SAN FRANCISCO--On the final day of the Game Developers Conference, Will Wright's "Future of Content" presentation contained a special treat for the bursting-beyond-capacity audience.
The treat was an extended demonstration of his next game, called Spore--a sim that allows the players to control life on all conceivable scales--an emergent and beautiful simulation game that ranges from the cellular level all the way to the galactic level.
The game allows the player to begin with developing a creature as a cellular entity and eventually creating a creature with more sophisticated brain functions, which will change the nature of the game to a more RTS-type game (he cited a particular favorite of his, Populous), where players will control herds of creatures. Once you upgrade the "hut" around which the creatures centralize, the game changes into what he called "a simple version of SimCity" where the player manages technology and interacts with other cities that have sprung up around the world.
He demonstrated how the player can eventually purchase a UFO to travel between planets--and eventually star systems--to populate, conquer, or simply observe. Particularly impressive was the game's emergent gameplay and seemingly infinite possibilities for playing creatively--two qualities that define Will Wright's celebrity status in game design.
His demonstration of Spore was framed through a design lens, as is the custom at GDC. The "hub" of the game, he asserted, was its compression. Since all the creature meshes, textures, animations, and behaviors are procedural (based on a set of algorithmic rules), this allows for an enormous quantity of player-created content, which he emphasized as another key element of the game's design that he has always fought for--the encouragement (in Spore's case, perhaps the necessity) of player creativity.
More so than in other games, he explained, he wanted to create a sense of both ownership (of the unique creatures and civilizations the player creates) as well as mastery (over the interface, which becomes more complex as the game's scale increases). The goal is to give the player simple tools to make them feel like they have tremendous leverage on the nature of the game itself. The game, then, becomes what he called "a creative amplifier for what the player has done."
Because of the compressed nature of the content, he went on, it allows for the generation of enormous content libraries. Moreover, the small content is easily portable. Players can interact with creatures, buildings, societies, planets, and star systems that other players have created.
Wright's presentation indicated that the passion that went into the design of Spore spoke to particularly inspirational television shows and toys from his childhood: Star Trek, Care Bears, War of the Worlds, Kid Pix, Pac-Man, Legos, and erector sets, to name only a few. Seemingly, Spore's emergent editors are the embodiment of the toys, and the content and gameplay the embodiment of the films. It made it seem almost as if he had been waiting his whole life to design this game.
When he fantasized about Spore years ago, Wright admitted, "My own imagination was my biggest bottleneck." He encouraged designers with ideas for games that are far outside the box not to give up on those ideas, but instead to cultivate them and revisit them later, when the time, the team, and the technology might be right. The demonstration of the "stellar zoo" that is Spore might have given hope to a new generation of game designers.
Spore is being developed by EA-owned Maxis Studio and will be published by Electronic Arts.