August 14, 2008 / 11:15 AM / 11 years ago

Want to learn astrobiology? Pick up the console

SAN DIEGO (Reuters) - Take a group of scientists and a video game designer and what do you get? Spore, a game that can help teach players some evolutionary biology.

Game designer Will Wright speaks about his latest game SPORE at a promotion event in Singapore August 13, 2008. REUTERS/Tim Chong

The game is latest from Will Wright, the man behind The Sims which has become the most successful video game ever and best seller for Electronic Arts Enc ERTS.O

That franchise lets players build the homes and lives of virtual characters and is also a rare PC-born franchise that appeals to women with over half of The Sims players women.

But with Spore, which was four years in the making, Wright has made a life creation simulator where players can conjure up creatures from DNA and then guide their evolution with the ability to create unique aliens, spacecraft and planets.

“Spore was very much inspired by many different types of sciences,” Wright told Reuters, listing physics, chemistry, biology, sociology, and astronomy.

“We spent a lot of time meeting a lot of scientists very early on in developing this game to find out what areas would be interesting to bring into the game.”

Wright said that Spore was designed as a cross-media franchise and, like The Sims which continues to spawn new console, handheld and mobile offspring, will be heading to consoles in the future.

With its September 7 launch comes an iPhone game and also a National Geographic HD documentary on the science behind the game.

Wright said he spoke to a lot of scientists about evolutionary biology as he created the game.

“We’re using Spore as a nexus for explaining these theories on evolutionary biology,” he said.

As part of the development of this game, Wright worked with the SETI Program (Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence).

Wright said the goal is to use Spore as part of SETI’s educational outreach to introduce astrobiology to students at the high school level although it also has a “fun factor.”

Just two weeks after a $10 “Spore Creature Creator” editor was released to the public in June, over 2 million creatures had been uploaded to the Spore universe. Wright said it would take his team 50 years to make that much content.

“Millions of people contribute content like planets, buildings and creatures to your game, but it’s not real-time,” said Wright.

“You’re seeing copies of people’s stuff, so you can go up and blow up a planet and you haven’t ruined their experience.”

The virtual universe of Spore will constantly be updated with new user-generated content, which is woven into the single-player game experience. Wright calls this new type of game a “massively single-player online experience,” since it allows players to communicate online, while playing out unique evolutionary adventures.

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When it comes to all of the user-generated creativity, Wright’s already looking into new ways to utilize this content.

“We’re exploring using these databases to populate other games, where we might have all of the vehicles from the vehicle editor used in a different game under the Spore umbrella that’s a very different experience than Spore,” said Wright.

(Editing by Belinda Goldsmith)

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