Spore is either accompanied by sweeping statements proclaiming its genius or by confused faces wondering what all the fuss is about. It's certainly ambitious. And early last week - Tuesday for those who like specifics - we were treated to the first stage of its launch: the Spore Creature Creator.
The entire game hinges around making your own beasties, so getting you familiar with the controls and watching the community start to grow and share its creations is a canny idea. Or is it? Is there a chance we may have had our fill by the time the full game launches in September? Might we be a bit bored?
Eager to hear more, we tracked down Spore executive producer Lucy Bradshaw for an email interview (so, questionnaire) to talk about playing god and just how much of an impact this potentially revolutionary game expects to have. Hear what she has to say today and then check back tomorrow for our considered verdict on the Creature Creator itself.
Eurogamer: Console manufacturers often worry about confusing people with multiple SKUs, but you don't seem concerned about breaking out Spore Creature Creator even though the core IP hasn't launched yet. Is the brand strong enough for that already?
Lucy Bradshaw: We made a decision early on to launch the Spore Creature Creator ahead of the core SKU because we knew it was a great way to introduce people to the idea of Spore as a whole. Also, by starting with this fun little bite we are getting head start at building the Spore community as players share their creations and interact with each other at Spore.com. The Spore Creature Creator is quite literally the beginning of the launch of Spore and introduces the brand in a really fun and easily accessible way. We can't wait to see what people will create starting this week!
Eurogamer: User-created content is one of this year's buzzphrases. Microsoft led with it at GDC; Sony leads with it using LittleBigPlanet; and this September there's Spore. What's so compelling about user-created content?
Lucy Bradshaw: User-created content is certainly a hot trend for many companies right now, but Will Wright and my team has understood the creative power of our fans for years through working on The Sims and SimCity games. Players have this great desire to take these games and really make them their own, tell their own stories and that is a very compelling place to be.
Eurogamer: Giving the user so much control runs into an obvious risk: users who are boring. What if I'm not imaginative enough to make something amazing with Spore Creature Creator, or the full Spore? How does the game coax me into compliance?
Lucy Bradshaw: People are going to be astounded at what they can create with the Spore Creature Creator - they're far more creative than they may think! I've personally put the Creature Creator in the hands of a 5 year-old child, as well as in the hands of my 70 year-old mother. They both had so much fun seeing their creativity come to life, I'm certain people will be pleasantly surprised once they get their hands on the Spore Creature Creator.
Eurogamer: There's also a risk, of course, of it becoming a bit of a novelty - a bit like PictoChat did on the DS. Nintendo got it right the next time though, with the Mii creation tool and the way Miis operate across the Wii system. What's the key to transcending mere novelty?
Lucy Bradshaw: In Spore your creature's parts actually impact gameplay. So while creatures that look interesting can get a lot of laughs, what the creature can actually do in the game is very important.
Eurogamer: Even running a silly old website, we come up against interface issues: driving people in certain directions, avoiding others, presenting a clear picture. What sort of problems did you have with your interface, and how did you diagnose and overcome them?
Lucy Bradshaw: The Creators in Spore, including the Creature Creator, are probably the single most iterated part of the game. We spent a great deal of time prototyping and then testing prototypes and iterating on these until we had successful use by people outside the team. We were doing usability testing of the creators when Will first announced Spore, which was three years ago. I believe the team did a great job of making the interface intuitive and I think people will be surprised at how easily they create Creatures and ultimately Buildings, Vehicles, Spaceships and more that they are really happy with.
Eurogamer: Given the complexity and density of thought behind it, and the volumes of text written about it, Spore can come across as a bit pretentious and complicated. Is that the reality, or am I just alienating myself by reading too many interviews? What's the core experience for a simple gamer from a sunny corner of England?
Lucy Bradshaw: The great thing about Spore is that while the concept sounds complex it is actually pretty easy to play. With the Spore Creature Creator in particular people who try it for the first time find that within a few minutes they can design something pretty cool. We have spent a lot of time with focus groups to make sure that the implementation of these concepts throughout the entire game is really straight forward. I think you'll be pleasantly surprised once you get your hands on it!
Eurogamer: For the purposes of this question, let's say I'm not just a simple gamer from a sunny corner of England any more; I'm a big successful game developer competing with EA, competing with you. What am I going to look at when I buy Spore and envy? What am I going to want to change and adapt for my own work?
Lucy Bradshaw: Caryl Shaw and her community web team have done an amazing job implementing the social networking tools into the game. Their work is definitely different than anything the industry has seen. Sort of like Flickr, sort of like Facebook, they've managed to create a sense of community around playing Spore. The Spore Creature Creator really highlights this - allowing players create their own creatures, take them on a test drive, snap pictures, and make movies of them. Sharing pictures or videos with friends is as easy as the click of a button. Players can also share their creations with others by uploading to the Sporepedia at www.Spore.com. The Sporepedia is an extraordinarily vast online destination where people worldwide can search for and share Spore creations, comment on other player's designs, check out celebrity creature creations and much more.
Eurogamer: When you first began work on Spore, many years ago, the games market looked very different. If you'd had these conditions then, would you have done anything differently?
Lucy Bradshaw: Will's vision for Spore was, in large part, based on some of the conditions you speak of. The gaming audience today is incredibly active on the Internet; they are controlling their entertainment experience more than ever before. They are creating content on sites like YouTube and others. Our experience with SimCity and The Sims had picked up on this trend even when Will first started thinking about Spore. His goal was to push further into the territory of player-created content and player-enabled storytelling. The emphasis that the team has had on procedural content, in order to unlock even greater player creativity stems from this vision.
I'd say that one area that we definitely dug into further during development was building the Sporepedia right into the game. Making the sharing of content a much more visible and player involved feature. We were definitely influenced by the social networks that became so popular during the development of Spore on that front.
Eurogamer: Do you expect Spore to achieve the same kind of success as The Sims? Does EA?
Lucy Bradshaw: We hope so!
Eurogamer: Whether through marketing or naked truth, John Riccitiello's come across as a bit of a modern-day hero at EA since he joined, giving developers what they want and avoiding cynicism. How much of what happens in Corporate EA country penetrates the Spore team and how much is relevant to you?
Lucy Bradshaw: Giving developers the freedom to execute their artistic beliefs and take risks in game development is something that is definitely on the top of John's list. It's quality first. We're thrilled to have the opportunity to take the time needed to perfect our vision. We can't wait to ship this September!
Spore will be released for PC and Mac on 5th September. The Creature Creator is out now on the official Spore website.