Maybe a bit wary of cynical games journos, the EA Bright Lights representative keenly talks about how the game he's demonstrating, namely Create, is trying to subvert what he calls the natural mindset of the gamer. For example, even the title screen is an interactive level in which players can manipulate, paint, and animate to their hearts' content, the idea being to immediately showcase the game's mantra of creative experimentation and deter from thoughts of completion and win states.
I think most people enjoyed the similarly sandbox-like title screen of Scribblenauts more than they did the clumsy campaign mode. Yet while a name like Create arguably suggests a product that will bravely refrain from typical game-like components, the game actually has two very distinct forms of play and one of them is certainly as much about challenge as it is creation.
Let's first consider the purely creative side. Basically, this facet of Create's play is about taking a pre-existing landscape template like a space station, graveyard, or country house and then throwing your creative touch all over it. Potential artists can make personalized masterpieces using a variety of tools, things like brushes, stickers, objects (which can also be animated) and sounds. There is a wide range of weird and wonderful objects to be used, things as simple as beach balls and skateboards to the more bizarre like a grumpy-looking troll or an old boot on a string. Each object has its own active and reactive properties as well. Balloons can lift and float objects tied to them, for example, but they can also be popped by strong impact. This plays more into the challenge side of the game, which I'll come to later.
The tools menu is simple and accessible, particularly in combination with PlayStation Move which is what I see in action today. Impressively, players can use the physics of the Move controller to affect the physics of animated objects in the world. I watch on as the rep selects a slowly moving cloud, gives the controller a swift flick, and then flings the cloud away which drifts off a little faster on the back of his momentum. The Move controller can also work as a nifty spray paint can - makes sense - and the reps say there's plenty more to its in-game application than what I see today.
Comparisons of this purely creative side of the play to something like LittleBigPlanet are valid, but in a odd way Create, the game with the broader title, has a clearer focus to its user-generated content. LittleBigPlanet offers a whole host of possibility within its level designer, whereas Create is more geared towards creating something artistic. Yes, the types of creation tools it employs aren't going to set the world on fire, but younger players should find it easy to get stuck into. There's an edge of 'My First Photoshop' about it, but that's no bad thing when there's a gap in the console market for just that.
The olive branch to the gamer, or maybe the necessary addition to distinguish Create as a game rather than a tool, is the challenge-based campaign. The comparisons people are making to The Incredible Machine are not just valid but absolutely apt. The challenge campaign - 140 challenges in total - is all about using objects and the environment to get something from A to B. These tasks all seem quite easy at a first glance, but the real fun comes from over engineering a solution.
The example I'm shown involves a buggy staying afloat across a chasm thanks to a number of carefully placed explosive devices, before being thrown into a tower which succumbs under the weight and collapses on a red button - challenge completed. The more stuff used and collected along the way, the great the score becomes through multipliers. And the better and more that you do, the more objects, levels, and decorations you unlock.
Over engineered solutions to otherwise simplistic puzzles is not that new to video games, but it's a clever way of hooking in creativity to what is otherwise standard puzzle play. Crayon Physics Deluxe is a strong example of game that really flourished when players were over engineering their solutions. But between them, the two forms of play bring up a few concerning questions. Can the two types of play, one artistic-orientated and the other more to do with engineering, appeal to the same player? Will this come together as a family game? Is there really enough within Create to make it stand out?
It's difficult to answer any of these questions at this stage, especially without having sat down with the game. We do know that it will be releasing across PC, Mac, Xbox 360, PS3, and Wii, and it could well be the latter which provides the greatest platform for commercial success. It's a shame, then, that the Wii's limitations prevent it from being part of Create's most intriguing of features. Everyone except Wii owners will be able to share their creations with other players across the web, be they whole levels or individual challenges. There'll also be featured weekly videos of the wackiest, most oddball solutions to challenges on the Create site. Again, it's the community that made LittleBigPlanet work, but is there enough here to suggest EA Bright Lights can keep players involved for the long run?
If this preview offers more questions than answers, it's because it's tricky to know how a game like Create will turn out. Even with my jaded journo hat off, and while I can see that it has potential, the scope of its artistic and engineering play is more difficult to truly perceive. EA Bright Light hopes that the game is something that will draw families in particular, but I worry that two such distinct forms of play will make Create a difficult game for parents to quickly get their heads round. True, there's enough colour, vibrancy, and accessibility within the game itself to draw young players in, while the engineering challenges may well appeal to the older ones. But is it enough?
If nothing else, and on the back of Move and a relative drought of games using the Wiimote to the best of its abilities, it will be very interesting to see just how well Create sells. We will create and see.