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Joystiq hands-on: Spore Creature Creator and the birth of Sporky


click to get up close with "sporky"
We dropped by Maxis' offices today to get our feet wet in the stand-alone "Creature Creator" component of The Sims architect Will Wright's epic cell-to-galactic-civilization sim, Spore (which hits in September). Set to launch on June 17 in two flavors (a $9.99 "full version" and free downloadable demo, also included with The SimCity Box) the creator could be incorrectly described as a "utility" – in fact, as we found while tinkering with it, the Creature Creator could very well have a life of its own. Read our full impressions after the break.

Gallery: Spore | 65 Photos

There's virtually no learning curve to the creator. It's stupendously intuitive. Without even a shred of guidance, we were instantly resizing a colorful floating blob to form the body of our creature. This was the full version of the creator, so we had access to all of the various creature parts it ships with (the free edition contains only a quarter of them).

There was virtually zero guesswork involved in grasping which parts were better at what, whether it was mouths made for eating only meat but gave your creature a combat advantage or an herbivore maw that was better for singing, and thus socializing. Parts are broken down into mouths, eyes, arms, legs, hands, feet, and extras. They're all displayed in their own tabbed windows, and you can place them anywhere you'd like on your base creature shape. Your only limits are cost (each part carries a certain DNA point price, and you have a "starting balance") and complexity (an on-screen indicator lets you know when you're tricked your beast out to the max).

"There's virtually no learning curve to the creator. It's stupendously intuitive."

Other than that, we had a mind-boggling amount of freedom in crafting our little bundle of goofy-looking joy. Our first effort, which we eventually named Sporky (don't ask), came out of a simple dragging and dropping of a toucan-like mouth, webbed ears, antlers, a fin, and some butt flowers (for good measure) onto our initially pear-shaped primary form.

Each piece could be moved with surprising ease, as the creator smartly "knew" not to make it clip through the others, and provided us with easy-to-understand iconography for functions such as resizing, twisting, and generally tweaking them to our heart's content.

Once we were pleased with Sporky's looks (and the stats each part had given she/she/it – from socializing to attacking to jumping and more) we clicked over to the paint mode. This portion of the creator was nifty for a couple of reasons. Firstly, we were able to select Sporky's base color/hide then add two more detail layers in the colors of our chosing. There were three pages each of built-in designs, along with some preset schemes with set combinations and colors.

Secondly, we were able to connect to the Sporepedia and browse all of the beasties created by Maxis employees in an interface akin to iPhoto, meta tags and all. If we saw one with a look we liked, we could select it and watch it be automagically applied to our creation.

Gallery: Spore (2-12-08) | 81 Photos

Once we were satisfied with lil' Sporky, we went into "test drive" mode, where we could walk the creature around various backgrounds and click icons to cue various in-game actions, such as roaring, jumping, emoting, and various dances. We took the opportunity to click a camera icon to snap photos while it acted out our commands, as well as a film camera for recording video of it in the act (clicking "stop," we were asked whether we wanted to upload the video directly to YouTube. We even used the "create an animated avatar" option, just 'cause. Having tooled around with the various features, we saved Sporky to the Sporepedia for all of Maxis to share.

Sporky was a cutesy omnivore. We decided our next creation, "Hombre X", would not be. We set out to make this one all mean. The result was something with pincers, stringers, wings, and a slight resemblance to Space Ghost's Zorak. EA/Maxis rep April Jones jumped in to point out some gameplay-affecting differences with this thing of our own malicious making.

For one, she said, our decision to go with mandibles instead of hands would mean Hombre X would be able to eat food at ground-level with his pincer mouth, but not reach higher fruit and the like since he had no hands in which to hold it. Jones was quick to point out, however, that it was hard to make a creature that just "didn't work" – every little design decision would simply affect how the game played. She recommended adding eyes to his rear end so he could spot hostile creatures attempting to sneak up on him.

"The limitations on creativity are virtually nil."

At the end of the day, we came away from our experience highly impressed by what is just a small part of the Spore experience. It was evident from only the selection of Maxis creations accessible via the Sporepedia that the limitations on creativity are virtually nil.

As we left, Jones reiterated the team's hopes that even non-gamers will pick up the Creature Creature purely for the sake of being creative, and sharing what they've made with others – who, like them, may or may not be playing Spore either. Given our urge to keep concocting new creatures well into the wee hours – with ease – we can actually see this happening. We can also see these "non-gamers" eventually making the jump into Spore proper simply out of a desire to see what their creatures can really do "in the wild," as it were.

Spore is being developed by Will Wright's Maxis, part of Electronic Arts. Get to know the company with our EA Family Album.

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