Thomas Vu explores Spore
Spore - the latest brainchild of Sims mastermind Will Wright - had teased us for long enough. It was time to sit down with Thomas Vu, producer of Spore, to find out what really is going on with EA's latest...
Thanks for chatting to us about Spore. How do you begin to describe Spore, when asked about it by someone who knows nothing, or very little, about gaming?
Spore is a computer game loosely based on the idea of evolution. The player starts out as a tiny microbe cell and eventually becomes a galactic space-faring race. Throughout all of this, the player has power over how their creature evolves. Should it be carnivore, herbivore, or omnivore? Should it be friendly to other species or seek to extinct their neighbors? Should it choose to be a military, religious, or economic superpower in its quest for global conquest? Should it be a benevolent space explorers or cruel exterminators of lesser life forms?
The player has the opportunity to define who they are because Spore is a game of possibilities and to that we’ve given the player powerful editing tools to define who they are. Whether that is a creature with 3 legs and 7 eyes full of spikes or a tank with giant rocket boosters that floats around from a zeppelin. The power to create in Spore is fully realized and this empowers the player to tell and share their individual stories.
Given that the game contains a number of seemingly distinct elements, how do you maintain continuity while ensuring players 'get' each part of the experience?
Think of the game’s five phases as stepping stones to the full Spore experience. Playing any individual phase will give you some perspective, but the complete experience of Spore is only fully realized starting out from the cell phase and completing the game at the end of the space phase. We’ve come to the conclusion that certain phases will appeal more to certain audiences, so, we’ve allowed access to any of the phases from the game entry. Think of this as your universe in a box where you can go anywhere and edit anything you’d like. Keep in mind though that certain rewards will only unlock through playing from the start of cell phase.
To tie all of these phases together, we’ve implemented the timeline. This tracks the history of the creature and every decision made by the player as they are proceeding through the game and allows for the continuity between the phases. In the end, Spore is an open-ended experience similar to SimCity and The Sims, where we don’t necessarily force the player through each part of the experience; instead the game strives to allow the player to direct their own path and pull whatever meaning and story that is gleaned from their experience with it.
How will the online / multiplayer side of Spore integrate with the singleplayer mode?
Spore has been called a massively single player online game, because once connected online, much of the content found in Spore will have been created by other players. We call this system Pollination and this content will include such things as creatures, buildings, vehicles, and even UFOs. Although Spore is a single player game, this pollinated content can be updated dynamically during each game session making every play experience unique.
To allow players this much creativity over the content of their game requires an equal amount of control over which content that comes into their game. We give players that control through the Sporepedia. The Sporepedia is where you go to view the aggregate of all the shared content created by other Spore players. Here, the player is able to browse through their Sporecast content and has the ability to decide which of the content they would like to show up in their game. A Sporecast is any set of created content that a player decides should be put together. For example, if a player wanted all things in their world to be thematically reptilian and the color purple, they could easily create a Sporecast of all the content created by others that fit into this category. These Sporecasts are then tagged to be easily searched by players who may want to subscribe to all things purple and reptilian. Access to Sporepedia isn’t limited to the game but can also be found on the Spore website allowing players to browse and manage their creation, Sporecasts and friends from anywhere as long as they are connected. The full Spore experience can only be appreciated once connected to others online.
Are you worried that even Sims fanatics will be daunted or even confused by the seemingly infinite possibilities of Spore?
Much of the development team on Spore had previously worked on the The Sims and SimCity line of products so there is quite a bit of knowledge and influence carried over from those franchises. For The Sims and SimCity players, playing Spore should feel familiar because of the infinite possibilities found in those games. As a sandbox game, The Sims allowed players to add a mixture of ingredients such as personality, relationships, and motives into their world producing emergent and oftentimes surprising results. In SimCity, the placement of zones, tax distribution and utility management contribute to its very large possibility space. Spore is in the same vein in that it requests limited controlled inputs from the player to output a great deal of possibilities and experiences that is strictly unique to the player and to his story. Ideally, The Sims fanatics will be the least daunted by Spore, because as a strategy/simulation game, The Sims is one of the deepest found in this genre.
The scope of ideas behind Spore is incredibly daunting and distilling them down into simple game mechanics for the player is what the team strives to do everyday. Taking a microscopic cell and evolving it into an intergalactic space-faring race, while interacting with thousands of creations along the way is conceptually a monumental undertaking. Ultimately, Spore is going to be consumed by the fans, and the fans and the community will be apart of its evolution and development, populating and pollinating each others’ universes and also ours.