At each of Spore’s five stages, from the microbiotic to the intergalactic, there is an eternal choice: kill or... don’t. When you start, as a microbe with teeth, it’s kill or be vegetarian. When you evolve enough to crawl from the primordial soup to dry land, it’s kill or sing little songs to befriend things. Once your species forms a society and decides what buildings to have in its first village, it’s kill or bring plates of oranges to appease semi-sentient tangles of legs and mouths. At the civilisation level, it’s build killing-machines or maraca-factories. Maracas, of course, help when you’re doing a little dance to befriend a bristling heap of fanged mouths.
Two things surprised us about the nonviolent side of Spore once we got to play it: firstly, we really enjoyed it. Much more than the killing, which is generally just a matter of clicking on the creature you want to bite to death. We enjoyed dancing for a bag of eyes to make it our bitch. We enjoyed trying to copy a many-fanged bipedal lizard when he played dead for our amusement, to demonstrate that we weren’t so different. We never managed to kit out our army with maracas, but we’re willing to bet we would have enjoyed that too.
All screens are from the PC version
The other surprising thing is that we sucked at it. We like to think of ourselves as masters of diplomacy, and yet somehow our first attempt to impress the Pugzli race ended with us throwing the picked-clean skull of one of their children into their chieftain’s face. Wait, we can explain. See, first we tried killing them. No, wait, we can explain that too. That wasn’t to impress them. We just wanted to try the combat before we tried the socialising. We figured they weren’t smart, they wouldn’t spot that we’d just killed and eaten two of their kin. Or that we’d picked up both their skulls and were now wearing them as gloves.
We didn’t know you could do that. We also didn’t know that, even in ‘social’ mode, the default action when clicking another creature and holding something is to throw the thing at that creature, friend or foe. But what really offended the Pugzli was that, when their chieftain recovered from the posthumous flying headbutt, he performed a complicated stomping dance that we weren’t able to repeat. We could never be friends.