Penis creatures. That’s all gamers were looking forward to ten years ago. Penis creatures, penis buildings, and penis vehicles were hotly anticipated in the shared worlds of Spore. In 2008, “dickbutt” wasn’t even a thing, but thanks to the way we thought Spore would download random bits of other players’ creations, people expected nothing but crude approximations of genitalia to wind up in their games. While the rare phallic entity did show up from time to time, we mostly got goofy Technicolor blobs that looked like everyone else’s goofy blobs.
The real tragedy of Spore was the overenthusiastic marketing and crazy expectations fans had before the launch. It was going to be a Will Wright-designed sim from Maxis that featured life itself from the beginnings of single-cell organisms all the way to interstellar conquest. It was going to have everything. Procedural generation! User-made asset sharing! An in-game YouTube clip feature! Oh my God, imagine all the penis-monsters! In many ways, it was the harbinger of the industry. Shame about the gameplay. It was as shallow as the tide pool it started in.
In 2013, Soren Johnson, more famous now for being the lead designer of Civilization IV and co-founder of Mohawk Games, reflected on his short stint on the Spore team. Even now, his blog post is fascinating and instructive.
Spore’s biggest issue was that the play at each stage was fairly shallow because the team was making five games at once. (At one point, Will described each of the game’s five stages as light versions of classics – cell is like Pac-Man, creature is Diablo, tribe is Populous, civilization is Civilization, and space is Masters of Orion.) However, making five different games at once is a bad idea; making one good game is usually hard enough.
Ten years later, it’s easier to be charitable to Spore. It’s silly and engaging in the first few stages. The janky real-time strategy stage is terrible, and the interplanetary stuff is pure hogwash, but there’s something satisfying about collecting animal parts and wandering your Teletubbies Spore world. If you just stay in the animal stage, it’s a decent lark. Check it out. This is the penis monster I made.