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Take A Galactic Adventure In Spore's First Expansion
by Brad Shoemaker on
Maxis is adding a robust quest system and editor to its epoch-spanning life simulation this spring.
Maxis intends to answer that question soon with Galactic Adventures, the first expansion for Spore that will give purpose to all those creatures, vehicles, and buildings people have crafted. During a developer-driven demo of the add-on, Galactic Adventures struck me as a mash-up of existing concepts, with a quest-based structure similar to the one in World of Warcraft, and the sort of crowd-driven creative engine that powers games like LittleBigPlanet.
Of course, Spore already had a mass-creativity thing going on with its creature editor, but the new editing tools in Galactic Adventures will let you create new quests, or "adventures," that you can actually play. You can then upload your adventures to the Sporepedia for others to play, too. It's more than a little reminiscent of LBP's library of user-made levels that you can download and play, but Galactic Adventures' quest editor looks deep enough to let you create a surprisingly broad range of missions with different sorts of objectives.
Maxis is actually including a full planet editor in the expansion that exposes all the features the team used to create the original game's worlds. So before you start making an adventure, you can create an entire planet where it will take place. Via sliders and menus, you can set climate type (a lava world, for instance, or a forest-covered one), raise and lower the ocean level, deform the terrain, and lay down infrastructure like roads.
When you get down to making an adventure, it can be broken up in up to five acts, and the goals you set can be related to fighting other creatures, socializing with them, collecting objects, exploring territories, and so on. And as you'd expect, you can pull literally any of those millions of creations in the Sporepedia into your adventure. This is where the database's Web 2.0-style tagging system will really come in handy. If you need a castle for the adventure you're making, for instance, you can search for "castle" and filter down to all the creations tagged with that specific word.
Once you've got life forms and such in there, you can then tweak and toggle pretty much every conceivable variable on a per-unit basis. That includes allegiance to other creatures, aggressive/neutral/passive behavior, size, health, patrolling pattern, awareness radius (how far away the unit can see other units), and more. These variables actually take the creature's design into account, too. The initial awareness radius, for instance, is determined by the number and size of the creature's eyes.
It seems like it might be possible to construct a reasonably robust and involved narrative if you want to put the time in. You can set all those behavioral variables to change based on various triggers or at the beginning of a new act, and you can also give each creature its own set of dialogue that it will spout at predetermined points. There are other triggers and events based on things like proximity that you can set up. For instance, the game will ship with a ton of music and ambient sound effects that you can drop into your quest. You could drop a positional sound trigger for waves crashing and seagulls squawking near the shoreline, or have a particular song kick in as you enter a town you've constructed.
This is where the World of Warcraft comparison comes in. One of Maxis' designers created a quick sample quest where a creature asked you to go find and return its flask, and then the creature spoke some new lines when you completed that task. How many similar fetch quests do you remember doing in WOW? But you often didn't mind, because Blizzard's designers put a lot of narrative context and neat little scripted events into those quests that made them feel more alive. I see the same potential for that kind of thing here.
If you'd rather just play adventures where you kill stuff, Maxis has your back there, too. They've added a ton of new items that you can slap onto your existing creatures--or, again, any other creature in the Sporepedia--that add specific combat- and movement-specific abilities. Jump jets and jet packs will let you hover and fly. A stealth helmet will let you cloak. A wrist-mounted energy blade similar to the one in Halo will give you a stronger melee attack, while the missile finger has, well, obvious applications.
All these items are subject to dynamic property tweaks in the creature editor, based on where you put them and how big you make them. If you make the energy blade huge, for instance, you'll get a giant, slow attack that does a ton of damage. If you make it smaller, it'll be quicker but do less damage. There's a new energy meter that governs your use of all the new technology, so that giant energy blade might drain the entire meter with one attack, while the smaller one wouldn't use as much, so you could be darting around with your jump jets at the same time.
If you're wondering how these quests actually play, it looks like the gameplay will be similar to what you saw in the original Spore's creature phase, with a third-person camera angle and buttons that map to the abilities you have, based on the equipment and gear your creature is using.
Maxis will ship Galactic Adventures with a bunch of pre-made adventures broken up into different categories like story, quest, puzzle, maze, collection, and so on. You'll earn points for all the missions you complete that will go onto a rating on your profile, and you can also earn gold, silver, and bronze medals for finishing a particular quest with the fastest times and scores. But you can also lose those medals when someone else comes along and beats your score.
You can quick-play your way through Maxis- and user-created adventures from Spore's main menu if you want, but adventures will also automatically populate the space phase of the main Spore game as well. Remember how weird creatures created by your friends showed up as you were playing through Spore? Their adventures will do the same thing. The way you'll access them is when you meet new species as you explore space. In the original game, all those races had work for you to do--and that work always consisted of one of a very few activities, like scanning the life forms on a given planet, or finding a particular artifact in a specific star system. Now, user-created adventures will take the place of many of those rote tasks. And if you're flying around the galaxy with ally ships, the occupants of those ships will also beam down with you to the planet's surface and help you out. These allies can have different abilities than yours, too, so you could focus your character on combat while your helper beefed up their healing skills, for instance.
It certainly looks like Maxis has come up with some smart ways in Galactic Adventures to let you use--and extend--the millions of creations populating the Sporepedia. I'm a tad wary, because--as with LittleBigPlanet--the quality of the experience will largely be subject to the creativity and hard work that members of the community are willing to put in. But if some of the amazing and surprising creations already in the database are any indication, there's still plenty of that creativity to go around.