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Can a Great Toy become a Great Game?

June 19th, 2008 by Troy Goodfellow · 1 Comment · Design, Electronic Arts, Maxis

This was the week we finally got to play God. EA released the creature creator for Spore and, in a flash, the world was covered in cute dinosaurs, movie monsters and walking penises. The creature creator is intuitive, amazingly flexible and has, on its own, revived a lot of interest and excitement for the game.


When I showed the creature creator to my wife last night, she was, naturally, impressed by how cute everything was. But then she asked the question that most people are thinking – how does this work with the game?

Because in the main game, you control a creature from paramecium to space travel, adding and dropping bits as you move up the evolutionary ladder. You can add things to make it more powerful, more sexy and more intelligent. Like building a house in The Sims, this costs money; only big cheeses like Jehovah can create with no regard for budgets.

Clive Thompson argues that the creature creator is even more directly analogous to the house building in The Sims. He sees this toy as a step towards the democratization of understanding of 3D modeling, in a way that the construction tools in The Sims are similar to basic architectural software.

Wright is the undisputed reigning master of creating games that contain subterfuge training. Ever wonder how The Sims became the world’s top-selling game of all time? It’s not because people actually play it. Most longtime Sims fans quickly tire of creating families.

No, what hard-core fans love is The Sims‘ elegant “house-design” engine — which they use to painstakingly craft sprawling, monster homes, customized to the level of individual tile patterns they hand-draw in cracked versions of Photoshop. The Sims isn’t a game: It’s the world’s most popular architectural CAD package.

I think he goes a bit far with the Sims analysis. People play The Sims for a lot of reasons. But all the fun that people are having with the creature tool does raise the spectre of gamers populating a world with dancing pig monsters or furry centipedes and skipping all the work to get there by intelligent design.

Which is, I think, the strength of this design. Spore will be very open. You will be able to start at any stage you like, import whichever creatures you like and, like The Sims, there is a high chance of unexpected behavior and emergent narrative. Given how ambitious the game looks, it would be a shame if everyone just paid attention to the obscenities flowing from the internet.

I love this tool. I will probably get bored with it in a week or so, but for now, it’s a great time waster. But I hope I get a chance to see more of how this all fits together at next month’s E3.


One Comment so far ↓

  • JonathanStrange

    I’ve been playing with the demo and asking the same question. On the gaming forums I frequent, I’m diplomatic but even those oblique suggestions that “ok, it’s cool, but so?” meet with irritated responses. Now, it’s to be expected that some will be wildly enthusiastic at first, but in the long run? I’m still on the fence with this game.