Spore: Hands-On

Spore: Hands-On

Next-Gen doesn’t often publish game previews, but when Will Wright invited us over to play his latest masterpiece, we couldn’t very well refuse.

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Will Wright does not do things by halves. That’s just as well, since with Spore, he will attempt to outdo The Sims, now officially the biggest-selling game of all time, having overtaken Myst and shifted, in all its variants, in the vicinity of 60 million units. Spore, undoubtedly, is his most ambitious project: It consists of five distinct phases, each pretty much a game in its own right, and mixes action-adventure, space-simulation, and RTS gameplay. But what will it be like to play?

Next Generation had a unique chance to get some hands-on Spore action, so we can offer some insight. A note of caution is required, however. Thanks to careful planning that ensured that the game’s most innovative aspects, such as the procedural animation engine and the super-friendly editors, have been in design and prototyping for years, all the building blocks of the game are now functional. Even so, it is clearly going to take Maxis at least a year to stitch all the elements into a coherent whole. But it is already fun to play.

Sadly, we were unable to try the first phase of the game, in which you design a single-cell organism, send it out into the wild, and hope it survives and evolves. But, according to Wright, that phase will be little more than a glorified tutorial, anyway.

Designing a creature

In many ways, the next phase – creature design – will be the core element of the game. And we were able to dive into the editor, design a creature, and send it out into the wild. The Creature Editor is astonishingly easy to use and powerful. You start by picking a backbone, which you can stretch by pulling the ends, and deform by grabbing and pulling (Maxis calls it a metaball). It comes with a standard thickness of flesh around it, which again, you can adjust, creating a body which could resemble your favorite animal or something never before seen in nature.

moscallout It is clearly going to take Maxis at least a year to stitch all the elements into a coherent whole. But it is already fun to play./moscallout

Once you’re happy with your backbone, it’s a simple matter of picking components (such as legs, arms, heads, eyes, antennae, and so on, which Maxis calls rig-blocks) and attaching them to your creature. Here, the editor does much of the work for you, snapping objects into place (and letting you know when you’re trying to do something it won’t allow by color-coding the new part in red) and assembling a skeleton.

The longer you play the game, the more body-part choices you get – collecting DNA from other species opens up new options (such as upgraded feet which allow your creature to run faster). And when you reach the final space phase of the game, you get access to genetic engineering, which opens up all the options in the creature editor, so you can really indulge yourself.

When you’re satisfied with your creature’s physical appearance (and there are plenty of decorative fins, horns, and stalks with which to adorn it), it is time to color and texture it. Maxis developed a special intelligent texturing tool, which recognizes different body parts and essentially lets you airbrush your creature with your chosen color scheme, and you can add overlays, such as stripes running down its back. When your creature is done, the game generates stats for speed, attacking abilities and so on, which becomes its Sporepedia card (Spore is likely to come with an accompanying card game).

It may not be there in the same form in the final game, but you could also hit a menu item and send your creature to Maxis’ 3D printer, which automatically creates a model of it. It is likely that a model-making service (which will probably require payment) will be available when the game appears. And before you send your creature into the wild, you can put it into a testing ground – in which you can click a button and see what its babies will look like and, for example, hear what noise it will make (which is dictated by the type of mouth you chose).