Saturday, June 23, 2007

Spore Part One

Ok, I have been wanting to write about this for a while, but have put it off until now. The subject today is an up-and-coming release from Will Wright, creator of The Sims, Sim City, Civilization and various other simulation type games. He is quite famous in gaming circles and his products have moved the industry and made billions. [Above: Will Wright demonstrating Spore, which is under development]

The name of the game is called Spore. You begin the game as- get this- a microbe. A small bacteria swimming (or drifting) in the water trying to find a way to survive. As you travel, you happen upon certain different types of food source, which can help in different ways. You also have to try to avoid getting eaten. Some rare foods include ways of making your cellular structure more complex. There are choices involved here. Do I make myself more resistant to predators with an improved cell wall? Do I give myself a better means of locomotion? Do I obtain a better method of acquiring food? Do I increase the complexity of my DNA? This is simple evolution of a sorts, and is part of what makes it so fascinating to me as a science teacher. Additionally, all graphic animations are magnificently detailed and are drawn by the computer procedurally. In other words, as you play the environment is instantly developed and maintained by the computer with no lag.

Eventually, your little critter becomes a protist, a slightly larger creature which resembles a tiny dot swimming in a glass of pond water. Here, one can manipulate genes (obtained from the last growth phase) in order to purchase certain body types. Then the next phase of the game begins, this time with your customized little "swimmie," once again evading predators and trying to find food and obtain genetics which will allow it to mutate and adapt even more. At each stage in this process, more choices are made. Should I spend my development points on better brainpower? (A swimming brain is nice, but its kind of hard to survive when you can't move well, have no defenses, and no way of attacking food which now has developed ways of avoiding you.) One has to consider the payoffs and drawbacks in designing their creature.

After this phase is complete (and you have proven yourself successful at surviving in the environment) your little creature develops a backbone, and then it gets interesting. The mutation screen allows you to play with your creature as if it was a combination of Play Doh and Mr. Potatohead. There are all kinds of eyes, ears, legs, arms, tails, noses, grasping appendages, methods of eating, stingers, etc. Each is sizable, mutatable, rotatable and can go on any part of the body you want. You can put eyes in the back of its head and have its nose located directly over its rear end. You can have 1, 2, 3, 4 - heck even 12 legs. Each of these things costs points, but the great thing about it is that based on the number of legs and the spinal configuration, these creatures are brought to life by the computer and they move in the manner in which you designed their body. Make a one legged armadillo, for example. Because it hops to move, and cannot move fast, the only way it can protect itself is to spin and drill itself into the ground.

However, you don't have to leave the water. You can develop a race of giant, talking underwater squid, like the aliens from The Simpsons. More about that next time though. In the meanwhile, here's some video goodness from Will Wrights Spore presentation at E3, for those of you with high speed internet. Enjoy. (approx 35 minutes)

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