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.