Jesse Cravens

Building Modern Web Applications and Teams that Deliver

Spore: Teaching the TEKS Science Objectives

I often demo games to determine if they could be used to teach the learning objectives set by the Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills. While there are many games that theoretically could fit this ‘standards’ mold, there are also many other challenges to implementing video games in the classroom effectively. (possibly a future blog post) spore.jpg I have tried games such as Civilization, Railroad Tycoon, Sim City, and they all were a hit for a relatively short amount of time. Simply put, they just dont have the long lasting excitement of a game such as Halo 2. It is very difficult to keep children engaged. Mark Prensky calls it “Engage or Enrage.” I couldn’t agree more. I have been watching for the release of a new game: Spore. Will Wright’s new release, due out Spring of 2007, offers new hope for an exciting game that may serve some educational purposes.

from the TEA website:

(8) Science concepts. The student knows that complex interactions occur between matter and energy. The student is expected to: (A) define matter and energy; (B) explain and illustrate the interactions between matter and energy in the water cycle and in the decay of biomass such as in a compost bin; and (C) describe energy flow in living systems including food chains and food webs.

…from the Spore website.

What is Spore? Spore is Will Wright’s (Sim City, The Sims) new masterpiece. Spore starts a player out as a single-cell organism swimming around in a primordial soup. As Will Wright explains it, this stage of the game is essentially like Pac-Man, and you basically devour microbes smaller than you while avoiding those that are larger. You can upgrade your cell by adding cilia, flagella, and other defense mechanisms in order to gain any advantage possible for a single cell. From there you’ll move on to the “water world” phase of evolution. Your single-cell organism becomes a multi-cell organism. At this point, the gameplay switches from 2d to 3d but is still essentially the same: devouring the less fortunate and avoiding the bullies. As time passes, you will be able to lay an egg and evolve further; rid yourself of fins and acquire legs. Once on land (should you choose to emerge from the sea), you’ll find yourself a part of a rich world inhabited by other player-created creatures. Unlike traditional massively-multiplayer on-line games, you won’t be squaring off against other players in real time competition. Instead, when a player creates a new creature it is saved to a master on-line server. Your world will be populated by creatures that will help bring balance to your ecosystem. In this way, you will experience the off-the-wall creations of other players without having to worry about being bullied. As Wright demonstrated at E3, you’ll be able to teach your creature new behaviors by combining preexisting ones. A creature that knows how to eat can pick up food in it’s mouth and drag it to another location, for example. The possibilities presented to the player in terms of creation are truly remarkable. To continue evolving, you must find a mate by emitting a mating call. What follows is romantic R&B music highlighting sweet love making. You creatures will begin to band together once their brain has evolved far enough. At this stage of the game, the player must manage a tribe of the creature they created. Players can upgrade huts and add items to camps such as a campfire. Still, this is just the beginning of Spore. Before long, your mere tribe will be a full-fledge thriving city. With these upgrades in technology, players may customize their creatures further by adding additional upgrades. The cities themselves can be tweaked in almost any way imaginable. Players at this level of the game can build military machines and attack other cities if they should choose to. Finally, the player’s creature creation will reach a point in technology where they can create a UFO. With the UFO, the player can cruise around their planet “abducting content” such as other creatures or plant life. The UFO can also zoom out into outer space. Initial impressions of the game indicate that this is where the real fun begins. With the UFO, players can literally visit millions of other planets full of other player’s creations. From the sounds of it, Spore is going to be a monumental game that empowers the average gamer with one heck of a creative tool.

Way cool.