Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Spore Creature Creator

It's Aliiiiiiiiiiive!

On the night of June 17, in an ancient time-worn grotto, a group of hooded figures danced at a great bonfire. The Cyclopean ruins of some unnamed and ancient city kept the gathering secret in a concealing embrace. Round and round they danced, celebrating the approaching fruition of something cosmic, and diabolical. Far greater than the horror of this scene was the revelation that these persons were none other than Will Wright and the EA/Maxis team responsible for the impending new evolution simulator game, Spore.

It's been established that these guys know how to print money. They did it with the Sims series, and for whatever reason, the Federal Reserve never pursued the matter. Now I'm convinced they're about to do it again, starting with a devastatingly clever teaser program the likes of which I've never seen. It's sort of a pre-order program, except they have a regular pre-order program too.

Spore itself is not out until September, but EA/Maxis recognized the fact that players were going to relish agonizing over every tiny little detail of their creatures, and would spend literally hours playing with the character generation portion of the game. Why not let them get a jump-start? And so they released the creature creation portion of the game on June 17, as a free trial download, and as a $10 deluxe version.

Unlike regular pre-order programs which yield some trivial tchotchke in exchange for a downpayment and committment to buy the product (this helps marketing project retail sales figures, and is typically not a profitable exercise), Creature Creator is the actual character creation portion of the game. Not only that, you can download both the free trial and the full version, something most pre-order programs shy away from to avoid annoying their retail distributors.

Now, does the $10 you slap down for the full version go towards your $50 purchase of the game? NO, no it doesn't. And will we pay it anyway? If the fact that the initial wave of traffic crashed the EA store when the pay option went live is any indication, the answer is yes. There they go printing money again.

So they must be pretty confident in their Creature Creator, right? I'll be the judge of that, thank you, and it'll take more than just some eye candy and cute little animals to impress THIS jaded gamer. First of all...can I have that galaxy intro screen as a screensaver, pretty please? /drool

Creating a creature is incredibly easy, and it's not at all necessary to have something in mind ahead of time - just jump into the sandbox! My 2 year-old had NO trouble understanding that the creature we were making was composed of the body parts she pointed out, and had a blast putting together the beast in the video below. Once you've built your critter (which is virtually guaranteed to look cool), you can choose from a wide range of colors and body patterning, then take it for a test drive.

In the test drive phase, you can put your creature through various animation paces with the click of a button. Make it dance, flex, and confront it with up to 3 "mini-me" hatchlings. Adorable. Want a screenshot? Click a button. Want to film your creature? Click a button. Add your video to Youtube? Click a button. Send a postcard to a friend? Create an animated gif avatar? Everything is SO easy to do, and as the insert puts it, "This is just the beginning of your Spore adventure."

This game is going to take full advantage of the online social space. There's already a Facebook app going live in a few days, a Youtube creature dance-off contest, and talk of all sorts of blog embeds and online functionality, not to mention the automatic "MySpore" page that comes with your account, and the collective community Sporepedia your creatures will be added to (over 900,000 added already). Oh, and did I mention customizing coffee cups, t-shirts, and postage stamps with your favorite creation? Yeah.

I thought I'd escaped the ultimate timesink when I broke free of MMO addiction. This has the potential to be much, much worse, and the real game isn't even out yet. Be afraid. Be very afraid.

PS - 6/27/08
Oh, I am SO upgrading my pre-order to Spore Galactic Edition! For $80 - the new price point of deluxe editions it seems, shared by Guitar Hero Aerosmith - you get the game, a special handbook, a 'Making of Spore' DVD video, the 'How to Build a Better Being' DVD video by National Geographic, and a couple other nice though less exciting items in the form of an art book and a fold-out poster. Definitely worth the extra cash from what I've seen so far.

Yes, Will Wright, so far you're doing a great job wining and dining me after the rough breakup I had with Peter Molyneux. Peter, I will ALWAYS love you for The Movies, and for the opening sequence to Dungeon Keeper 1, but Black and White 2, and Fable, just didn't have the magic. I hope we can stay friends, maybe with B.C. for the XBox...

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