Spore: Why The Best is Yet to Come
Maxis Executive Producer Morgan Roarty reveals what's in store for Spore, and talks us through Galactic Adventures.
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Spore's problem isn't so much quantity over quality, as quantity over usability. A fanciful five-stage evolution sim, the game relies on user-generated content in much the same way first person shooters rely on exploding oil barrels and role-playing games leverage teen angst: players cobble together their very own species, picking a skin colour, number of orifices and so forth, and shepherd it through history from primordial soup to outer space, constructing cities and new technologies, customising their creation's behaviour and competing with rival organisms. The objects, devices and entities you concoct along the way are automatically uploaded to a central database, rated or slated, then used to furnish the game worlds of other players.
This seamless marriage of preset and emergent content, unprecedented in its scale, met no shortage of interest when Spore hit PCs last September - user creations broke the 100 million mark this May - but the sheer volume of biological and mechanical oddities is now, as Maxis Executive Producer Morgan Roarty admits, drastically out of proportion to the potential applications.
"The lament is: '100 million things and not a ton to do with them,'" he comments ruefully when Kikizo drops by for a chat about Galactic Adventures, the first expansion pack. "I'll admit it, the number doesn't create the same buzz internally as it did, and I don't think it does externally either. It's just too big a number, like Bill Gates's wealth - is it four billion or five billion? Doesn't really matter."
But not to worry - Galactic Adventures will soon be here to set things right. "This expansion pack is a great way of getting meaning out of all that content. There are some incredible things that people have made, and we want to give them another way to show them off." Roarty explains. "Because even if you look at the best editors and creators out there, unless you happen to be browsing www.spore.com or "buddy" with them, you're not going to run across all their brilliant creations, but this is a way you can. It's a direct incorporation into your game.
"We went back to the drawing board and said 'What can we do to get more meaningful creativity out of all those assets, what can we do to get people to go back and use all those assets?' Because they get used in the core game, but not to the extent that we were happy with, so we had this idea of Galactic Adventures - this idea of making an editor to make adventures out of."
As the name implies, Galactic Adventures takes effect during the final, deep space exploration stage of the original game. Fleshing out the terraforming feature to Book of Genesis levels is part of the picture. "One of the things we didn't have in Spore was the ability to pollinate your planet, to be able to customise completely your planet. You could terraform it, but we didn't give you a ton of controls. But now we give you the full planet, and you can go in and change all the colouring - of the terrain, of the water, of the sky, the atmosphere. You can add your own fauna and flora, play with the time of day, come down and change the temperature to make a really cool planet, or full lava. So before these were all developer tools for original Spore, and now we've given them all to the player."
But planet pimpage is just the tip of a monstrous iceberg. Galactic Adventures lets you transform those planets into what are effectively action-adventure game levels, complete with missions, enemies, hazards, vehicles and rewards, which are then parcelled up and distributed among the Spore community along with the rest of the user-created content. As they explore their own universes, other players can beam a "hero" creature - living and breathing, rather than holographic - onto alien planets and tackle those levels.
"So if you've played it a ton, beaten the Grox," Roarty goes on, "when you buy the expansion pack, the next planet you visit, you're going to start kicking into these adventures that Maxis has made. Once you run out of those - 30-odd or so - it's the community, similar to LittleBigPlanet, making all these adventures. We have a rating system, a difficulty system. You've got all this extended gameplay in your game."