The E3 2008 Business & Media Summit is under way at the LA Convention Center, and one of the games we headed for first was Spore, the upcoming hybrid strategy game from the mind of designer Will Wright and his hardworking team at Maxis. The game is extremely far along in development, and we took the opportunity to try out some of the space-based gameplay, as well as some of the editing tools. Interestingly, the demo version of the game we saw was the Mac version, which is scheduled to ship day-and-date simultaneously with the PC version.
You can jump into just about any of Spore's evolutionary phases if you prefer to skip ahead and not play the game from the primordial ooze. We skipped ahead to space-based gameplay by quickly choosing a race of critters and then choosing a predesigned spacecraft. When your race of critters enters the space race, your designed ship will be launched with much ballyhoo in a brief cinematic sequence, and you'll be given the chance to play through a brief tutorial that requires you to fly your ship through glowing orbs hovering over a handful of cities on your home planet. The idea is to get you used to the control scheme, which lets you right-click your mouse to move to where your cursor is pointing and use your scrollwheel to simultaneously zoom in and out of your world view, as well as to change your ship's altitude.
Once you've completed this brief tutorial mission, you'll be awarded your captain's badge and be fully cleared to travel to deep space, which you can do simply by zooming out so far that your home planet becomes a tiny orb--this will jump you and your ship to an outer space view. You can then start clicking to fly to different planets, which may contain various objectives. When we first made our jump into space, we noticed that our home planet had a small moon orbiting it. By heading straight to this moon, we were given a brief mission to follow our onboard radar (a toggle-able power in one of our ship's ability menus, which also includes weapons and miscellaneous tools, such as tractor beams that can be used to abduct other life-forms) to a crash-landed spaceship, which we then scanned for data. As you explore the galaxy, you'll receive other missions in the form of distress calls and, eventually, diplomacy with other races. Apparently, the primary goal of the space-based game is to discover the center of the universe. (As it turns out, your home planet is located on the outer fringe.) This voyage of discovery can be completed in a few hours and will eventually let you discover certain "truths" about your race's development and place in the universe. It will end with the acquisition of a fantastic new power that EA's developers declined to discuss. If you care to, you'll be able to continue to explore the universe after completing the space game--but that will take a while, since the space game will offer, according to EA, half a million planets to explore.
We also took some time to try out the game's editing tools to create various vehicles, such as spaceships and land vehicles. The tools seem just as easy to use as the creature creator (which has been available to the public for some time now). They let you stretch and morph your vehicle's chassis however you please, then add wheels, cockpits, wings, and weapons by spending a limited number of points that are represented in a status bar on the right of the screen. For instance, more wheels on a land vehicle make it move faster but leave you fewer points overall to equip heavier weapons. In addition, the vehicle customization tools let you paint any and all parts of your vehicles with various colors, gradients, and patterns, and you'll even have the option to pull up any existing creature in your database and match your vehicles to that creature's skin tone with a single click.
We're told that the game's social networking tools are constantly being worked on. The "Sporecast" functionality, which lets you group various created content (creatures, vehicles, buildings, and so on) and name the group (or, alternately, label it with YouTube-esque tags), is already in the game. You'll also apparently be able to share other types of information, including a stat-heavy timeline of your critters' evolution from the bacterial stage to the space age. This timeline will show how your creatures developed as more carnivorous, omnivorous, or herbivorous critters and also developed various abilities relating to those tendencies (carnivore races will have predatory powers available at different stages of civilization, such as threatening roars at the creature level and hunting traps at the civilization level).
Spore is clearly coming along well and may very well deliver on its tremendous potential. The game is scheduled for release in September.