The focus of the 2006 Leipzig Games Convention is largely on European publishers, but that hasn't stopped American publishing giant Electronic Arts from drawing a substantial crowd with playable demos of games like Crysis, Need for Speed: Carbon, and Spore. As much as we're fans of guns and cars, we decided to check out Spore first. After all, the game is the brainchild of the one and only Will Wright, whose last original project turned out to be one of the best-selling video games of all time.
The only playable portion of Spore at the Games Convention is the creature editor. Without any previous experience with the game, we made an adorable little abomination of nature, using just a mouse, in a matter of minutes. Simplicity is the theme with the Spore interface, making it very easy to create a wide variety of custom creatures.
You begin with a simple, colorless blob with a spine. You can click individual vertebrae on the spine to make each one thicker or thinner, and you can lengthen the spine by pulling on the ends with the cursor. There are constraints on the size of your creature, although it's one of the only limitations we encountered while using the creature editor. Once you have the general shape of the body, you can begin to add appendages and organs.
Working down the list of item categories on the left side of the screen, you'll start by adding a mouth. There are a few dozen mouths to choose from, including mouths with pincers, suckers, sharp teeth, and plain old humanlike lips. Each mouth has a different attribute that will affect the stats of your creature. A large mouth full of teeth, for example, might give your creature plus-10 points to its biting ability. The type of mouth also affects whether your creature will be a carnivore, herbivore, or omnivore. You can place as many mouths as you see fit on your creature, and you can place them wherever you want. If you want a four-armed creature with pincers on its elbows and eye stalks on the back of its knees, you can go ahead and create one.
Sensory organs are added next, which are just as varied as the mouths. You can cover your creation with ears, antennae, eyeballs, pig snouts, and so on. The items that are placed in pairs are automatically arranged symmetrically. In fact, you can make a single pig nose split in half so that one nostril is on one side of your creature and the other nostril is on the other side. Just as with all the other items, you can adjust the angle and size of every eye, ear, nose, and mouth you place.
Of course, it doesn't matter how many body parts your creature has if it can't get around to find food and evade predators. This is where the arms and legs come in. This is the most limited of the item categories in the game, with a dozen or so different arms and legs to choose from. Most of the limbs look the same, but each one has unique attributes to consider when building your creature. Once placed, you can click on each joint to arrange its position in relation to the other joints and the rest of the body. The legs and arms affect your creature's movement, attack, and speed--all of which are important factors in determining how your creature will behave and survive in the actual game.
Arms and legs aren't very handy without hands and feet, but Spore has you covered in that department. There are dozens of hands and feet available to choose from. There are hands with five thin, dexterous fingers, hands with stubby bumps that might well be thumbs, and clawed paws that are clearly made for attacking rather than grasping. These items are placed on the end of legs or arms, and if you place a foot on the end of an arm, that foot will automatically become a hand. Oddly enough, the type of hand you choose affects your creature's social skills.
Some of the most interesting creatures you'll find featured in National Geographic or on the Discovery Channel are creatures that possess some sort of extreme defense or hunting mechanism, like the skunk, angler fish, or chameleon. These sorts of evolutionary oddities are commonplace in Spore, because you can give weapons to any creature you make. Among the weapons we saw were a hard clublike appendage, jets capable of squirting out venom or other chemicals, and items with purposes unknown.
The final touch before you slap on the first coat of paint is the special items. These items don't seem to have any affect on your creature's behavior; they're there to add a bit of flair to your creation. There are flowers, leaves, fins, and spikes. The creatures look distinct enough with all the other available customization options, but the special items are one more step in making sure that every creature is one of a kind.
After you've assembled your own personal freak of nature, you can give it some color using the very simple texturing tool in the game. You can choose a base and highlight color, as well as a handful of different patterns, in just about any color you like. There are also about half a dozen preset themes in the game if you can't decide on a color scheme.
Once you have your creature built and ready for action, you can click the play button in the top left corner of the screen to see your creature in a more natural environment. You get a small patch of land to explore, and you can move around at your leisure and issue commands such as attack, defend, and play. Using this tool, you can determine if your creature behaves as you want it to before sending it out into the real game world. If you don't like something, you can tweak it with a quick click or two of the mouse.
From start to finish, it took us less than 10 minutes to create a fully functional creature using the in-game editor. You could certainly spend much more time than that, though, depending on how detailed you want to get. That you can create a creature without ever using anything more than a single mouse button is impressive, and it's fun to experiment with different body parts, configurations, and designs to see how it ends up. We're looking forward to getting some hands-on time with the rest of the game, so be sure to check GameSpot often for updates. Also, don't forget to check out all the new screenshots, previews, trailers, and interviews from this year's Games Convention in Leipzig, Germany.