GDC 07: Creating Spore

Chaim Gingold leverages his experience designing sim's creature, vehicle, building, and planet editors to instruct developers on how to reach the broadest audience possible.

Gingold follows in the footsteps of Will Wright's previous Spore GDC presentations.

SAN FRANCISCO--Two years ago, when Will Wright made his groundbreaking demonstration of Spore to a captive audience at GDC 2005, he tried to describe what sorts of gameplay mechanics he wanted to incorporate. True to himself, he described them largely by analogy to various toys and pop culture touchstones from his childhood: Etch-a-Sketch, Mr. Potato Head, Star Trek, Erector Sets, and Pac-Man, to name only a few.

Fast-forward two years to GDC 2007. Though returning attendees might have been disappointed at the lack of any additional gameplay footage, Spore design lead Chaim Gingold's session titled "Spore's Magic Crayons" nonetheless proved to be an entertaining presentation, elaborating on some of the toy analogies Wright had presented previously by describing in detail the design challenges of the creature, building, vehicle, and planet editors. The session reinforced the notion that Spore is fundamentally about a return to the basics of game design; a turning away from the question of "Will this sell?" to the questions of "What do people love to do?" and "How do we help them create?"

Gingold attributed his crayon analogy to the children's novel Harold and the Purple Crayon, wherein a child draws objects with a purple crayon that magically comes to life. With that simile in mind, Gingold explained over the next 45 minutes how Spore's ultimate goal was to create an editor with the same ease of use, capacity for fun, and transformational ability to make something real.

Gingold first identified several reasons that creativity is fun: disproportionate feedback (large outputs from small inputs--for example, a slot machine), self-exploration/identification, constructionism (people caring about what they've built themselves), and social pleasure (people loving to show off what they've built).

But Spore's design team quickly discovered that there were myriad challenges with an emergent editor that embraced open-ended creativity. It had to be easy and fun. It had to satisfy a broad range of fantasies and expectations. The output had to work in the animation system and with the game's rule sets. And how do you intuitively design a 3D object editor with a 2D interface for non-Maya-savvy players?

Most generally, how do you design an editor that your grandmother could use that still can yield countless creatures of varying size and shape that work with the gameplay?

The short answer is that constraints were applied to the editors that maximize the possibility of well-designed creatures while minimizing player confusion on how to build them. There was a conscious--and as Gingold describes it, necessary--choice to reduce the breadth of the editing tool.

The challenge still remained, though, in creating a design grammar within the editors that players could universally understand. The solution was in finding the essential representation of the object being built (for example, a vehicle) in terms of its essential and easily recognizable building blocks (for instance, the cockpit). By utilizing this language of creation, Gingold argued, they could more easily guide player expectations and thus have them more consistently produce nuanced and high-quality creatures, buildings, and vehicles.

Before concluding, Gingold moved on to an interesting philosophical observation, waxing oddly Marxist. In humanity's past, people did everything themselves, and life was communal (albeit tribal). At a certain point, societies began to form, and work became more specialized (butchers, blacksmiths, and so on). In today's corporate structure, this specialization seems to have spread out enormously: the programmer who writes the code for hair animation, or the accountant who does the books for a particular department. And despite close living conditions, we still maintain a strong sense of privacy.

The information age, however, has begun to combat that isolation, returning an element of community by letting us share our personal content with our fellow human beings around the world. Gingold implicitly argued that tools like Spore's editors are not only enablers of unique content creation, but also facilitators of social interaction.

"The computer can breathe life into the things that the players are making," said Gingold. "And that's one of our superpowers."

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89 comments
paladin125
paladin125

I'll do whatever I can to get Spore on my computer.... I'll upgrade it until I can play, no matter the cost. I've already even reserved a copy of Spore at GameStop! :) I can't wait!

Ryker10000
Ryker10000

This Game Is going to be sweet! Finally some thing that wont bore me in a few days I hope any way!!! $$$$$$$$$$$$$$(SPORE)$$$$$$$$$$$$$$

GAMEGEEK1
GAMEGEEK1

Doggyspew "And saying that next gen systems lack the power is just plain stupid to say, since consoles are not THAT different in architecture from PC's." i fail to see how the creator/developers would be unable to talk about the reasons for what a game can do or can't do even if they do not reveal the system requirements to think such a thing is "stupid", i also do not know were u got power from i never said they didn't have the power, having the power to do something and the ability are two different things so unless u know everything about the CELL processor, 360s processor and PC processors and are intimately familiar with every aspect of the programing of SPORE u really have no were to talk. any way i looked into the subject a little more and Will Wright said "We’re looking at all the platforms for Spore, because we’re thinking about Spore as a franchise, not as a PC game. We’re going to do the PC game first, but really, what we’re trying to launch is an entire franchise that will be all across platforms.” to sum up the paragraph after this one spore will take on different forms depending on the platform used to play it(sept for the PS3 and 360 I'm thinking since they both use a standard controller as an impute device)like the handheld version could only be a portion of the game or the console version could be more avatar based. so apparently Spore will be on other platforms tho they are just making it for PC and apparently the DS ATM.

jfranks6106
jfranks6106

I don't really see how a single comment counts as an entire world, hmmm... oh well.

NetWiz
NetWiz

@jfranks6106: Sorry to spoil you little illusionary world, but the processor in the 360 only runs at 3.2 GHz and not the ridiculous 5.5 you mentioned. I don't know where you get your facts, but you better double check them next time. Anyhow, it's still tops the best of todays PC in raw horse power, but that'll change soon enough ;)

jfranks6106
jfranks6106

[This message was deleted at the request of the original poster]

jfranks6106
jfranks6106

[This message was deleted at the request of the original poster]

jfranks6106
jfranks6106

yea Idk what he's talking about.. lack the power? Xbox360 runs a triple core cymetrical cpu at 5.5 GHz. Last time I checked thats faster then any PC processor at the moment. I guess the only thing that might come close is the Intel Duo 2 extreme and thats only one cpu priced close to $1000.

DoggySpew
DoggySpew

@GAMEGEEK1 & Rhaxdric What the heck are you talking about ? System requirements are not announced yet, and seeing this is Maxis we are talking about, the requirements wouldn't be uberhigh. And saying that next gen systems lack the power is just plain stupid to say, since consoles are not THAT different in architecture from PC's.

GAMEGEEK1
GAMEGEEK1

Sry Rhaxdric but Spore will never come to a next gen console because from what i gather the CPUs that run them sum how lack the capacity or architecture or something to make use of the complex AI(or perhaps only this particular complex AI) used by the game tho I'm sure u can get around that some how it would ultimately mean a next gen console version would be inferior to the PC version in ways that detract almost everything from the game what makes it revolutionary.

trkyle
trkyle

Good thing i'm upgrading or i might not be able to run ti when it's released :)

Cabose420
Cabose420

man i cant wait till this game comes out :>

gatsbythepig
gatsbythepig

still waiting.... it should be revolutionary

Rhaxdric
Rhaxdric

Too bad my PC can't handle this game. I can hope that it comes to next-gen systems though.

-Squirrel-
-Squirrel-

For the PC? I thought this might also be on the 360. I'm not into computer gaming really so a port of this amazing looking game would be nice. And since so many more gamers use consoles for gaming, if they want to reach that grand audience I hope it comes out on a console. Could make an interesting Wii port. (Hecker would just love that, lol)

gahaz
gahaz

Wow, some are comparing it to mass effect and every1s worried that the editing tools will be too easy, but not many just hoping the silly thing comes out, and thats my concern. Though i have to admit im 23, and been gaming since 4, and i am very tired of games being toned down to support the casual gamers by making all the games simpler. Anyone play prey? pretty good game but u basicly had an ingame god mode, u resurrected right were you died wether you tried or not. hope this isn't a trend that will continue, or games will eventually become 30 mins long and u don't even have a health system....

cell-revo-
cell-revo-

Man, where is some more gameplay footage I havent seen any new content since last summer, but still this game looks so awesome i cant wait for it to come out,

LOGGER13
LOGGER13

ChainsawBunny : "How are some parents going to take my cock monsters?" I haven't read a comment that funny since the Clinton administration. I don't even want to imagine what their method of attack is.

chakan2
chakan2

Which gets released first, Duke Nuke 'em or Spore? Place your bets.

BigDaveyDogz
BigDaveyDogz

hmmm Q3 of 2007 Gamespot?? We shall see my friend. :|

ChainsawBunny
ChainsawBunny

Only thing what worries me about this game is content rating. The game will be using a-syncrhonous muliplayer (i know I cant spell it). What means you won't play against other people but your universe will be populated by other peoples creations. How are some parents going to take my cock monsters?

flazzle
flazzle

Big deal. Not going to buy it because of Hecker.

Filaki
Filaki

this is either going to be one of the best sims for pc or one of the hugest disappointments. the concept is great, who wouldn't want to have a go at creating a species? let's hope it turns out good, and if possible no more delays please! two years are enough, but i'll be happy if it simply turns out good

Takalth
Takalth

mourmos "Just hope that Mr. Wright has the sense enough to put everything usefull into spore at launch and that the first expansion pack for spore is spore 2." In some cases, expansion packs are the only way to make a decent profit. Quality developers are expensive, and a team of quality developers working on a project as long as Spore has been in development is REALLY expensive. In addition, expansion packs are good thing for most gamers(though I'm not a Sims player, so I can't comment on that particular series). To me, if a company can add content to a good game for a small price and with a short waiting time, that's a good thing.

gamer_girl15
gamer_girl15

Spore looks like its going to be amazing! Can't wait! :D

mourmos
mourmos

God, don't get the expansion pack travesty started. The Sims series was completely ruined by the commercial whoring that is the expansion pack and the battlefield series is well on its way to meeting the same fate. Expansion packs are born in marketing meetings. Promoting xp packs takes away from the original game and by throwing in new content into an old system, you always open the way for trouble. Just hope that Mr. Wright has the sense enough to put everything usefull into spore at launch and that the first expansion pack for spore is spore 2.

racerx737
racerx737

Im not much of a PC gamer, actually Im not a PC gamer at all, but I cant wait for Spore to come out becuse it looks like it could be simply amazing.

WmRedwine
WmRedwine

Spore is comming to the DS, and there is some speculation about other consoles. I am wondering what kind of expansion pack they could add... this game looks like it will have EVERYTHING in the box. I would buy an expansion if it could add something cool.

knowbrainer23
knowbrainer23

Yeah, by easy, I'm pretty certain that they mean it won't be confusing in creating a creature. The more appropriate (and more frequently used) term is 'intuitive'. Has anybody worried about the creature editor seen the videos showing creatures being made? There's alot of detail in and alot of versatility. It's not a simple paper doll type of editor like City of Heroes (sorry, but it is in CoH; lots of options, I know, but still paper dollish). For example, you could probably create a race of creatures that look like Cthulhu or some other Lovecraftian creature while someone else creates a race of Care Bears. Oh, and from what I recall, Spore isn't going to be coming to any consoles. Just Windows. And yes, Mass Effect is a completely different game than Spore.

SNIPER-CAZ
SNIPER-CAZ

Ive been waitng for this game for about 2 years!!!!

seasponge2004
seasponge2004

This game is so awesome. Cant wait till it comes out!

elvato87
elvato87

can´t wait for this game

Octaaf7
Octaaf7

cant wait! only 6 month left :)

Miskatonik
Miskatonik

timmygal3, Spore doesn't have anything on Mass Effect....because they're COMPLETELY DIFFERENT GAMES o.O

manapsal
manapsal

this game will be made of win

timmygal3
timmygal3

this game got nothing on Mass Effect

kingyoto
kingyoto

I WANT THIS GAME IT BETTER BE GOOD.

TimoTheThug
TimoTheThug

I guess this will be one great game to buy for my sister but i personally don´t look forward to it

DeathmageMokey
DeathmageMokey

Nice article, I thought. I really can't wait for Spore, even though I'll have to wait even longer (for the DS version) because my computer sucks.

Miskatonik
Miskatonik

Aww I was hoping for new pictures! Good article though.

evac156
evac156

I don't think the problem would be with the editor being "easy," per se. I think there's more of a problem with it being dumbed down, functionality being removed because it might potentially confuse unsophisticated users. Saying that the creature editor isn't an actual part of the game is a matter of perspective. With any RPG or simulation that allows for detailed design, there will be a mix of viewpoints. Some people want to whip up something quickly and get into the game. Others will be very interested in the minutiae of creature design. For example, look at the character editor in City of Villains. Designing characters in there is much more fun than the game itself. Having a basic and advanced mode of the editor might address the problem; it's a common approach, and one the design team has probably already considered. I'm disappointed by this article, because it talks only about the problems ("challenges") they faced, and doesn't mention anything about their solutions.

N4x0
N4x0

LOL, yeah, I'm with you... I'd like it not to have any expansion pack though

umbracascade
umbracascade

hm... so any bets on how many expanison packs spore will have? I put my money on 8 within 2010

aligon42
aligon42

I don't understand those who are scared that the editors are going to be "easy". They're just a tool, not an actual part of the game, so they don't really have a difficulty level, per se. The Maxis team isn't trying to make the editors "easier", they're making them more accessible and easy to use. This means it will be easier for new players to create the creatures they want, but that it will also be easier for good designers to quickly make the complex creation they wish to make....

frankgyeats
frankgyeats

I've been wanting this game since the first video I saw of it. I'll wait as long as they need to make this game a success, because I'm going to be hooked on this for a long time.