I was going to add this onto the Spore release date entry, but it was good enough that I thought it deserved it’s own entry:
At the tide pool level, the gameplay is 2-D, then the game moves into areas where the gameplay is 3-D. Maybe that’s a bit easier transition to make with a mouse and keyboard than with a console controller, but can you talk about some of the things that you did to overcome the difficulty of creating a unified control system that could easily transition the player from stage to stage?
Well, part of it is we wanted stuff that players learn in one stage to basically be their early tutorial for the next stage. Even when you’re in the 2-D cell stage, the way you learn to move and make your cell do things mirrors the next phase of the game where you’re actually in 3-D. So the controls, we’ll have them mapped that way. The editors—the same concepts that we use in the 3-D creature editor are still represented in the cell editor, but just in two dimensions. It’s the same language that the player learns for how to manipulate things.
Also, there are some kind of broad concepts that go across the whole game that came in fairly late, after we got a sense of the entire thing, having to do with how we show your pollinated content. Every time you make something in the game you get a card; it gets pollinated to our servers so that we can get it to other players. We had to give players kind of a way of understanding that system. That at any time in the game they can hit a button, bring up their browser and browse the entire universe of content. They can look at what their friends have made; they can subscribe to Sporecasts, they can make buddy lists; they can tag content. We took a lot of the dynamics we saw going on the Web—especially social networking sites—and tried use that language to convey to the players how this all works.
What is “pollinated content”?
Whenever you make something in the game, a very compressed representation gets sent to our servers. As you play the game our servers are continually sending you new content for your world to fill out your ecosystem; your galaxy; opponents; cities; vehicles; whatever-it’s being drawn from our database of content that other players have made.
Now, it’s also trying to pick stuff that’s appropriate for your game level. You don’t want kick-ass creatures killing you right at the very beginning of the creature game. But the player also has a lot of control over that stuff. I can make a buddy list, and it will try to put my buddy’s content in my universe at a higher priority. I can subscribe to Sporecasts, which are aggregations of content that players have decided to basically organize themselves. Also, when I get a card for a piece of content—whether it be mine or somebody else’s—at any time I can open that card and leave a comment on the card, and the person who made that content will get the comment. It’s like a guest book for every card. So the idea is that there’s going to be a running community discussion group based around the content where every piece of content is its own thread discussion. Then we add things like Flickr tagging of content and stuff like that so that people can search what is probably going to be a very large database of content.
We’ve put a lot of functions in because this is unknown territory for a game, this type of sharing of content. Yet looking at The Sims, that was the thing you know people enjoyed almost as much as the game itself—sitting there playing, organizing, collecting the stuff that other players were making for the game. For them, that actually became a good bit of the gameplay of the Sims: people aggravating, collecting, browsing, and then using that content for things like storytelling.
Sporecasts? How cool is that?! You can be damned certain I’ll have a Sporecast going once I get the game. Go read the whole thing. Lots of good stuff in it including how it’ll play on the Nintendo Wii.