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RPS Verdict: Spore Creature Creator

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Jim: Okay, a quick verdict. “The Spore Creature Creator is quite good.” Anyone have anything else to add?
Kieron: I concur.
John: You can make knobs.
Jim: Actually it’s a shame that our penis coverage, so to speak, has eclipsed the other clever creations.
Kieron: Yeah – I actually feel a little guilt on this. There’s a selection of genuinely awesome stuff out there – the ED209s, the planes, the chairs…
Alec: The legs aren’t great.
John: I had a desire to make a sofa, but it never really worked out.

Kieron: I think we should do something about it eventually – especially as people are putting up their own creations as the PNGs you just move in. So we should probably talk a bit about its functionality actually. Having the save file be a picture file is just genius.
Jim: Yeah, let’s talk about the actual act of using it. It reminded me of Eskil Steenberg talking about how to make tools: if they can be fun, productivity goes up.
John: Kieron, you put it right in your EG thing, where you say it doesn’t make you a god. So people are annoyed at its limitations, which is silly bearing in mind its capacity.
Kieron: What do you mean by that?
John: The complaints about the game seem to be what it can’t do. The restrictions in place – size, not being able to use feet without legs, etc.
Jim: But that’s a problem with gamers: their imagination outstrips what developers are able to actually make. It happens with all games
John: But I think with this, it forces creativity to operate within its boundaries.
Jim: Creativity usually benefits from some boundaries, though, doesn’t it?
John: That’s my point. But what I wanted to ask was, what are the valid complaints. Are there things not including is silly?
Kieron: But the complexity limit, I suspect, would be a hard enough limit – or the animation. The ability to not have feet attached to the body, for example, isn’t a real useful limit.

Now he'll take on the world.

Alec: (this stuff should be clip’n’saved for the verdict)
Kieron: (This is the verdict)
Alec: What?
Kieron: (We’re doing a verdict)
Alec: Bollocks, I’m about to go the tip. Hang on, let me go lock the car. Sigh.
Kieron: Heh.
Alec: Let’s not say “okay, we’ll do verdicts next week” minutes before starting a verdict next time
John: My surprise disappointment is the painting. I can’t think of a valid reason why it can’t let me decorate individual body parts. Anyone know why that might be – it’s a fairly standard feature in most character creators.
Jim: The painter is fairly complex though.
Kieron: I honestly don’t know. Maybe they didn’t want people writing I LOVE HITLER on the skin. It wouldn’t surprise me that come the final release that you would be able to make your own textures for ’em
Jim: Yeah, it’s the Rainbox Six Vegas syndrome. When you could use Digimask to input your face, the first thing internet-dickwads did was stick post-it notes to their foreheard with “I hate black people” on it.
Alec: It’s very much hampered by its own art style. I can’t seem to make anything that doesn’t look immediately like it was made in Spore
Kieron: Some people are getting nastier monsters with it, but they still have the tiny cute edge.
John: I think there’s a middleground. Why can’t I have the head yellow and the ears green? They’re distinct parts, because I put them together myself.
Alec: Which is fair enough – its look is important. But occasionally it makes me a little disinclined to make something elaborate.

John's cute owl.

Kieron: Yeah – the painting is the odd one. But my general take on this is that it’s an enormous, unparalleled achievement. No-one’s done anything like this in the field. Essentially, for this kind of editor, content creator, they’ve climbed Everest. And all the criticism is a case of us going “yeah, really good, but how about a mountain as tall as Everest… plus a couple of hundred feet”.
Alec: Well, Garry’s mod is the obvious reference, but this has a coherence and ease that Garrys can only dream of.
Jim: The thing that struck me was that most people won’t think that though, KG, because it seems so natural. We’re the critical few. Most people are thrilled by it. It’s so easy that it seems like all games should work that fluidly.
Alec: I don’t think it’s disingenuous at all to want more. Especially because the things we want are fairly simple, stuff that could be tweaked for the full game.
Kieron: Anyone care to be cynical and guess they’ll be – say – a tentacle add on pack?
John: It’s that cruel fate of the excellent. If I paint a crude stickman, you’re unlikely to criticise the details. But if I paint something near photorealistic, and the ears are a bit off, you’re more likely to say, “Shame about the ears.”
Kieron: Yeah – things that seem easy are always nightmarishly hard. Like Alec’s Mum. As opposed to Jim’s mum, who seems prudish, but hungers for the taste of flesh.
Jim: YOUR MUM.
Kieron: Sorry. The Sporn has gone to my head.
John: Trunks, hooves, elephant-legs, tails – there’s a bunch of stuff they’ve deliberately left out.
Kieron: I dunno – you can make a decentish trunk out of an arm minus a hand.
Jim: And in the game.
Kieron: Heh.
John: But not a trunk-trunk, segmented. There’s a ton of stuff they easily could have included, that I’m sure they haven’t for add-on pack reasons. I’d guess at there being a Human addon pack. And hair.
John: Spore Teen Style Stuff.
Kieron: Yeah. That’s got to be the business model.

The Muppets make a freakish guest appearance.

Jim: There won’t be a human add on pack, but the tech could end up in The Sims. I don’t think this is going to be The Sims though. There’s still this awful feeling that Spore itself will sink without a trace.
Kieron: It’s funny: I’m increasingly thinking it’ll be fine.
Jim: But “sells enough” fine, or “world-changed forever” fine.
John: Are the million+ creatures uploaded coming from the hardcore, or the mainstream?
Kieron: Both, I suspect. The magic of having the creature creator out there is… well, the second you see yours come to life, it’s yours.
Alec: I’ve said it before, but it’s worth noting that The Sims totally seemed a hardcore affair to start with. There was real PC geekiness to it. It crossed over somewhat unexpectedly, after several months. The same could happen with Spore.
Kieron: For the record, I’ll stress I was the only guy on PC Gamer who thought the Sims would be huge.
Jim: That is because of your ability to see faultlessly into the future, isn’t it?
Alec: The difference is EA is expecting this one to be huge, so it won’t be a natural process.

Just to annoy Alec, here's Brian!

Jim: Actually the real magic for me, with the creature creator, was watching Amanda being totally thrilled at actually being able to make something in a videogame without getting utterly confused.
Kieron: Yeah – that’s it! That’s why it’s going to work.
Jim: Accessibility is the answer.
John: Will the same principle be applied to the rest of the game?
Jim: You have to assume it will be. I think it’s becoming the lesson throughout gaming really: allow people to play, at least the starting bit. Make the game deep, but make the top level super-accessible
Kieron: Yeah. I mean, Spore starts as being Pac-man.
Alec: Me and Mike Channell were talking about it in front of [mad girl we know who doesn’t like being named in public], and she was absolutely bored by our talking about videogames again, until she heard about the penis monsters. Sporn may be trashy as hell, but I suspect it’ll drag in a load of people from outside normal PC gaming.
Kieron: It’s kind of a recapitulation of the whole array of gaming – I’m thinking it could even be the Understanding Comics of games. And yeah – I agree totally on the Sporn thing. I mean, the Sex and the Sims. That was pretty much the first thing anyone asked us about the Sims.
John: Here’s modern: I made a bonking couple creature, and was disappointed because it looked too much like all the other ones. Damn! My Sporn isn’t original.
Jim: But the other thing about it, and this ties into my delight at Amanda’s delight, is that it’s almost perfectly cute. It’s not sickenly cute, it’s functionally cute, which is why I think the art direction isn’t hampering it, but enabling it.

Not sure what on earth this is meant to be.

Kieron: Yeah – my woman was completely enamoured with my little green guy with legs. Completely AWWWW! Meanwhile, Kid-with-knife had a crack, and made a dragon covered in spines. It isn’t game design – it’s autobiography.
Alec: Yeah, the art style is just globular and weird enough that the cuteness doesn’t overwhelm it unless you’re specifically creating something cute.
John: I made the loveliest owl. It’s the simplest thing I’ve made, but it’s by far my favourite.
Alec: I’ve yet to try making a specific thing, actually. I always get too caught up in adding a hundred knees.
Kieron: The knee thing is fascinating. That’s the most skillful thing to the editing. Trying to get a neat walk.
Alec: It’s also the most immediately alien thing. Most of the body parts look fairly like something Earthly, but when you stretch and bend the legs in a certain way, suddenly it’s unquestionably extraterrestrial.
Jim: The creatures emerge randomly for me, I haven’t tried to make a specific thing.
Kieron: Mind if I mention something I said in my review? I want to know what you guys make of it. The idea of some people basically wanted a FUNCTIONAL god thing. The idea of you as a designer, trying to make a perfect speedy leg formation. As oppose dto the game as is, which is basically playing with ready-squished out bits of clay. And if you stick a mouth on, no matter what you do, wherever you place it, it functions the same.
Alec: Yes, anything you make still hangs around conventional ideas of biology, really. You’re modifying more than you are actually inventing.
Jim: Modding is how user-generated content works though, isn’t it. Modding is evolution! Speed-Darwinism.
Alec: I just suspect those add-on packs we’re guessing at really are essential to the game’s future. A lot of the Sims addons seemed cynical and tokenistic, but in this case it really will be about keeping the game fresh and expansive

A frightening gang.

Jim: But they’re only ever going to be more pieces of Lego. Also, how pissed are the Spore people going to be reading this when we’re already talking about expansion packs. Madness! Anyway, it’s not, as KG mentions, going to suddenly deliver some massive in-depth genetic editor that changes the way the creatures are able to function. It’s just more Lego.
Alec: Yeah, but the more pieces of Lego you have, the more imaginative you have to be to picture that whole mass of stuff turning into something specific
Kieron: I admit I agree with Alec on this, I think – more pieces of Lego is fine. People like more pieces of Lego. (You know americans call them Legos?)
Jim: Oh i think it’s fine too – but I was coming back to your point about people wanting More Godness.
John: (Plural noun, entire nation.) A clever thing about the creature creator is the screen where you can see your attacks and other moves. It’s so tantalising! It was very smart to include all that, a proper teaser. I think that implies a bit more Godness. That even though it all functions the same, your combination generates a more individual approach to the world.
Alec: I wonder if anyone will come up with a third-party animation-tweaking tool… so you might give it this type of leg, but you can alter the code to make it move a little differently than what the game auto-generates.
Kieron: Jim – the thing that means for me is… well, there’s a clear room for another game if anyone wanted to do it.
Jim: That’s interesting too, isn’t it: the failure to developer alternative Sims games. It’s possible there won’t ever really be a More Spore.
Kieron: Heh – you know, all this is really interesting… but it’s mainly about what Spore’s creature creator inspires rather than what it is. As in, it makes us think about what *could* be.

Helpful monster.

Jim: Yeah, well from my point of view it was a brilliant glimpse into the game. And what a piece of marketing. It’s not even a demo, just a fun toolkit. Hey, it’s one of the themes of my book! Giving players tools so that the look after the fun for themselves. Also the “games are models” thing: that’s literal here, game as making models of living creatures.
Kieron: Yeah.
Alec: Again, Garry’s Mod – though there’s gamey elements, people didn’t have any purpose when using beyond ‘make a funny thing’. It set quite a precedent for this.
Kieron: I think Gary’s Mod is enormously influential in terms of User-generated content, and the possibilities thereof.
Alec: I suspect the reason EA charge for the Creature Creator is not just because they’re money-grabbing, but because they’ve realised that a vast number of people aren’t interested in fighting and exploring and collecting. They just want to paint in monster. I wonder if there’ll be further options for exporting creatures.
Kieron: Yeah. It’s a casual game.
Alec: It’s a Facebook app. Or making them pets in Sims 3. There’s been talk of rapid prototyping too.
Jim: Okay, I have to go buy vegetables. Continue to chat if you have more…
Kieron: No, I think we should wrap it up. Worth buying?
John: How much is it? Well, it doesn’t matter. Cos you get it deducted from the final game, right?
Alec: $10.
Jim: (I would buy it)
John: It’s a bargain.
Kieron: Yeah. In the UK if you buy it from GAME, Zawii or the EA shop, it gets rebated from Spore. So it’s basically a pre-order , for us. For a fiver it’s entirely worth it. It’s convinced me I want to buy both the creator and spore. So all thumbs up?
John: Yes.
Alec: My thumb is indeed aloft. Oh – we should make a thumb creature, for the verdict pics.
Kieron: Heh.
Jim: “We” should, yeah. Optimus will have to do for now.


Our verdict: SALE!

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