Last year's highly anticipated Spore was released with much ado to fans who may not have found everything they wanted from the multistage evolution of a microscopic entity to a spacefaring tribe. But many players, particularly younger ones, dived into the creature creator editor, which lets you build a customized critter with as many arms, legs, and eyeballs as you care to graft onto it. And the huge universe of Spore is going to get huger with Galactic Adventures, a new expansion that will add role-playing-like "adventures," which are custom missions that resemble a single-player role-playing game. You can build these adventures yourself to explore and conquer them with RPG-character-like "captain" critters. For more details, we spoke with lead producer Kip Katsarelis and with software engineer Shalin Shodhan, who has devised a clever way to capture Flash-based "360" screenshots, which we have to share with you on the second page of this very story.
GameSpot: Give us an update on the progress of the game's development. What is the team working on now?
Kip Katsarelis: The last month has been really exciting. We've locked down and tuned all of our shipping missions and have really been focused on bug fixes, polish, and usability improvements. People have been busy building their own adventures and sharing them with the team. Every day there is a long chain of "Check out my adventure" e-mails. I can't believe what people are making. It's so much fun.
GS: Tell us a bit about the captain system in Spore. This seems like a departure from the original game's focus on building up a race of critters. Now, with captains, players build up individual characters. What are these captains' abilities and attributes? How can they develop?
KK: Captains start out as regular creatures. By taking them into Space Game or starting them through Quick Play Adventures, they will set on the captain path. There are 10 levels for captains to go through, and they gain experience and rank by completing adventures. Their primary titles are based on their archetype, which are determined by playing the core game. Their secondary titles are based on the parts you equip them with. Captains earn new accessories and abilities each time they gain rank, so they can have at most 10 captain parts. There are 32 new accessories and abilities, so the idea is that players will have fun building lots of captains and trying different combinations of parts. We've also introduced a few new stats for captains. These include energy and shields. Many of the parts, like jump packs, require energy to use. Some of the new abilities include holo charm, stealth field, freeze blast, and summon swarm. Get ready to build your captain, gather your crew, and beam down to strange alien worlds.
GS: We understand that the adventures system will let players create, upload, and then play through different adventures with their captain characters. Is the idea that this will basically be a huge repository of episodic role-playing game adventures for people to play?
GS: We do role-playing really well, so I do expect a good number of them. The adventure creator is extremely robust and will allow creators to make a wide variety of adventures. We've been able to create action games, platformers, puzzles, and exciting racing games. We added leaderboards to every published adventure for a reason. We fully expect creators to make challenging games that do have replay value and push players to compete on the leaderboards. Earning a top-three score on an adventure will earn that player a trophy that will appear on their My Spore page. On the flip side, we think creators will make adventures that are simple galleries showing off all of their cool creations. Sort of like an interactive Sporecast. Then of course there are going to be the totally unexpected adventures that none of us could have predicted.
GS: We understand that adventures can have up to eight "acts." But just how huge can an adventure be? How much virtual real estate can be contained in an entire adventure?
GS: Yes, a single adventure can be up to eight acts, and they have an entire planet to play with. We do have a complexity limit for both planet editing and adventure building that will limit the amount of cast members that can be placed in an adventure. We've been pretty lenient with the complexity. It's amazing the amount of stuff one can cram onto a planet. If you haven't played it yet, you must check out Mother Ship Down. It's huge!
GS: How do these adventures lend themselves to capturing media? We understand that the team has come up with a way to capture 360-degree screenshots. How does this work?
Shalin Shodhan: The adventures made by the studio are really impressive. There's a lot of action, beautiful art and effects, so we came up with a way to showcase them by taking panoramic screens.
(Left-click and drag around the image to view this Flash 360 screenshot.)
The 360-degree screenshot technology works by taking six pictures inside the game where the camera is pointing in the six canonical directions. So, we take a picture of front, back, left, right, top, and bottom views at an interesting point in the adventure. These are then mapped onto the insides of a cube and presented inside a Web browser using Flash. This tool is not available in the shipping game, but we might consider making it available to players in a future patch.
There's a number of other capturing media supported by Spore Galactic Adventures as well. You can capture videos of the gameplay you create and share them to YouTube from within the game itself. You can also take screenshots of up to twice the resolution at which your game is running. Every time you save a Spore creation in any editor, including the Captain Outfitter, a 36 (or less) frame GIF file containing a summary of your edits gets saved in your Animated Avatars directory. You can also capture GIFs in the test-drive mode of the editor.
GS: Aside from hack-and-slash combat adventures, what other kinds of adventures can players build?
KK: The variety of adventures is unbelievable. We are shipping with 16 Maxis-made adventures. These were designed to show off the wide range of possibilities. In Concert in the Park, you must bring a band back together by following clues and finding the missing band members in order to get the show back on the road. Mr. Puzzles requires a sharp mind in order to get through the colored gates by finding the matching keys. Bahaha 500 is a time trial with numerous paths, shortcuts, power-ups, and obstacles--how fast can you get through?
GS: Spore was an outstanding game for younger players to dabble with, especially for the creature creator. What aspects of Galactic Adventures are being made more family-friendly?
KK: Our goal from day one was to make sure the adventure creator was as easy to use as our other creators. One of the things we've found is that the adventure creator is really a fun toy that anyone can use and will have an endless amount of fun with. Its simple drag-and-drop design, direct connection to Sporepedia, and its seamless transition from build to test mode really brings the sandbox back into Spore. It's a common scene around the office these days to see two to three people standing at someone's desk laughing hysterically at something they've built in the creator.
GS: And what aspects of Galactic Adventures are being designed for more-ambitious, serious players willing to commit some time and effort? For instance, how much depth awaits players in the adventure editor?
(Left-click and drag around the image to view this Flash 360 screenshot.)
KK: As I said, our goal was always to make sure the adventure creator was easy to use. However, this is the Spore team we're talking about, and we have to think big and about all types of customers. We know from the Spore creators we have a very active and talented community. They want the advanced features, so they can make the cool stuff for all to enjoy. It starts with our Advanced Panel, where creators can open an advanced UI panel for any cast member, exposing a wide variety of sliders, behaviors, team settings, speech balloons, and more. Here you can set a creature's health to invulnerable, change their speed, or increase their damage. Maybe you want to change a peaceful vehicle to aggressive so it attacks everything in sight or simply set a building to respawn when destroyed. If this isn't advanced enough for you, we have a Super Duper Advanced Behavior UI (working title) that can be accessed off the Advanced Panel. We've exposed our AI behavior system, pumped it up, and wrapped it in an easy-to-use UI, allowing full control of how and when creatures behave. We've been able to re-create capture-the-flag-style games played out by non-player characters.
GS: Finally, is there anything else you'd like to add about Galactic Adventures or the Spore series in general?
KK: The core elements of Spore--create, play, and share--are the foundation of Galactic Adventures. I can't wait to see what people do with this game and what creations they come up with. The possibilities are limitless, and I believe people will be pleasantly surprised by its ease of use. I'm ready to beam down. Are you?