Will Wright is one of the big names in video games. Co-founder of Maxis Software, creator of SimCity and the uber-popular The Sims, he’s widely regarded as one of the greatest developers of all time. There are very few games he’s made that I don’t own. When he talks, everyone listens and he gave one hell of a talk at GDC on the topic of “The Future of Content in Games” and he used an upcoming game he’s been working on as an example. Called Spore the game is easily one of the most ambitious undertakings Will has ever attempted that allows players to start off as a simple single celled animal in the primordial ooze that evolves over time to the point that you eventually are engaging in space exploration and the invading of other worlds. The game’s interface literally evolves with the player over time introducing more and more features as the game shifts from one phase to another and it incorporates game play aspects from some of Will’s favorite video games that have come before. Ranging from Pac-Man to Diablo to Populous to Civilization this one sounds like it has it all. The folks over at 1up.com have a comprehensive overview of the game demo Wright provided at GDC:
Spore touches upon a wide array of game play concepts as the action evolves alongside the player’s creature. Wright revealed six different themes of game play: tidepool, evolution, tribal, city, civilization and invasion. Each of these modes draws upon its influences while remaining stylistically consistent with the rest of the game.
- Tidepool phase: In the game’s initial state, the action most resembles a sort of free-form Pac-Man. There’s also a strong hint of Super NES classic E.V.O. and quirky GameCube cult favorite Cubivore; fighting and consuming other creatures allows you to adjust the form and abilities of your creature.
- Evolution phase: Once your creature begins to grow and take on a distinct physical form, the game switches to a more Diablo-like feel. With its emphasis on battling other creatures to strengthen yourself while making forays away from your safe haven, this section is very much about growth and development.
- Tribal phase: When your creation has achieved a satisfying level of physical development, you can focus on its mental acuity. At this point, you relinquish control of an individual and instead move to a streamlined RTS interface, caring for an entire tribe of your homebrewed beasties, giving them tools, food and slowly upgrading their state of existence. Think Populous.
- City phase: Here the game becomes more like Wright’s own SimCity, with emphasis resting primarily on building up the technology, architecture and infrastructure of your race’s dwellings.
- Civ phase: Once your city is established, you can zoom out to the global scale. Here your people begin seeking out other cultures in a Civilization-style experience. Interfacing with the rest of the world can be tackled in many ways, be it militaristically or diplomatically; on foot, in boats or by airship. Ultimately, however, the goal is for your creatures to conquer the planet.
- Invasion phase: Once the world is your oyster, you can move on to other worlds in your solar system to colonize or terraform. And beyond that you’ll find other solar systems, scattered throughout a beautifully-rendered galaxy in which planets lurk among dust clouds and black holes spew ejecta. Here you set forth to make contact with other planets.
The Invasion section of the game is enormous, potentially endless. After hunting for other populated worlds, players can venture into the universe in the manner they think best fits their personality: Whether using the diplomacy of Star Trek or the destructive fury of War of the Worlds. Some races will welcome players, while others will greet interstellar visitors with hostility.
One of the more interesting aspects of the game is the heavy reliance on user created content. With Spore Wright aims to provide us with the framework for the game and the tools to make the content and then leaves it up to use to provide that content. You won’t be working on it all alone, however, as the game has the ability to connect to a central database and pull down content created by other players to help populate your universe and put in some variety.
The game’s community will be an essential element of the overall experience; although the networked aspect of the title is asynchronous—that is, no simultaneous multiplayer—other gamers will influence each player’s experience in many ways. Each person’s game environment will feature creatures, structures, vehicles and ultimately entire worlds created by their peers and exchanged seamlessly over the Internet.
The potential for variety of design is astonishing; the editor seemingly offers players amazing freedom in creating the creatures and objects that populate their worlds. Wright describes it as an “artist in the box” style, with the flexibility to produce objects and creatures to satisfy anyone’s tastes. Buildings on exhibit ranged from fluid Roger Dean-like architecture to grim mechanical fortresses; hideous monsters and picture-perfect Care Bears (really) existed side-by-side.
Although the game demoed this morning was clearly running on PC hardware, the prospect of ports to consoles (and handhelds, now that both PSP and DS have clear online strategies in place) is hardly unthinkable. The data transferred between games is minuscule in size; Wright has teamed up with European demo coders to assist the game’s design, capitalizing on their reputation for putting together amazing amounts of content in the smallest data space possible. As a result, Wright claims the data shared among users is incredibly compact and should be no trouble to store or transfer, meaning that even a DS game card could potentially store an entire galaxy of content.
The whole idea is that the game builds itself procedurally and on the fly providing the ultimate in free-form gameplay as gamers work to create their own stories and share their content with others. It all sounds amazingly ambitious and it’s easy to be skeptical on whether Wright can pull it off, but then you realize he was demoing this very game during his talk and it appears to be very well along in its development. Wright said he couldn’t talk anymore about the game until this May’s E3, but what he’s shown so far has everyone very excited.