The original Spore, released just last year, offered a hugely open-ended creature editing tool that let you make all sorts of crazy-looking critters and then follow them through the evolutionary cycle from the petri dish to the tribal stage to the space age. Galactic Adventures, the upcoming expansion pack, will add all-new role-playing game and construction-set elements to Spore by letting you create crazy-looking alien critters that aren't just representatives of new species, but rather are spacefaring “captains” that can star in their own role-playing game adventures. Oh, and you’ll be able to make your own role-playing adventures, too. We gave the expansion pack a whirl and have much to report.
When you start a new game of Galactic Adventures, you’ll find that the adventure editor tools are locked until you play through a tutorial adventure with a captain character to give you a sense of what’s available. You can choose from the huge array of Maxis’ pregenerated captain characters, or you can build your own. We chose to create our own captain character so that we could play with the enhanced creature creator, which still starts you out with a basic, teardrop-shaped torso-with-backbone and still lets you slap on whatever mouths, arms, legs, hands, and feet you like.
However, the part selection has been expanded with more-powerful pieces that carry more-powerful combat and social properties (to go with Spore’s action-based combat and dance-based creature social system). You’ll actually need this heavier-duty stuff to take on combat and social missions, which focus much more heavily on fighting and charming the characters you meet--there’s no evolution in the expansion’s adventures, just lots and lots of RPG-style quests. The expanded creature editor also includes a whole new set of accessories you can clothe your critters in, such as helmets, visors, breastplates, and other, kookier bits and pieces you can add to your would-be hero, to make him look like either a well-equipped pilot with a jetpack and tons of spacefaring gear or just a weirdo with gears sticking out of his neck. You know, adventure gears. For an adventure neck.
After your captain is created, you can hop into the tutorial mission, a super-simple level that requires you to primarily seek out and talk to various characters, though the mission offers a good demonstration of the kinds of environments you can build. This friendly adventure takes place in a relatively normal-looking town full of stone buildings and lots of party atmosphere. You must talk to the town’s bulbous, froglike mayor in a brief, letterboxed cinematic sequence before he sends you off to chat with other key figures in the town, and those conversations also take place in letterboxed cutscenes. In this mission, as in all others in Galactic Adventures, our progress toward fnishing everything was displayed in a great big shiny green meter at the bottom of the screen that filled up as we completed each task on our mission list.
Because this is a tutorial mission, finding the key characters is pretty easy, especially since the critters are large and colorful and Maxis’ designers thoughtfully created distinctive-looking town square areas for each, though you’re helped on your quest of discovery by the embedded ambient music that switches as you enter different parts of the adventure’s continuous, no-loading-zone area. The adventure even has a minigame that lets you pick up exploding pies and whiff them at an imprisoned, taunting clown. The minigame has no bearing whatsoever on your overall quest, but it’s an example of the kind of window dressing you can drop into an adventure, if you care to. Once we finished this adventure by talking to everyone we needed to, we were presented with a victory screen that had a success rating (in this case, 100 percent), though you can set success conditions in your own adventures that rate players based on how many items they collected, how many kills they made, and so on. We were also able to claim a reward from a variety of different upgrades, including new body parts that provided offensive bonuses and accessory items that offered miscellaneous bonuses, such as a cloak that increases the regeneration of your captain’s “energy” meter--the source of your captain’s power, which enables you to attack or to use any of your other abilities.
Having finished the tutorial, and having already played a handful of missions in our previous story, we skipped straight ahead to the adventure editor, which seems extremely powerful but pretty easy to use. Creating a new adventure requires you to first choose a planet on which your story will take place, and Maxis has helpfully provided tons of premade planets for this purpose (as well as premade captains, premade buildings, premade vehicles, and plenty of other stuff to get you started). You can also create your own planet or tweak an existing one, just like in Spore. Once you’ve created your planet, you can start building your adventure, and for this purpose, the first mission you create in Galactic Adventures has a helpful checklist that runs you through the process step-by-step, first placing your captain on the planet at his starting location and then choosing the creatures, buildings, and vehicles you’ll find there.
Once you have a stockpile of different cast members and scenery you want to use to tell your story, you can start placing them on the planet as easily as dragging and dropping them into the world, and you can use your mouse’s scrollwheel to enlarge or shrink them. You can also quickly copy anything you’ve dropped into the world if you want to create, for instance, a city full of the same buildings or a hostile den of enemies that all have it out for your hero. To set the mood, you can attach sound files within a radius of any character or object you want, so you can easily create a spooky desert plateau that plays a gusty wind sound, a social gathering of hip and groovy aliens who are chatting to a bebop tune, or the dead end of a maze that plays a canned audience laugh track.
Characters themselves can be tagged with multiple different behaviors, including their sight range, movement speed, and movement patterns (such as wandering randomly or patrolling an area), whether they’re hostile or friendly, whether they’re part of a quest (making a character or object part of a quest is as easy as dragging and dropping a “quest” marker onto that creature or object), and whether there’s any dialogue with that character. You can set up branching dialogue for each character, as well as thought bubbles and captions. And at any time, you can click the “play” button at the top of the screen to immediately play-test your adventure if you care to tweak exactly how long it takes to get from here to there, or you want to see exactly how tough of a challenge your enemies are, and so on. Considering that you can string up to eight “acts” together as an adventure, Galactic Adventures seems to have tons of potential for quickie five-minute play sessions and for epic , story-driven adventures…and for pretty much everything in between. Galactic Adventures will ship in June.