt to simulate the process of evolution. You can set parameters and watch things develop, helpings things along or even just observing.

    I played that when I was young and that really opened my eyes to the temporal scope of life. The life would just evolve and reproduce on it’s own, and adapted if you played with the environment. It wasn’t actually much of a game as much as it was a simulator, but it was fascinating. A well placed comet impact or could alter the entire course of evolution. I think the idea was to guide the process of evolution, with as little interference as possible.

  51. #51 chuko
    September 10, 2008

    The Anti-Spore site *is* a parody, right? The whole explanation of why Spore is more like natural selection than intelligent design was bizarre.

    It is a little disheartening to read the “your stupid, go to hell” comments though, but I guess that’s what you get from the fanboys.

  52. #52 Rev. BigDumbChimp, KoT
    September 10, 2008

    Got it in the mail yesterday. Played through to the civilization stage which was WAY to fast IMHO. SO far it is entertaining but I think it lacks depth.

    Definitely something to waste a little time as a low grade stress reliever but I’m waiting for Fallout 3 for my game fix.

  53. #53 theShaggy
    September 10, 2008

    This Anti-Spore site reads like a complete poe.

    Anybody know when the game comes out for the Wii, or how Linux-compatible it is?

  54. #54 Patrick
    September 10, 2008

    Yes, and it’s fun. It’s a game. Ignore their press talks about evolution and all that, it will ruin it for you. It’s not natural selection, but there is definately selective pressure on you to add new parts and adapt to your situation. My first guy was too slow to catch prey, and too slow to run from predators. So I had to painfully get enough currency to get a water jet…then a poison thing, etc, so I could compete with the other tide pool critters.

    IDK, it’s a fun game.

  55. #55 John C. Randolph
    September 10, 2008

    Heh.. Looks like he thought Jack Thompson would be able to help him file frivolouos lawsuits.

    -jcr

  56. #56 flo
    September 10, 2008

    I second the previous commenters, it was not meant to teach evolution, and I think if it tried it would be more “the computer reacting to variables the user sets” without actual user interaction (e.g. moving your character around) Also arstechnica.com reviewed it and the reviewer also stated that the most important and complex phase of gameplay is the space phase, the others are kind of easy.

  57. #57 Rev. BigDumbChimp, KoT
    September 10, 2008

    I don’t get why people are even entertaining the evolution / ID arguments over Spore. It’s a game. Anyone who wants to hold this up as some support of their side (I’m looking at you IDists) has lost the argument.

    It’s purely for entertainment value alone which so far I’m on the fence on how entertaining it will be once I’m finished with it.

  58. #58 Keith B
    September 10, 2008

    I think more than half of the game online is going to be dominated by penis creatures. Go onto YouTube and type in “Spore Creature Penis” and you’ll see what I mean. There are about a thousand of those. And, they’re funny… for about five minutes. Then you realize that you’ll soon be playing an online game almost entirely dominated by ballz and dycks… and probably bewbs too.

  59. #59 Rev. BigDumbChimp, KoT
    September 10, 2008

    Well actually Keith, and I could be wrong, I think that they implemented a filter for those things so that the “Sporn” creatures don’t show up on your game. I’m not sure how that translates across the board for the game in the future but the “online” part of Spore is just sharing your creations so that they propagate to other gamers when they sign on.

  60. #60 cereusb
    September 10, 2008

    PZ, interestingly, your name made it to the Slashdot review of the game.

    Another thing you’ll notice is that referring to your species’ growth as evolution isn’t really accurate. “Stylized evolution” or “not evolution” would have been more precise, so don’t go in expecting it to hold up to scrutiny from PZ Myers.

  61. #61 Diello
    September 10, 2008

    Mangle evolution though it may, you’ll probably enjoy the way religion is portrayed. If you become a religious nation, you can create vehicles outfitted with speakers that will project gigantic holograms over the cities of rival nations that spout religious propaganda until the target city has been converted to your religion and is under your control.

    Religious conversion works best on cities without a lot of entertainment.

  62. #62 ihateaphids
    September 10, 2008

    I’ve played it for 3 days (total of ~14 hours, which is a lot for me, given I have work to do)… It’s really a blast. The really fun parts are really the creative aspects, trying to design cool things (cells, creatures, boats, tanks, houses, factories, spaceships, etc) and making some really neat looking stuff that you can share online with other people and post videos to youtube from directly within the game. It’s great for people who have creative minds but little artistic talent, like me :)

    The game itself is a bit simplistic, and the mechanism of “evolution” is flawed (and certainly could be considered a wonderful mechanism of ID, despite all intentions of Will Wright), but it’s still pretty fun (IT IS A GAME, after all!). The general idea is that you do certain things alot in the environment, like slaughter and eat innocent and cute herbivores with your giant clawed tentacles, get good at them and gain adaptations throughout the environment, at which point you get to mate and produce an offspring with these adaptations (which you choose of course, hence the design aspects) which then propagate through your whole species. All in all pretty fun. I’ve just gotten to the space exploration stage, and I can’t wait to start seeding planets with intelligent life and wreaking havoc on their ecosystems.

    I give it a 9 out of 10 so far, but it will wait to see how the long the fun lasts once I’ve played through with several life history strategies. I can see the designer having a pretty long life, even if it’s just to take a break from work for 15 minutes and putz around making some cool looking demon-spawn.

  63. #63 yttrai
    September 10, 2008

    As of 11 pm last night, the Amazon ratio of 5/4/3/2/1 star ratings was around 50/40/30/50/1000. I guess the malware situation is a bit out of control?

    Good luck, eh :)

  64. #64 Brian D
    September 10, 2008

    Re: #48

    SimLife also managed this at a video-game version of the genetic level (with values on various sliders and toggles forming a given creature’s ‘genetic code'; they even went to great lengths to display it as gene sequences and some of us (guilty) played it enough to learn to read those fluently).

    The role of the player was not just to test the creatures, but also model the environment and pressures that the system couldn’t handle (for instance, making very steep cliffs was difficult, but if you sat at a mountain for a while with the Smite tool you could emulate it). Once you had a stable ecosystem, you could also muck it up — spreading mutagens, raising or lowering sea level, hitting the place with meteors, and so on — to see how your critters adapted, if at all.

    It came with a rather robust, well-balanced ecosystem pre-built as a model, which I appreciated as a point of reference. I’m proud to say that I did manage to utterly FUBAR it by introducing my SimLife version of tribbles.

    I do agree though — it’s a better sim of evolution than Spore, although I think Spore’d sell better. It’s more of a creature simulator than an evolution simulator, unless you consider it a sim of the development of intelligence.

  65. #65 Plainsman
    September 10, 2008

    Congratulations to anyone who has this game. It utilizes a sercurom which is essentially a virus that installs itself without warning when you install the game. There is no way to completely remove it without reformatting and it is always running in the background sucking up computer resources.

  66. #66 Faithful Reader
    September 10, 2008

    Posted by: dNorrisM
    On NGEO last night(How to build a better creature), Neil Shubin designed a passable Tiktaalik with Mr. Wright.

    His critter then picked up a flaming branch and tossed it up in the air, AKA 2001 A Space Odyssey. The stick then fell on his creature and caught it on fire.

    Heehee oh my oh my.This so wonderfully illustrates the randomness of life!

  67. #67 Chris Chandler
    September 10, 2008

    -As a concept, it’s very ambitious. As a game, it’s far beneath the standard for Will Wright. I was bored of this game after the first night.

    -Yes, in the intro movie the narration states that the creature did not reach success alone (it had a helper), but that’s a sales agenda to give a sense of empowerment to players. The very nature of religion is to reinterpret text to fit existing agendas, so someone will always find a gap to fill with a deity.

    -Regardless, the game isn’t intended as a science class. It’s a game, and has to be fun first and foremost. Sadly, it’s not.

  68. #68 Tim Converse
    September 10, 2008

    I purchased “The Galactic Edition,” which showed up on my doorstep yesterday. This edition contains not just the game but two DVD’s, one on the making of the game and one a National Geographic special on the evolution of human beings. I haven’t yet watched either to tell you the quality of them, but they are there.

    The game itself is highly addicting. Yeah, it isn’t a model of evolution in any real sense, but it is just a straight up fun game and fun concept. It does make it very easy for you to play “what if” with various aspects of the critters you create.

    And it sucked up my evening completely! I lost several hours playing it and had only gone from “cellular critter” to almost having achieved fire.

    I expect I’ll be playing this for a long time, but they do make it a lot of fun.

  69. #69 hje
    September 10, 2008

    The object of the game is to evolve from a “spore” into demon-like intelligent space creatures that violently take over the galaxy.

    You mean you get to be the Borg at the top level? Cool.

  70. #70 ssjessiechan
    September 10, 2008

    He shouldn’t be upset. In the civilization stage you can be a religious race and convert other cities by force (you project a giant hologram that rants at them while your units attack them). My biggest complaint is actually that the religious track follows after the peaceful track in the tribe stage, and the economic conversion method comes from using a mixed strategy of peace and violence. I think it should be the other way around. And in the galaxy phase, the religious ones are the most violent around.

  71. #71 Geis
    September 10, 2008

    I miss Sim Earth and wish I could get it to port into my Linux machine.

  72. #72 catofmanyfaces
    September 10, 2008

    I think the game looks fun, but I definitely am avoiding buying anything that is basically pared with a built in virus, and the DRM in spore IS a virus. It can’t be uninstalled, and it’s a gaping backdoor into a pc.

    In addition, you can only install the game on three different machines before you have to call them up to politely ask to use the game again for every install. A different machine is any hardware difference, or a clean OS reinstall. That means if you get a (different) virus and have to reinstall your OS you loose one of you 3 installs of spore.

    Don’t buy this as you would be getting ripped off in a way that has nothing to do with how good the game is :(

  73. #73 Shinobi
    September 10, 2008

    I got the collectors edition and it actually came with a really interesting NatGeo vid about genetics and evolution that I think made the game even more interesting.

    If you think of the various changes you make as mutations that may or may not improve the species, well it’s a little more educational. As you change your character and go out into the world you discover what mutations work for you and what don’t, what skills you need and what you don’t. So while the mutations aren’t natural, there is a selection process that helps you determine the best set of mutations for your character or playing style.

    Also, It is really really really really really fun.

  74. #74 Tony Sidaway
    September 10, 2008

    I once bought one of those “simulated life” games. It came with very cute creatures that had a simple genome which you could tweak. The first time one of them died, both my kids made me uninstall it and seal up the box.

  75. #75 Martin
    September 10, 2008

    Not read all the comments, so probably repeating things already said, but here goes all the same…

    The slashdot review of the game mentions you by name PZ, and says you probably won’t approve :P (http://games.slashdot.org/article.pl?sid=08/09/09/1516246)

    The game looks interesting, but I’m not buying it because of the malware DRM put into the game. Maybe if they remove it I will.

  76. #76 Aramael
    September 10, 2008

    Dollars to donuts antispore.com is a parody site. Nobody who really thought this way would put up lewd pictures and videos made with the game.

    I think parodies like this are useful, because it shows that people on the reality side of the equation can get just as self-righteous and insulting as the religious nuts. “That’s Right Nate” is one of my favourite blogs ever.

  77. #77 Rev. BigDumbChimp, KoT
    September 10, 2008

    Dollars to donuts antispore.com is a parody site. Nobody who really thought this way would put up lewd pictures and videos made with the game.

    Set up a site that trashes the arguably most anticipated game in a few years.

    Set up revenue generating adds on said site.

    Draw attention.

    Rinse repeat.

  78. #78 Troglodyte
    September 10, 2008

    I don’t know that crafting a demonspecies to crush all other life beneath your heels is the only way to play, but it certainly is the fun way. My creatures are demonic in aspect and genocidal in nature. They haven’t seen a species that they haven’t liked… to eradicate.

  79. #79 Qwerty
    September 10, 2008

    You mention Mr. Potatohead. I remember having a Mr. Potatohead. Not the recent version but the original with the ears, eyes, and lips that you shoved into the potato as they had pointy prongs. I didn’t think it was that dangerous but I guess we should protect children. That’s probably why the religious right wants ID and creationism taught. Think of the children! Evilution – it’s just a theory. *gag* *choke* *spit* *vomit*

  80. #80 Xavier
    September 10, 2008

    For a genuine evolution simulator, look at Darwin Pond or Gene Pool
    Both are free downloads and very similar- I prefer gene pool, which allows some interesting alterations to the environment.

    Or if you want cute then look no further than Creatures (which also has a freely downloadable tryout). This is rather more like artificial breeding – you can let the creatures get on with it but their generational time is around an hour and they will usually die out within a few generations without your help.

  81. #81 G Barnett
    September 10, 2008

    @ Paceetrate:

    Although, in a hilarious twist of irony, my creatures wound up being devoutly religious and took over the planet by converting everyone. lol

    Heh, that’s how mine kicked off their conquest of the world, too. And since the visuals of the religous “attacks” on enemy cities are so damn funny, I’ll probably do it again.

    Right now, I’m exploring the galaxy and amazed by how freakin’ huge it is — but sailing thru space on a jet-powered sailing ship is a wonderful thing.

  82. #82 AreWeNoteMen?
    September 10, 2008

    The iTMS store has review of the iPod/iPhone version of the game, which asks when there will be a creationist version, with only one level, already completed.

  83. #83 Geordie
    September 10, 2008

    #22: One idea for an evolution inspired game would be that you get to modify the environment (ie you are a god) and your objective is to destroy all the life on your planet, while it is constantly evolving around your destructive acts (heat it up, cool it down, floods, diseases, etc.). The evolution of the creatures would be totally open ended in the best case.

  84. #84 Arwen
    September 10, 2008

    I haven’t played the game yet but I’ve been playing with the character generation tool for a couple of months now. My entire family loves it. I wasn’t even aware that it was being shilled as a evolution teaching tool. I have a lot of fun with it and my 6 year old would rather make a monster than do anything else. I don’t tend to care one way or the other for what most things are hawked as. I’m a shoddy atheist at best. I have Santa, a Christmas tree and the Easter Bunny and all kinds of stuff. Not because I’m a Christian but because it’s part of our culture. The only things my kids know about Christianity/religion they’ve learned from other kids but at this time, my daughter is still at the “my Mommy thinks your Mommy is an idiot” phase so I don’t go very in depth with her. I live in a VERY Christian neighborhood where several people threatened to burn down my house because I had a coffee table book on Tibet and the Dalai Lama so throwing out the fact that I’m really an atheist… really not on the table. I know I lack the courage of my convictions but that’s the same way my parents raised me. And seeing how PZ has been threatened and vilified, I think I’m making the right choice for now. My family’s motto has always been “Fit in, blend in, but think for yourself.” This post sort of rambled off topic but my point, I think, is that I buy and do what I want without worrying about whether it fits in with my beliefs. I read and own things of all cultures and belief systems but I do not hold any of them holy. I am the same with my beliefs on atheism, why not enjoy a fun game no matter what it stands for? One of my favorite songs is Amazing Grace, it means nothing to me religiously or spiritually. It’s just a beautiful song that is in my vocal range and sounds beautiful.

  85. #85 Qwerty
    September 10, 2008

    #9 Posted by: Jessica | September 10, 2008 9:44 AM

    “My son is dying to play this game. We are homeschoolers and have spent weeks on the Big Bang and evolution. ”

    Homeschoolers that teach evolution. There is hope!

  86. #86 Armchair Dissident
    September 10, 2008

    I’m calling Poe on this one! No-one can be that mind-numbingly stupid. It’s not even an evolution game! Besides, there’s much better reasons to stay well clear of the game – the draconian DRM for starters.

    That being said: I’m tempted by the iPhone version :)

  87. #87 Rev. BigDumbChimp, KoT
    September 10, 2008

    iPhone version :)

    Isn’t the iPhone version just the cell stage?

  88. #88 Jérôme ^
    September 10, 2008

    PZ, stop being austere for a while, and just have fun. :-)

    This is not a simulation. Simulation are for scientists, games are for kids (and by this I really mean kids from 1 to 111 years old). Besides, a pure simulation of evolution would be very a very tedious gameplay, since one important point of evolution is that no intelligent designer (or gamer!) ever had to intervene.

    If you want a more evol-sim oriented game, there are still the (old) Sim Earth and Sim Life; and if those are not enough, feel free to start your own project!

  89. #89 dave UH
    September 10, 2008

    I might get the game now, in order to make an army of those penis monsters.

  90. #90 Armchair Dissident
    September 10, 2008

    Isn’t the iPhone version just the cell stage?

    ‘fraid so. There’s two modes, “Survival” and “Evolution”, but I haven’t downloaded it yet, so I don’t know what the difference is. But otherwise, yup, just the cell stage.

  91. #91 Jonathon
    September 10, 2008

    OK, so I took the bait and visited the AntiSpore blog. What a waste of time!! The woman who writes the blog must not have enough to keep herself busy. And the outrage(!) that oozes from her posts…. those evil EA folks are trying to seduce her darling son to the dark side of scientific truth!

    Look…. from the way she writes, she’s a pretty wacko Christianist. I can understand her not wanting her young son to play the game – I don’t think that it was really designed for children anyway – but to try to actually keep the game off of store shelves because she thinks that it is a front for evolution is absurd.

    Yes, many people with imaginations have created some Spore creatures that are “naughty”, with frontal nudity, etc. BUT SO WHAT? Again, another reason that this is not a game for children.

    I am simply sick and tired of the dumbing-down of our culture in order to protect the sensibilities of flat-earthers and creationists. They are free to believe whatever they want; they are not free to be shielded from criticism of those beliefs and they are sure not entitled to prevent others to have access to materials they object to.

  92. #92 Felicia
    September 10, 2008

    I’ve been addicted to Spore since it came out and shared what my creatures looked like on my blog. Still, they all look the same to me, the few I’d done.

    I’ve only played with one planet so far, though. I enjoy conquering the hell out of the puny, unintelligent creatures. ;\

  93. #93 DanielZ
    September 10, 2008

    “Do you believe in creatialutionism?”

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mDUIDO-Njho

  94. #94 JB
    September 10, 2008

    @Graculus: ouch dude. Wasn’t trying to start anything. Sorry that I am unaware of the actual “Xian” group. I simply use it to say Christian like as in “X-Mas.” Next time I’ll be more careful what I post in a thread about a VIDEO GAME!

  95. #95 Donnie B.
    September 10, 2008

    Becca @22 wrote:

    (Which begs the question — how could one create a game that both models evolutionary biology, but retains the players the ability to make decisions (giving them a sense of control and involvement)?)

    Besides Andrew’s idea, it might be interesting to do an “artificial selection” game. You are a genetic engineer, whose goal is to increase the food supply of a planet by producing more efficient and better “fitted” plants and domestic animals. Your tools would include cross-breeding, grafting, selection of best offspring, and perhaps some limited direct control over the DNA.

  96. #96 AdenB
    September 10, 2008

    I’ve own Spore, have played it for a while, and am really enjoying it so far. As a video game, it basically comes down to you playing as a God-like intelligent designer, but there are some glimpses of evolutionary inspiration. For example, if you make your creature eat only plants early on, you later only find mouth parts for eating plants. Similarly, if you kill and attack lots of other creatures, you find lots of parts that are good for killing. Ultimately, though, trying to pull any real lessons about either evolution or creationism out of it is foolish – it’s a fun, entertaining video game, not trying to make any bold religious statements or teach hard science.

    Although, I did groan a bit when my little bacteria creature first arrived on the planet in a meteor. Sigh…

  97. #97 MikeM
    September 10, 2008

    I’m looking forward to playing Braid, but I’m not going to buy a second console so I can. Sigh.

  98. #98 Todd
    September 10, 2008

    I have it. I’ve played it. It’s fun but not, in my opinion, so fun you can’t put it down. I found the create feature the most fun – you can bring out your creative style (or lack of it in my case) making all kinds (and I mean that in the non-religious sense) of critters, buildings, equipment, etc. And yes, I’ll admit to making a penis creature – I named it Cheney. :)

  99. #99 AaronF
    September 10, 2008

    I’m enjoying the game right now. As long as you understand it’s not meant to teach evolution, or even be an accurate evolution simulator. It’s just meant to be entertainment. It goes from cellular level to land level rather quickly, so you skip a billion years or so of evolution.

  100. #100 Joel
    September 10, 2008

    I haven’t read all of the comments, so I might be repeating someone. However, wouldn’t a game that actually simulates random mutations and natural selection be rather boring. Evolution doesn’t really have direction, it’s just random genetic mutations being acted encouraged/discouraged by natural forces. No outside direction is needed. Reality doesn’t always make for the best gaming ideas.

  101. #101 K. Signal Eingang
    September 10, 2008

    ellindsey @ #10 echoes all the comments I’ve seen most frequently about this game. As one guy I know put it, the general experience of the game is “Oh, it’s Pac-Man, but worse. Oh it’s Civilization, but worse.”, etcetera.

    I was pretty disappointed as well to hear that in the end, your creature design doesn’t “mean” anything. It all comes down to what body parts you have equipped, and bonuses don’t stack – a creature with eight pairs of +2 legs moves at exactly the same speed as a creature with a single pair.

    And if you’re looking at it to faithfully model any aspect of evolution, it’s just going to piss you off. From one phase to another you can change your creature instantly from a ground-hugging insectile vegetarian to an upright, bipedal winged predator as long as you’ve got the “DNA Points” to do it.

    I have to say that the technology behind it is impressive. The fact that Wright’s team created a system that can convincingly animate nearly any bilaterally symmetrical body plan you throw at it is staggering to me. Unfortunately, like id Software’s recent games (e.g. Doom 3), the whole thing comes across more as a demo for the new technology they’ve created than a fully-fledged game. Buy the “Creature Creator” for half the price of the full game and you’ve already captured 90% of the fun to be had.

    Oh and there are DRM issues which is why I won’t be picking this up any time soon. Maybe if it ever comes out on Steam without the SecuRom rootkit…

  102. #102 gogglespisano
    September 10, 2008

    From Anti Spore website “Resisting EA’s War on Creationism”

    Resisting EA’s War on Fairies
    Resisting EA’s War on Sasquatch
    Resisting EA’s War on the Tooth Fairy
    Resisting EA’s War on Mighty Men

  103. #103 tatiana
    September 10, 2008

    Living in an impoverished state (Michigan) I cannot justify spending anything on video games right now. But there is Urban Dead which is a free MMORPG dealing with a zombie apocolypse.

    Think of it as a simulation game for dealing with batsh!t fundies.

  104. #104 Lledowyn
    September 10, 2008

    I have played the game, and I have gotten my first civilization to the Space Age, and I really only had one gripe about it. At the end of my tribe stage, the tribe evolved into a Religious civilization. This might have been due to the way that I played the Tribe Stage(I befriended all of the tribes on the continent), but it really irked me that I had to take over an economic city via religious means in order to switch tactics to an economic based version.

    This worked great until I met the first war-specific civilization. At first I tried to establish a trade route with them so that I could eventually buy out their city (this had worked on two other cities), however they initially refused. I then tried to compliment them and give them gifts. All this managed to do was to get them to upgrade their cities and buy more weapons, and they *still* refused to trade with me.

    At this point, I noticed that the war mongers were quickly outpacing my civilization by simply conquering the other cities. So the only option I had left was to take over one of their cities via relgious means *again*, and then to build weapons to defeat them. Luckily, since they had already declared war on everyone else, I was seen as a savior by the other cities, and after defeating this war monger, they pretty much came to my side without much fuss.

    Still, it really irked me that the only effective means that I was able to find to succeed in the Civilization stage was by either be a religious nut, or to blow people’s heads off. I *really* wanted to do it peacefully, since I had been able to do it that way up to that point. Anyway, I have just gotten started on the space age, and I’ll make another post later if I find anything else icky there.

    Overall though, save for the civilization stage, I didn’t see anything wrong with this game. It’s a heck of a lot of fun and extremely addictive.

  105. #105 CrypticLife
    September 10, 2008

    Chastising Spore for not being an accurate simulation of evolution, is like chastising Grand Theft Auto 4 for not being a very accurate murder and crime simulator.

    Actually, I always had that criticism of GTA.

    My son was once watching me play GTA, I think he was about 3 or 4 (I know — bad, bad parent). Anyway, he was okay with me running over people, stealing their cars, shooting, stabbing, etc. But at one point in the game while I was barreling down a main street, smashing into other cars and the guardrail and everything else, he suddenly screamed, “Stooooooopppp!” at the top of his lungs. I looked at him, worried it might have gotten too intense. He calmly pointed towards the screen, looking back at me, saying simply, “Red light.”

  106. #106 Peter Ashby
    September 10, 2008

    Thanks PZ and others, guess it’s a bottle of single malt for my birthday again. Or maybe a new pair of running shoes Hmmmm, choices, choices…

  107. #107 Mike
    September 10, 2008

    I worked on a evolution game for a few months last year:
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uS57VNvq0o4&eurl=http://evorunners.blogspot.com/

    If I had ever gotten around to making it more of a game than a simulation (via evolved creature deathmatches?) I think it could have been fun.

  108. #108 Macron
    September 10, 2008

    They could have done better a better job including evolution and still made the game fun. They screwed up when they made your creature’s stats depend on which parts you use. They could have set it up so that your population of creatures in the creature phase varies in stats, and then the stats would change generation by generation depending on which creatures lived until mating season. Then, choosing parts for the creature would depend on its stats, not the other way around like it is now. The game could then track the population’s average stats each generation and show them all to the player at the end. With a system like that, the player would be able to see how natural selection works.

  109. #109 JCE
    September 10, 2008

    Spore looked like fun, was going to buy but I refuse to put something with trojan horse DRM into my computer and this is one of the worst breeds of DRM out there (rootkit install). The version on this game is a security hole, apparently not advertised on the website or box (unethical), and is designed to turn your purchase into a rental if you upgrade your system frequently. Who here has games that they play for a while, uninstall, then revisit every now and then by reinstalling? This isn’t the first time around the block for this DRM – the backlash against Mass Effect which used this after the first version of the DRM generated howls of protest among gamers. They ought to know better by now, especially after the Sony debacle showed that “protection” software like this may violate the laws in some states.

    If you really want to play, buy a copy, never ever install it and download the cracked version, which has been available since before the official launch. Yup – all that effort to make the legitimate buyer into a criminal did absolutely nothing to really protect the game. How silly is it when the legitimate version is dangerous to your computer and the pirated version isn’t?

    I feel bad for the creative team behind the game but this is one I’m going to skip. Buying it and downloading the torrent on the sly to play sends the wrong message to EA and I won’t download it if I don’t own a legitimate copy.

  110. #110 Rob the Lurker FCD BMWCCA
    September 10, 2008

    I’m last person to spot this sort of thing, but I’m with those thinking the anti-spore site is satire. But you never know, Poe’s Law being what it is.

  111. #111 Rev. BigDumbChimp, KoT
    September 10, 2008

    I’m last person to spot this sort of thing, but I’m with those thinking the anti-spore site is satire. But you never know, Poe’s Law being what it is.

    My guess is it’s someone that figured out making a site that was sure to get traffic and then putting revenue generating adds on it. It does seem very Poe’ish and that may be why.

  112. #112 B. Dias
    September 10, 2008

    The game is meant more to spark general interest in science (Wright talks about the Spore “brand” as the “intersection between science and creativity”) than to be an explicit step-by-step extended lesson about evolutionary biology. So accurate biological facts take the backseat to good game design, which is more than okay as far as I’m concerned. The game doesn’t “take a position” on the evolution-design “debate.” Will Wright is an intelligent, sane man and obviously not a creationist; it’s just that the game has to be playable.

    On another note, the game does feature some good science – the cell stage particularly has a beautiful Powers of Ten-like display of the games’ scale from bacteria-sized to flatworm-sized. The general implication of the game is that you’re not controlling a single creature but the evolution of a whole population, and experiencing it through the actions of a single member of the species. This, to me, is better than if you “evolved” your creature and found yourself as the only one with a whole new appendage in a population of creatures without that feature.

    Then there’s the fact that once you get to the space stage, the galaxy is sprinkled with with galactic objects such as black holes and proto-stellar discs which are accurately described in game text, and that the game references Drake’s equation and the SETI project, and so on. Just because it doesn’t put “educational” over “good” doesn’t mean it’s simply full of bad science.

  113. #113 Bert Chadick
    September 10, 2008

    I realize I’m trying to justify spending fifty bucks on a computer game, but here’s how I frame it.
    Firstly I’m almost obliged to buy any big time release that runs on a Mac. After years of waiting at for lots of stuff to be ported to our OS, anyone who does that the first day of release gets my money.
    Secondly, Its a game, so by necessity someone has to play, and by definition, manipulate the variables. If anyone thinks this proves ID, they forget it’s a game.
    The part I find true to evolution is the part of the where that you pick up a trait and adapt it to your current situation. Unused or discarded traits sit in an inventory. Think of it as “junk DNA”.

    I can’t see PZ ever having anywhere enough time to actually play this beast, and still post to Pharyngula, educate the young adults of Minnesota, travel to conferences every weekend, keep up with domestic duties, and write that book we’ve been waiting for. We are the beast, and we must be fed.

  114. #114 Matt A
    September 10, 2008

    In all fairness; a game that actually mimicked evolution look excellent, with whiz-bang graphics and a phenomenal musical score, but it wouldn’t – indeed, could never – be a game. In a really good simulation of evolution, the player would have nothing to do; no choices to make, no goals to achieve. It might make a nice, processor-intensive screensaver, but unless the user is doing things, it’s not a game. Heck, even Richard Dawkin’s own “Biomorph” program requires the user to act as a selecting agent.

    The most interesting thing about Spore, for me, is the idea that your critters are shared around – that the unstoppable killing machine you design can show up in other people’s games. Of course, if a truly unstoppable killing machine does emerge, you can bet that it’ll be nerfed by the admins to prevent it dominating the entire game – yes, more evidence of non-evolutionary thinking, but also good for those folks who buy Spore from a bargain bin in a year’s time and can, as a result of godlike tinkering from above, actually play it, instead of having their newborn creations wiped instantly from the face of the virtual earth.

    For a clear, concise and funny review highlighting some of the general weaknesses in god-games, I heartily recommend Zero Punctuation. In fact, I recommend it generally, although at this stage the adverts afterwards are now as long as the reviews themselves, which indicates very clearly that the universe cannot have been designed by a loving god. :-)

  115. #115 Tulse
    September 10, 2008

    While Spore may not follow evolution, it certainly gives no comfort to creationists or ID adherents, as your creature definitely crosses species lines as it changes throughout the game.

  116. #116 Zeph
    September 10, 2008

    I don’t see how you could create an accurate simulation of evolution and still call it a game. It would be a pretty damn boring game if you ask me, that’s the problem. What would you do? besides watch the processes taking place randomly on the screen? I suppose you could create a planet and tinker with its environment and watch what sorts of creatures pop up, but that would still be a form of intelligent design…

  117. #117 Travis
    September 10, 2008

    Hey PZ,

    If you aren’t already aware of it there’s a nifty little evolution simulator (that is actually a simulator and so has minimal ‘game’ qualities, but it is pretty and free)
    available at http://www.swimbots.com/

    It uses genetic algorithms and simulated physics, and is quite a fun toy to leave running on your computer for days to see what it cooks up.

    It has a heavy emphasis on forcing sexual selection on the little bots, buit since that’s what the sim was written to explore, that is perhaps forgivable.

  118. #118 Splatador
    September 10, 2008

    It’s an OK game. It’s theme may be moving up the evolutionary ladder, but it is in every sense of the term a “God game.”

    But in all fairness, it wouldn’t be much of a game if you just clicked “Start” and had no input aftwerwards. Deist games are no fun.

  119. #119 Rich
    September 10, 2008

    Yes. Very very disappointed with it.

    Feels like a collection of minigames – with a very repetitive space empire simulator tacked on the end.

    The creature stage is a cut down WoW – inferior in every respect.

    The Tribal stage is comparable to the orginal warcraft RTS. Better graphics but less features.

    Ditto with the Civilization stage. A poor mans starcraft – with the most retarded AI I have ever seen.

    The only positive aspect is the design part and even thats lacking.

    If you are looking for any sort of biological/educational content – well thats a bust too.

    Comparing it to the E3 demo from a 2006 almost makes me want to cry. Its just not that seamless – and lots more boring.

    I now have a $90 AUD creature creator and lame space sandbox and have already resorted to cheat code anarchy to get some sort of enjoyment out of the thing.

  120. #120 Bride of Shrek OM
    September 10, 2008

    True story, last game I played involved putting twenty cents into a machine and making a little frog cross a busy road.

    I’m one of those weird people who doesn’t play themselves but really likes to watch others do it. I think that means I’m a gaming voyeur..

  121. #121 Mark E.
    September 10, 2008

    So, as I understand it, the game was originally entirely evolution based, but the focus groups were, sadly, bored by it. So, they added the design in to it to make the creatures you play with more connected to you. So, in that sense, it’s more ID than evolution.

    However, that being said, it does illustrate some concepts of adaptation somewhat well. For example, in the first stage, the “cell” stage, I created this little creature that had two giant horns shooting straight out and a small mouth in between them. Well, that particular configuration didn’t work so well. Because of the large horns, it was hard to get food into the mouth, so I spent much more time getting food and died a lot more because I was exposed to predators for a longer period of time. As soon as I got enough DNA (the currency in this game), I modified my little creature so the horns were pointed outwards and the increased the mouth size. Suddenly, I quickly got the food I needed to get to the next stage.

    Is it a game about evolution? No. But, in the right hands, it can certainly be used to teach a lot of important concepts regarding evolution.

  122. #122 Aphrodine
    September 10, 2008

    I’d LOVE to play Spore! Really! I’ve been waiting for YEARS to it to come out. The sad reality is that my video graphics card is too pathetic to handle Spore’s engine. …When you take into consideration that pretty much any video card made in the past eight years can pretty much handle Spore then… yeah… you get an idea how sad my comp is.

    With that said, this web-comic pretty much describes my feelings for the game: VG CATS

  123. #123 catta
    September 10, 2008

    Having just closed Spore to check in… of course it’s not accurate about evolution. Not even remotely. But then, no one in their right mind would think it is. What it does remind me of, constantly, is the Hitch Hiker’s Guide to the Galaxy and the concept of Magrathea. And that’s a good thing.

    That said, I frequently get angry at the quick progression through the early stages and the disproportionate amount of time you end up spending in the final stage. You finish the pre-civilization stages in frustration because you’re all done evolving without having found a nose, or ears, or whatever you’d like to add to your creature — and then you develop interstellar travel and terraforming in, oh, about five minutes only to zip back and forth between planets for all eternity. I’d like way, way more time before the civ stages and a creature that adapts without me having to tack on bits and pieces that attach only in certain ways.

    Evolution? No. Greatest game ever? No. Fun little sandbox? Sure.

  124. #124 amphiox
    September 10, 2008

    How could you make an accurate evolution simulation into an engaging game?

    First make it as reasonably accurate to reality as you can, with populations, speciations, extinctions, a flexible genetic toolkit to tinker with and a constantly changing environment, and then give the player the choice as to how much control/interaction he/she gets to have.

    So on one end you can have total control over every aspect of the gave with unlimited power. This is basically a creationism simulation, and you can go all biblical on your game critters, smiting whatever you want, plucking the rib from Adam to make Eve, deluging the crap out of them, stopping the sun for Joshua, dropping the asteroid on the dinosaurs, etc.

    On the other end you could set it up in screensaver mode with no control, and just watch it churn in the background. It may not be fun necessarily to play such a mode constantly, but it could make for some light entertainment if it runs in the background and you can check on it intermittently between doing other tasks.

    In between you can set up simulated experiments, controlling the environment if you wish, or tinkering with the genetics of randomly generated organisms to see how they respond to random environmental trends, etc.

    Properly done, it should be pretty enlightening for gamers to see how different things turn out between “god-mode” and “evolution-mode” and how unlike reality “god-mode” actually would be.

  125. #125 IBY
    September 10, 2008

    People are complaining about some security stuffs in Spore. Can anyone tell me what the SecuRom consists of? I know the DRM has the horrendous three installation policy thingy, but is there anything else? What is the rootkit? So, yeah, these are my questions.

  126. #126 Karl
    September 10, 2008

    The creature creator is fun. But the rest of the game is crap.
    Its 5 crap games in 1.
    1st game, swim around for 5 minutes either eating meat or plants. This game is basically “Flow” if you’ve ever played it,Probably the most fun game in the game.
    2nd game, wander around on land, other creatures are sitting around in little clumps doing nothing, either play the Simon says dancing game with them (a set number of times), or attack a set number, Earn DNA (money) to spend on equipping body parts you find scattered around the place
    3rd game, NO MORE CREATURE DEVELOPMENT, A crappy rts, dance or kill. Your creatures physiology no longer matters, It is purely visual.
    4th game, Another crappy rts, Force religion or kill
    5th game, A space game, kind of like star control 2 but without a good storyline, Also very confusing and repetitive

    I don’t like spore at all, the creature creator rocks, but there is nothing fun to do after that. Boring as hell.

  127. #127 Kel
    September 10, 2008

    4th game, Another crappy rts, Force religion or kill

    Sounds like there is no choice at all in the 4th stage

  128. #128 Doc Bushwell
    September 10, 2008

    SteveM (comment #8): The fact that the hoopla over this video game incited a nicely executed program on evo-devo (the National Geographic Channel Show — “How to Build a Better Being”) is enough to make me swoon and plug the show on The Chimp Refuge.

    As for lack of scientific accuracy, well, yes, there’s that. If I had a ten-spot for every time the media mangled the principles of biochemistry or drug research and development, I’d still be middle-class but not poor either.

  129. #129 BlueMako
    September 10, 2008

    Boingboing pointed to a trend among Amazon reviewers that are giving the game only 1 star for no other reason than the restrictive DRM.

    A “trend”? There seem to be almost 2,000 of those reviews (which floored me when I first noticed it)…

    Anybody else remember SimEarth?
    Yes. And SimLife, which was strongly evolution based…

  130. #130 chuko
    September 10, 2008

    #82 – I would guess most atheists in the US celebrate Christmas (trees, fellowship, Santa) and Easter (bunnies and eggs.) I’m pretty sure PZ has said that he celebrates Christmas, and I do too.

    I’m still not sure “desecrating” crackers is helpful, but it would be nice if more atheists were public and straightforward about being atheists. There are probably more like-minded people around than you think; it’s just that they’re doing the same thing you are.

  131. #131 Kel
    September 10, 2008

    Here in Australia, Christmas and Easter are federal holidays and are thus secular. There’s no point in not celebrating them, they are part of our culture. Regardless of their religious roots (they were stolen from pagans anyway), they are now secular institutions and thus can be celebrated by anyone; including atheists. I’d consider it a shame if there were atheists who didn’t celebrate Christmas given the secular nature of society.

  132. #132 CalGeorge
    September 10, 2008

    Have played to the tribal stage. I like the creature creator gizmo a lot. It’s quite fun.

    If you run across a yellow-looking creature with its legs splayed out sideways until it’s butt touches the ground, with eyes dangling down from a neck shaped like a question mark, it might just be mine.

    Nice to have a game that doesn’t necessarily involve shooting everything in sight.

  133. #133 cat
    September 10, 2008

    Well, I’m not sure if it beats our way of playing Sim City when I was a kid and there was one computer and many students (aka proof that god is a bitch). Basically what we’d do was create a civilization, nurture it lovingly until it grew to the peak of its power and loyalty to us, then sick every natural disaster in the game on it at once. And reading about all this end of the world stuff, God strikes me as quite a bit like a gamer whose major joy in life is torturing the little sim people of his/her sim city/world. Well, I guess god was made in the image of humans, so it’s no surprise.

    I remember SimLife, when I got it the store clerk told me not to because it was too complicated. That wasn’t an issue, but it wasn’t exactly a really fun game.

    I can understand the issue with the DRM, hopefully the DS version doesn’t have that problem (friend codes are enough hassle), and hopefully the upcoming Wii version will be more user friendly.

  134. #134 Ezra
    September 10, 2008

    Seed Magazine published an article on Spore in their latest issue.

    http://www.seedmagazine.com/news/2008/09/the_creation_simulation.php

    Anyhow. Having bought and played the game, I must admit I’m disappointed. The actually game-play is simple and repetitive, which sucks, but I really like the creation tools (for creatures, buildings, and vehicles). I’m not regretting having bought it, but I feel like it was way over-hyped.

    Of course, I also wish they would have stuck with a more factual-based evolution simulation. I would have found it more fun (and random mutations would have added some much-needed replay value).

  135. #135 Archaneus
    September 10, 2008

    I went out and grabbed the game on release day. I then proceeded to play it for 3 days straight and actually missed some of my classes because my semester started two days later. I absolutely love the game. It does have some IDish elements to it but, the real reason for that is because it’s a game trying to give the players some kind of control over their creatures. It would be kind of a bad game if the creature evolved in response to selection pressures and the player couldn’t choose a path. If you remove the hand of the player from the process though, it does contain the fundamentals. I just think of myself as a witness to a process and it all slides into place.

    I was a little annoyed with the categorization of religion though. Not so much that it was in the game, that makes sense, but the way it is in the game. You become a religious society if you pursue the peaceful path through the previous stage… and that just makes no sense at all. Religion should have been in the neutral and the commerce path should have followed from peaceful. Religion is a farce that more often than not leads to violence but can be twisted to justify peace if someone tries hard enough. It’s status in the game should have reflected that.

  136. #136 Rev. BigDumbChimp, KoT
    September 10, 2008

    Made it to space and I can fully say that so far Spore is a repetitive game with little depth. It is however entertaining enough to keep me playing for a short while.

    Fallout 3 is right around the corner.

  137. #137 Michael
    September 10, 2008

    My 2 cents is my 12 year old kid loves it – he’s been waiting weeks to get it. It does look cool. We have to lay down the law to make him do his homework first before we let him play it.

  138. #138 Kel
    September 10, 2008

    Fallout 3 is right around the corner.

    Indeed it is, must remember to order a copy soon before the Aussie dollar drops too low.

  139. #139 Rayven Alandria
    September 11, 2008

    My son and I are waiting for our copies to arrive.

  140. #140 Mike
    September 11, 2008

    [blockquote]In a really good simulation of evolution, the player would have nothing to do; no choices to make, no goals to achieve. It might make a nice, processor-intensive screensaver, but unless the user is doing things, it’s not a game. Heck, even Richard Dawkin’s own “Biomorph” program requires the user to act as a selecting agent.[/blockquote]

    Just because the user interevenes, does not mean that evolution stops happening. It just means that the user is an environmental variable with a strong selective pressure.

    In an environment where the temperature has a tendancy to drop, it is likely the creatures will evolve a resistance to cold.

    In an environment where there are a group of creatures that freely give food to members of their own species, perhaps other species may evolve to look like them and thus recieve food.

    In an environment where an immature player is arbitrarily rewarding and killing creatures based on how much they entertain him, perhaps the creatures may evolve into something that suspiciously resembles dancing breasts. :p

    All 3 are interesting examples of evolution at work!

  141. #141 Kel
    September 11, 2008

    perhaps the creatures may evolve into something that suspiciously resembles dancing breasts. :p

    lol, I wonder how long until someone does this…

    p.s. it’s HTML, so ‘<’ instead of ‘[‘

  142. #142 Kel
    September 11, 2008

    angled brackets intead of square brackets. I should not have tried to illustrate that symbolically.

  143. #143 mikeInside
    September 11, 2008

    Yeah I should probably read over the things I write but the preview button is for wimps haha

  144. #144 Kel
    September 11, 2008

    That’s the ticket.

  145. #145 GunOfSod
    September 11, 2008

    Their DRM’s the killer for me. I try not to install invasive software on my PC that send mysterious packets back to the game manufacturer, or tries to limit what I can do on my hardware.

  146. #146 Ian
    September 11, 2008

    “The object of the game is to evolve from a ‘spore’ into demon-like intelligent space creatures that violently take over the galaxy”

    The object of the game is to evolve into a Republican?

  147. #147 Francine DuBois
    September 11, 2008

    The Anti-Spore Blogger revealed themselves as a parody. From the latest entry:
    _______

    “For we were His creation and He then spoke to Noah in Genesis 8:21-27 after the flood. “21. The LORD smelled the pleasing aroma and said in his heart: “Never again will I curse the ground because of man, even though every inclination of his heart is evil from childhood. And never gonna give you up. 22. “Never gonna let you down.” 23.”Never gonna run around and desert you.” 24. “Never gonna make you cry.” 25. “Never gonna say goodbye.” 26. “Never gonna tell a lie and hurt you.” 27.”Never truly believe anything you read on the Internet. There will always be cases of Poe’s Law.”

    It’s these teachings that I’ve spent my life learning, believing and becoming, that have made me the woman that I am today.”
    ________

    A heck of a lot of people were just rickrolled…

  148. #148 mikeInside
    September 11, 2008

    So it was a hoax. This has got me thinking. What if there are, in reality, no Christians. Everyone in the world knows that the bible is silly and made up. BUT… billions of people have devoted their lives to fooling the rest of us, and will go to any length (anything from subjecting themselves to Christian rock, to starting wars,) in order to keep the charade up. That’s gotta be it! Well played, billions of so-called “christians,” well played. But the jig is up now. We know your game.

  149. #149 2-D Man
    September 11, 2008

    We got POED…y’know cause that’s a play on PWND…I’ll shut up now.

  150. #150 /b/
    September 11, 2008

    Before going to this site, be sure to understand the following terms:

    Poe’s Law
    Rickroll
    Rule 34

  151. #151 Sebastian
    September 11, 2008

    I’ve only played up to the tribal stage of my first species. Looking at the species history panel, I would say that the game honestly tries to simulate an evolutionary history, extrapolated from the player actions, but in order to create an actually playable and fun game, the game mechanics are, at best, highly symbolic abstractions from the real evolutionary processes – and at worst they are the very opposite.

    Funnily enough, I’ve found that, even though the game’s method of developing your species (earning “DNA points” and investing them into new or improved features, which have to be collected from the environment first) is ludicrous, the resulting development looks more like real evolution than you would expect, since you tend to replace existing features with upgraded versions, rather than re-designing your creature all the time.

  152. #152 Zmidponk
    September 11, 2008

    The game is quite fun, but it’s much dumbed down from what was being put around about 2-3 years ago as what it was going to be (see http://uk.youtube.com/watch?v=nejN-umj824 or http://uk.youtube.com/watch?v=T8dvMDFOFnA&feature=related. For a couple of examples of differences, in the released version, the ‘underwater stage’ is completely cut out, you simply go from the small organism done in 2D to a creature tootling about on land in 3D, and the graphics are significantly more cartoony than that). However, as for it ‘teaching evolution’, if anything, it’s actually teaching ID. Really, though, it’s doing neither – it’s simply being a fun game to play.

  153. #153 Eric Paulsen
    September 12, 2008

    I know it wouldn’t be as much fun for the player, but instead of designing the creatures the game should throw out random numbers periodically that affect the “genes” of the players creatures. Way back when, about a million years ago, when I played Dungeons & Dragons I ALWAYS took the first rolls I made and played the character straight. I can’t tell you how many times I had a character with a 4 strength or a 3 intelligence. It sucked but it made me work harder and I appreciated the game more when I actually managed to survive, let alone persevere.

    It gives you a real sense of accomplishment when your asthmatic, misshapen, mentally retarded half elf thief manages to pick a lock without geting a pick lodged in his throat.

  154. #154 Jen
    September 12, 2008

    Simple:

    Evolution = reality

    Video games = fantasy

  155. #155 mewletter
    September 12, 2008

    Had played two creature types to space stage. I find the cell stage the most exciting part, for me anyway. When I reached space stage, my mind can’t handle the immense ‘muggings’ from other alien races who wanted my help, or just blasted me out of space, instead of spending some quality time terraforming, abducting aliens and blowing up planets. (Damn those badges requirements!)

    The worst part is searching for a particular planet in a vast numbers of star systems…Urgh! Can someone had some auto-select location point feature mod for it?

    And don’t start with ‘Where is Earth in Spore game’ thing. You have to be extremely lucky or patient to find the star system! (Once inquired interstellar drive 5 that is…)

  156. #156 phreack
    September 12, 2008

    heh…has anybody read the latest post on the antispore blog?

    It appears that Poe’s Law (no matter how asenine, any parody of fundamentalism on the ‘net will be accepted as genuine) has proven itself true once again.

    Also, it’s an awesome Rick Roll.

    cheers

  157. #157 johne
    September 12, 2008

    From my post originally in Zimmerman’s The Loom: The URL below links to a web page whose Spanish title can be translated as “A Christian Focus on Science.” It describes Spore as a game that co-opts intelligent design but calls the process evolution, the whole enterprise amounting to a “big lie,” intended to deceive and seduce the unwary into (it is implied) the Darwinist trap.

    http://cristianismofeyciencia.wordpress.com/2008/09/05/el-juego-%c2%abspore%c2%bb-%c2%bfevolucion-o-diseno-inteligente-di/

  158. #158 CS Lewis Jr.
    September 12, 2008

    That is the most elaborate Rick Roll I have ever seen. And people are *still* posting outraged comments, obviously because they didn’t read the whole thing. If you could exchange lulz for cash, that person would be off to Hawaii.

  159. #159 hugh
    September 12, 2008

    Spore? more like SPOREDOM AMIRITE

  160. #160 Jello
    September 17, 2008

    Zero Punctuation spore review for any interested

    http://www.escapistmagazine.com/videos/view/zero-punctuation/218-Spore

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