Interview: Spore’s Lead Designer On Spore’s Design

Much like everyone else, we’ve been thinking far too much about Spore recently. Alex Hutchinson, the game’s lead designer, has been thinking about it for years. With the game released, we grabbed the opportunity to talk candidly and extensively with him about its design choices. From high level decisions like the actual in-game effect of customisation to basic technical elements like the lack of autosave to the question of the sudden difficulty spike in Space (And the lack of difficulty elsewhere), he reveals Maxis’ thinking. Whether you adore or abhor it, after reading this, you’ll understand exactly why Spore is the game it is.


RPS: How did you decide upon the effect of customisation. As in, deciding that each part would have a specific effect rather based upon something in the design of the creature itself?

Alex Hutchinson: This was a really interesting, and ongoing debate on the team – early on there was one faction on the team that fervently believed creativity should have no impact on gameplay – that playing and creating were two totally separate activities, and that players should be able to create anything they wanted and then play any way they wanted. The second faction believed that creation and play were integral to each other, and that each editor should directly and powerfully impact each game.

There are many challenges with this – first, there’s just the basic argument that in a storytelling game like Spore (and our core aim was always to enable people to tell their own stories, not to ‘win’ per se) limiting people’s creativity is an essentially catastrophic decision and the more gameplay you bond to editors, the more you remove the player’s ability to tell their story of a mushroom headed toilet bowl who terrorized the earth, or the evil looking fang toothed monster who struggled to befriend the universe. If this was based purely on physical parts, both those stories are impossible, or at least terribly hard to communicate to players.

Also there’s a challenge with granularity – we originally had a formula for speed which was basically a curve that said that getting more legs made you faster until you had more than four legs, after which is it made you slower, but never made you as slow as someone with one leg, all of which was modified by the level and type of feet that you had and the mass of the entire creature. What we found however was that even people who thought they wanted that sort of calculation both didn’t understand it and didn’t like it when they were actually playing – the problem switched to ‘my guy looks like he should run real fast but he doesn’t, why?’ and we’d say, well, you put five legs on him and that bulbous tail is actually really heavy, and people were both disappointed by the result and didn’t understand it and they thought their creativity had been crushed.

Also, we originally had very fine grained stats for Creature Phase, down to a few decimal points, but we kept hitting issues where people would be .1% faster than their prey or .1% slower than their predators, so the interaction of chasing your lunch would eventually resolve but someone would be chasing the other creature across the planet for hours which obviously isn’t very interesting or fun. It all comes down to what intellectually sounds brilliant but is practically painful.

We also had stats that I really liked such as ‘cuteness’ which looked at size and type of eyes, overall size and proportion of hands and feet etc but to be honest when you’re making a casual game, it gets complicated super fast and as much as I am a hardcore gamer and would love to have semi-inscrutable stats smothering the game it just doesn’t appeal to that many people and I really like making games that actual human beings can play and enjoy.

In the end we decided to cross streams basically, and begin with games that had a direct relationship between the act of creation and the in-game results, but end with games that allowed people to make whatever the wanted and then play separately. This also matched the aim of making the games themselves more complex as we moved forward, so that people who were perhaps not as familiar with games could begin with simpler games that were easier to digest before progressing to more complicated games that were more difficult to play on a conceptual level if you weren’t familiar with RTS conventions for example.

My personal position on this was that the editors are the heart of Spore, and that we should bond them as much as possible to gameplay, but the boon and the curse of games is that they’re giant collaborations. In the end I think it’s an interesting spin on creator based content – other developers who are interested in it as a theme can look at essentially four or five different implementations of the idea and hopefully move forward from that learning and make other great games.

RPS: Way back in the mists of time, there was a more free-moving water based stage rather than going straight onto line demoed. I presumed it was lost because the multi-axis movement is more complicated than the land-based two-axis movement, causing a break in the learning curve… is this right, or is there something else I’m missing?

Alex: That demo in ’05 was really a high concept pitch – the demo wasn’t an actual playable game yet, it was just a terrific visual presentation of what people hoped the game would eventually become. After that there was years of hard graft to get it back to that point and keep evolving it.

To be honest we never even really attempted to build that phase, as soon as production started we realized the mountain we had to climb with five different games – remember that means essentially five control schemes, five sets of user interface, five sets of everything… and all of it with a team that was only about 80 people which is well under the average team size these days for a big project.

The 3D movement would definitely have been a pain, and I think also it would have been hard to differentiate it from either the cell or creature phase – it feels like it would have been more filler than useful, although I’m sure there’s an interesting design in there somewhere.

RPS: Talking about that makes me wonder about the structure generally – since it amps up its complications slowly, was there ever a case in an earlier part of the game where you decided a mechanic, while interesting, was too complicated for that point in the curve? Or alternatively, give too much attention to that part of the game – as in, the sub games are meant to be progressive and if you get grabbed by an earlier stage and never want to move on, it’s not going to work as a game about evolution?

Alex: I think the multiple game phases was the biggest nightmare for design – if you think about creature phase, for example, it has to get its content from cell phase, and then deliver it to tribal phase and beyond, which means a bunch of things: the world for creature phase, which is an avatar based pseudo-adventure game has remain playable for tribal phase and civilization phase, both of which are basic strategy games. An adventure game wants complex geometry, cool spaces to explore, perhaps physical challenges, while a real time strategy game wants lots of flat, empty spaces to move units through.

And that problem expands endlessly into all other facets of the game, from the challenges the tech team had to handle level of detail from essentially ground level all the way to looking at a planet from space, and on and on.

Essentially it meant that letting phases run in directions they wanted to go was more difficult than any other project I’ve ever worked on – we continually hit issues where a feature that might be fun for creature phase would essentially break tribal phase, or a feature that would be fun in creature phase was ‘too intelligent’ for a creature and had to be reserved for tribal phase.

Also, I fervently believed that for our game to give you a sense of progression – that your creations actually moved from small organisms to big creatures and then tribal creatures and then a civilization – and for you to actually see all the content that other people had made, and not just play once and then stop, the first four phases need to be playable on a Sunday afternoon.

Why did we build an infinite content machine if you’re only going to play once? Why did we make flexible editors for character and unit creation if you’re only going to make one set? Why make a story that’s about scale changes if the scale changes so gradually you can’t see it?

Spore is designed to let you tell your story, then wake up tomorrow and tell another story. It’s an unusual game. We also saw that people often enjoyed their second and later playthroughs more than their first, which I think is fascinating: I think this is partly because the game is so unusual, and it takes a loop to get your head around it so you can start pushing its boundaries, and I also think it’s about resetting expectations. The hype machine was so out of control, and the game wasn’t clearly an established genre of game, we always knew there would be people who would be disappointed because it wasn’t what they expected, but I just hope people will assess it based on what it tries to do and whether it succeeds, not on whether or not it’s the game they expected.

Those reviews which try to bash into established categories or break each level down individually to save themselves the difficulties of actually thinking about the game as a whole are pretty shallow in my opinion.

RPS: The game tends to take a gentle approach throughout majority of the game – so it’s somewhat a surprise, upon reaching the Space stage where it’s possible to fall into a seemingly unrecoverable hole relatively easily. What was the thinking behind the sudden leap, if you will? For me, it seems an odd conflict – in that the game manages to be casual and not casual at the same time.

Alex: I mentioned it earlier, but the idea was always to ramp up challenge and complexity as you played, but yeah that’s basically a tuning issue we’ll address soon. The desire was to have space feel like it ‘opened up’ the game and now you had the wonder of an entire universe in front of you, with limitless access to other people’s content, and also a game that you could play for several hours.

Space is designed to be a big phase you can sit in for as long as you want, and it needed to be more complex than earlier phases, but it was an interesting challenge. I quite liked the idea that casual players will enjoy the first phases more, then become less interested and perhaps just start again or play in the editors, and hardcore players will become more interested as the game progresses. We’ve seen that in reviews and in player feedback too, which I think is a good thing not a bad thing – it’s a giant game and there’s plenty to do for both players, but yeah I think it makes it challenging to boil down into a single idea.

The idea that a game might change its tone over time I think is interesting – most games are monotone (not monotonous, mind you) and by that I mean it starts as a shooter and ends as a shooter, so if you like the first five minutes you’ll like the last five – it’s an interesting idea to me to make a game where you might intrinsically love one half more than the other, so long as each half is robust enough to give people value for their time and money.

RPS: People have commented on various diversions the game took from evolution, one of the interesting ones I thought was characterising herbivores as communicative and building social networks – not that it’s totally necessary, but watching people play seems that carnivores wipe the map at the creature stage while herbivores flirt up the map. I kind of presumed this was because while the carnivores interaction with other animals (i.e. Eating them) leads to a game with direction, herbivores… well, mostly don’t interact with other species in such ways, so you have to abstract a little to make a game. Is that completely off base?

Alex: The interesting thing about herbivores, is that you sit down to assess their basic functionality and how you might put it in a game you realize that herbivores are basically lunch on legs. They actually don’t do anything that interesting (this is a generalization, obviously, to all you zoologists out there) but carnivores are generally smarter, more active, and have more interesting behaviors.

It’s no surprise that most games out there are about conflict and aggression – I don’t think that has anything to do with any ridiculous claims that games instill violence in people, I think it comes down to the fact that conflict is an easier mechanic to model and has strong in-built risk / reward structures that make it inherently fun.

But to hit the storytelling aims I’ve mentioned a few times already, people obviously needed to be able to make creatures that were non-violent. It’s core to the Maxis philosophy and core to Spore as a game and its hopes for mass appeal, that there should be ways to resolve the levels without killing everything.

In the Sims this was an easier problem because the Sims doesn’t have a win state, but once we realized you needed to finish each level to get to the next in Spore, we needed to model win states, which meant even social behavior needed a win state.

So when you imagine building a game based on non-violent behavior, it not only becomes a little more abstract – we chose music as a general theme – but it also becomes harder to explain in general, as it’s not as tightly mapped to ‘real world’ behaviors as we’d have liked.

Further down the chain, we were also trying to tie behaviors to parts in the editor, and to make that purchase decision interesting when making creatures, we needed a reason to map certain behaviors and functionality to groups and the mouth type divide seemed the most logical – it was also something we could use in cell to force the player to make a consequential decision. In other words, by choosing a certain mouth in cell you were already on a path in the creature phase so you should at least give it passing thought.


RPS: Okay – a break from the really fancy ones. Care to explain why Autosave was so hard to implement?

Alex: Haha I should get an engineer to pitch in here, but the logic was since we don’t support multiple saves, we didn’t want the player to do something save and then have no way to back out. The challenge with allowing more than one save is that the universe is persistent – so your save in this game is physically in the same universe as your other save, so if you save this game several times, which universe are you in when you load up another saved game on another planet and progress to space?

That said, it’s clearly not ideal and we’re taking another look at it. Now that the horror of finishing the game and putting it in a box is passed, issues like these will be re-examined and we’ll continue to support and grow the game you can be sure.

RPS: What do you think the biggest misunderstandings are about Spore?

Alex: Oh this is going to be a long one. Actually, I’ll just use one example so it hopefully carries more weight.

We designed spore to be three equal thirds: creating things in the creators, sharing things through the Sporepedia and invisibly in general play just by creating and playing, and then playing the games themselves.

That breaks down to lovely marketing simplification: create, share, play which was also very successful in the Sims.

The interesting thing about Spore, I that these thirds are intended to be equal. So it astounds me when I read commentary on the game that focuses only on the games, or dismisses the sharing aspects of the game.

It belies the fact that many people are only looking at the ‘game’ third, which means they’re ignoring or dismissing two thirds of the experience – I can understand why people might prefer one third, or even ignore another third, but to assume we didn’t deliberately put the weight of effort equally across the game is odd. We deliberately did things to the ‘game’ part of Spore to enable the editors to be more powerful – it’s no surprise that you can do virtually anything in the editors, as every time we had a potential design decision that would limit that, we chose to put the burden into the gameplay third, which was truly difficult, but it was the core assumption of the game. We were trying to do something different.

So I think the biggest misunderstanding is just that these thirds were not designed to be equal, or that there’s inherently more value in the game part than the creation or sharing part – I think that’s an assumption that will hold our industry back if we don’t break it, and I hope that Spore is successful enough to prove that.

RPS: Thanks for your time, Alex.

Alex: Thanks so much for the questions – feels good to chat about it all.

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47 Comments

  1. Sam says:

    I think the most interesting thing about this is that Alex seems to think that the difficulty increases with the stages – in fact, the Tribal and Civ stages didn’t feel any more difficult than the Creature stage to me (and, certainly, aren’t comparable to the Space stage at all). I wonder what happened with the balancing, there?

    (It’s also interesting that Alex says that they were trying to combine equal weight for Creation, Game and Sharing – the stage that no-one seems to like, Tribal, is the worst at all three… Although, given Alex’s note about the problems of distributing and balancing content between Creature/Tribal/Civilisation, one might suspect that Tribal lost out because of the pressures of the games either side of it.)

    (As far as the contention that “Herbivores are basically lunch on legs” goes, I’m not convinced – most herbivores with no interesting behaviours are domesticated animals bred to be uninteresting by people. Goats, for example, are smart and aggressive – sheep, less so. See also: Parrots and a lot of the other intelligent bird species, who are either fructivores, or scavenging animals without traditional predatory behaviour.)

  2. Mike says:

    I understand the idea for autosave re: wanting to undo but I don’t think it matters in a game like this and Alex answered the issue himself when he said that he expects people to go back and play it over and over again. Since he’s expecting players to invest themselves in their creations he should expect that they would also want to be invested in the world – and it will only feel real if your actions are permanent. For games of this kind – and as evidenced by the outcry re: no autosave – players are not only accepting of an autosave-with-no-undo function – they are exPECting it. Patch it in, dudes!!! (But here’s an idea – fix the constant crashing bugs FIRST cos the first patch ain’t done it)

  3. Ed says:

    Interesting!

    I agree that games that change significantly throughout them are most likely to be poorly received. And perhaps that’s justified – people don’t like change. I’ve been playing Crysis Warhead, and spent the whole time dreading the stupid aliens! The same thing happens with old fashioned book, and films. For example with Wall-E many of the reviews said they liked the first half more than the second half, because each half was so different.

    I’d say people like consistency – something The Sims had. Spore might be too adventurous – if they’d just made a ‘make your own creature and build them a planet’ game I think they might have made more people happy…?

    RE Autosave, they could let you ‘go back in time’ with a funky slider… Probably a bit late to make such a core change, but that would be a solution I guess…

  4. nabeel says:

    Where are your image alternate texts? Ok, kidding, I did actually read the interview. One thing that struck me even before release and that Alex acknowledges is how ‘progressive’ Spore is as a game in that it isn’t “monotone” and spans different genres while tying them all together with underlying threads. And so of course there’ll be people who’ll stick to certain aspects of the game and will criticize the others; it by its very design would split gamers, and Wright and Hutchinson will make no apologies about that.

    The autosave issue is interesting, too. I really hadn’t even considered the implications of it when I was being annoyed over the lack of it.

    nabeel

  5. gaijin says:

    elephants are full of interesting behaviours.

    in fact I’m going to start another planet and evolve me an elephant.

  6. Sam says:

    gaijin: so, we’re agreed that, whatever his undoubted skills as a game designer, Alex Hutchinson would have flunked biology? ;)

  7. Ben says:

    The new patch, as I understand it, SIGNIFICANTLY increases the difficulty of Tribal and Civ stages… so let’s see where that takes us.
    On the subject of herbivores being peaceful, also: No. I have evolved several herbivores that really do nothing but slaughter everything in their path, simply because they feel like it.

  8. shon says:

    The poor guy sounds like he has post traumatic stress. I hope he takes a nice long vacation.

  9. shinygerbil says:

    The new patch has changed my perspective somewhat. Before, Spore was a shiny thing of perfection which never crashed. Now, well, I suddenly understand where all the rage comes from :(

    That said, I’m still happy enough – I’ll just have to have a little hiatus until the next patch comes out.

  10. Man Raised By Puffins says:

    @ shinygerbil: Yup, I’m pretty much in the same boat. I wouldn’t mind if it crashed infrequently, but every 5-20 minutes takes the biscuit.

    Interesting to hear the process behind the decision to assign Creature stats to parts rather than working them out on the basis of leg number, limb length etc. Cheers for this Q&A thing, RPS!

  11. Nimic says:

    I hope he get’s his will, and the editors are more tied into actual gameplay. That was honestly what I was expecting from Spore, and something I would have very much preferred.

  12. Sam says:

    “Interesting to hear the process behind the decision to assign Creature stats to parts rather than working them out on the basis of leg number, limb length etc.”

    I don’t think I’d have minded the stats per part approach if it had included either some kind of additive gain for multiple parts (probably capped?) or other slightly more complicated part-stat systems (synergistic parts or something). It just seems a little *too* simplistic at the moment (although I understand why playtesters would have been displeased/overwhelmed by a sufficiently complex implementation), whilst still restricting creative freedom if you want to make a crocodile-mouthed social herbivore or something.

  13. Dave says:

    I haven’t seen Spore crash even once yet — but my wife says the patch turned every single creature blue, if it was made before the patch.

  14. Calabi says:

    I think with giving the players so much freedom in the editors and the importance of making sure those had little effect in the game they may have paradoxically ended up giving the majority of players no choice.

    Unless you are an artist/designer/creative type or know what you are attempting to do, you wont likely come up with a cool creature within the game while playing it.

  15. f!ngercut says:

    The create part (the editor) seems to be the only polished part of the game.

    While sharing on the sporepedia might be fun, I can only look at so many versions of a chocobo or a penis-creature before it tires me out. The sharing part is not integrated enough into the game for it to be fun. Yes, you can meet other creations ingame, but what for? The possibilities of interaction are just too shallow. Browsing the sporedpedia gets old too soon.

    The play part seems to be too much of an empty facade just to sell the framework of a game to the masses.

  16. Biggles says:

    I think I would have prefered a ‘spend points on attributes’ over the current implementation. While that means you could have creatures with abilities not in any way connected to their appearance, I think a lot of players would simply go: ‘ok I want to look big and strong.. now I’m going to spend points on bigness and strength…’ or create some sort of story linking stats and appearance without being hamfistedly forced to do so by the mechanics.

    Also, am I the only one who really liked the tribal stage of the game?

  17. Theory says:

    If browsing Sporepedia is boring, it’s because you aren’t using Sporecasts. :)

    I was also expecting editor changes to have a bigger impact on the game, though like the fellow above I can completely understand why they don’t. If only Easy and Hard could be replaced with Simple and Complex!

  18. Dan says:

    I liked tribal stage. I hated Civilisation stage, though.

    It’s great to read the inside thoughts about the creation process of a game like this. It’s this kind of discussion that I’d love to see in Making Of… documentaries we get given with games, rather than the “We make pretty graphics! Look at this and this! Oh, and someone thinks about how it works and writes code too, but that’s too intelligent, you won’t be interested in that.”

    I’m actually finding the thought processes behind Spore (including the prototypes they released) and the game’s implementation much more interesting than the game itself. They should release a book about it, it’d be an excellent study of original game design.

  19. obo says:

    It sounds like they developed ideas for both camps of creature creating (form follows function vs. form ignores function).

    So why didn’t they implement both and make that the difference between easy and hard, instead of arbitrary AI improvements?

    It seems like a more logical implementation of difficulty in a game based on evolution: that creating a species with that extra .1% of speed/strength/smarts – without falling too short on the other traits, and surviving every other bump on the way to sentience – is rare and difficult, and thus suited to a Hard, sim-heavy mode. Making a creature within an artificial budget of DNA bux and adding traits and behavior by parts rather than design is more Easy, casual, game/storytelling mode.

    It’d sure beat the only difference between Easy and Hard being more Grox and a harder Tribal/Civ game. It’d also reward accomplishment in the creature creator, while Easy mode players could be rewarded by their creativity and storytelling.

    In either case, the sharing aspect he’s so disappointed that nobody gets – well, it doesn’t mean much when everything works the same, does the same and behaves the same.

    Or maybe I’m just bitter that I made 30 creatures in the Creature Creator before release and could play as zero of them when Spore launched because of *gag* part-unlocking issues.

  20. obo says:

    If browsing Sporepedia is boring, it’s because you aren’t using Sporecasts.

    Browsing those are boring, too. There’s no good sorting or searching tools and 25,000 sporecasts.

  21. Alex says:

    The jump in complexity from Civ to Space was pretty big, but I’d argue that even Tribe to Civ was a little off when it came to the editors.

    So far in the game, you’ve only had to deal with your animal, and in Tribe you’ve got even less to modify than in Creature. In Civ, you’ve got four buildings to design, with up to six more depending on if you keep your acquired cities’ specialization.

    I would have preferred you be able to design your Tribe’s hut, which would transfer over to being your City Hall, just like how your species’ shape transferred from Cell stage.

  22. Dinger says:

    well, to be honest, the division between the “editor affects gameplay” and “editor doesn’t affect gameplay” camps is false. The real problem is that, in the end, there are all these creations, and no context for them. One of the fascinating points of evolution that the game could have explored is how creature evolution reflects their environment. If I make an eight-legged creature, maybe it’s not the creature that needs to change, but the world around it (caterpillar planet?). When I go to some purple-and-pink alien planet, maybe the aliens should all be purple-and-pink.
    There should be something that gives the slightest scrap of context and meaning to these worlds.

    But it’s all Monday-morning quarterbacking. Even without much room for meaning, it’s still a fascinating game.

  23. obo says:

    “Even without much room for meaning, it’s still a fascinating game.”

    It’s still a fascinating concept. The game isn’t the point – that’s even echoed by by Hutchinson. It just hurts that it came so close to being both and fell short because they were afraid some people wouldn’t get it, when – frankly – it could’ve been good enough, with a good enough pedigree about a good enough topic, that people would have reached out to understand.

  24. tmp says:

    “So I think the biggest misunderstanding is just that these thirds were not designed to be equal, or that there’s inherently more value in the game part than the creation or sharing part – I think that’s an assumption that will hold our industry back if we don’t break it, and I hope that Spore is successful enough to prove that.”

    It’s interesting to see this complaint from the designer, given he seems to fail to grasp the misunderstanding here is squarely on their own shoulders — they fail to realize (or refuse to acknowledge) the players don’t treat the ‘product parts’ as equal. Because surprise surprise, there’s little inherent value in being able to create and share content for weak game that’s boring to play. So quite naturally, there’s stronger focus on performance and appeal of the game ‘part’ than on the other ‘two thirds’.

    Incidentally: yes, browsing Sporepedia is boring, courtesy of Sturgeon’s Law. Plus it’s odd they hype these parts as big components of the whole experience, when even their own Sims Exchange offers more sophisticated search and filter abilities, and make the Sporepedia look like half-assed effort at best. Not even to mention Sims’ story-telling/sharing functionality…

  25. Tei says:

    I like the creature phase. But I would love more a real simulator, and not a “rpg” game with “legs of +3speed”. Maybe the current game is made for everyone, but not for the core players of sims games. Another sad day for these that hate dumbed down games. I am not dumb!, this game is not for me.

  26. ChampionHyena says:

    Long time reader, first time poster. Gotta wrangle me an avatar. This interview, though, was fascinating. As with every EA-published game (and, to a lesser extent, like a lot of Maxis games), there were aspects of Spore that–no matter how much I love the game as a whole–left me utterly baffled as to what the thinking was behind their design decisions. This clears things up profoundly, and even if I disagree with some of these positions, I can at least see that thought and discourse went into them.

    Oh, and also:

    Those reviews which try to bash into established categories or break each level down individually to save themselves the difficulties of actually thinking about the game as a whole are pretty shallow in my opinion.

    I wondered if I was the only one thinking this.

  27. terry says:

    Spore needs an Ironman mode.

    There, I said it.

  28. Erlam says:

    “In the end we decided to cross streams basically..”
    Don’t cross the streams!

  29. Him says:

    “My personal position on this was that the editors are the heart of Spore”
    I think this neatly explains my disdain for the game; the editors don’t offer me anything. One leg is the same as eleven legs. Binocular vision is the same as bicameral vision. If my choices had more meaning, if there was a depth to them reflected by the editor, or reflected by the wider game itself, I would have been more intrigued.
    As an alternative standpoint; I remember playing Sim Earth on the Amiga – a game where complexity was allowed to flourish; too many plants meant too much oxygen which led to a condition where more flash fires occurred. Of course, the extra oxygen meant that plants and animals flourished. In Spore, my choices have no real effect on the game other than that which I ‘decide’ they have. If I’m going to be allowed to play God with a toy like Spore, I’d like my actions to have consequences. Other than causing everyone to try and invade my colonies.
    I put the game away after a dozen hours. Evidently it took me a little while to realise that I was in nothing more than a half-full paddling pool.

  30. RC-1290'Dreadnought' says:

    Some things still bother me. What is the point of making an intro which people have seen a 10 times in trailers, unskipable, or in this case, unskipable ‘some’ times.
    Furthermore, what is the point of ripping the choice of language from the Customer. Better yet, why can you install it in English only to have it reset to a local language when a patch is applied.

  31. Frosty840 says:

    Are people actually making their way all the way to the Grox?
    I went and found them, and thought to myself “Well, there’s about three billion planets between my civ and them, and each one of them gets conquered or terraformed in exactly the same way… Fuck that.” and went and played something else.

    Am I missing some depth in the planet-conquering bit? Does that actually ever get interesting? Can you actually maintain more than three trade routes? Do allies ever become even slightly useful?

    It’s questions like that that would keep me awake at night, if I hadn’t gotten bored…

  32. SecurURownflippinROM says:

    When Spore was working for me, I found it a interesting and absorbing game. Lots of fun trying out how to play the different stages, and I saw lots of scope for mucking around being creative with the editors. I have only played the space stage for a few hours, with lots of setback crashes (whats the odd hour or two gameplay to lose), but in the main I thought I’d got my money’s worth.

    Now I cannot even load the game to the title screen, and the EA downloader will not download the patch until you are logged into the game.

    So unless the useless, robotic, EA support actually helps me get the game up and running again, I have spent my 35 quid on a fun few hours demo.

    My own suspicions are that the SecurUROM, or whatever the DRM software was snook onto my machine, has issues with the STEAM software as my log-in problems only started after installing STEAM.

    I know this is a seperate issue from the actual gameplay of Spore, but I wonder what RPS thinks about the 3 ‘Activations’ and your out idea being foisted on EA’s paying customers.

  33. Ixtab says:

    On the topic of the two camps about how the editors should be tied in. I think that either would have been very interesting but instead they went down the middle and it was just a trifle disappointing.

    I would really enjoy carefully customising a creature to optimise it rather than just slapping the best parts I can find on it. But I would also enjoy it if there was no correlation so I could build what I wanted rather than severely handicapping my creature by using the mouth that is hopeless at singing but looks better. I am also peeved that extra sections of leg cost more DNA and seem to gain you nothing. Surely the best creature would just have rediculous stub-legs and waddle everywhere then (which my creature does, more because it amuses me though).

    On the topic of the autosave, I hadn’t really considered the problem with it autosaving and overwriting everything, partly because I don’t expect to think “Well I screwed up, reload a save” I’d just go with “Well I screwed up, this will be interesting to fix.” So the only need for a save is to stop me losing everything when it crashes.

    Also if sharing is a full third of the experience why wont it let me create a spore account so I can actually experience this third? I paid money for two thirds of a game in that case.

  34. Shawn says:

    Hmm…Got to the Civ stage after the second day of playing around in Spore and don’t have the slightest bit of interest in the game anymore. I’m very disappointed in the gameplay mechanics. I do like the creation stuff, but the way you use your creations in very watered down modes completely ruined any kind of fun I was having. With the Civ Stage, I lost all interest, especially when I was trying to have fun creating stuff and I was being bombarded within 20 minutes by either Warmongers or Religious Nuts. I have zero interest in even seeing the space stage, and with the whole DRM fiasco, and the fact that I’ve already used 3 installs and only one account per copy, was a deal breaker.

    Nice to hear from the developer, and you have to commend these guys, but the implementation is downright terrible. From the weak gameplay of the creation stuff to the packaging it was delivered in, to restrictions imposed on the customers, it’s a subpar overall at best.

  35. Arathain says:

    I think the ‘game of thirds’ thing is very true. It’s clear each of the stages is a weak version of a full game (arguable exceptions: Cell, which is simple and lovely, and Space, which is… well, big and complex and very much its own thing). Multiple weak parts do not add up to a good game. But I’ve been really enjoying every stage anyway.

    I am utterly endeared by the creatures I make. No matter how bizarre or horrible they display a charm in the way they move and gesture that most games with painstakingly developer designed characters can’t come close to. This is an astonishing technical achievement, and can’t be spoken of too highly. I care about my creations because they make me care, and I enjoy watching them (especially in Tribe. They get up to all sorts of things is you leave them to their own devices).

    The sharing bit makes exploration a constant joy, because I honestly never know what will be over the next hill/continent/planet. It’s a game that allows other people to deliver some lovely surprises. I do enjoy browsing the Sporepeadia, but the game is the best browser of all.

    For me, each third feeds into each of the others in the way it’s supposed to. If you really don’t like one of the three, the game will fall because of it.

  36. Blaze says:

    I’m going to focus on a particular aspect, namely the design decisions on the creature creator; Spore is supposed to be about evolution. So why does the creature creator (during creature stage itself) feel like an advanced Mr. Potato Head? Yes, most players make incremental changes to their creature. However total overhauls are allowed at any point – it doesn’t make sense that a creature can swap a beak for a beetle’s mouth between generations. What would’ve worked better and negated the whole form vs. function issue: your creature grows according to your playing behaviour, and its body parts morph to reflect your choices. However the player ought to retain creative direction of their creature – major choices like biped or quadruped, etc. The result will be more natural progression of a species. As for purely cosmetic creatures, eg. making a race of giant tacos, you should be able to create a fully formed creature outside of creature stage, and specify final stats. Then you can jump into the game with that creature, but it starts out with scaled down stats and (if possible, don’t know about the technical difficulties involved) a pre-evolved appearance that slowly develops into your fully formed creation, with allowance for physical variation depending on how you played through creature stage. So I could download a giant taco creature, start a game looking like a pre-evolved form of taco, then end creature stage with stats and appearance similar to the downloaded creature, but say with a larger mouth and higher attack stats because I played aggressively. If they could do progressive creature evolution, I could have just one downloadable file for my species; if I played through with that creature the file will maintain some of my playing style history as well as evolutionary choices, if not the game generates progressive stages of the creature. Now, if only they could make the core gameplay deeper…

  37. shinygerbil says:

    @Blaze: Your first point seems to me to be where people are taking the wrong end of the stick with Spore. They are still assuming that the game will and should do everything for them; most seem unwilling or even unable to impose their imagination upon the game.

    When I first got to the editors (besides the Creature Creator which was, of course, old news) I was blown away. Instantly, I drew a comparison with Lego – it’s not hard to see why, I hope. Lego is the ultimate sandbox – as everyone knows, the only limit is your imagination. (And, of course, how many bricks you have, and of what kind. ;) ) With Spore, I find the editors to be really quite capable and accommodating – although I would love a legitimate way of building a money-no-object, complexity-no-object spacecraft, for example. Nonetheless, within reason, I can do whatever I want in the Spore editor.

    Now take this to the Creature stage. Once you are in a position to mate and therefore evolve, you are given free reign over your creation; you have been given a bunch of Lego pieces, in effect, and they are yours for the playing with. I consider it my responsibility to impose limitations and shape my experience; if I want my evolution to look like ‘real’ evolution, in that changes are small, then I will only make small changes.

    If anything, I find that Spore imposes too many limitations for gameplay’s sake – for example, if I want my creature to have all four Social skills at a decent level, my choice of feet/hands/mouth are severely limited. The effect is that, at many points in the future, I will find myself reusing the same few parts in order to make “better” creatures each and every time, providing of course that I actually go through the whole process with them at all – which, obviously, I feel discouraged to do because of this very point. (This is, however, an interesting study in convergent evolution. ;) )

    I guess I was merely expecting a different game from the game which most people appear to have expected; in fact, when I got to the Space stage, I was genuinely shocked to see so much potential, and so much actual genuine gameplay. I really was expecting (maybe even hoping for) a lot less – especially after having played through the previous stages.

    My main point, though, is that for the most part this is a game limited by your imagination and your rules – at least until the tribal and civ stages, although normal service is pretty much resumed in Space. If the evolution of your creature doesn’t seem to work how you want it – then pretend it does. Impose your own limitations, make up your own stories, set your own goals. It is up to the player to decide how they play.

    To this effect, I would love to see the Tribal and Civ stages opened up a bit – made a bit more open-ended, more like the sandbox of the other stages. But we can’t have it all, and they’re really not all that bad… :)

    EDIT: HOT CRAPS that is one long post. :( I hereby declare TL;DR

  38. Mark says:

    I’d love to weigh in on the game while it’s still fresh in the public consciousness, but I can’t because the bastards packaged it with a copy protection that amounts to Computer Herpes! For all his talk about making sure it has something for everybody, they ended up spending good money on an antifeature that makes it useless to the demographic of people who actually care about malware.

    I’m still mad about that, yes.

  39. fanciestofpants says:

    Personally I’m looking forward to expansions.

    An elaboration of the hologram scout please, I want to beam an away-team to a planet and have lazer hijinks!

  40. Andrew Doull says:

    Its a shame there isn’t a single editor in Spore that lets you change the game play in any meaningful way: as it is, there is more user content generation options in Line rider than Spore.

  41. ape says:

    I really dont see why he went on about balancing all three parts when I found the game to be far more heavy on the creation side with the game part being almost insignificant. And the whole storytelling thing is just PR, I actyually am one of those players who builds an elaborate story to fill in the gaps, but somehow it just never happens when I play spore. Then again this is just a rant and I am certain many people are enjoying it.

    Now if only I could have those editors in Space Ranger 2, StarCon 2, Gal Civ2 and all those other wonderful games that actualy got the space thing right. Also, is it just me or does Spore have nothing to do with evolution or science, I mean I really don’t see how this thing hits any of the marks Will Wright was talking about… far closer to intelligent design.

  42. worg says:

    That whole bit about the creatures being interesting– Alex, is that why they all stand around the nest and do nothing for hours on end? Is that why they don’t really roam? Is that why in Space stage there are no real food webs and no complex systems, just a canned terraforming mini-game for more animals that have no interesting behaviors and do nothing but stand around?

    Alex, Spore was a BIG DEAL. You had a BIG OPPORTUNITY here. You dropped the ball. BIG TIME.

  43. Sam says:

    @worg: I suspect that there’s nothing interesting about the interaction-level of Spore because that would have made things even more complicated to get working. As it is, it is clear that the majority of the “complexity” in Spore’s code goes into the procedural animation stuff for the Creature Creator, and the rest (whilst allegedly “balanced” for some time) has somewhat less sophistication.

    But, yeah, I’m disappointed that there’s not more of the spirit of Sim Earth and Sim Life (or even Sim City, for that matter) about the later stages. Surely the point of a game/creator/shareything about evolution should be the richness of interactions?

  44. plant42 says:

    Ah… kinda crappy but Spore just didn’t hold my attention. I was surprised by all the A reviews out there, seemingly only Game Revolutions had the guts to really pick it apart:

    Spore Review

    I kept getting the impression as I played that they originally wanted to create an evolution-Sim, where if you streamlined or added longer legs your critter was faster, if you painted it green you could hide in foliage, if you added a counterweight tail you could turn easier, and so on… but the complexity of engineering such a system was beyond their ability to create and/or make ‘fun’.

    I’m left with a few interesting character and building editors, and if I wanted to edit characters I could boot up 3d Studio Max. :/

  45. Greg Wild says:

    Excellent interview – it basically sums up what I’ve been saying to those who’ve been panning it from release – they basically had a fixed idea in their head what Spore was, as opposed to what Maxis were always making it to be.

    Basically the main point I made of it in my review of it :P
    link to gregwild.livejournal.com

  46. Sam says:

    @Greig Wild:
    However, as your review notes, one of the points of Spore is to “give the player the power to create their own societies from Cell to Space” – judged by this standard, Spore is still disappointing in all stages but Cell and Space, as you note yourself. So, even from this perspective, it doesn’t manage to succeed properly – a single Creature (the one controlled by the player) is not an interesting society if the rest of them sit around doing nothing much, for example.
    There’s no depth in the majority of the game, and precious little of the kind of emergent behaviour that might have created the “stories” that people are supposed to create.
    Indeed, I’m the kind of person who *does* like to invent stories about how things come about in open-ended games… and I found Spore tremendously hard to do this with. Ironically, the attempt to be open and yet also be a “good game” in all the stages produced a compromise hybrid that simply annoys me with its lack in both directions…

    (It’s not, as I complained before, that Tribal is *easy* that’s the real problem – it’s that there’s nothing really interesting about it – even the creator options are horrible.)

  47. gattsuru says:

    One thing that seems to have driven Spore’s development, especially with after-the-fact interviews like this, was that the team was focused on “Features”. Lionhead Studios had a bad habit of the same thing. “Features” look great on press releases, but they don’t actually make games fun.

    The autosave is the most obvious example. This is a game that encourages players to go through a multi-hour session in a single sitting for one of the easier achievements, and which can easily involve dozens of hours of gameplay time. Meanwhile, the ability to encounter your own beings and/or empire doesn’t really come up often — I ran into my own creations several times through autogenerate, but never had a reason to spend time near one of my own empires. The former is basic; it’s design and important to how players experience the game… but the Feature comes first.

    The creature creator (and, to a much, much greater degree, Tribal clothing and Civilization vehicle creator) has similar concerns. Building things from the ground up and having those choices affect the being’s abilities was a Feature, but one that just didn’t work. Instead of abandoning the Feature, the actual gameplay attributes are reduced or removed — there’s no lasting benefits or costs for picking up feathers early on in Creature since you can just add them on while evolving to Tribal, or where your designs in Tribal really change things for Civ or space. The reasons are obvious, but rather than abandon the Feature (and thus either guide people toward certain designs or divorce form from all essential function), the gameplay choices were abandoned or reduced to make the Feature work.

    There are places where this works out. I’m not sure this is one of those situations.