Can Spore Attract the Masses?

The eagerly awaited evolution game from the maker of The Sims will definitely excite a core group of science geeks and may attract "lite" gamers too

Thirty minutes playing Spore—even with celebrity game maker Will Wright breathing over your shoulder, telling you to "fly over here" and "try this level"—is nowhere near enough time to get more than an inkling of what's going on in this massive and ambitious game from the maker of the chart-topping Sims series.

The big question remains: will the man behind The Sims deliver another gargantuan hit? By letting players custom-create a new life form and then guide it through five states of existence—cell, creature, tribal, civilization and space—watching it evolve and, once it reaches its pinnacle, zoom off through space to Alpha Centauri, it's all stuff that sci-fi geeks will love. But will non-gamers and so-called "lite" gamers flock to Spore the same way they flocked to The Sims?

We attempted to answer that question for ourselves by playing different bits and pieces of the game, starting with the cell level—where you designate your cell as an omnivore or plant-eater and then steer it around the water trying to eat food and avoid predators long enough to grow and walk on land. Wright has previously said that this part of the game resembles Pac-Man, and that's an accurate assessment. It's kinda cool, kinda weird and after a few minutes in we were chomping planets, feeling like we were killing time before the "real game" gets started.

Once you escape the ocean, you're punted into the game's creature creator—earning parts based on your cell's inclination (our cell only ate plants, so it started out with a passive, plant-eating mouth) and DNA points, the currency in the first two phases of the game. You can then start to customize your creature with the handful of parts available in the beginning on the game, name it and get down to business—which involves making pals or eliminating other species to earn more DNA points, which unlocks more body parts that further evolve your creature.

Moving your creation and making it interact with other creatures will feel familiar to anyone who's played the Sims. Move your creature by pointing and clicking or using the WASD keys, use the mouse's scroll wheel to pan in for a close up (and vice versa). Once you meet a creature, it's as simple as clicking on it, deciding whether you want to attack or be friends and then choose a corresponding action. Being a social type, we tried to befriend a nearby group of creatures, who initially kept running away from us, but then after a bunch of singing (used in the game to make nice) on our part, started to warm up to our neighborly gestures. Along the way, we gave off our mating call, found a partner, and propagated our species. Our motley crew then set off to make more friends/enemies, pick up objects lying around the planet (usually hidden body parts for the creature creator)—all in an effort to get enough DNA to get to the next stage.

Since our time was limited, Wright used a cheat to escort us to the space level in the game, and our creature has suddenly gone from a pet to a space-traveling species. Once you can build and steer a spaceship, you will be able to visit any planet in the galaxy. We chose a planet, then went on an eagle-eyed view of cities and populated areas. We then chose another planet and decided to get a closer look by projecting a holograph of our—now evolved—creature—walking around the planet's deserted surface to interact with its inhabitants and gather information that will help you species take over the planet, which is the ultimate goal in the space level of the game. Wright, who says the space level is his personal favorite, points out that you will be colonizing new planets and can change the surface of the planet by terraforming. Or you can even pump carbon dioxide into the air and watch a planet teeming with life turn into a big brown space rock, a blank canvas for those who want to create your own planet from scratch.

Once we started to get a hang of the game, our time was up. We didn't get to see our creature turn into a hunter-gatherer, develop a language or create colonies. We didn't get a chance to build our own spaceship (in the UFO) editor, we didn't see a black hole, we didn't get to build our own Atlantis and we only landed on a mere two of the purported 4 billion planets in the Spore universe.

So, will Spore reach the masses? That question still remains unanswered. Will the five parts of this game work together as a cohesive whole or is it more like five games in one? These questions and more will be answered when this strategy game for PC hits on September 7.

Before it's here, it's on the Bloomberg Terminal.