Spore Galactic Adventures Preview: Now You Can Create the Game Part, Too

By Nick Breckon, Jan 22, 2009 11:17am PST It's hard to think of a game that collapsed under the weight of its own hype faster than Spore--at least in the eyes of the core PC gaming community.

And yet, as flawed as it undeniably was, Spore did make great strides in the area of user-created content. Maxis claims that over 65 million creations now inhabit the Sporepedia, which is still growing at a rate of 200,000 works per day. Making creatures and spaceships was indeed fun.

No, Spore wasn't so much lacking in the creation department--it was the provided game modes, though charming in concept, that didn't hold up. And at the end of the day, it's hard to become invested in your creations when there isn't much to do with them.

Maxis' solution to this problem was to leverage the strength of its creation tools to solve that lack of gameplay depth. The result--Galactic Adventures--is, quite simply, a game creator.

On a basic level, the expansion adds new "beam-down" missions to the space portion of the game, which sees evolved creatures exiting their spaceships to complete missions on foot. These tasks can range from escort missions to racing games; from simple fetch quests to dialogue-ridden epics. All are completed from the perspective of the original creature game--only now your creature and his squadmates will be packing rocket launchers and jetpacks.

Maxis will be providing a number of crafted missions as a new single-player campaign. As the missions progress, a new Outfitter mode will allow players to unlock and deck out their sci-fi creatures in various weapons and utilities--from the aforementioned rocket launchers to laser knives.

To go along with the space theme, a new "energy" bar will be added below the standard hitpoint meter. Battery packs will now be needed to balance out the cost of the energy-powered weapons. Jetpacks and gliders are just a few of the energy-based contraptions that Maxis has devised. And now the user scaling of the weapons will actually make a difference, with fatter rockets costing more energy and doing more energy than skinny, faster-firing ones.

But rather than simply providing this additional content and clothing, Maxis is also including the Adventure editor--a full-featured set of mission creation tools.

The Real Adventures of Spore
The Adventure editor essentially lays bare a plethora of Maxis' mission tools for user creation. Anything from basic AI routines, to a planet's water level, to a creature's hitpoints can be tweaked and customized. On top of the toolsets, Maxis has provided a fairly large suite of objects and effects to play with, including music tracks, ambient noise, random objects such as crates, and other essential elements of game design.

Each user-created mission begins with the customization of a new planet, as for each mission will require its own unique planet. As far as planetary decoration goes, rather than being constricted to Spore's original design, players will be free to place buildings in any arrangement and number they please, allowing for much more involved environments. Roads, rivers and other geological formations are all available to morph at will.

After the planet is taken care of, it's time to create actual mission content. Creatures, vehicles--any object from the original Spore can be placed on the planet by dragging it from a browsable menu. Once on the ground, you'll have the option of moving and scaling the object itself, and then applying various variables to give it context.

For example, a creature will have sliders for awareness--the radius denoting the point at which it will notice the player, for good or ill--health, and other characteristics. Its movement can be set to patrol a set path, or to wander aimlessly. Its dialogue can be customized, and its appearance changed and easily copied.

Creatures can be used as bad guys, triggered in the same way as a World of Warcraft enemy. They can also be employed as NPCs, giving out a quest with a dialogue bubble or two. They can be set to follow the player in Pikmin style, or to stick with a specific team of creatures. Many of these triggers and properties are still being tweaked by Maxis.

On top of all that, objects can have "goals" applied to them--basic objectives that the player will need to fulfill in order to complete the mission. For instance, adding a "move to" goal to a flag object could serve as the finish line of a racing mission. Adding "collect" to several bottles could make for the beginnings of a fetch quest--a quest that is provided by a creature with a "talk to" goal.

It all sounds more complicated than it really is. Dropping in characters and adding properties was all accomplished with simple browsers and radial menus. Presumably, the complicated part is using the basic tools to create a game that other users will actually enjoy.

A few aspects of the editor gave me hope of some interesting gameplay. Chiefly, the fact that users can now add dialogue to their bizarre creatures can only mean good things for internet comedy. On top of that, Maxis will ship the game with a few objects that could open up some interesting gameplay. One such object was a simple Quake III-style jump-pad, with settings for small, medium or large ejection. If only Spore had a true multiplayer component.

Moderation In All Things
After publishing a mission, user-created missions will be propagated and shared in the same fashion as creatures were in Spore. Each mission can be output to a PNG image file of a planet and shared manually, just as creatures could in the original game. A rating system will ensure that the best missions will be pollinated into your own universe more frequently.

While playing a mission, the tasks are presented in an MMO-style quest check-list. At the end of the mission, your score is tallied, with the fastest times being tallied on the mission's leaderboard. Gold, silver and bronze medals will be awarded to the current top three leaders--meaning players will have to compete to retain their rewards.

Thankfully, Maxis won't be harshly moderating the created levels. Developers assured me that they will only consider taking down a level if Maxis receives actual complaints. This extends to not only copyrighted material, but also to obscene content--which, apparently, the team has been getting a kick out of.

Rather than simply adding more content to the original game, Maxis is opening up another creation tool in Galactic Adventures--and in doing so, has guaranteed plenty of user-provided space and creature content in the same stroke. It's a smart move on the surface.

Of course, whether these missions are fun to create is one thing--whether they'll be any fun to play is another. No matter how clever the tools are, if the resultant missions are only simplified versions of other games, it won't be worth the effort. The Adventure editor more or less does for Spore what the level editor does for LittleBigPlanet--but save for a few goofy jump-pads, it may lack the freedom that the latter game provides for inventive gameplay styles.

And yet, it's hard not to imagine that with full control over characters, dialogue and mission goals, the internet will provide some pretty hilarious content. Youtube videos may prove to be this expansion's best advertisement.

We'll know more about the game's prospects when we get on our hands on it in the future. For now, know that it should be out this spring.

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