Scientists: Spore Sucks

Everybody wants to use evolutionary mechanisms in new media. There are folks who program little AI bots and let them evolve. I feel this is misguided in that a pre-programmed AI is never going to mutate the way a real entity would. Automata are never going to come up with molotov cocktails and IEDs. A virtual world, I've argued, is the best way to get the emergent/evolutionary thing going: replace the programmed automata with people. You'll get plenty of little nasties you never anticipated.

Now, Spore was supposed to give us an an example of how much better this strategy would be. In Spore, real people were going to make creatures that would survive or die out. But the Spore we eventually got doesn't do that, Science reports. Basically, Spore sucks. They didn't make a virtual world in which everybody's animals had to survive in competition over scarce resources. They made a toy.

OK. So look, just make a virtual world with the people as the entities. You'll get evolution.

Comments on Scientists: Spore Sucks:

James Grimmelmann says:

Myabe it's just me, but toys are more fun.

Posted Oct 24, 2008 12:15:47 PM | link

greglas says:

/agrees with JG.

Spore is bad as evolutionary science in the same way that candy corn is bad as corn. Spore is actually not all that bad, as I said here. Since then, I've played with the toy more and I maintain that it's a pretty okay toy -- much better than a bunch of the other stuff EA puts out.

Posted Oct 24, 2008 12:39:31 PM | link

CherryBomb says:

"OK. So look, just make a virtual world with the people as the entities. You'll get evolution."

You will get some "evolution" of social behavior, but you will not get biological evolution. Likeways, I just had to shake my head at so many people taking Spore as a serious model of biological evolution. People with no understanding of Evoloutionary Biology are always so eager to apply it to whatever they feel like. [sighs]

Posted Oct 24, 2008 2:44:14 PM | link

Kyle says:

If your AI automata are not coming up with complex enough behaviors like molotovs or IEDs (which are inventions and not biological in nature anyways) then the fault is not in the concept but in the execution. Given a complex enough simulation and sufficient cycles there is no reason automata could not mutate as their real world counterparts do or even more interesting, in new and different ways.

Once can certainly argue that no one has developed a simulation platform or the hardware to run it that is sufficient to such a task yet. But that doesn't mean they won't, and research like you linked to is attempting to eventually do just that.

Posted Oct 24, 2008 4:10:27 PM | link

Thomas Malaby says:

Just wanted to let folks know that an anthropologist wrote an ethnography of the Santa Fe Institute (the one Ted links to in the post). The book is Silicon Second Nature.

Posted Oct 24, 2008 9:10:14 PM | link

アダルトグッズ says:


Posted Oct 24, 2008 10:14:20 PM | link

rubaiyat says:

The criticism about environments created with real people is that they are boring or don't provide enough of a structured experience (ala Second Life). It really is not surprising that the major goal of Spore is to have fun and create a model for revenue from the loyal fans.

An accurate evolutionary model smacks of edutainment which overall has a certain suck factor.

Posted Oct 25, 2008 2:45:28 AM | link

Ola Fosheim Grøstad says:

An accurate evolutionary model smacks of edutainment which overall has a certain suck factor.

Yes, it would take thousands of years to run...

Posted Oct 25, 2008 3:23:31 PM | link

Traceur says:

may i ask... how exactly do you guys think it should/could have showcased an evolutionary model?

yes, it could have being more scientific-based, even in ways not taking away any gameplay. for example it could have being both scientific & fun if you did start as a single-celled organism and at some point reached a point where your habitat is full of your immidiate offsprings and you need to evolve into a model where you can coordinate and "bring order to the colony" thus making the plunge into multicellular organisms... and yes, having the water stage promised initially would have being nice.for example i can envision a pre-cellular stage which is akin to base building out of peptides, and even choosing different theories: like the RNA world hypothesis - starting as an instable viroid in a maze of clay molecules could have being fun...

but non of those would mimic the evolutionary model, because the basic premise of natural selection is that the majority of coincidental mutations end up failing, resulting in accumulating trends.
and guess what: 99% of what the player wants to do failing is not good game design.

and people: we knew that mutations in spore are player-made choices and not random, we knew that it downloads content from other players rather then continue the bloodline relations of your own character, and we had no indication that the game offers much room for failure.

we knew all that at spore's first presentation.
so why is everyone so surprised?

Posted Oct 26, 2008 12:59:25 AM | link

Matt Mihaly says:

"Now, Spore was supposed to give us an an example of how much better this strategy would be. They didn't make a virtual world in which everybody's animals had to survive in competition over scarce resources. They made a toy."

I'm not sure why anyone would get the idea that Spore was supposed to be anything but entertainment. EA is in the business of making games to sell to consumers.


Posted Oct 26, 2008 3:08:48 PM | link

Tripp says:

Interesting that Science magazine would take the game so seriously (i.e., seriously enough to comment on it). -Yeah, Spore is disappointing as a tool for teaching evolution. But yeah, it's a nice little toy. At the moment, EA is in the business of making money, not educating people, so no big surprise, really.

Posted Oct 26, 2008 5:11:00 PM | link

dmx says:

I think the real reason people are underwhelmed by spore, science boffins unweaving the rainbow notwithstanding, is that people have been craving a genuine sandbox. Something they can play god with, from the cellular level right out to blasting stuff across the galaxy.

And in some respects Spore delivers, but not as one might of hoped. Theres a definate feel of a bunch of separate video games loosely latched together rather than a fully coherent [i]world[/i].

Now, if I could zoom out from space back down to the cellular level and explored the xenobiology of a grox world , maybe screwed with it to do whacky things to their ocean, and then zoomed back out fluidly for a space battle, THAT would have been impressive.

Of course evolution would have been fun too.

Regardless I actually had a heck of a lot of fun with spore. All the subgames where fun little casual-gamer diversions in their own right. But I was hoping for utopia. :(

Posted Oct 26, 2008 7:08:42 PM | link

Traceur says:

look, a game has to engage the player actively to become a game (as apposed to a movie or a book).

if natural selection would be done mechanically by the game or by survival rate scores, if mutations where random, and if cognitive capabilities & traits & instincts included the behaviors that control the avatar, there would have being no game. the player wouldn't be doing anything!

you can't make a game out of a non-interactive natural phenomena, and basically that is what evolution is...

Posted Oct 28, 2008 9:35:52 PM | link

Thomas says:

I predicted the way Spore turned out, and the disappointments it would cause, on these very boards a long time ago, but I was hushed as if I were a blasphemous madman.

Now, that brings us nowhere to mention. But damn, it felt good to say it.

Posted Oct 30, 2008 3:54:06 PM | link

greglas says:

We were all fools! Thomas for King! Thomas the Most Amazingly Perspicacious! ;-)

Posted Oct 30, 2008 4:08:43 PM | link

Yuan says:

As a biologist and a game researcher, I put this after my MSN nickname: "Spore: 1st night, it rocks; 2nd night, it sucks." before I read that Science report.

I really understand the evolutionary process presented by Spore is not necessarily same to what our books have. But Spore didn't use the evolutionary theory wisely, whether the theory is from Darwin or from Lamarck. It could have been much better than it is. As I am not so interested in its contents about so-called evolution, I focus more on its gameplay, but it's not good as well ... so it really disappointed me.

Posted Oct 31, 2008 3:35:46 AM | link

David Gentle says:

>>you can't make a game out of a non-interactive natural phenomena, and basically that is what evolution is...

A game in which you manipulate the environment and allow creatures to randomly mutate until they adapt would qualify. Maybe if there were only one group of animals that you didn't control and oyu had to get them to do stuff by indirectly manipulating them with other creatures and stuff...

Posted Nov 2, 2008 12:48:34 AM | link

dmx says:

I dunno. I'm still having fun with the space game. Taken as a casual medium term game (like a few weeks of half an hour a day or whatever) its quite compelling.

spore at the end of it all is kinda fun.

Posted Nov 5, 2008 10:51:09 AM | link

randolfe_ says:

It's been a while--a long while in fact--but isn't the theory of evolution by natural selection biased only towards survival, not necessarily towards complexity? Spore and most of the comments about its merits seem to assume that evolution is goal-oriented, rewarding complexity, organization and intelligence. But then again, a game where you evolve bacterium or cockroaches wouldn't be all that exciting.

Posted Nov 8, 2008 5:43:09 PM | link

Jasto says:

Actually it would have sucked even more if it was based more on "sciance", what I'm saying is that it sucked due to lack of gameplay.

Basically after playing a few hours, visiting new planets quickly gets boring, only having one UFO and some allied spaceships instead of fleets sucks, i'd rather play reunion or Master of Orion at that point.

Another very annoying point which spoils the gameplay that where left, is the constant attacks on your planets, not to mention the ecodisasters.

I would expect that the defense system you put in place on each planet would be able to deal with the pirate, and less competent attackers. But no no, you myst fly all the way back, which interrupts the flow of fun and spoils the gameplay.

Now this problem wouldn't be there in the first place if you where able to build intire fleets like in Reunion and MOO, the whole idea of being a UFO sucks, and whoever came up with that idea clearly totally lack basic game-design skills.

The cell-state was pointless and shouldn't have been included in the first place, as did everything else but the space level.

Posted Nov 9, 2008 2:54:32 PM | link

kevin says:

Cell stage- Cell stage was fun, but i didn't want to leave right of the bat. I wanted to stay and get bigger and get loads of DNA points but it wouldn't let me get bigger or let me get any more DNA points. At the end of cell stage you will have the same DNA points as the last time.

Creator stage- It was fun but was like Assasins creed. You had to do the same things over and over again. Makign allies was boring and to kidish. I was going to be agressive in creator stage so in tribe stage my things would look cool. " well that is what they said. "

Tribal stage- There is no fun into this stage, i can win in a hour. There is also only 3 weapons wicth i found bad. It would be great if you could of made your own weapons.

Civ stage- Now, this is 2nd worst stage of all. It can be baten in maybe 40 minutes. All you really need to do is take them out when there still in tribal stage. Then drop bombs on the oppent. Also i added all these cool things onto my car to make it a good attacking car. But then all of the cars shoot the same.

Space stage- This right here was bad. I get attacked every 5 secs. It is hard to make money. When you are in a fight all you do is fly in a cercle and then when the enemy's health is down the fly around the planet once and they get there health back to full.

This game is a FAIL!!


Posted Nov 12, 2008 10:01:49 PM | link

zeefl says:

DNA based evolution occurs under an extremely complex environment. If you realize snow-flakes achieve their many forms with something as simple as freezing water, you dont need too much math skill to understand how immense the problem is. Evolution in a game world isnt going to lead to much, given that the environmental constraints are so inanely simple... grind, gear, yada yada.

Posted Nov 24, 2008 2:38:16 PM | link

bryan campen says:

Just on the issue of evolution and emergent behavior (not on playability): The point that Spore would be intelligent design (a tongue-in-cheek observation by Wright) and not some sort of mirror of evolution was pointed out years ago by Will Wright and Brian Eno

It's not supposed to get a thumbs-up from scientists on that count.

Aside from that, people are the entities in spore: they are creating their own world of creatures, and cannot interact but can crib creations from one another as far as I understand it. So they have already done what is suggested here (people as part of emergent behavior).

Spore probably has more in common with the idea of Steven">">Steven Johnson's Long Zoom than it does evolution.

Posted Nov 29, 2008 7:02:07 PM | link

madaracrisis says:

Wow, umm its a video game -.-
Spore doesn't suck at all. It's just a video game and its not supposed to teach us how evolution works. It's for creative people and who like god games. Can't scientists stop being nerdy for one second and see that its a fun game?

Posted Dec 9, 2008 1:15:20 AM | link

redstar says:

It's obvious that Spore was designed to appeal to people in a very broad range of ages, beliefs, amounts of scientific knowledge, etc.
The basic mechanics of the game DO oversimplify the facts of biological life. I have a feeling this was a deliberate choice so that gameplay wouldn't become too frustrating for young kids or those with a short attention span (not to mention that they didn't want to get a "T" rating for depicting alien sex, or the reality of hunting and killing one's food).

It would be nice to see this game revamped into a kind of "Spore For Grownups", where the more unpleasant realities got addressed.

But there are already enough games where people who just want to have a good time have to deal with other, less pleasant players. I like the fact that one needn't deal with the "Molotov cocktails and IEDs" that make a competition out of something designed to be fun.

Games, after all, are meant to be MORE FUN than the real world.

Posted Jan 18, 2009 7:58:08 PM | link