Two hours is not a long time in gaming terms. Time enough for a tutorial, maybe, or a handful of cut-scenes - at most a quick blast through a first act of easy victories.
But that isn't always the case. Sometimes, two hours can be a lifetime - and for all the right reasons. In our preview session with Spore's forthcoming Creature Creator, two hours was ample time to build and discard entire ecologies, bringing ranks of species to life before mercilessly extinguishing them with a single click of the mouse. Most of these animals were quite horrible, some of them were frankly embarrassing, but all of them had one thing in common: each was entirely different.
How different? Our first creature, imaginatively entitled Eurogamer (it had been a long train ride to EA) was a disquieting combination of grasshopper and trout, a silver-fleshed limbfest, continually emitting a series of wet, slippery yelps and clicks. His spine was a loop, which may have explained why he looked so unhappy, and he had too many mandibles. We didn't miss him much when he was gone. Our next creation, Young Donlan, fared no better: a conceptual mess of mouths, eyes and strange coiled lumps of bone, he was simply too busy, with too much going on in all the wrong parts of his body.
Also, we mistakenly thought it would be funny to build him without a face, and the hooves we gave him in place of hands brought his long arms crashing to the ground, meaning that he had to punch with his elbows (brilliantly, when we then gave him another arm with two fists jutting out of his forehead, he automatically switched to attack with this). Young Donlan was clearly a mutational cul de sac on a par with chocolate-covered pretzels and Celebrity Wrestling.
It was only with the arrival of our third creature, the cosmopolitan Monsieur EuroG that we started to approach something likable. A fat sausage with an aardvark's snout, le Monsieur was certainly easy on the eyes, even if the ram's horns on his hind knees were an error, in retrospect. Making a sound like a seal barking, he was proof that twenty minutes had made us masters of the toolset.
Long in development and mutant heir to the Sims franchise, Spore remains EA's big hope, and the forthcoming release of the Creator on PC and Mac is crucial to selling what could otherwise be a dangerously complex proposition. You personally might be fine with it, but there are people out there who might feel that a game concerned with, y'know, creation of biological life in its entirety is a little daunting. As it happens, EA looked a little daunted themselves during our hands on session, with early password problems suggesting that we might have been granted two hours' exclusive access to the Windows XP log on screen. Happily, they couldn't have planned a more illustrative near-disaster - it turns out that Microsoft's operating system was by far the least intuitive piece of software we'd have to get to grips with all day.
Released on 17th June as a pre-order bonus (the pricing is still to be confirmed, but it's likely to be around five pounds) or available as a free download trimmed to twenty-five percent of the assets, the Creature Creator is not so much a demo as a chance to get used to one of Spore's central tools: an editor which allows you to spend in-game DNA points constructing creatures, which can then be uploaded to the Sporepedia for storage, and eventually imported into the full game.