Sneaky distractions

I’ve got all this work to get done right now, and what happens? Electronic Arts sends me the Creature Creator for their upcoming Spore video game (which is not going to be about evolution, no matter what their PR says — I’ve read the blurbs, and it’s all non-evolutionary). It is fun, though. And of course I quickly whipped up a pharyngupod:

Now I’m putting the game away. No more playing until I get back from my meetings this weekend.


  1. says

    Fuckity, fuck, fuck!

    I couldn’t get it to run on my machine last night!


    I’m going to try to find a good detonator driver tonight, and if not, well, I just may have to go Mac.

  2. Tulse says

    Beautiful, PZ — much better than I’ve done (although I have produced a few Elder Things and various other unnameable horrors).

  3. alex says

    from the website:

    You may choose to start with the Cell Stage and nurture one species from its humble aquatic origins to its evolution as a sentient species. Or you may decide to start by designing creatures, buildings and vehicles. What you do with your universe is up to you.

    teach both sides!

  4. Sastra says

    No more playing until I get back from my meetings this weekend.

    You don’t consider The Amazing Meeting in Vegas a form of play?

    (OT; you need to plan something there for the Pharynguloids, you know.)

  5. Patricia says

    Blasphemy again? You’re going to need treatment for something like that. ;)

  6. SteveM says

    I don’t know if this is any less “evolution” than that stick figure game in Dawkins’ The Blind Watchmaker It is a game after all, not an accurate simulation of abiogenesis. It would be much of a game if the player couldn’t “poke his finger in” to direct the action. It is what goes on between the “pokes” that qualifies as evolution.

  7. IBY says

    You got it for free!!
    Anyways, I have the demo version and saw my brother trying it, and wow, one can stretch one’s creativity with it really far.

  8. SteveM says

    Its rather annoying that even its creator, will wright, who otherwise seems like a relatively smart dude, keeps calling it evolution.

    If the creatures evolve (change over time) then it is evolution. Evolution is not only “natural selection”.

  9. Nentuaby says


    Please don’t support EA. They murder children.


    Figurative hyperbole, of course… What he was trying to say is that EA is to video games as Microsoft or IBM before them were to commercial computing. They have a really awful track record of doing things they can get away with solely because they’re a quasi-monopoly, things which really hurt consumers… Things like deliberately publishing nonfunctional software, or bundling their games with brutally intrusive DRM that can literally disable the user’s entire system. They have essentially the same stance on intellectual property as the MPAA or RIAA, i.e. that consumers have no rights whatsoever, only privileges they grant. And, to top it all off, they offer their employees some of the worst working-hours/pay ratios of any type of white collar employment in the U.S.

    So… Yeah. It was hyperbole, obviously, but baby-eating is a pretty apt hyperbole for the actual offense.

  10. wjv says

    Just a note, though: The Mac version is Intel-only. Which means I, for one, am out in the cold.

  11. Michelle says


    Hey, of course it’s not evolution…. It’s ID. :P Are you designing it or not?

  12. says

    What would an atheist evolution-game be like? You, the player, setting all the basic parameters and then watch the thing go? But then it’d be a god-game….

    If I were one of the fundies, my reasoning would be like this:
    1) You can’t have an atheist evolution-sim.
    2) But, you *can* have an ID god-game.
    3) Therefore, God exists and atheism is false.
    4) Also, god-games are blasphemy, so don’t play them.

  13. Hank Fox says

    Could someone whip up a Pierson’s Puppeteer? I’ve always been curious what they really look like.

    And maybe Woody Allen’s mythical “freen,” which I think I recall has “the body of a crab and the head of a certified public accountant.”

  14. Ted D says

    Oh, damn it. I haven’t bought a game in years but now I’m going to have to. I just spent half an hour making a velociraptor type thing in the demo. It was ungodly fun.

  15. Kseniya says

    Nentuaby: Ok, thanks for the explanation. I get it. I thought maybe the commenter was saying video games caused sedentary lifestyles and childhood obesity, and/or Columbine, or something along those lines. (The former isn’t completely untrue, actually.)

  16. randumbness47 says

    I’ve been waiting for this game to come out for a few years now, and I’m very excited to get a chance to play with the creature creator. While this game is clearly evolution by means of an intelligent designer (you), it can still be very fun. After all, this is a game and not biology lesson. Despite being a game about ID, it is decisively not the real, christian ID.

  17. Lord Zero says

    Sounds like fun… anyway, a real evolutionary
    game, would me more like a interactive screensaver…
    The game itself would do all, and you would just watch
    But again, that`s not gamer at all.
    Mmm, im going to try the demo.

  18. Santoki says

    Kseniya, sorry for the confusion. It was hyperbole. EA doesn’t actually murder children, but it is an evil corporation that overworks and abuses its employees to the point of mental breakdown. I’ve seen EA employees hospitalized due to duress. I’ve seen families torn apart.

    Evolution isn’t evil. But EA is definitely evil.

  19. Lledowyn says

    Perhaps a game that depicts evolution would be one in which you control the environment in such a way that it affects the fitness of a particular species that you’re interested in. For example, if you have a species that you want to get it to evolve a certain trait (e.g. a furry coat) you can affect the weather in some way so that non-furry animals die off, and only the furry ones remain. You could also control the predators that it could face, and such things to get them to evolve in a certain fashion.

    Of course, it’s still god-like since instead of intelligently designing, you’re futzing with weather, etc, but I think such a game would more accurately depict evolution. Either way, Spore is a game, and the point of a game is to get the person playing it involved somehow. So just play it and enjoy. :)

  20. Curt Cameron says

    I recently subscribed to the Discovery Institute’s “ID The Future” podcast, I guess because my blood pressure was too low. A couple of weeks ago they had a software artist who helped work on the Game Boy version of Spore, and Casey Luskin interviewed him because of the implications for the ID movement. I checked back later that day to see who he was, and at their web site, there was a notice that the audio file had been removed at the request of Amaze Entertainment, who was I guess unhappy with the association with DI.

    Here’s a link to the podcast episode’s web page.

  21. Bacopa says

    I take it this is a pretty big creature, and by “big” I mean at least a couple of orders of magnitude than a large roach? Looks like it’s experiencng 1G acceleration. If so, this creature has a terribly inefficient gait and will be eaten by any creature that walks or hops like a bird or dino, or even one that walks like a human. The splayed legs make the animal use too much energy just holding its body stable.

  22. Forti says

    Wow, I need to get me one of these.

    Did someone make a Zalif yet? (From Pullman’s HDM trilogy)

  23. says

    Obligatory sound bite:

    “Spore is no more an argument for Intelligent Design than The Sims was an argument that some invisible guy tells you when to use the toilet.”

    It’s unlikely to be raised as an issue, though. Endorsing a game that shows life developing from single-celled organisms, however the mechanism, would totally alienate ID’s fundamentalist support-base. Remember the backlash against Pokémon?

    Spore, for very basic reasons, can’t simulate real evolution by natural selection. The tools are too coarse. The algorithms that are used to determine how a creature would stand, walk, fight or dance are all predicated on it being built from a particular set of parts: a backbone that shapes the torso, pre-designed limbs, mouths and feet, and so on. You can’t make a creature that slithers across the landscape on dozens of tentacles, because the program only knows how to make a creature walk with legs. You can change the size and orientation of the hands you pick for your creature, but at some point you have to swap them out for some other hands that the program knows how to animate for a different purpose.

    Life does not have these restrictions. Instead of having to know in advance that some hand-shape can be used for grasping, it starts with the hand-shape and then works out how it could be useful. If it’s useful, it just might just survive to pass that on to the next generation.

    Spore looks like a damn fun game though. Consider me lined up to grab it in September.

  24. Mu says

    On a side note, the creature creator demo has a come under scrutiny on /. for hidden DRMware and “phone home” functionality EA forgot to mention.

  25. Crudely Wrott says

    As a user of tools in my daily grind, I’d like to see a Pfiffiltriggiy (sp?) from Out of the Silent Planet by C.S. Lewis. Those little Mars frogs were some kind of craftsmen!

  26. craig says

    PZ has created a God Damned thing.
    I’m serious. That is the exact spitting image of a creature from an old Hustler comic from the early 80s (don’t ask how I saw it as a teen).

    That creature was being chased down a sidewalk by another, different creature, two old women standing nearby. One woman says to the other “it’s just one god-damned thing after another.”

    But anyway, I swear, it’s that exact same creature.

  27. says

    I downloaded and played it last night. But making creatures can only go so far, I’ll just endure and wait for the full game… Then I’ll disappear from reality for months on end.

  28. says

    EA’s not evil. They’re just another corporation that wants to make money. They’re no more evil than any more of the big game companies. Want to use the word evil? How about applying it to the leaders of certain corporations. Especially the ones that hold peoples’ lives in their hands. Not the whole corporation.
    Sticking it to the man is cool until you realize just how many people the man happens to feed.

  29. TolgaK says

    Oh, good citizens of the Pharyngula blog.

    I bring you good tidings of SQUID! OCTOPUSES… OCTOPI… podi… Mollusks! AND VARIOUS OTHER CREATURES OF THE DEEP!!!




    Various cephalopods

    Dr. Zoidberg muhuhahahahhaaa

    Dr. Zoidberg Video!

    Bonus Marine Animal

    I love this game. If you want to download any for your creator, go to the sporepedia and look up tolgak.

  30. says

    In terms of the gaming industry, EA is pretty much the antichrist, and their new copy protection methods are just going to piss consumers off even more. But they have the market footing, they have the game base, there isn’t much we can do.

  31. Santoki says

    Kel sure there is! We can choose not buy EA games, and we can choose not to promote them on our websites!

  32. says

    It’s all well and good to say that, but as EA become bigger and bigger we aren’t left with much choice. It’s like bitching about Microsoft. Yes they are terrible, but realistically there is little we can do but support them. EA have the games, they have a good portion of the game development companies and they are constantly growing. There isn’t much a gamer can do at all other than support them or cease to be a gamer. And that isn’t real choice. It’s not like I can buy a rival companies version of Spore; there isn’t a rival version.

  33. says

    Yes, we all know that their is a fundamental flaw in this game passing itself off as evolution. I tried to contact Will Wright to get him to put an explanatory note in the box, as to the differences between this game and actual evolution. Oddly enough, he’s a hard guy to contact.

    Anyone who has ever heard Wright speak can’t really think that he doesn’t realize the issue. My concern is that this game is going to send me a whole generation of students with Spore-based misconceptions about evolution (“Spore-Marckianisms?”). Or that worse, it will be used by some ID prat to make a prattish point. But that’s why I teach.

    I can’t wait to play the full game…and I know that all of the techno-biology nerds that I hang out with feel exactly the same way. It is a revolutionary game on many fronts, the least of which is the quasi-evolutionary story line.

    And finally, Grassinator will destroy you all.

  34. says

    You people aren’t much for game design if you can’t think of a game which could include actual evolution and isn’t a screen saver. Don’t get me wrong. Watching some of the impressive Breve creatures evolve is fun and all but that’s hardly what you are limited to.

    How about a first person shooter against randomly created monsters which vary in a set number of settings? When one dies one of the currently living monsters is used as a template with slight variation, even just size, color, and pattern and speed would make a very profound point after a very short period of time as they quickly become small, fast, camouflaged monsters (unless you let them kill you and give some preference for that with some behavioral modifications could end up breeding giant superpredators, or campers, or (depending on the complexity) group hunters). — Unless somebody had the good sense to cull the herd and make giant slow pink blobs (with happy faces on them) which might be fun in its own right.

    You silly silly people. You could make great swaths of evolution games which *ACTUALLY* evolve.

  35. JM Inc. says

    #6: “non-evolutionary? Its intelligent design!

    Its rather annoying that even its creator, will wright, who otherwise seems like a relatively smart dude, keeps calling it evolution.

    #54: “Anyone who has ever heard Wright speak can’t really think that he doesn’t realize the issue.

    Yeah, on the Colbert Report, Wright jokingly said that it’s actually more like intelligent design, or, as the case may be, unintelligent design, depending on who plays it. He refers to it as a god-game and to players of the game as gods who get to intervene in a simulated world.

    If you watch his TED talk or his lecture at GDCe, he makes it pretty clear that he’s not aiming for a slavish recreation of evolution (if you wanted that, you could probably just create real life by having caches of bits compete for space in memory and processor runtime resources based upon their satisfaction of certain arbitrary criteria), but rather to, as he would put it, create toys that help people think about things in ways they normally do not. This would be especially evident later in the game where player has grown to become, essentially, a technologically enabled god, and gets to go to different planets and interfere with the biosphere, modifying concentrations atmosphere, moisture, mixing and matching organisms from different planets, creating new ones, and watching how it all plays out.

    On the whole, I’d say this game, if it’s anything, is a strike for our side, simply by way of attempting to make people even think about things like geological and astrophysical time and so on. I can’t imagine it’ll cause any mischief, or be co-opted to cause any mischief, that wouldn’t already have been done by one loony creationist misrepresentation or another. Besides, I’m sure the IDers will all be up in arms over the fact that the game portrays life arriving at the starting planet by way of desiccated extremophiles in a meteor, and not by The Hand of God 137.

    BTW, nice creature PZ. I myself made a salamander-like amphibious scavenger which I called an elbowfish, due to the fact that all of its limbs were jointed in the same direction. The main problem I have with the game, or… I guess since I haven’t played it yet, but the creature creator doesn’t seem to be able to allow you to fail – you can create nearly anything and the game will find some way to make it work, instead of just casting your twisted, disfigured freak to the ground in a heaving, writhing mass of tangled limbs and misshapen abdomen, as ought to have happened. I guess we’ll have to wait for the full game to see whether in the actual simulated environment (as opposed to the test drive arena), some creatures simply don’t make it, as opposed to merely having relatively slight reductions in fitness.

  36. SteveM says

    Sounds like fun… anyway, a real evolutionary
    game, would me more like a interactive screensaver…
    The game itself would do all, and you would just watch

    Now that you mention it, sounds like electric sheep

    Electric Sheep is a free, open source screen saver created by Scott Draves. It’s run by thousands of people all over the world, and can be installed on any ordinary PC or Mac. When these computers “sleep”, the screen saver comes on and the computers communicate with each other by the internet to share the work of creating morphing abstract animations known as “sheep”. The result is a collective “android dream”, an homage to Philip K. Dick’s novel Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?

    Anyone watching one of these computers may vote for their favorite animations using the keyboard. The more popular sheep live longer and reproduce according to a genetic algorithm with mutation and cross-over. Hence the flock evolves to please its global audience. You can also design your own sheep and submit them to the gene pool.

  37. B. Dias says

    I was going to email PZ about it, but it seems that our friends at EA PR got to him first.

    As a fan of biology and a game design nerd, I’m very anxious to see the full game.

  38. says

    As a game design nerd, I’m very anxious to see the full game.

    Yes, from a game programming perspective, this game is pure sex. Procedural generation is an amazing technology and I can’t wait for a time when it can be properly implemented. One of my mates at uni did his honours on the topic and got a human to walk based entirely on algorithms and physics. It was awesome and allows for so many variations to games.

  39. tootiredoftheright says

    Ah there is no gameboy version. There is Spore Creatures which is a DS stand alone game that is different from the console and pc version of Spore. has details and impressions from the DS game. That ID interview got taken down because it was pure and utter crap. Maxis is handling the DS version. also details more on the game. Once again the developer is Maxis.

    Amaze Entertainment is a division of Foundation 9 Entertainment and mostly handles movie and other licensed enteraiment properties in other words usually crap games or at best average. They have nothing to do with Spore or Will Wright. Last EA published game by them was in 2006. Last published game was in 2007.

    Spore is coming to the wii btw later this year from what Will Wright has said.

    There are several videos detailing the game’s algorithms in particular one with Robin Williams you know from Mork and Mindy showing off the capabilites of the Spore creature creator as well as showing some of the stages of the game.

    It’s a god game pure and simple.

  40. Crudely Wrott says

    @47, scrabcake

    I followed that link and downloaded the Gene Pool program and that was two and a half hours ago. Now I’m late for supper!

  41. pcarini says

    Brownian, are you getting DirectX type errors, like incorrect version or missing a .dll? If so, I was able to resolve that problem for myself by following the advice on this thread. It basically boils down to downloading the correct .dll, if you’re having the same problem.

  42. says

    pcarini, I ended up buying the full version and upgrading my graphics driver. But the problem was solved by uninstalling the EA download manager through add/remove programs.

    I got that from a thread, but I can’t remember where.

  43. travc says

    What a very lovely, downright Lovecraftian critter. How cute ;)

    EA is pretty lame, but Maxis is way cool… and this is very much a Maxis title. Hopefully the extremely crappy recent offerings CivCity and SimCity-whatever were because all the good designers were working on Spore.

  44. travc says

    I’m a bit confused by all the ‘it isn’t evolution’ stuff… Wright really does ‘get’ evolution, and I’m pretty sure the full game implements heritable variation and selection.

    Anyone remember ‘SimLife’? The manual for that actually has a very good section on Artificial Life (circa 1992) complete with journal article references. My adviser (population genetics prof) actually has a copy sitting around the office someplace…

  45. themadlolscientist says

    =LOL= Kickass Rude-Crude-n-Full-o-Tude Pimpin Mofo Hiphoptopus is IN DA HOUUUUUUUUUUUUSE, b*tchz!

    @ Steve_C: I counted 8 legs. Two of ’em are really short, though.

  46. craig says

    Well I played with it, and its ok, but I preferred evolving and selectively breeding fish in El Fish.
    But nobody remembers that game. I really wish for an up to date version.

  47. Viadd says

    You’re going to blow your cover if you keep designing things in your own image.

  48. amk says

    The Hand of God 137

    Consider Phlebas?


    Controversial as it was, Steam is a reasonably friendly way of enforcing IP, and it seems open to indies. Being able to make backups is very useful. InstantAction (still in beta) does a similar thing, using a web browser instead of a separate client.

  49. G Barnett says

    When the full thing comes out, I’ll see how many of James White’s “Sector General” species I can put together. Orligians should be ok (killer teddy bears, rawr!), probably Tralthans, too. Not too sure about the caterpillar-types tho’ (Melfans, I think?)

  50. G Barnett says

    Woops, I meant Kelgian, not Melfan. D’oh!

    Shows how long it’s been since I read any of the books.

  51. Nova says

    I know we’re not supposed to play favorites but this game is the brainchild of an atheist :D

    In response to those who lament it not being real natural selection, that would be a movie and not a game. Even Americans won’t use this game as proof of intelligent design and it shows animals changing dramatically which even if it is by an intelligent design process still flies in the face of actual DI intelligent design.

  52. says

    Scrabcake, thanks for the ventrella links. In addition to making creatures all last night, I ran both Darwin’s Pond and Gene Pool.

    So awesome.

  53. Pteryxx says

    Would Pharyngula readers consider tagging their creatures with ‘biology’ or some such, and forming a community? I for one would like to seek out those creatures that are made with some eye to reality and survival, instead of just being cute, weird, or parodies.

  54. says

    Okay, Pteryxx, I’ll tag my beasties with ‘pharyngula’ (as did you, I see). I don’t know how much it’s possible to focus on reality/survival without the game to test, but at least we can start a community.

  55. T-1000 says

    So with an understanding of evolutionary development and genetic engineering could we make creatures from Spore real?

  56. says

    Pteryxx: I had already tagged my “P’zyMyrz” squid creature as “biologist” at least (see link in my first post above). :D I’ll add “Pharyngula” and “Biology” tags to it now, too.

  57. Akari_House says

    Actually, though, he does fall more into the “just being cute, weird, or parodies” categories though. Ah well. :)

  58. Prillotashekta says

    I like the “pharyngula” tag idea.
    Took theliberty of adding it to some of my more realistic critters.

  59. says

    I was disappointed that your Pharynguloid didn’t consume any of its competition. A nice juice (Ken) ham, perhaps. With a nice Chianti. And some fava beans.

  60. amphiox says

    I remember watching an interview on a TV program (X-Play?) a while back where one of the programmers associated with Spore came right and said it explicitly: Spore isn’t really evolution, but more intelligent design, so the gamer could be more directly involved.

    I’d like to see a game with both modes of play as options. You can have “God Mode” where you get to control everything and design your creatures, and you can have “Darwin Mode” (or something like that) where the critters are randomly generated and you get to tweak the environment ala Avida repackaged as a game. And you could be able to switch back and forth. Say design several creatures initially then sit back and watch them compete against each other and evolve. (Or intervene from time to time with some miracle for a favored lineage, or to smite one you don’t like)

    Maybe even a third “Auto” or “Reality Mode” where you can let it run and sit back and watch, maybe even as an actual screen saver or a little window in the background while you do other work.

    I think a game like that could even by positively educational, because you could compare the results you get between ID mode and natural selection mode and see how they differ. (The programming would have to be pretty sophisticated, granted.)

  61. pcarini says

    I’ve started tagging mine with ‘pharyngula’ also. They’ll be the ones that don’t fit in, because I’m putting zero thought into them. I’m just adding bits and then posting what comes out…

  62. says

    You really shouldn’t endorse a game that so violently intrudes into your personal space with its ouotrageous DRM schemes (securom anyone?) that also has a pretty good chance of irreprably damaging your computer with its rootkit like activities.

    It’s Sony’s personal big brother apparatus so to speak.

  63. Xeno says

    I’ve encountered several people who seem to think Spore is an accurate depiction of evolution – both creationists AND self-proclaimed evolutionists (!).
    This worries me that Spore might turn out to be a game that further muddles public perception of evolution. That may sound alarmist, and it may be an unfounded fear, but consider that one of the people I’m talking about created a big image of Richard Dawkins endorsing the game. Regardless of whether Dawkins likes the game or not, the fellow who made it was not joking, not a creationist and actually thought the image implication made sense. A lot of other contributors complimented it.

    For the record, I like Will Wright and I like Spore as a game concept. Depending on what stupidity EA decides to clamp down the game with I might buy it.

    Regarding the question “what would an evolution-based Spore game look like”, some of you have suggested a game where you manipulate the environment to indirectly manipulate life. I believe that game was called SimEarth. It was not that good, but there it is.
    SimLife was somewhat similar, but focused on the ecosystem.

    If I were to suggest an idea, I would base it around natural selection. You’d still be playing a godlike manipulator (I think any interaction from player to game would require that aspect – game theorists, enlighten me!), but the game would control the competing factors (making up the “conflict” portion of the game), while you try to outwit it by selecting which of the randomized Creature X get to mate.
    Actually, when I typed that down it sounds almost too simplistic for a game.

    Any additional suggestions?

  64. Jeff says

    I’ve been following thing game for a while, and think it looks amazing. However, I remember a video in which Will Wright specifically described it as a game about teleological evolution, NOT real evolution.

  65. amk says

    You really shouldn’t endorse a game that so violently intrudes into your personal space with its ouotrageous DRM schemes (securom anyone?) that also has a pretty good chance of irreprably damaging your computer with its rootkit like activities.

    I was going to suggest waiting to see if it’s available via Steam, but according to Wikipedia the Steam version of Bioshock still contained SecuROM.

    I’m wondering if SecuROM installed by the Bioshock demo is why I can’t update my DVD-R firmware.

  66. Stan says

    Perhaps a game that depicts evolution would be one in which you control the environment in such a way that it affects the fitness of a particular species that you’re interested in.

    Will Wright made that game 16 years ago. It’s called SimLife. It’s crude, obviously, but loads of fun.