Will Wright gave the opening keynote today at the nerd-packed Comic-Con 2008, an event so chock full of fellow geeks we're hard-pressed to find a free patch of San Diego Convention Center floor to stand on. For the first half hour or so Will rattled off profound observations and inspirational quips at approximately the speed of light, leaving the second half of the presentation to an extensive demo of the civilization and space stages of Spore.

The touted reveal of the MashON Spore Comic Book Creator wasn't much more than a few minutes' discussion of the tool that will live at http://mashon.com/spore/, enabling players to take the creatures and other assets they make in the game and import them into an interactive comic book creation engine. A booklet passed out to attendees while waiting for the keynote tells us you'll be able to drag and drop screenshots taken in Spore right into the tool, add audio and video clips and other assets, create and lay out the entire story environment and share it with friends via email or Flash embed code. Users can rate and save other players' stories on the Mashon.com site and play them back as digital flip books as well as print them out. Wright talked about how the Comic Book Creator fits within the overall ethos of the game, which is about putting players more in the role of George Lucas than Luke Skywalker, allowing them to actually create the worlds themselves beyond just playing in them.



In the live demo, Will started off in the civilization phase and talked about how much of this stage is about forging alliances, managing relationships, and "programming your cultural personality." He launched a ship full of "advertising robots" from one of his cities in order to convert a foreign city to materialism, calling it "a form of cultural warfare." After successfully converting the plebes to the great American way of life, he showed off a bit of the procedural music generator built by Brian Eno that allows each city to have its own unique, editable theme.



Piloting a vehicle around the surface of one of his planets, Will mentioned you'll be able to pull up assets other players have created for your own use; likewise objects you create are send out to the "pollenator" so other players can use them. You'll also be able to leave messages for the creators of the assets you find and use, adding another subtle layer of "real world" social interaction to Spore.

Moving on to the space stage of the game, Will showed off the spaceship editor ("almost everything has an editor") enabling players to rapidly build up a professional-looking ship with the same ease of use we've seen in the Spore Creature Creator. In the space stage, players are able to leave their own planets and explore other worlds, really opening up access to vast amounts of user-generated content. You're able to discover things on other planets such as rares, technologies, scannable wrecks, etc., and habitable planets are of course colonizable. During the course of colonizing a planet you may encounter challenges such as attacking aliens, pirates, uncomfortably close proximity to a sun, and morale issues among other perils. Wright showed off one counter-measure to low colony morale, a "happiness booster" that once planted on the planet emerged like a Gumby-licious jack-in-the-box to spread happiness to a depressed colony. Launching a "defense booster" sent a charming little rocket off into the atmosphere to set up a defensive perimeter around the planet.



The player will be able to go out and establish relationships and alliances with other planets (whose ships can actually join your fleet and accompany your starship on mission modes), set up trade routes, ask for missions, or conquer other worlds by sending in nukes to blow up planets. Will set off a cataclysmic explosion on what turned out to be a small colony belonging to an extensive larger empire whose other habited planets turned a hostile red and sent out ships to attack him.

Zooming out, Will gave us some sense of just how big the galactic gameworld space is: "you can play this game for your entire life and never visit everything." He next showed off some navigational shortcuts: by paying close attention to a localized bending of light inside a star system he uncovered a black hole. Proceeding to pilot the ship inside the black hole, Wright took us through an immense swirling wormhole into a distant part of the galaxy. Over time, the player will be able to map these wormholes to generate a sort of train tunnel system through the vast cosmic gamespace to help speed travel between distant worlds.

Delving deeper into particular aspects of terraforming, Will mentioned that the bulk of the space stage is about learning to create successful colonies by managing the atmosphere, biosphere and geosphere. Various tools in the HUD help monitor things like biological diversity on the planet and initiate various planetary phenomena such as meteor showers and even global warming simulation: "in playing with these toys you can get a sense of just how fragile these ecosystems can be." Demonstrating just that, he proceeded to heat up the planet to temperatures so inhabitable the atmosphere burned entirely off, leaving the planet a smoldering wreck.



Before launching off into one of his famed "Russian space minutes" (in this case a German space minute about the trajectory of Wernher Von Braun through Nazi Germany and into the public face of the American space program in the 60s) Wright mentioned that one of the goals for Spore was to give players better and more creative tools with which to learn something relevant about the mechanics of science, evolution and human history divorced from the traditionally dry textbook methodology in use by most school systems today. If at age 10 we'd been given the choice between opening another chapter of Biology 101 and playing an hour of Spore, it's rather safe to imagine we'd have been far more enriched by the latter. Today we were certainly humbled to attend a session in Will Wright's School of Spore.

This article was originally published on Joystiq.

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