Spore is a simulation game that allows players to build their own personal universe, evolving lifeforms from single celled organisms, to sophisticated galactic travelers. Broken into five distinct gameplay segments; the Cell stage, Creature stage, Tribe stage, Civilization stage, and Space stage, the game allows the player to define and evolve a unique species using a selection of simple, mouse-driven tools. As the species develops, thanks to the actions of the player in each core game mode, so too does the complexity of the overall experience. In the earliest Cell Stage, the game is little more than a simple “eating” game where the player simply hunts for food and tries to survive. However, choices made at this early point dictate the path that future generations will tread, and as the species develops, its social tendencies and interactions open up new possibilities. Choosing to evolve as a carnivorous creature, for example, necessitates more aggressive behavior.
Once out of the primordial ooze, and in the Creature Stage, players are able to explore the world much more thoroughly, and interact with other creatures. Again, the player constantly makes choices that dictate the species’ development, and the game allows for any combination of violent, or peaceful approaches to problems. As the species evolves further, it bonds as a more coherent social unit, and begins to employ teamwork, and instigate a social structure. Throughout the experience, the player is able to impact the way the species develops by tweaking the “design” of the creatures directly, as well as impacting their behavior by forcing particular choices.
As the game progresses through the Tribe, Civilization, and Space stages it becomes far less focused on individual creatures, and it is the entire culture that must be affected. The player will manage cities, and attempt to unify an entire planet using some combination of either economic, religious, or military methods, before eventually developing to a point where the species can leave its home world, and head to the stars.
Spore’s creators (who were also responsible for popular simulation titles such as The Sims 2, and SimCity Societies) describe the game as a “massively single player” experience. Unlike “massively multiplayer” games, players do not interact with each other directly, but when they create a creature, a vehicle, or a item for their own experience (and it’s necessary to create a lot of content) it is uploaded to the central Sporepedia and then used to populate the galaxy for other players.
Spore has been given an “E10+” rating from the ESRB, indicating that it may not be appropriate for children under 10. It also carries descriptors of “comic mischief,” “fantasy violence,” and “animated blood.” Of these, the most ambiguous concerns the comic mischief, and this is focused on the way that members of the players’ species will interact with one another. The manner in which the game tackles “mating” in the Creature Stage falls into this category, and while nothing sexual is depicted, the game does show characters dancing to 1960s-style lounge music in order to attract one another’s attention. Depending on the size and shape of the user-created creatures, it will often look as though they are pointing their behinds at each other, and wiggling them around. More humanoid looking creatures obviously appear somewhat more suggestive than others. This category of descriptor from the ESRB also refers to the freedom that the character, and object creation tools provide. It is entirely possible to create creatures and items that look somewhat rude, and there is little stopping players from positioning appendages in such a way that they appear anatomically correct ¬even if they do spit venom, fire lightning bolts, or spew fire.
The fantasy violence and animated blood descriptors refer to combat throughout the game, and much like the scenarios, items, and creatures, the nature of this evolves throughout. Early on, combat is a simple affair, in keeping with the simplicity of the creatures presented but it soon develops in such a way that creatures attack each other with fangs and claws; before later fashioning weapons (such as clubs, or spears) that they beat each other with. Though there is very little blood, there are flashes of red when a creature falls in battle. If a species is carnivorous, there is also the opportunity to eat the fallen, and share the bounty with other creatures in the game’s world.