I'm on vacation this week, but before I left I wrote five brief essays considering the five stages of "Spore." Late Friday I interviewed "Spore' creator Will Wright and asked him to share his thoughts on why each stage is essential. You can find his thoughts, shared during a half-hour phone call, at the end of this essay. This third installment of the series covers the Tribe Stage. The remaining Stages will be covered over the next two days.
As Tribe Stage begins, "Spore" changes its spots.
In the game's first two stages, the player is given direct influence over the evolution of the species they guide. At each moment of procreation they are sent to a character editor that allows them to bend spines, add arms, change mouths, alter skin tone and implement many other evolutionary alterations that affect the look, the attributes or the abilities of their creature. Success in the playing field leads to new basic abilities.
In Tribe, however, success in the playing field leads to a scripted upgrading of tribal village abilities: the permission to have one more resident in the tribe, the ability to construct a few basic buildings. Players can't affect the look of much of this. They can merely choose which of the buildings they might want. Buildings can provide weapons, musical instruments, or even fishing tools.
(Read on for the rest of my take and for Will Wright's.)
The stage's mission is for the player's species to deal with tribes of other species. That mission is both a small step forward from the nest-vs.-nest inter-species fights and friend-making of the Creature Stage as well as a surprising leap ahead, one that skips any opportunity for the player to define the social structure of the tribe. This tribe will have one leader, a chieftain, and everyone under that being will farm, fight, or play music as they are so ordered. There's no other way.
The player's real choices are no longer going to impact the abilities of individual creatures but on the abilities and reputation of the entire species.
Like Creature Stage, the Tribe Stage isn't overflowing with gameplay variety and isn't going to be fully enjoyed unless the player is entertained by looking at stuff. The rampage of an epic dinosaur-sized beast as it trundles over an enemy village better entertain you. The appearance of some other players' species as a pack of wild creatures that can be domesticated and lay eggs better amuse you.
It's in this stage that it most becomes clear that the player's real choices are no longer going to impact the abilities of individual creatures but on the abilities and reputation of the entire species. Playing styles, by this point, will determine which of three branching tendencies will dictate the collective life their creatures will live: violently outgoing, culturally curious or fiscally aggressive. By the end of Tribe, the feeling has dissipated that what one's creature looks like has any affect on what's happening in the game. That portion of "Spore" is over. It looks like it's going to be all about relationships from this point on.
Will Wright's Take:
"Food is your primary resource. The first thing we're dealing with is how are you going to make a living in Tribe, which is to say, 'How are you going to gather food?' Depending on how you played Cell Stage, you're going to be coming in as herbivore, carnivore or omnivore.
"A lot of people don't realize that there are actually some simple strategies for gathering food in Tribe."
"A lot of people don't realize that there are actually some simple strategies for gathering food in Tribe. You can steal it from other tribes. You can domesticate wild animals and they'll come live with you. You don't have to hunt other creatures; you can domesticate them. If you manage to domesticate a really strong creature and he's sitting in your pen behind your hut, he'll actually help defend your tribe as well.
"You're also being introduced to more elaborate relationships and relationship management with the other tribes. If you play really aggressively, the other tribes will start to distrust you. Once you go down that path it's kind of a slippery slope. The social path takes longer but it keeps things more in balance. You're collecting totems for every tribe you ally or conquer. The combination of those totems on the totem pole will basically determine your starting city for the Civ Stage."
Next: My take and Wright's take (plus a few more tips) for the Civilization Stage. Check out the rest of the series here.