Here's what I know so far, and I'll post some quotes too:
Release date - Sept. 7th, 2008
What is Spore?
Spore is the evolution of Will Wright’s Sim series (Sim City, The Sims, etc). Spore will be a Sim-everything. You will be able to create and evolve a creature from the cells up. You’ll control and evolve your creature as he morphs from a single-celled organism until his species is conquering the galaxy.
Will describes the game as a massively single-player game: while the gameplay is all single player, the content in your world is asynchronously pulled from other user’s machines. This means that everything you see in the game is actually created by other players. Read more about content sharing.
How Spore works:
While playing Spore, you will go through six different stages of gameplay that dictate your specific goals for the stage of game you’re playing. Throughout these stages, you will use associated editor to create the content you see in the game. The gaming engine will use procedural generation to bring life into the creatures and objects you create.
Spore’s gameplay is very different than most games. The entire game is split up into six phases of gameplay, also known as meta games. Each stage has different goals and different interaction with your creature.
The six phases...
Tide Pool phase
Tide pool phase:
In this stage of the game, you will start off as a microscopic creature fighting for survival. You will direct your creature to move around a 2-D landscape in order to eat things that will make you grow, and run away from things that will hurt you. Luckily for us, Jenova Chin has created an almost exact replica of the game play in Flow in Games. It’s a great demonstration and shows the basics behind this stage at which you will continue to grow until you access the creature editor and can make your creature evolve.
At this point your main goal is to rapidly evolve your creature to his final stage in a 3-D world. You will continue through the game, eating enough food to access the creature editor where you can add body parts and shape your creature. At this point you can choose to move your creature out of the water, or remain to build an aquatic species. You can choose to give your creature a spine or not, it’s all up to you.
Most of your time during this stage will once again be avoiding enemies and finding food. You can experiment with different types of limbs and body shapes in order to make the creature you want. You can choose to make an aggressive creature that fights his way through the world, or a passive herbivore that runs really fast.
You enter the tribal stage once the genetic structure for your creature is complete. At this point, a few of your creatures gather and you are no longer directly in control of your creature. Instead, you can give your creatures tools, and plant objects in their world to see how they react. For example, you could plant a bundle of spears next to your creatures, and they may or may not realize they are weapons.
The goal in this stage of the game is to continue building up your tribe of creatures until their hut (the main living quarters) advances far enough that they can start building other buildings, and move into the city stage.
This stage of the game is very reminiscent of Sim City - one of the staples of Wright’s career. You can now use the creature editor to create different buildings for your city. You will manage the economy and well-being of your little city of creatures until they have defined what their civilization will look and feel like. You can choose to model their buildings however you wish so that their appearance can be very cartoonish or even very industrial-like — it’s all up to you.
Now you enter into the point in the game in which your city starts interacting with other cities and creatures. You can maintain peaceful relations, or enter into wars with other colonies. Your job is to keep your city the dominant one and conquer the world, one city at a time.
Once your civilization has advanced far enough, you will be able to purchase a UFO. This UFO will be able to leave your planet and scout other planets. You can use it to populate other worlds with your species, or build a completely new ecosystem somewhere else. The UFO has tools that allow you to terraform other planets so that they’re suitable for life. You can even abduct different creatures from your world and plant them on new ones to see how they will react.
After you experiment around with your local planets, you’ll be free to go anywhere in the universe. You can take your UFO and travel to new galaxies and make contact with alien species. Whether you decide to make peace with them, or destroy their world is up to you. However, beware that there will be consequences for destroying other civilizations as they will have intergalactic allies that may retaliate against your civilization.
One of the greatest aspects of Spore is that nearly everything you see will be created by other players. From the creatures populating worlds to the very world itself — everything is asynchronously pulled from a central database.
Asynchronous sharing of content merely means that your computer will upload and download new creatures in the background while you are playing the game. You won’t need to press any buttons that “sync up” your game, or worry about not having any creatures in your world - it’ll all just happen in the background.
Your world is created by other players:
This is one of the most exciting aspects of the game - everything you experience in the world will be created by other players. That means that when another creature attacks your creature, the attacking creature will be a creature that maybe your friend down the street created. This will keep the game fresh and very different for each person playing the game.
All of the content in the game that you encounter will be stored in something called a Sporepedia. The Sporepedia is kind of like a collection of trading cards with various objects on them. For example, a Sporepedia card for one of the creatures you make will have a small shot of your creature, it’s basic statistics as far as intelligence, speed, strength, etc and how it has fared in other players games (whether it loses a lot of fights or wins many).
Unlike most games on the market today, Spore will rely on procedural generation to deliver its content rather than hiring hordes of artists to generate gigabytes of artwork. The premise is simple: use programmatic methods to generate artwork rather than creating millions of textures, shapes, and behaviors by hand.
The old way and the “Mountain of content” problem:
Traditionally, video games hire several artists to individually create the content for the game. Each building, each person, each texture you see in the game is usually created by an artist. This content is then saved into individual files and loaded up each time you start the game.
The problem becomes when the scope of the game increases. As levels start expanding, more and more content is required. In order for players to have a seamless experience, hundreds — maybe even thousands of similar objects need to be created. Some games have thousands of trees for example. So, how do you create enough content to fill up a Sim-Everything? Do you hire thousands of artists to construct the universe from hand? It becomes clear that there has to be a better way.
Enter procedural generation:
The premise of procedural methods is built on the simple idea to use programmatic methods to generate content. Instead of hiring an artist to design 10,000 trees, an algorithm could be developed to create 10,000 trees based upon the surroundings and random defects.
Procedural generation also gives Spore the power to bring creatures made in the creature editor to life. The game will analyze the bone structure and body shape of your creature and figure out how your creature will walk, play, eat, and sound like.
Procedural generation coupled with content sharing allows Spore to encompass everything from individual cells to the Universe itself.
Pretty fuckin' cool yeah? Check out http://www.spore.com for screenshots and movies (looks neat), and there's also http://www.totalspore.com which is a fansite w/ forums and lots of info.