The Biology of Spore | Part IMay 01, 2023
I don't think there's ever been a game like Spore. Released in the late 2000s, the game sees you create and then guide a life form from a microorganism in a tidal pool to an advanced creature in a civilization that spans the galaxy. Being able to essentially design and play as your own speculative creature really blew my mind when I was younger. I remember spending hours trying to make my creations as detailed as possible and coming up with bogus scientific attributes as to how they functioned in the ecosystems around them. Of course, you can also use Spore to create weird monstrosities and throw the
biologyrulebook out the window.
After all, Endgame certainly wasn't always a scientifically accurate depiction of evolution and often cartoonishly exaggerated the stages of life. I also know that a lot of content was removed during its development, which disappointed some. However, for all its eccentricities, Spore is still an evolution sim that is quite nostalgic for many, myself included. And the game explores a number of principles of evolution and
biology, albeit in a simplified way. So for this archive entry, we'll create a creature and play the game ourselves to understand how this virtual race for survival relates to real scientific laws. And as an added challenge, we'll try to keep our creature within the parameters of plausibility as much as possible in Spore.
So, let's begin our billion-year journey through this simulated universe... The game opens in a swirling spiral galaxy. The initial screen really sells the potential of the journey you are about to embark on. From this distant perspective, everything seems possible. We have several glowing planets on which we can begin our adaptation odyssey. This
particular world seems to be a good fit. Like Earth, it appears to have mostly green plants to match the wavelengths of light from its host star. It's worth noting that in Spore, like in our own universe, alien planets can have completely different colored foliage depending on the wavelengths of their stars.
We will call this world "Curious Planet" and start the simulation. The game opens with a sequence of an asteroid hurtling past the planet's host star and towards the planet itself. Piercing the atmosphere and raining down on the sea, the asteroid carries with it hidden microorganisms. The concept of microorganisms surviving in space for long periods may sound like science fiction, but certain species of tardigrades, or "water bears," can survive in the vacuum of outer space. The idea that a similar microorganism could travel to another planet on an asteroid is a genuine scientific theory. And with the life form we'll be leading emerging from the rubble, the first stage of Spore has officially begun.
While this section of the game is called the "Cell Stage", it appears to be a multicellular organism from the start. Our species begins life on this planet drifting through the tide, feeding on bits of algae-like plant matter. On Earth, many tardigrades live their lives in a similar way, locating and feeding on clumps of rogue algae cells for sustenance. As a heterotrophic life form, our microorganism cannot produce food within its body and must regularly consume plant matter to continue to function. The mouth of our herbivore appears to be that of a filter and resembles that of rotifers on Earth.
Rotifers are among the most successful microscopic filter feeders on Earth, sucking in plant matter with their rotating mouth
parts. And if our microorganism wants to have lunch, it will have to be the first in a rapidly expanding line. Because other emerging herbivores are looking for the same resources, and when resources are limited, competition begins. And so, within this tidal wave, the first race for survival on Planet Curious is on... If our way of life is to survive, it needs to adapt. Going into the cell editor, we can see that, up until now, we've been navigating the tide using a single flagellum: a long, whip-like structure that a wide range of microorganisms use to move.
Some microorganisms actually have multiple flagella to propel themselves, a strategy that we will copy with our way of life. Our species also develops a pair of lateral spikes to fend off competition. Beaks are an extremely basic adaptation, found at the microscopic level in life like heliozoans, whose bodies are surrounded by sharp projections that can pierce other microorganisms. Now that our way of life is looking pretty promising, it's time we gave this particular iteration a name. For now, we'll call them Curiosus Minimus. Over the course of our billion-year journey, we'll see them change quite a bit... Back in the tide pool, our extra flagella have helped us outpace other herbivores.
Over the eons our species has grown and can now feed on the ends of larger aquatic plant structures, again, as can certain tardigrades. But it is no longer just the herbivores within this primordial battlefield. At every turn, newly emerging carnivores try to bite Curiosus Minimus. These early hunters resemble some of the oldest predators in Earth's fossil record from the Cambrian era. Nectocaris is a remarkable example of a primitive carnivore, and it really does look like a
sporecreature in most reconstructions. With all sorts of hostile patrons swarming the waters, Curiosus Minimus's beaks are an invaluable adaptation.
Over millions of years, a new trait emerges in the form of navigational appendages that the game calls cilia. On Earth, the term "cilia" refers to hair-like structures found on the surface of various single-celled organisms. In Spore, the cilia are clearly somewhat different, rather analogous to the small, primitive fin structures present in certain ichthyoplankton. And with our new fins, the tide pool has never been easier to navigate. Until now, we have subsisted completely on a plant basis. But in the interest of documenting a wide variety of behaviors, I'm going to guide our way of life down the path of the omnivore.
In Spore, this is possible through the development of a proboscis, or proboscis as it is sometimes pronounced. On Earth, various animals feed on proboscis, both above the waves and in tidal-like environments, such as Phyllodoce lineata, a species of worm that uses its strange mouth to feed on smaller organisms. . With our new mouth, would-be attackers are now a potential source of nutrition. Over the next few million years, our species flourishes, developing a second pair of fins for navigation and earning the new name Curiosus Aquaticus. We are now a much larger life form than when we started, more comparable to a small fish than a microorganism.
And other life forms have followed suit, and life on Planet Curious has become much more sophisticated overall. Some organisms can even produce a sudden electric shock if Curiosus Aquaticus gets too close. The domain of electricity is familiar in our world, with electric eels using disc-shaped cells packed into specialized organs to generate their painful zaps. While this is a promising strategy, Curiosus Aquaticus is doing just fine without it, with our rear fins becoming larger and more well-defined. The era of the tide pools is about to come to an end... A cartoonish animation shows us that our species has evolved a brain.
On land, the first brains arose from interconnected neural networks, simple nervous systems that are still present in some types of jellyfish. With our developing brains and an enviable omnivorous niche, when it comes to mud swimming, Curiosus Aquaticus rules the pool. But a new stage of life is about to begin on dry land... Looking back on our history, we have already had quite a journey: from a simple herbivore to a complex omnivore. And now the next stage in our evolutionary journey is to develop legs and get out of the water. The transition process from land to ocean was complicated on Earth, and we don't see much in Spore, though we can speculate as to how it happens.
Over millions of years, the fins of Curiosus Aquaticus probably grew larger and more muscular as ecological conditions encouraged them to spend more and more time at the water's edge. These early explorers were probably not the most graceful on land, yet they still lived their lives tightly bound to the water, like mud-jumpers on land. But finally the primitive legs arose. And now, with a fresh new color scheme, the strange life form we'll call Curiosus Irregularius is ready to leave the water behind and take its first steps as a true land dweller. When we enter the Spore creature stage, a loading screen informs us about the types of creatures we can find.
And as always, it seems to be a rather unusual group. Curiosus Irregularius begins its life on land living in small communal nests, and usually crouching. On Earth there are numerous types of species that build their nests directly on the ground. But it is an exciting sign of increasing intelligence that our creature has evolved to live in social units. As a generalist omnivore, Curiosus Irregularius spends much of its time foraging for food and sneaking unseen through the grass. And they are not alone on earth. Other species, perhaps distantly related, have also made the transition from land to water during this early period.
The game gives us the option to hunt them down, or try to impress them socially using displays like singing and dancing. On Earth, all kinds of animals put on similar unusual displays, but usually only within their own species to facilitate courtship and mating. But while this kind of interspecies communication isn't likely, it's the system the game gives us, so Curiosus Irregularius will display its singing voice to any creature that hears it. Over the generations, Curiosus Irregularius will change quite a bit. Within the creature editor, Spore gives us the option to make pretty much any change we want.
Like I said before, you can really push your creature to some pretty absurd limits. I remember spending hours when I was younger testing the limits of what Spore allowed you to do. While all of that is fun, it's not exactly how evolution works, so we'll keep the changes gradual. In that sense, an ancestral trait that I have decided to keep are the stem eyes. Eyes at the ends of the stems have their drawbacks, but they also have their advantages, such as a better field of vision. And frankly, they're fun. In the wild, users of stalk eyes include certain crabs and types of snails, so they are not an unheard of trait.
In terms of the mouth, this leech-like sucking mouth surrounded by primitive teeth seems the most likely to emerge from a proboscis. Another useful adaptation that Spore offers is a type of projectile poison. I feel like the closest analogue to this in the natural world is the spitting cobra's chemical spray, so I placed the venom launcher in our creature's mouth. We can say that it derives from some type of salivary gland, since it is where most of the poison in nature arises from. Another change that could possibly occur over millions of years is a change in our creature's coloration.
Colors and patterns play a fascinating role in Earth's ecosystems. Some have bright colors as a signal to others of their species, or as a warning to predators. Others have colors that match their surroundings to hide or stalk their prey. Others have colors and patterns that resemble other life forms to reduce the chance of being attacked. For our purposes, I've decided to stick with a green pattern that matches our surroundings. And seeing our creature in motion, I have to say that while I tried hard to create a vaguely plausible species, they do look a bit horrifying. However, I am still quite attached to them.
As the ages pass, our species becomes more land-adapted and begins to live in larger social groups. Other species on Planet Curious are also changing and diversifying, some of which we impress with our social displays and others of which we must reject. We are still omnivores, after all, and with our gnashing teeth and poisonous spray, we pose a formidable threat. However, we are a food source for some larger, more specialized carnivores. If our species is really going to thrive, we may need to change our solitary hunting strategy... Another era passes and we may develop a larger mouth with more defined pseudoteeth.
Like many of the mouths in Spore, this one looks... a little weird. However, I think it's great that the abilities of these mouths seembe loosely inspired by real-world animal behavior: the songbird-like mouth is better for things like singing, and the crocodile-like mouth features one of the strongest bites. It's obviously an oversimplification, but it's a fun detail nonetheless. Sticking with our creepy leech mouth for now, we can also upgrade our venomous spit and claws, and add some display structure on our creatures' shoulders to help us show them off. I imagine that this feather-like structure evolved from some kind of rigid plate for the purpose of attracting a mate.
And while that may seem like a stretch, some display structures on Earth that have evolved to attract mates are far more elaborate. With a new striped pattern on our creature's legs to help it blend into the tall grass, I think it's time we gave this iteration the new name Curiosus Striatus. And this new chapter seems exciting, as the social intelligence of our species has progressed to the point where Curiosus Striatus can hunt in a coordinated pack. With this critical advantage, our species can now frequently outperform lineages once higher up the food web. Sometimes the pack gets into more trouble than it can handle.
At one point, a group of Curiosus Striatus is crushed underfoot by an Epic, a type of giant monster that I remember him being one of the scariest parts of Spore when he was younger. At another point, we wade out into the sea and are swallowed by a creature from below, another part of Spore that I distinctly remember finding terrifying. But with each new generation, our omnivorous pack hunters get smarter... And as the pages of evolution continue to turn, it's possible Curiosus Striatus could become bipedal. Bipedalism is a form of terrestrial locomotion where an organism moves by means of its two hind limbs.
While we associate this type of walking with humans, all kinds of animals do it for all kinds of reasons. In dinosaurs like theropods, for example, bipedalism is thought to have arisen to free up their forelimbs and allow them to grasp fast-moving prey. We can imagine that primitive grasping fingers could arise in our species for the same reason. With a new mouth and more complex display structures, this is a big change for our way of life. And as is sometimes the case in Spore, while our design can look quite streamlined while stationary, in motion it looks... a bit unusual.
Oh good. With a new name to celebrate your gripping fingers, Curiosus Digitatus is born. And with our new hands, fruit that was once out of reach is now quite accessible. The social interactions of Curiosus Digitatus are also more complex, moving in larger herds across the vast open plains. With our coordinated movements and our theropod-like anatomy, we've never been higher up the food web than we are now. Some Curiosus Digitatus will even, on occasion, pick up sticks and hold them in their hands. While this is just out of curiosity for now, it is similar to the behavior of the early primates that gave rise to the first hominids.
With these curious grasping appendages, Curiosus Digitatus is on the cusp of evolving higher intelligence. Curiosus Digitatus now lives in larger nests. They can impress almost any species through their displays and hunt almost any species with their claws, fangs, and venomous saliva. And with another cartoonish graphic conveying that our brains have gotten bigger again, the final stage of our development is upon us. It's worth noting that while in Spore your creature evolves along a direct path to advanced intelligence, actual evolution is of course more meandering, with organisms adapting to physical changes in their environment and they do not necessarily increase in intelligence size over time.
But having a more streamlined journey through evolution makes Spore more exciting. Speaking of which, by going into the creature creator one last time, we can make the final updates. These include a four-part mouth, which is similar in some ways to the mouthparts of certain insects. Our fingers are also longer and more dexterous, with the critical beginnings of an opposable finger similar to a thumb, and our display structures are more extravagant than ever. Finally, our posture has become more upright. This remarkable iteration has earned the name Curiosus Sapiens. Looking to the future, the various social units of Curiosus Sapiens will continue to thrive and achieve greater complexity.
These intelligent omnivores have come a long way from their small filter-feeding starting point. Looking back through our history once again, it has been a long and winding road to get to this point. The post-cell and post-creature stages are all about technological development, so we won't cover them, at least in this video. Watching a creature evolve into Spore is still quite a special experience. Despite the age of the game, I often see people posting new things they've created online. I know Spore almost had more features and more realism, and while it's a shame those elements were cut, the simulated galaxy we're left with is still pretty unique.
I think part of what keeps people coming back to this game is that the experience is very much what you do. You can push the creature creator to its absolute limits and make absurd monstrosities, or you can try to stay within the lines of plausible biology. Up to you. I'd love to see another high-profile game tackle something similar, as I feel there's real potential for a modern, more scientific take on this concept. But for now, we can always turn to the weird and wonderful possibilities of Spore. As always, thanks for watching. If you enjoyed this post, please support us in helping make these videos possible by liking, subscribing, and hitting the notification icon to stay up to date on all things Curious.
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