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SXSW 2009: That Doesn't Suck! Inspiring Creativity With Spore

Kevin Kelly

Although Spore's ship date has come and gone, many people are still fervent about creating new creatures, vehicles, buildings, and more for the game, and they've chalked up over 86 million users creations and counting so far. This panel was about the the wealth user created content out there, and also served as a springboard for talking about the first full Spore expansion pack: Galactic Adventures.

Caryl Shaw is a producer at Maxis, and she showed off the new expansion pack, and talked about the tools that Maxis and EA strive to give users so that they can create their own open-ended adventures, which is what Galactic Adventures promises to do. She tooled around inside the game for a bit, showing off the planet terraforming features and a combat-focused user created adventure. But what caught our eye most of all was the sheer amount of extremely creative user creations that just stagger the imagination.

While Spore might have come out and disappointed some, this panel was enough to make us want to bust it out again when we get home and either get busy creating, or get busy exploring some of the jaw-dropping user content. Check out the highlights after the break.

Shaw explained that the general rule of thumb about user created content is that, "The vast majority of it is crap." So one of Will Wright's goals that the Maxis team tried to do was provide tools that were deep enough to raise the bar in hope that there wouldn't be as much crap to wade through. However, if you take a spin through Sporepedia, you'll notice that there is indeed a lot of crap in there. But where there's a lot of crap, there's also a lot of gold. (Wow, that almost needs to be on a poster somewhere).

The goal of Spore was to make the game divide up into a three-part pie of 1/3 Create, 1/3 Share, and 1/3 Play, which is why they spent so much time on the user creation tools, and released the semi-expansion pack Creepy & Cute Parts Pack. They underlying tenet was to get from "zero to smile in three clicks or less," although with the deep amount of customization available in Spore, that's like 300 clicks or less, right? In the upcoming Galactic Adventures you can change every aspect of a planet, including the atmospheric density. In their Adventure Creator, you set your acts, choose from tons of objects (like hand grenades) to toss into the mix, and can even choose what type of music plays at different dramatic moments.

Shaw booted up an adventure called "Mothership Down" to show us how the interface works, then imported a ship captain and dropped him into the game. It looked slightly like World of Sporecraft, and quickly devolved into a combat situation, which Shaw trying to escape with her captain's jetpack, although she was killed valiantly in action... shot in the back. It's definitely something that we'll have to spend more time with to get a better grip on, but we imagine a LittleBigPlanet situation where thousands of "Adventures" will appear online, but only a few will be very good.

Speaking of good, Shaw also highlighted several of her favorite Spore users who have created some impressive content. Users like Fotosynthesis who create pop-culture creations (as well as cool building) in Spore, like the giant Bob Marley head spaceship pictured above, to Quantamania who makes molecule-based creations. Other users she mentioned who are cool enough to draw inspiration from are Aaarrrggg, TnT-Productions, and dananddna. Seriously, some really cool stuff. Like this Clockwork Factory building.

Shaw also went on to talk about other user-created content she's impressed with, like the LittleBigPlanet Mirror's Edge level, and the Valve development wiki, which is a handy tool for anyone out there creating content for Team Fortress 2. She also talked about the explosion of UI tools for World of Warcraft, and singled out Questhelper as the type of user created content that just helps make the game more enjoyable for users without detracting from the core content.

Another interesting fact Shaw highlighted, which some of you probably already know, is that Flickr was actually born out of tools created for Game Neverending, which was an MMO that ran from 2002 until 2004, which sort of made the title ironic. It later evolved into the photosharing service that houses many of your personal photos. We'd love to see a Flickr-based MMO. Can't someone whip one up? Or better yet, maybe Spore will offer up some sort of plugin where your in-game snaps show up in Flickr. As user-created content starts taking over the world, who knows what we'll end up with. Now where's that copy of Spore?

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