How's that done? Players create a creature of their own design, then place it on an island to see how it fares against other wild creatures. These survival of the fittest scenarios, called Observations, test the evolutionary advantages and disadvantages of the creature. If the creature outlives the others during the 150 turn Observation (during which, you cannot control your creature), then its well-evolved to that island. If your creature dies, Spore Islands will offer up suggestions on how to use each day's 12 DNA points to alter its attributes. These changes also change the look of your creature. For instance, increasing the creature's "threat-detect" gives it multiple eyes as "food-detect" makes a single eye.
Oddly, each block of attributes (metabolism, senses, strength and life) are a game within itself as the player has to balance out a maximum of 12 points between each attribute's three categories (for instance, food has reproduction, lifespan and weight categories). Trial and error with Observations definitely adds a level of challenge and while new players get several Observations to start with, they'll only get a single new one every four hours. Thankfully, there's also a social challenge as friends can test their creatures on your island and an easy option to island hop over to theirs.
We did have questions and Caryl Shaw (Senior Producer at Maxis) and Frank Lantz (Creative Director at Area/Code) were more than happy to answer our pressing Spore Island questions.
Spore Islands is drastically different from other Spore-inspired efforts that we've seen on Facebook. Why the change?
Caryl Shaw: In the past, Spore has focused on using Facebook to educate people about our PC game. With Spore Islands we actually wanted to create a social game based on Spore that was fun and used the opportunities for connecting with your friends that Facebook offers.
Frank Lantz : We wanted to take the essence of Spore – creating and evolving your own creature – and find an expression of it that was "native" to the social setting of Facebook.
While the game is set to be fun, there's clearly a slant towards observable evolutionary changes that make creatures more suited to an environment, food sources and competitors. Does that mean that there's a bit of an education angle here too?
Shaw: We didn't consciously set out to put an educational slant in the game, but as with developing Spore for the PC there were bits of science that contributed to how the simulation would play out. They kinda snuck in while we were making a fun and compelling game.
Lantz : The central idea of the game is adaptation to the challenges of a changing environment. The game is definitely not educational in a traditional sense but it does reward you for wrapping your head around some of the concepts related to real-world ecosystems and real-world evolution.
Once a creature is created, players set them off into an observation where there are 150 turns. Why 150?
Shaw: 150 ended up feeling about right. When it was set to 300, I used to have time to go get a sandwich so that seemed too long. <laugh> We spent some time tuning the number so that it gave the player enough time to observe the interactions and understand how their statistics impacted the behavior of their creature.
Lantz : Each observation is like a little "horse-race" where you see your creature design decisions play out. They need to be long enough to allow for different kinds of strategies to work and for cool and surprising events to occur, but short enough that you can do one, tweak your creature, and do another one, all within a light, 5-minute play session.
Can you describe what types of special abilities players will gain as they level up?
Shaw: Players will be able to unlock abilities that give their creatures' additional benefits during observations – things like the ability to earn double points for picking up Sparks (Party Animal) or gain efficiency eating (Iron Belly). There are 12 abilities available for players to unlock at launch – and we may release additional abilities in content updates.
Lantz : We wanted abilities that help amplify certain creature design strategies – like twin litters, which lets you lay two eggs instead of one, works well with a creature that has high reproduction.
What's the reasoning around 12 points in each of the creature's attributes? Will higher levels add more points?
Shaw: Again this was an area where we experimented with the numbers and landed somewhere that we feel is both manageable and still interesting to manipulate. We decided to keep the points capped at 12 in order to provide interesting gameplay that players would be able to work with – so even if you get higher up in the leader boards, the points you spend on attributes will remain the same.
Lantz : We wanted to capture the idea of trade-offs, you can't improve everything across the board, an elephant can't reproduce as quickly as a fruit fly, but they're both viable solutions to different environments.
As with many other social networking games, will there be a pay-for-play component where players will be able to purchase new islands, new accessories or evolutionary enhancements?
Shaw: Players can earn DNA as time passes, but we will also allow players to buy additional DNA in the game that will allow them to evolve their creature's statistics or personalize their creatures with hats and markings.
Lantz : You can buy DNA to speed up your evolutionary process, but it's still about making smart choices, so you can't just buy your way to victory. But as with everything in Spore, you are shaping your creature around style, not merely function. Buying DNA allows you to be deeply expressive with your creature, and that expressiveness is what social networks are set up for in the first place.
While players can change the climate of their island, players are only able to create and change their creatures. Will there be future options that allow players to alter the evolution of their island?
Shaw: We will continue to update the game and will be paying close attention to what players want over time. It might be new content, island customization or other new features that come from player feedback.
For hardened players of Spore on Mac and PC, what do you think they'll get from playing Spore Islands? As such, what might Spore Hero players gain from playing?
Shaw: The thing that I like best about playing Spore Islands (and I'm definitely a hardened Spore player having been on the team for almost 5 years) is that I can send my creature off to play with my friend's creatures. I have been going back and forth with my Associate Producer Meghan all week – she evolves the Bobbinator and overtakes me on my Island and then I update Killer (my creature) and clobber her back. It's been really fun to play Spore with someone else.
Lantz : It's all about the social interaction. One of the coolest things about Spore is the way it integrates user-generated content, in Spore Islands the user-generated content is the gameplay – you're always adapting your creature to stay one step ahead of your friend's creatures, and they're adapting their creatures to stay one step ahead of you.