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Spore - A Detailed Review of the latest Will Wright creation

by: Michael Hartman ; edited by: Michael Hartman ; updated: 4/17/2012 • Leave a comment

Billed as a "massively single player online game", Spore is the latest creation from computer game guru Will Wright ("Sim City", "The Sims", and more). How did Mr. Wright do? This review of Spore seeks to answer that question.

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    Graphics and Performance

    The graphics style of Spore is colorful and cartoony. Tropical environments are lush and vivid while volcanic or lifeless planets are appropriately barren wastelands with flowing magma and gouts of flame. Animations are crisp and smooth. This is amazing since they are created procedurally based on the limbs and other parts you put on your creatures, structures, and vehicles. Overall, the graphics are unique, interesting, artistically inspired, and amusing.

    Performance wise the game runs great on almost any computer at or above the recommended specs. I tested the game on three different machines of varying specs and it ran great on all of them at maxed or nearly maxed out settings. Only in the creature stage did I feel like the framerate was not as good as it should be when rapidly panning the camera. In that stage, the framerate drops actually made me motion sick on occasion.

    I should note that to play this game your video card must support the 2.0 pixel shader. Most graphics cards from the last 3+ years support this. If you can run DirectX 9.0 or higher, your computer probably supports pixel shader 2.0. It is mostly laptops that may lack pixel shader 2.0 support (for example, the Mobile Intel 945 Chipset does not support it).

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    Digital Rights Management (DRM)

    One of the most controversial things about this game is the relatively strict Digital Rights Management (DRM) implementation from Electronic Arts (EA, the publisher). You are only allowed to install Spore three times, and during each install it "phones home" to verify your CD Key. This means it contacts EA's servers to verify the validity of your key and that you still have available installs. EA has said that if you use all of your installs you can call them for more. This is the same DRM that was used for Mass Effect, a sci-fi RPG also published by EA.

    For most people, this DRM will have little effect and there are two side benefits:

    1. You do not have to keep the CD/DVD in your drive to play the game.
    2. In a single household you might only need one copy of the game for multiple people.

    Unfortunately, and despite claims in the manual to the contrary, you can only have one active Sporepedia account. I will explain the Sporepedia later in this review, but it is basically the community site where custom made creatures, buildings, and vehicles are stored. If more than one person in your household uses a single copy to play the game, everyone must share the same Sporepedia account, buddy lists, and so on.

    Interestingly, the tech website Ars Technica experimented with Spore to see exactly how many times the system would let them install Spore before it locked them out. They confirmed that multiple installs on the same machine did not use up "installs." It only counts installs on different machines. Further, they had no trouble getting more installs by calling EA's customer service. From their article:

    While the issue of the install limit is a touchy one, it doesn't look like a normal install will do much to use up your limit, and in fact we surpassed the install limit by a few times before running into an issue. Even after being told that we were "renting" the game, EA was happy to give us a new key to run the game. In this case, customer service wins, and we left wondering if the DRM controversy might be more philosophical in nature than rooted in any real-world inconveniences.