'Spore': Does Evolution Really Happen Like That?

A cartoon microbe from the new game 'Spore.'

The new game Spore begins with the player controlling microscopic creatures that continue to evolve as the game progresses. Electronic Arts hide caption

itoggle caption Electronic Arts

In the new computer game, players create and control an entire species, directing their evolution from single-celled organisms into an interstellar civilization. An evolutionary biologist discusses the science behind the game with Will Wright, creator of Spore.

Guests:

Richard Prum, professor and chairmen of the Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology at Yale University

Will Wright, chief designer at MAXIS and creator of the SIMS, SimCity, and the new game Spore

In 'Spore,' Players Create Civilizations From Cells

'Spore' goes on sale in the United States on Sunday.

Spore goes on sale in the United States on Sunday. hide caption

itoggle caption
'Spore' starts out in primitive waters, where players eat algae and try not to get eaten. i i

Spore starts out in primitive waters, where players eat algae and try not to get eaten. Courtesy of Electronic Arts Inc. hide caption

itoggle caption Courtesy of Electronic Arts Inc.
'Spore' starts out in primitive waters, where players eat algae and try not to get eaten.

Spore starts out in primitive waters, where players eat algae and try not to get eaten.

Courtesy of Electronic Arts Inc.
Players develop civilizations that can be warlike or religious. i i

Players develop civilizations that can be warlike or religious. Courtesy of Electronic Arts Inc. hide caption

itoggle caption Courtesy of Electronic Arts Inc.
Players develop civilizations that can be warlike or religious.

Players develop civilizations that can be warlike or religious.

Courtesy of Electronic Arts Inc.
Eventually, a player's civilization can conquer space. i i

Eventually, a player's civilization can conquer space. Courtesy of Electronic Arts Inc. hide caption

itoggle caption Courtesy of Electronic Arts Inc.
Eventually, a player's civilization can conquer space.

Eventually, a player's civilization can conquer space.

Courtesy of Electronic Arts Inc.

One of the most anticipated video games ever is coming out this weekend: Spore. The game, seven years in the making, was created by Will Wright, the man who designed Sim City and The Sims. It takes its inspiration from evolutionary biology, and for the most part, scientists are giving it a thumbs up.

"It was kind of a hard game to make," says Wright. "Basically you start as this microscopic cell. Eventually you kind of leave water. You continue to evolve over many generations."

Players start the game in primitive waters, eating algae and trying not to get eaten. When the creatures have grown enough, they can find a mate.

"Then we mate and what we're going to do now is lay an egg for the next generation of our species," he says as he demonstrates how the game is played. "So, I'm basically designing the next evolution of my species."

Players earn points from eating. The points can be used to buy new features for their creatures: a new mouth, a nicer nose, faster fins and, in later stages, faster legs, a bigger brain.

"If you step way back, you know, evolution is about incremental improvement of a species embedded in a larger ecosystem over large periods of time," Wright says. "And that was kind of like the general presentation, the toy that we wanted to build of evolution."

Inspiration From Science

To create Spore, Wright consulted with biologists and other scientists to get a greater understanding of the process of evolution.

"I sat with Will and had the pleasure of introducing him to a lot of really crazy animals out there that don't get a lot of silver screen time," says marine biologist Tierney Thys.

"Things like a radulla," she continues. "It's a buzz-saw-like mouth apparatus of mollusks."

Thys says the game isn't really a true mirror of nature, but she believes it may help young people get interested in science.

"I think there is so much potential for perhaps incorporating it into animal diversity classes," she says. "Or going tide pooling and then seeing, mixing and matching, using the natural world as your inspiration for your virtual world."

Creating Life

Wright has built a career on games drawn with great detail. He creates entire worlds that mimic the real one, says Chris Swain, a professor at the University of Southern California's School of Cinematic Arts. The Sims, which re-created the life of a real family, relied on behavior science. Sim City lets players take up real issues of urban planning.

"You get these 10-year-olds that can make these very sophisticated statements about what they need to do to their city to make it prosper: Lower the tax base, and we'll raise the revenue here — they say things that a mayor would say," Swain says.

Spore gets even bigger. A creature evolves into a species that develops a civilization that can be warlike or, as Wright explains, religious.

"We're going to go over to our neighbors here and try to convert them," he says, demonstrating. "Now, it's going to be a little hard because they're fairly happy, which is their best defense against religious conversion."

Depending on how a creature has evolved — whether through dominance or cooperation — will determine what kind of cities a player builds during the civilization phase. Eventually, a player's civilization can conquer space.

Spore goes on sale in the United States on Sunday. But already people are taking advantage of a preview where they can create creatures and share them online. More than 3 million are waiting for their chance to evolve, mate and eventually conquer the universe.

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