A Post-release Spore Interview: Maxis on Concerns, the 'Infamous GDC Demo,' and Content Expansion

After years of development, and a little hype to go with it, Spore has finally crawled its way out of the development pool and into the lifestream of retail. Already fans are devouring the anticipated game--some to delight, others to disappointment.

Recently I caught up with Spore senior producer Morgan Roarty and asked him whether Maxis is concerned about the game meeting the demands of both casual and traditional gamers. We also talked about cut features, the infamous GDC demo, and where the game is headed in the future.

Shack: So you've been with the game for four years?

Morgan Roarty: Just about three and a half years. Right before the GDC demo in 2005.

Shack: I was actually watching that demo earlier today. Would you say most of the systems seen in that demo made it into the game?

Morgan Roarty: It's pretty close. We've actually been--at one point, I think it was about three or four months ago, we were playing around with, we were gonna do a video montage of the finished game versus the infamous GDC demo. We're proud of it. A lot of those things in that demo made it into the game, and a lot of those at the time were undiscovered technology, and things that sort of sounded good, but nobody was sure how to do it.

You know, procedural animation is one of them. It's just an amazing technology, that when I joined the product, it was a research project. I was going, "How do we schedule this? How do we task this? How long is this gonna take?" And they're like, "Well it's a research project. It could take years." So it was really cool to be a part of that, and see those kind of technologies come about.

Shack: Did you ever have to reign in the experimental side of the team, just to keep the project on target?

Morgan Roarty: I think the interesting thing about the Spore team is that they're very passionate gamers. They're very passionate about making a good product. It was unique, in my experience. Everybody really cared, everybody played the game a lot, they shared a lot of feedback. Everybody brought a different gamer perspective.

Yeah, it was tough at times. It's one of those games that's really easy to imagine other things with. You know, I worked on James Bond games and Sims games, and those things to me, in my experience, seem to fit better in little boxes. There was always kind of a limit to what you could think of.

Spore classically was one of those games where every day people were coming up with--we used to call them "Spore Moments." "What if we added, what if we added this to that." It was really easy to imagine the possibilities. So I think that's going to speak well to the future for expansions and boosters. I mean, we already have lots of good ideas.

Shack: So I've been playing the game a lot. And while I enjoy the Space stage very much, I wonder if some people will find the early stages too simplistic, while others will find the latter stage too difficult. Was there a concern when it comes to meeting the demands of both casual and traditional gamers?

Morgan Roarty: I think one of the interesting things in the development is that we actually added easy, medium and hard later in the process. We sort of tuned all the games--and we have a wide range of people on the team--we tuned all the games, got a lot of feedback. And then sort of went, we need to go back to the classic easy, medium, and hard.

And I think that's a place where we started to put people--not in buckets, but like--we think easy is more of that casual gamer, let's make sure it's easy. The medium player is that sort of upper-end casual, and then make hard hard.

Shack: Hard can be really hard.

Morgan Roarty: Yeah, so we put a lot of effort into the tuning. I think it's just an interesting development thing that we added [difficulty levels] that late. We wanted it to be fun first, and then kind of went wider into the tuning.

Shack: Obviously some people might like one stage more than another, considering they are so different in terms of gameplay. Are you worried that someone who really enjoys the Creature Creator, for instance, might not enjoy the rest of the game?

Morgan Roarty: We've made a couple concessions. There are a couple things we've done there. We've made cheating available--go into the readme and there's a cheat to unlock all the levels. We've also made it really easy to unlock the next level. So if you're in cell game, maybe you don't like cell game, all you do is go in the editor once, come back out, quit out of that, and you unlock Creature game. Creature game, you go in the editor once and you unlock tribe game.

With cheats, and allowing people to unlock things really easy, hopefully if people don't like a stage or want to focus on another stage, it's easy for them to bounce around.. It's one of those games that gets better as you play.

Shack: Was there always a push to make Spore accessible for people who haven't played games before? Do you expect a lot of fresh gamers?

Morgan Roarty: We're really hoping. We hope we really get kind of the hardcore people just for the technology. There's really cool technology in there. We're hoping to get some of the Sims gamers, that style of gamer--community people, creators, collectors. And also some new gamers. Getting quite a few emails from coworkers, ex-people you've worked with, and saying, "Hey, I'm not big time gamer, but this sounds really interesting to me." Getting a lot of different emails from educators, too, so I think it's going to go pretty wide.

I got an interesting email from a colleague the other day that said--he was in a special ed school--and he installed the Creature Creator, and the special ed kids just brightened up. Especially if you put an eye on the creature and it blinks, and they come alive--there's something magical to that. So that's a very cool feeling.

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Shack: In the early conceptual phase, was the content creation aspect as central to the game as it is now?

Morgan Roarty: That was always part of the plan. My opinion is, I think we didn't realize the value of that. The moment when you're going through Creature game and you run into a species that you created is very cool. The moment you're out in Space and you run into a Space species that you created, or a friend of yours created--I don't think I understood the impact of that in the beginning. People mention that all the time. It's just a simple thing. To run into your own content is a very cool concept for our game.

Shack: Was the "massively single-player" cross-pollination of creatures always a part of the game, or was that added sometime later in development?

Morgan Roarty: Pollination was always part of the idea, the idea of sharing content. I think the thing that got added mid-cycle was the Sporepedia. That was something that wasn't in the original plan. But just the idea of a place where you can go and browse content, assign buddies, do Sporecasts, that was something we added. And we're really proud of the Sporepedia, it's a very cool feature.

I was on it today. Some people had made this species of creatures, and he invited people to make other variations of it. And there was just this really cool moment where about eight or nine people started pitching in making the Peekweek citizens, the Peekweek military guy, the Peekweek court jester. It was this really cool community moment where everybody was helping make a species, and if you select that Sporecast and go in the game, all those planets and all those worlds are going to be populated with those species. It's kind of a first for gaming.

Shack: How moddable is Spore, in the traditional sense?

Morgan Roarty: We definitely have people that took things in the Creature creator--there was a set of creatures done where somebody took off the skin of the creatures, and we're still trying to figure out how that was done.

Shack: Yeah, I saw that.

Morgan Roarty: Yeah, there's a whole bunch of these really cool skeleton guys. I never got all the details on it, but it looked like a mod. So there's a lot of possibilities there. Not something--there's no open tools that we're supplying yet, but there's definitely a possibility for people to start messing with stuff. We're hoping we built a really cool tool-set so that people don't have to immediately go there like they have with other products. But there are some possibilities there in the future for some more expanded tools.

Shack: Were the phases pretty solid all the way through development, or were there any that were axed or added late into the game?

Morgan Roarty: Uhh.. [Nervous glance toward EA representative.] Yeah, I mean, there was a city game at one point. You know, there's Cell, Creature, Tribe--there was a city design at one point, that sort of bridged Tribe and Civilization. That might be new information, but yeah. A game this big, the scope's so large, we had to start cutting and figuring out what we could get done.

Shack: Is there a chance we might see some of those ideas show up in future expansion content?

Morgan Roarty: Possibly. I think the exciting thing about Spore from a production standpoint are just the possibilities for the fiction. All the different areas we can go--more editors, more content, more worlds--just more fiction we can layer on the game. Even more parts for the editors. You've seen all the crazy stuff people have done just with those 218 parts. Adding more into that mix--

Shack: It'll be exponential.

Morgan Roarty: Yeah, it's really going to help the high-end creators. And I think it also helps--I was thinking about this today--I think it also helps those medium level creators. Just gives them more parts to play with, more things to kind of enrich their imagination.

Shack: There's been a lot of talk about how Spore is a platform that will be built upon.

Morgan Roarty: I mean, it was developed with that intent, to really add to it. You take The Sims' example, which a lot of people worked on that work on this game--yeah, there's a possibility there, and you might hear something upcoming about that.

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