In 'Spore,' Players Create Civilizations From Cells The creator of The Sims has a new game out. In Spore, players create their own worlds — starting from creatures the size of a cell, and evolving until an entire civilization springs up.
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In 'Spore,' Players Create Civilizations From Cells

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In 'Spore,' Players Create Civilizations From Cells

In 'Spore,' Players Create Civilizations From Cells

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One of the most anticipated video games ever is finally coming out this weekend. It's called "Spore." There's so much excitement because it was created by Will Wright, the man who designed the popular "Sim City" and "The Sims." His latest creation takes its inspiration from evolutionary biology, and for the most part, scientists are giving it a thumbs up. NPR's Laura Sydell reports.

LAURA SYDELL: It took seven years for Will Wright to finish "Spore."

Why did it take so long?

Mr. WILL WRIGHT (Game Designer): It's kind of a hard game to make.

SYDELL: The game is about nothing less than one billion years of evolutionary history.

Dr. WRIGHT: So, basically, you start as this microscopic cell. Eventually, you kind of leave water. You continue to evolve for many generations.

SYDELL: You start the game in primitive waters, eating algae and trying not to get eaten.

(Soundbite of music, squealing)

SYDELL: When you've grown enough, you can find a mate.

(Soundbite of music, squealing)

Dr. WRIGHT: And then we mate, and what we're going to do now is lay an egg for the next generation of our species. And this is how I get back into the editor. So I'm basically designing the next evolution of my species.

SYDELL: The editor is where you can add features to your creature: a new mouth, a nicer nose, faster fins - in later stages faster legs, a bigger brain. You buy them with points you get from eating.

SYDELL: 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. And that was kind of like the general presentation, the toy that we wanted to build of evolution.

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

(Soundbite of National Geographic documentary)

Dr. TIERNEY THYS (Marine Biologist): Once you see this, you'll never think about abalone the same way.

Dr. WRIGHT: Okay.

SYDELL: In this scene from a National Geographic documentary about "Spore," Will Wright is consulting with marine biologist Tierney Thys.

(Soundbite of National Geographic documentary)

Dr. WRIGHT: Okay. Is this its mouth?

Ms. THYS: This is its mouth.

Dr. WRIGHT: Ooh, that's cool. It looks like some kind of mechanical grinder.

Ms. THYS: Yeah, and that's what we call radulla.

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, things like a radulla. It's a buzz-saw-like mouth apparatus of mollusks.

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

Ms. THYS: I think there's so much potential for perhaps incorporating it into animal-diversity classes or going tide pooling and then seeing, mixing and matching - using the natural world as your inspiration for your virtual world.

SYDELL: Will Wright has built a career on games drawn with great detail. From there, he creates entire worlds that mimic the real one, says Chris Swain, a professor at the School of Cinematic Arts at USC. "The Sims," which re-created the life of a real family, relied on behavior science. Swain says follow-up game "Sim City" lets players take up real issues of urban planning. [POST-BROADCAST CORRECTION: "Sim City" is not a follow-up game to "The Sims." It was released first, in 1989.]

Professor CHRIS SWAIN (School of Cinematic Arts, USC): And 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, and they say things that a mayor would say.

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

Mr. WRIGHT: And we're going to go over to our neighbors here and try to convert them. Now, it's going to be a little hard, because they're fairly happy, which is their best defense against religious conversion.

SYDELL: Depending on how a creature has evolved, whether it's been through dominance or cooperation, will determine what kind of cities you build during the civilization phase. Eventually, your civilization can conquer space.

"Spore" goes on sale in the U.S. this Sunday, but already, people are taking advantage of a preview where they can create creatures and share them online. There are more than three million to be found waiting for their chance to evolve, mate and eventually conquer the universe. Laura Sydell, NPR News, San Francisco.

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