Some are thin and spindly, with larval eyes, stick-insect legs and antennae. Others are short and stubby, and coloured pastel. Some are painstaking recreations of real-world objects. One is an Xbox controller with eyes.
By 1 July, 1,481,107 creatures of all sizes, shapes and appendage density had been submitted to Sporepedia—an online database for Spore, the ambitious video game due for release on 7 September—by around 500,000 users.
Spore is the latest brainchild of Will Wright, the game designer behind Simcity and Sims, the highest-selling video game franchise in history, and his team at Maxis, a brand name for Electronic Arts, one of the world’s largest video game publishers. Wright’s Sims series has sold more than 100 million copies worldwide, spawning seven spinoff titles (including the ill-fated Sims Online), and 14 expansion packs to the two original games.
Spore attack: The game already has one-and-a-half-million submissions.
Spore sees the player controlling the evolution of a tiny, single-cell organism—all the way from an insignificant microbe to space-faring species. The game is often described as a “massively single player” game—one played offline, but with a game universe dynamically altered by the games of millions of players worldwide.
On 17 June, a component of the final game, called the Creature Creator, was released online. It allows players to create their very own critters for use in Spore, and so far, the response has been staggering: 250,000 creatures were submitted on the first day, at a rate of 173 submissions per minute. Creature competitions have sprung up on numerous gaming sites and, as of 3 July, there were 72,850 videos of Spore creations on YouTube.
The user interface for the Creature Creator is elegantly simple, easy to pick up and not intimidating to non-gamers.
“This is a trademark that Wright gets right—getting a whole lot of non-gamers into looking at, and trying out, his games,” says Anand Ramachandran, a game-design consultant and columnist. “His games are always accessible to newbies, in my opinion a stellar quality that all game designers should emulate.”
All creatures start as basic blob-like backbone structures, which are modified by pulling at the joints. Left click to drag and pull, scroll the mouse wheel to add weight and shape, and right click to rotate the camera. Body parts—eyes, arms, legs, mouths—are all dragged onto the main backbone. The editor automatically snaps parts on to the body, following which their size, orientation and thickness can be adjusted at each joint.
Add a pair of eyes, and the blob blinks, looking around with wonder. Add antennae and horns, and it smiles, grunting with approval. A complexity meter on the top right watches over your creation, indicating when it becomes too complex and/or impossible.
Once the appendages are in place, you can pick and choose colour schemes and add textures and details, such as a row of horns down the spine, or cilia-like tentacles in symmetric patterns.
Watching the critters move is where Spore’s central innovation comes to the fore: the procedural animation. Procedural animation is generating creatures on the fly, making it possible to generate a much more diverse set of movements, something imperative for Spore’s ambitions, given the variety and unpredictability of player-created creatures.
“Spore wins because it’s easy to pick up, with simple, intuitive command interfaces, which means you don’t have to be a gamer to play the game. Even a casual player can explore and manipulate the game world at his/her own pace,” says Gopal Sathe, editor of www.split-screen.com, an Indian gaming blog.
Once you’re satisfied, hit the submit button, and your very own creature joins a million others online, held in digital cold storage till 7 September.