Mac Life FEBRUARY 13, 2008 - by Zack Stern


In a word, Spore is overwhelming. This ultimate simulation is coming to Macs and PCs simultaneously on September 7, 2008. But somehow, this simulation of early life, evolution, tribal interactions, rise of civilisations, and interplanetary colonisation makes "overwhelming" a good thing. On top of that, players create their own automatically animated creatures, vehicles, buildings, and more.

We recently stopped by EA's Maxis office to try the game and speak with its developers. Spore Chief Designer Will Wright created SimCity, The Sims, and founded the original Maxis. Spore Executive Producer Lucy Bradshaw previously helped develop several The Sims games, most recently as Executive Producer. Both spoke with us about planetary phases, potential expansion packs, iPod and iPhone plans, and your personal Brian Eno.

The scope of Spore is just immense. What are some things that you've been able to include in this huge scope that you're like, "Wow, I didn't think we'd be able to get that into Spore?"

Will Wright: It depends on when you ask that question. [Everyone laughs] ...Probably fifty percent of it, you know. Because the initial thing - actually initially, it was going to be everywhere from the end of evolution into space. And then it kind of got expanded to, "Oh, let's go all the way to microscopic and the beginning of life."

But there are things that were fairly recent additions like, you know, the development of the pollination system [that sends user-created elements to other gamers], tagging [those elements with keywords] - all that is fairly recent. Procedural music... A lot of music is generative in the game that Brian Eno has been working on with us.

Lucy Bradshaw: In fact he helped us design the generative music system. He really gave us some great insights and made us believe that we could execute it. Before we got involved with him -

Both: we'd given up.

Is that like the background music for the game or your civilisation theme music?

Will Wright: Different parts of the game. It's like your city music is procedural. You can also go in and customise and change and fiddle with it... Depending on what you've put on the creature you've designed, there's a different theme playing. In fact, you're composing the music as you're building the creature.

Lucy Bradshaw: So it changes over time... And the ambient music of the planets and everything [also changes].

Anything else that you're surprised that you were able to include?

Will Wright: I think the galactic simulation of the empires - the way they interact and stuff - ended up being more elaborate than we were originally envisioning. What else? The diversity of planets and planet types ended up being much broader than we originally envisioned... There are of course millions, literally millions of different ones. You know every single one is unique.

Lucy Bradshaw: Some of the tricks that our graphics team has pulled off... When you're playing and over the horizon, and you see a planet coming. And there you are playing the Creature Phase, and when you finally zoom out with your spaceship and see your whole planet for the first time and realize, "There I am in my solar system. I saw that planet across the horizon." That sort of sense of depth and wonder.

Will Wright: The sky that you see at night when you're in evolution. You look up, you might see these planets and moons and stars. They're actually doing the real thing. They're actually being simulated doing their real orbits. When you get [into space] you realize, "Oh I'm seeing that one so much because it's my moon. And this one I see very infrequently because it's so far out in orbit."... You're actually seeing the apogee and perigee of these things being simulated. And once you get to Space Phase, you realize you were looking at something that wasn't an imposter but was the actual physical motion of the planets around you.

Lucy Bradshaw: So those are surprising moments that even now they kind of catch my breath.

And what about things that you wish that you could have included in this huge scope that you just had to cut?

Will Wright: [Laughing] A million things.

Lucy Bradshaw: Some of them are very large - The whole bit about sculpting planets out of gasses would have been a whole phase that went on.

Will Wright: We had hundreds of prototypes which involved you actually controlling the birth of a star. And the formation of the planets on the planetary disc. And other areas of the game that I think we'll probably eventually develop and we ended up cutting because they didn't seem like a good return on investment. Like the evolution of the water in the multi-cellular sense, we kind of cut out. We kind of made a firm jump from microbial life to living on land. You know without the underwater evolution phase. That's another big area.

Will the future of Spore let you release those sorts of versions of it at some point?

Will Wright: I'm sure at some point down the road we'll be expanding in all sorts of directions, and we'll be watching what the players do with it.

Lucy Bradshaw: And not only that, but I mean, some of the areas that are of interest are just what we can do with these creators and, you know, how versatile they are and where we might be able to take those.

Will Wright: The tools.

Lucy Bradshaw: The tools themselves. The creature creator and vehicle creator, and being able to take a direction that's even apart from what we've done.

Why make a Mac version of it? Is it a romantic decision or a business decision or somehow both?

Lucy Bradshaw: First of all, games that Will had made before - SimCity - originated on the Mac, had a strong following on the Mac, and I think launching first on the Mac was part of the reason for its success, because journalists were on them... [With Spore,] there's sort of this energy with [the Mac] audience.

Will Wright: We want to see what weird, unexpected things people will do with these tools. And I think the Mac group will be over-represented and the people that surprise us with the weird stuff they do with tools.

Lucy Bradshaw: We're kind of excited to take it to that platform and see what happens with it.

Why use TransGaming and a Cider port versus a native Mac translation?

Lucy Bradshaw: When you talk about just the economies in terms of the Mac gaming audience as opposed to the amount of time and effort it takes to port something going native, with as much work as we've got, we can move it to the Mac audience a lot faster by using this approach. While I think there may be some advantages to going native, I think this gets you probably the best of both worlds. You get that game on the Mac whereas a lot of games don't move over there. And you're really tapping into... Spore at the same time. So often it's like six to nine months later.

We've partnered with Aspyr [on other games]. They're really great. They did native versions before... like Sims 2. It took them, almost - I think Sims 2 Mac launched about nine months after the original. And every single expansion pack, it's like six months after the original.

Will Wright: And that's actually pretty fast.

Lucy Bradshaw: I think there's a lot of benefit to doing a simultaneous launch.

[Editors note: EA is publishing all versions of Spore. They are not partnering with Aspyr for Spore on OS X. We apologise for any confusion.]

Will we see Spore on iPods or the iPhone?

Will Wright: I'd love to.

Lucy Bradshaw: It'd be interesting, and I think there's conversations, but it's not something we could announce right now.

Will Wright: [Pulls an iPhone out of his jeans pocket] This is my favourite device. [Everyone laughs.]