Massively Single Player Online GameEdit
A massively single player online game takes both the aspects of a single player game, lacking direct interaction with other players and static content, and a massively multiplayer game, which has direct interaction of other players and dynamic content. In Spore, the game will be largely single player with no direct interaction with other players, but content will be multiplayer; the content can be shared across all copies of the game. Creatures created by users will be uploaded to a central database controlled by Maxis and re-distributed to players wishing to add more variety to their game by populating their world, and other worlds, with content created by users. The process of populating through the download of other players' content is completely asynchronous in terms of game-play. The use of such content is completely optional, but will continue the idea of natural selection across the entirety of Spore.
In a sense, this attempts to get the best of both worlds - the depth and detail that can be poured into a single player game without regard for the complications brought on by multiplayer gaming (such as balance issues, uniqueness between players, grieving and so on), and the ability to see other player's efforts and play-styles in your game. Spore is possibly the first game to attempt this approach; combining together the observed efforts of modding communities for other games, and the game itself into one to create the first well-known example of it's kind.
In Spore, content that ranges from life-forms, to buildings to entire planets will be fed into the player's galaxy through analyzed pollination. Content will be added to the world based on the user's playing style, or graphical style in terms of buildings and vehicles. Also, with the use of a "friends list", it seems likely that the player will be able to manually pick some or all of their content from their friends, or their friend's content will take precedence over other content in the world.
User-created content is by no means a new concept, having occurred for many games. It could be argued that the longevity of certain games is self-perpetuating once a modding community appears and begins to thrive - mutability of games and game content have recently become a factor in deciding just how loved a game will be and how long it will remain actively played by people. User-created content is normally created by means of programs or tools external to the game, but Spore attempts to take a new approach by means of making said tools part and parcel of the game itself. This way, the "modding community" is essentially expanded to absolutely everyone who plays Spore and uses the in-game editors, and not just groups or individuals with the right tools and know-how.
Again, in-game editors are not a recent concept, but with other games you essentially had to export the created content, then find somewhere to host it and properly promote it for it to be gained by other players, as well as avoid viral file contamination, file corruption, and the like. Spore's approach essentially cuts out the middle man, and nullifies all of these issues with it's content pollination system - the only prerequisite is that you have an internet connection, or possibly a friend with one. Also, it is not just the editor that molds your content - your playing style plays a part in determining the creature's ways and how it will show up on other people's computer. If you play a violent and brutal creature, they will be the same when uploaded to another user's computer, giving them someone to fight. This does not just go for creatures, but also flora, vehicles, and just about all in-game content.
In Spore, all content will be player created. Because of that, the computer needs to figure out how to implement the creations into the game. It does so using "Procedural Programming". In this method, inspired by the Demo Scene of non-commercial software programmers, all created materials are applied to codes and algorithms that have been programmed into the game. This, overall, saves massive amounts of space in the game, shrinking down the size of the content to around 1K.
Procedural Generation applies to many things in Spore, most notably creatures. Once you create your creature, the program must then figure out how it moves and performs various actions, as well as how it sounds. The Texture Editor also uses procedural generation to correctly apply a texture to your creature to make it look as visually appealing as possible with the selected texture. This is an innovative step for editors in general, given that most other "Build your Own" type editors only allow for the adding on of parts to a pre-defined frame, ultimately limiting the creative output. Whereas with other editors the content is already there and the methods are already coded in before you even make your creation, Spore has to figure out how it works on the fly, allowing for many more possibilities. In a sense, Procedural Generation is the very defining reason that allows Spore's editor to be so versatile.
Presently, little is known about how Procedural Generation has a hand in crafting landscapes you will see on planets, but it is likely that it has free reign over doing so. Currently in the videos, worlds of vastly different shapes and colors have been seen, ranging from realistic rolling grassland-like planets, to bizarre purple spiky worlds with green oceans, to dark and foreboding lava worlds. In spite of the lack of knowledge, it is a safe assumption to make that procedural generation will provide a huge wealth of varying planets to explore.
Once you reach the Creature Stage, the game begins to monitor your environment and the ecosystem. If, for example, the planet the player are on is being overrun with weak herbivores that are eating all the plants, the game will automatically look in the online database of creatures to find some predators. It will then look in more detail at those predators to find which ones would best suit the environment and also eat plenty of the little herbivores. Then, it will download a couple of those species and add them into your game. This ensures that the ecosystem doesn't overbalance and collapse. It also makes sure that the player is never quite the toughest animal around.
Procedural Generation also plays a part in the texture editor. The textures are not simple painted-on overlays, but attempt to attain some degree of realism by analyzing the build of the creature, it's body parts and bodily areas such as the belly, back, neck and so forth, and how best to apply the texture across the creature. The result is that the texture remains somewhat realistic.
After you have created your creature, the program uses Procedural Generation to figure out there and then how the creature should move, fight, dance, and so forth. This removes the need to have any kind of preset chassis or requirements on your creature, allowing the player to have as much free reign as possible. It is not known whether or not this also applies to vehicles.
Traditionally in 3d model animation with regards to in-game movement, all motions are pre-defined and can only usually be combined in specific cases, restricting what the player can do at any given time. Since all animation in Spore is done on site by the Procedural Generating, this means the player can perform several actions at once. An example of this was the Willosaur in the '05 presentation taking a bite out of it's kill, then moving to a new spot, resulting in the Willosaur dragging the food away while still eating.
One of the most unique and fascinating things about Spore is the sandbox nature of the game once it has reached the galaxy level. Most games start with exploration to help learn about the tools and game-play of the game, but Spore begins with goal-oriented tasks in the other levels in order to learn how to fully control the extensive features Spore has so that the galaxy stage, which is not goal-oriented at all, can be explored to the fullest. Like a physical sandbox, the entire extensive galaxy of Spore is up to the user to be molded. The user can experiment with the interaction of different species, mould the atmosphere and surfaces of planets, aid other species in evolution, and many other possibilities. At this level, Spore becomes more than anything about creativity and exploration.
In this sense, Spore is not so much a game as it is an article of electronic entertainment, seeing as how calling it a game would imply you are playing to win or meet some form of objective. By the advanced space stage, you are essentially doing whatever you please, however you please, at your own pace. It is more akin to lego or clay in that you make your own objectives and meet them in a way of your own choosing, and both the means and the end product are yours to call your own.