Eight things Spore needs to do better

Where Spore goes wrong.

Spore

Spore

Spore was never meant to be all things to all people, and it's a hoot reading the mea culpas marching in from the folks who did the game such a disservice by hyping it so unreasonably. They're now calling Spore "different from what they expected." Well, what did they expect? The Sims meets Master of Orion? Dawn of War meets Impossible Creatures? Richard Dawkins and Stephen Hawking and Shigeru Miyamoto in a box? Will Wright (the game's creator) was never coy about his intentions here, calling Spore a casual game for casual players right from the start.

That said, and much as it's a pleasure for me to say I get it, the game's still a few chromosomes short of a genome. So I've pulled together the following list of eight mildly irritating imperfections. None were even close to deal-breakers (okay, point #1 was a three-time teeth-gnasher, but with PCs it's always a toughie to say whether crash-bugs are the game or your system) and a few probably reveal my own shortcomings as a traditional (read: not casual) PC gamer. But they're at least the kinds of things Maxis needs to be thinking about as the game's sixth and uncredited "Patch Stage" gets underway.

1. No autosave. That's right, the game doesn't automatically save your progress, which causes mass panic each time Spore crashes. Crashes? Not often. But in all of two weeks playing through multiple worlds and stages, it did crash three times, at one point dragging me back from the beginning of the Civilization Stage (after a very successful and pleasing run through Tribal) to the end of Creature -- from fourth to second, in other words. Fortunately you can restart from any stage you've already visited and import your creature, but you'll sacrifice your history timeline in the process.

2. No labels on already-assigned creature body parts. Mouse over the body parts currently attached to your cell or creature (or building, or vehicle) and all you can do it change their size or positioning. No labels, no pop-up info windows, no attribute reminders, nothing. A lot of parts like horns and bony protrusions, hands and feet, often look a lot alike. Or wildly different from their original form after you've done some creative geometric tweaking. Several of the pieces and appendages you're slapping on your weird-eyed wonders or funky strobing love shacks have performance ratings. Being able to compare what you have equipped therefore matters when you get new, more complex, more expensive options. A mouse over pop-up label or level-up indicator showing the attribute going up (green) or down (red) would shore up this info-deficiency.

3. Most of the adornments in Tribal Phase clash wildly with the creature anatomy. My creatures all ended up with face masks clapped to their backsides and loin-skirts dangling from their spindly legs or arms because the parts don't jibe with your creature's physiology. I realize there's no easy way to make one-size-fits-all regalia for such a potentially multifarious range of critters, which is why skirts and shields and masks ought to go, and smaller bits like a whole range of shamanic jewelry would work better here.

4. I can select and CTRL-assign numbers to mini-squads for easy selection in the Civilization Stage, so why not the Tribal one? Don't say it's part of the management criteria in Tribal, either, because Will Wright knows better than anyone that gaming an interface (making the interface its own challenge in lieu of something more clever) isn't really a game at all.

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Matt Peckham

PC World (US online)

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