Forget No Man’s Sky, I’m Getting Hyped To Play Some Spore

Forget No Man’s Sky, I’m Getting Hyped To Play Some Spore

In the fall of 2006, the New Yorker and the New York Times Magazine published dueling Spore previews in the span of four weeks. John Seabrook, writing in the New Yorker, said that the game was “anticipated with something like the interest with which writers in Paris in the early twenties awaited Joyce’s Ulysses.” Steven Johnson, writing in the New York Times Magazine, predicted that the game would help change humanity’s conception of itself by fixing a perspective he dubbed “the long zoom” in the popular imagination. He hypothesized that a classroom of fourth graders could spend an entire year playing the game and learning from it.

Surely you remember Spore? Designed by Will Wright, the creator of SimCity and The Sims, Spore was supposed to simulate the evolution of life, from single-celled organisms to small creatures to tribal human societies to an advanced civilisation exploring outer space. It was largely a single-player game, but the community of online-connected players would seed everyone’s games with the life forms that were created in other games — a kind of Darwinian version of intelligent design.

In short, Spore was No Man’s Sky — the universe-size game of space exploration with planet-size planets, which Sony announced this week would be released by Hello Games in June — before No Man’s Sky was cool. Like No Man’s Sky, you read about Spore in the New Yorker. Like the lead designer of No Man’s Sky, the lead designer of Spore talked to Stephen Colbert about the game’s unfathomable scale. And yet you still were never quite sure, despite the head-spinning talk about how the game was going to simulate an entire universe, what exactly players were supposed to do inside it.

Instead of transforming the human race’s understanding of itself, or even our understanding of video games, Spore became the last game — at the moment, at least — that Will Wright ever designed. Alongside Howard Scott Warshaw’s E.T., Spore became a punchline, a game remembered only for being a letdown.

But what hype it was! The New Yorker‘s Seabrook salivated over how the game would “replicate algorithmically the conditions by which evolution works, and render the process as a game.” Some players would, Johnson wrote in the Times, “create entire galaxies populated by artificial life forms.” The game would “simulate an entire universe.”

“What I’m trying to do,” Wright told the Times, “is connect the almost inconceivable universal scale to the deeply personal.” He later added, “I wanted to make a game that would recreate a drug induced epiphany.” The musician Brian Eno said of the game and the perspective it hoped to bring to its players: “We’re a tiny blip on a tiny radar screen. I think this is a feeling that people are trying to come to terms with, the feeling of where do we fit in all of this.”

Playing the entire game, the New Yorker noted, would take 79 years for a thorough player. The game’s “crazy ambition” was “to simulate the limitless possibility of life itself.” The profile contains a No Man’s Sky-ish moment, when the game designer zooms out to show the “vast galaxy of other worlds” that are contained within Spore. “More worlds than any player could visit in his lifetime,” Wright says. The story ends, much like Raffi Khatchadourian’s New Yorker feature this year on Sean Murray and No Man’s Sky, with the creator of this universe steering a starship into the unknown.

It would be easy to laugh and scoff at these stories for their credulity. But Will Wright was — is! — one of the greatest game designers of this or any age. It is impossible for me to read this stuff, as I did today, and not get excited all over again about Spore and what it represents. I own a disc, from when I bought the game in 2008, when it was finally released. I barely touched it back then. I had a job helping to edit the op-ed page of the Times, and we were in the middle of a presidential campaign. By the time it was over, Spore was regarded as a dud, a flop, an interactive Ishtar or Hudson Hawk. I moved on.

You surely didn’t notice, but Electronic Arts put Spore‘s servers back online last week. EA had shut them down for maintenance in July, four months after closing Maxis, the studio behind SimCity, The Sims, and yes, Spore. In 2006, it was unimaginable that Will Wright’s newest game could ever be put into the shop for three months with barely anyone making a peep about it.

So I’m going to play Spore now, years after the hype has dissipated and the game has been all but forgotten. I’ve installed it on my Windows PC. I will be back to tell you if it’s any good. And what if, separated by a decade from expectations that no game could possibly fulfil, it is?


  • I played Spore back in 2012. It was a very ambitious game, although it felt less and less engaging as I advanced through the various stages.

    • ^ this. The game was sold on the strength of the first couple of phases – the single cell and single organism bits were great. Once you hit tribal stage the game is a sub-par 4X game.


      “What I’m trying to do,” Wright told the Times, “is connect the almost inconceivable universal scale to the deeply personal.” He later added, “I wanted to make a game that would recreate a drug induced epiphany.”

      Are you sure they weren’t interviewing Peter Molyneux by accident?

      • The difference being Will Wright got a kick in the ass and pretty much learnt from Spore…

        Molyneux on the other hand never, ever, ever learns his lesson.

  • I followed its development for years as well.
    I got it day one. It started out well but became less and less…enjoyable. The scope became narrower, the ages felt forced, and over-all it just felt….bad. So many poor design choices, so many bad inclusions, so many things that made no sense within the game worlds internal logic.
    I have revisited spore a few times over the years. Each time I’m disappointed all over again.

    In and of itself it’s not a terrible game, but what’s disappointing the most is what could have been.

  • Lol when I was reading will wrights epic quotes I had the voice of the no mans sky in my head. I Totally understand what the writer is getting at.

  • Yeah, as others have said I was kinda dissapointed by Spore. I was excited to finally have my copy back when it first came out, but the gameplay wasn’t what I was expecting. The progression was all a bit too linear and guided imo. It didn’t really matter how you customised/created your sporelings, you sorta ended up with the same gameplay and at the same stages. Not open world enough!

  • I did actually see that the game had been advertised on Origin… did they change something?

    The end-game was pretty damn painful and just a tad sinister.

    It got that when combating the final Big Bad on my way to the Galactic Core, my priorities turned to eugenics; I was trying to breed the ultimate warrior race with which to seed all the planets I encountered, so that a galactic empire could form – independent of my intervention – capable of resisting the Grox without me having to run back to rescue them, so that I could continue to focus on pushing forward.

    Unfortunately, their necessary aggression resulted in the outright genocide and extinction of several races I’d raised my own up with, and others I’d elevated through the monolith.


  • The problem with Spore is that the original game as discussed in the original proof of concept had a lot more potential to offer than what was ultimately released. The problem was that the game was oversimplified. It was dumbed down too much and really became something a young child could play. If they had kept more realistic gameplay in terms of the animal behaviors of hunting & predation, mating & reproduction, territorialism, etc. with more complex game systems they would have a had a game with far more lasting impact than it ultimately had.

  • A lot of people complained about Spore’s end game, getting to the centre of the galaxy, and bam thats it. Like a lot of games you had to set yourself some of your own goals I think to really get the most out of it.

    I took my queue from one of the Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy books, mainly I stole the idea of the people of the planet Krikkit, this race evolved on a planet in a star system surrounded by a massive dust cloud, so they never saw any other stars, ever. When an alien spacecraft crash landed on their planet they realised there was something out there, and when their first exploration ship penetrated the dust cloud and showed them the majesty of the galaxy and universe they came to one simple conclusion… It all had to go.

    So my save game, that I still have safely stored on my hard drive as well as on a cloud service, has my single homicidal space faring race, going around and destroying every single planet in every solar system. I believe that my race has been responsible for the destruction of nigh on 1000 planets, and about 100 sentient species in Spore. I just wish I had access to a Nova Bomb instead of a planet buster….

  • That link leading to a Colbert video on a geo-blocked website is really annoying.
    Stop it with that crap.

  • Early on in the piece, there was a 35 minute video detailing Spore. It looked amazing.

    3 years later, it released. The artstyle had changed from “kinda realistic” to what you see in the first image. The game was the biggest disappointment in my gaming life. Bigger than DNF.

  • This is kind of weird… but I just started playing Spore again last week. I had no knowledge of the servers or anything until this article. I was just… compelled to after a 3 year absence. I don’t know what it is, but I just had a hankering for an evolution simulator… I even googled “games like spore” before going back to it after finding nothing… maybe it’s just time for one again.

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