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 final installment of the series covers the Space Stage.
With the launch of a rocket, "Spore" enters into a final stage that outlasts the previous four combined. The game's twin aspects -- gameplay and gawking -- come to balance. The choices about limb choice and food source that seemed so integral in the first two stages seem long-forgotten, possibly hidden into the game's code, subtly determining the course of the stage's events, or possibly discarded as largely unimportant.
Gameplay is at its most expansive in the Space Stage as players are given the ability to make war with a variety of weapons, environmentally improve planets (or re-paint and re-sculpt them) with a variety of tools, or financially expand an empire with a variety of colonial and economic options. No single action is complicated. The only challenge is in the complexity the player causes as they try to make their species do more and more things. That challenge can be significant.
In Space Stage, the supposed end of "Spore," the player is essentially re-asked to examine their reason to care about the game.
Gawking is constant in the Space Stage and, for better or worse, is a pleasure that provides little gameplay consequence. Every species encounter or planet discovery is an event to witness the creativity of human-generated artificial lifeforms or computer-generated landscapes.
But in Space Stage, the supposed end of "Spore," the player is essentially re-asked to examine their reason to care about the game. Will you be amused by being a galactic wanderer? Will you be frightened to have so many gameplay interactions to manage? Do you want to play this thing or look at this thing?
The creators of the game call this Space Stage. That name implies that travel from star to star is the main feature here. But it is the untangling of the rules of the planets -- the discovery of how to breathe atmosphere over their surfaces and to deposit the proper mix of plants, herbivores and carnivores while garnishing the whole thing with a newly colored sky and sea -- that closes "Spore"'s loop. Almost.
The only shortcoming is that the look of the planet and which beasts will run herd through its valleys has little gameplay effect.
Back in Cell Stage, "Spore" appeared to be a game of gameplay in the service of creating things, of video game interactivity as a means to mold aesthetically interesting stuff. Manipulating "Spore"'s planets feels like another version of that. The only shortcoming is that the look of the planet, the decision of what color its mountains will be and which beasts will run herd through its valleys has little gameplay effect. In Cell Stage, the placement of a spike on the nose of a creature wasn't just for looks. That spike helped determine a species path that would lead to the construction of a civilization-destroying bomb. The re-painting of planet's mountains in Space Stage from orange to a more pleasing cyan just leads to a prettier bauble hanging in space.
"Spore" doesn't appear to end. Its Space Stage allows, possibly, for infinite expansion both of the player's goals, of other players' infiltration of content and of the developers' ability to add what they'd like. "Spore" offers no pat conclusion. It doesn't end tidy. At the end, it goes broad. As the life created in it thrives, it lingers. "Spore" player, will you come back?
Will Wright's Take:
"Space Stage is where it really opens up. If you want to have millions of players' creative output on display you need a gallery that large.
"There's a whole colonization game for people who want to build giant federations or empires."
"But also, in the Space Stage there are several different mini-games you can play successfully. Some might want to play as a trader, economically. Or you could play as an explorer, going off to find rares. If you get a whole set of rares, they're worth a lot. The terra-forming and colonization game, for people who are into science and ecology, is one where you're terra-forming planets and developing a food-web and the biosphere and having to maintain the balance between herbivores, omnivores and carnivores. For each one of these paths they unlock are certain tools. There's a whole colonization game for people who want to build giant federations or empires. There's alliances were you can ally with aliens and have spacecraft join the fleet and fly around with you."
That's it! Five "Spore" stages. Five "Spore" posts. Thanks for reading! You can check out the entire series here.