IFComp 2016: The Little Lifeform that Could

Spoilers follow the break.

The high concept: Spore in miniature. Over the course of five short chapters, you guide your lifeform from the primordial ooze to the stars. The decisions you make are along the same general lines as you’d make in a 4X strategy game: Trade with the strangers on the other side of the hill or make war on them? Devote your resources to expanding your influence or to researching flight technology? But it’s all very jolly and fun in feel — for example, the first rival civilization you encounter specializes in fancy hats.

I’ve played through this several times now — it encourages replay well, partly by keeping the pace snappy, partly by making it really obvious what the consequences of your choices are. It’s very linear in structure, driven more by inevitability rather than consequence, but it’s full of callbacks to your earlier choices. One of the earlier choices you make is whether or not your species has legs. If you decide it doesn’t, the word “slither” is used in reference to locomotion for the rest of the game. Befriend others, and you’ll be able to call on them later. Invent weapons, and later choices will give you the option of using them, although the tone will still stay jolly if you do.

In fact, I’d say that those last two represent the game’s fundamental choice: Friendship or violence, diplomacy or war. Sure, there’s more to the choices than that — you can look at the stats that the game is tracking, and there’s a Speed vs Patience stat, for example. But “Do I kill strangers” is such an obviously major choice that it kind of dominates the experience. I’m reminded of Stéphane Bura’s War and Peace, a “one-button Civilization” where switching between peace footing and war footing is literally the only thing you can do.

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