Civilization begins with order, grows with liberty, and dies with chaos. These words from American philosopher Will Durant also hold true in the civilization stage of Spore, the upcoming strategy game from Will Wright and EA Maxis. We stopped by EA last week to get hands-on time with the civ stage as well as the final space stage as part of our exclusive coverage leading up to the September 7 release date. Be sure to check out our Spore Launch Center for additional coverage of the cell, creature, and tribal stages, plus a look at the game's innovative community features.
After your tribe conquers rival tribes in the surrounding area via wooden flutes, throwing spears, or a combination of both, the chieftain will see the need to create order among the ragtag group of villages and advance to civilization stage. Depending on the choices made in the cell, creature, and tribal stage, you will develop into an empire with one of three focuses: military, economic, or religious. The main goal of this stage is to convert, conquer, or purchase the other main cities that were established by other tribes on the planet.
No matter what kind of civilization you are, the name of the game is still money. Spice is the world's most valuable resource, and spice geysers dot the planet's surface. The one who controls the spice geysers controls the world. To gain control of a geyser, simply send over one of your vehicles--created by you or ripped straight from one of the thousands of creations on the Sporepedia--and begin mining. Vehicles are rated in speed, armor, weapon strength, and religious-conversion power. In addition to menacing tanks and land cruisers, coastal cities will be able to develop naval vessels to reach sea-based spice geysers. The more spice geysers you own, the faster your treasury fills.
Early on, you're the only civilization on the planet and almost every geyser is yours for the taking. Soon other tribes will get civilized--some friendly, some hostile--and begin competing for spice. Your treasury will grow as you process the profits from spice trade, which is done automatically. That money can be spent in the city planner. The city planner is a multifaceted creator tool, very similar to the creature creator, with which you design your city hall, houses, factories, entertainment centers, decorative gardens, and statues. Houses let your population grow, factories increase your profits, and entertainment buildings keep your citizens happy after a long workday. Finally, defense turrets can be added to city walls to ward off would-be invaders.
We played as a religious civilization and immediately outfitted our boats and land vehicles with religious-propaganda accessories such as giant loudspeakers and horns. You have three options when you reach a new city: conquer, contact, and convert. By clicking convert, your vehicles will emit a hologram of a high priest who will preach to the city, slowly tipping the religion meter in your favor. Of course, no one likes being preached to, so the enemy city will begin to defend itself and start blowing up your vehicles. But with money from the spice trade continually rolling in, it's an easy process to buy more land vehicles and keep sending them over until the religious conversion is complete.
After half of the cities in the world are conquered, you'll gain access to aerial vehicles, which are also produced in the nifty vehicle-creator tool. Our planet featured three large landmasses, and our rocket-propelled vessels (shaped like dragonflies) were the only means of reaching the distant continents. The jets were not equipped with any religious tools, so we were forced to blast the final cities to smithereens by continually purchasing new jets and sending them into the fray.
Overall, the civ stage plays out like a very simplistic real-time strategy game in which you gather resources (spice), grow your population (build houses), and expand your territory (send vehicles to convert cities). When the final independent city on the planet surrendered unconditionally, the world was ours. But the world is not enough. It's time to advance to the space stage.
After you design your spacecraft (very similar to the vehicle creator, save for the much cooler arsenal of parts), your entire planet will bask in glory as it celebrates its new status as galactic explorer. The budding space travelers on your home planet have several simple missions to complete early on, such as opening up a trade route with an alien race or searching a strange planet for the wreckage of a downed spacecraft. Whereas the previous stages of Spore feature only one or two main goals, the space stage has several: discover the center of the galaxy; become a renowned trader with other races; expand your empire by colonizing and terraforming new planets; or simply explore the vast reaches of the galaxy. To fathom just how big space is, you zoom out from your home planet to the solar system to see your sun. Then scroll all the way out to see the entire galaxy, composed of millions of stars. Orbiting around many of these stars are planets, more than four million in total.
Initially, however, you begin in the neighboring solar systems, trying to open trade routes with new species. Some will agree right away, whereas others will ask that you perform missions to prove your worth as a trading ally. One race asked us to whisk off to a distant planet and retrieve several types of plants known to have healing properties. Using our trusty abduction beam, we quickly filled our cargo hold with trees, bushes, and even a few species for our own personal study. Another race simply asked us to kill five innocent creatures with our onboard lasers. Keep in mind that these missions, unlike space, do not exist in a vacuum. There will be consequences with other species if you encroach on their territory and abduct valuable artifacts or, even worse, innocent pedestrians milling about in their cities.
Your spaceship is equipped with only standard weapons, radar, and scanning ability, but you'll quickly earn new, more-valuable parts as you complete missions and earn badges. Aside from a repair rating, your ship is powered by energy, and every bit of space travel will drain the gas tank. To refill, simply head to your homeworld or colonies for a free refill, or you can purchase energy and repairs from friendly species. Your ship's energy level will limit you to jumping from system to adjacent system, but later, technology upgrades will let you traverse a much larger portion of space in one warp jump.
Colonies can be formed on many planets, but not all of them are suited for life. On one volcanic planet, we planted a colony next to a large, yellow spice geyser, but the colony couldn't expand because the terrain was too hostile and we didn't have enough terraforming points to transform this fiery rock into an Eden. But if you finish enough missions and purchase terraforming tools and parts upgrades, you'll be running your own Genesis Project in no time. Exploring new worlds will also lead to the discovery of extremely rare items, and you can show off these trophies of exploration to your friends who are also playing through the space stage.
Finally, EA did confirm that there is a secret ending to Spore, but the company said that only the most hardcore players will discover it. Does that mean you'll learn the true nature of the universe once you discover the center of the galaxy? Begin seeding new worlds with your own cells to restart the process of evolution? We'll find out when Spore finally hits stores on September 7.