While upcoming PC and DS title Spore is an interesting game, it's difficult to pin down exactly why. A combination of five different game genres, including arcade, MMO and RTS, it's also a platform for users to create monsters, vehicles and buildings and share them with other players across the world. Confused? We sat down with the game's gameplay producer Thomas Vu to ask him to lift the lid on what promises to be one of the PC's top titles in 2008.
VideoGamer.com: Is Spore a hard sell?
Thomas Vu: I don't know if it's a hard sell? I would say it's a hard thing to do or understand and grasp, because it's massive in scope, it's very high concept, it has lots of new ideas. It's not something we can say it's like Half Life 2 or it's like StarCraft, we can't really say that because there's nothing really to latch on to. Often times new is really cool but new is really hard to explain. It is a hard sell but I like the challenge. I came on this project wanting to have this challenge. It's a huge challenge but the reward could be awesome.
VideoGamer.com: You've worked on The Sims 2, right, so you know that audience well?
TV: We try our best to do Spore in a way that will appeal to that audience but at the same time we understand that Spore is a different beast altogether. Sim City was different to The Sims and Spore is going to be different than The Sims. What we are building is based on creativity, sandbox gameplay, create what you want and watch it happen in the game, and then we have the sharing of content. On all of those fronts we've gone beyond what we've seen. The concepts are different but the underlying basis is still you're making this toy, this sandbox.
VideoGamer.com: Is there any pressure to deliver a hit in the same way The Sims was?
TV: There's always pressure. For me, ultimately, it's about am I making a game that I can be proud of. Is it a game I could play? For a lot of these guys, for EA and marketing, they're obviously, the more you sell the better! But for developers, us, we love to sell a lot, that's great, because it's popular, but at the same time we want to make sure we're proud of the game we make, we push the industry forward, we have other goals that are not just monetary.
VideoGamer.com: You've mentioned that Spore will be a franchise. Does it need to do a certain amount for that to happen or will it happen anyway?
TV: The reason why we think that way is because the way Spore is set up makes it very easy for us to add new things. The onus is on the player now, on the user making content. We pretty much gave up so much power. For us the concept of Spore is, it could be anything. It's so wide. I mean making life is so wide. Creatures can go in any which way, tribes can go in any which way, civilisation, space, anything you can imagine. All the history of ideas that we've had up to this point, we can say, OK, make it like this or make it like this, so that itself has enabled us to feel like, if Spore's a huge hit, if it's a platform for other things, we open ourselves up to this whole possibility of going crazy anywhere. At the same time that's awesome responsibility. But we have to make sure that we're making the right things, spending our time on the right things. The team is 80 people. It's not big by any standards for a game of this size, so we have to be careful about what we're spending our time on.
VideoGamer.com: The game has been confirmed for the DS. Why not Wii, PS3 and Xbox 360?
TV: We are looking into them. We are always open to figuring out how Spore as a platform, where it can go. Because the game is deep we're really just concentrated on the PC version. We want to make sure that's solid. For the other platforms, we're in the process of looking at tech specifications, how would pollination work on Wii and 360, how do you play RTS on a console, is it adequate, does it flow right? So there's lots of questions like that, all answerable, it's just time and how much we can throw at it and still get our PC version out cleanly.
VideoGamer.com: But it's certainly possible?
TV: It's certainly possible. Like anything, the base for Spore is huge. It can go very casual web game, it can go any of these places. But we have to be sure where to spend our resources.
VideoGamer.com: As you work your way through the game you see more traditional game elements, like RTS dragging over units that sort of thing.
TV: That's one of the biggest challenges we had making the game. It's funny because Spore goes from very light to almost hardcore. Very few casual players play RTS games. The controls are harder, you have to use the keyboard. In some ways, as life gets more complicated, the game gets more complicated.
VideoGamer.com: If controls are one of the things holding back the console versions of Spore, the Wii Remote seems to be almost as close as you can get to a mouse. Would the Wii be a more likely platform?
TV: It would definitely be something we would look at as a possibility, with the Wii being very popular. Ultimately it ends up on, what's the audience? Even with the DS, it skus younger, 12 to 19 [year olds], so the gameplay is a little different. As long as we can hold on to the spirit of Spore and the concept behind what makes Spore really cool in the consoles I don't see a reason why we can't. It ends up being, do we have enough people to do it and where do we want to focus?
VideoGamer.com: It seems like the Wii audience would be a perfect fit for Spore.
TV: The audience that we're going for is pretty broad. We know we're setting up the tools for creators - for the creators, some might not even play the game, they just want to create for other players and share them. For the gamers, who, maybe want to do creation but not as much as the creators, they want to play the game and they want to see the cool content, and then there's another audience that we call the explorers, and those are the people who don't want to go hardcore into the game, they just want to float around the game like a sandbox and look at other people's content. So the audience for Spore hopefully is very broad and diverse. Any of the audience that you find on the Wii, Xbox or PS3 would be the sort of audience we would go after.
VideoGamer.com: There's been some recent hardcore games that might not have sold as well on the PC as hoped - Unreal Tournament 3 in particualr. There seems to be a feeling online that PC gaming is dying. What's your thoughts on that considering Spore is a PC game?
TV: PC games are the frontrunners. They innovate, they do the things that can't necessarily be done on the consoles. RTS are PC games. FPS are still PC games. Sure consoles have come a long way, with Halo and Call of Duty 4, the console versions are pretty good, but at the same time, if you really want to be at the forefront of making really interesting new games, PC is where it's at, in my opinion.
As for the market, it's still growing but it's tracked in a very different way. Take for instance WoW. NPD doesn't track the $15 a month that I pay for WoW, but it tracks the amount of copies that WoW sells off the shelves right. The verdict is still out. For us, if you make a good game people will come. As WoW did. Blizzard could have made a console MMO but they stuck with the PC and they have the biggest game both on console and PC in the world. And The Sims continues to sell, and Sim City continues to sell. And all the FPS do pretty well, RTS games do pretty well. Maybe one day the market will move in a different way. For now there's tonnes of PCs out there, there's lots of avid fans. And honestly, the things we're doing on Spore, would be very difficult to do on consoles if we started out on consoles. Like the pollination stuff, social networking sites, the procedural animation, that stuff is not as easy to do on console. The RTS aspect - with a console controller you can't get the fidelity you get from a PC. So the PC is perfect for what we're trying to do.
VideoGamer.com: I noticed the Creature phase has some elements of WoW.
TV: Yeah there's some elements of WoW in there. Each of the games has elements of other games. The original idea Will had was to see Pacman, Diablo, The Sims for Tribe, Civilisation for Civ and MMO for Space. So it's like the history of games if you think about it. It's evolved and changed a little but we still have a lot of those elements in there, like cells like Pacman. There's a lot of thought behind it. Nothing you see in the game is an accident. But with a game like this, the creativity phase is so large that we don't always know what's going to happen.
VideoGamer.com: But that's the most exciting thing right?
TV: It is exciting but it's nerve racking!
VideoGamer.com: Of the five phases, what's your favourite?
TV: I like them all! I like Tribe phase for its humour. I think Tribe phase is freaking hilarious! There's so many funny things in Tribe. I like Creature phase because I like WoW and Creature phase has a lot of that, like getting new abilities. I like Cell for its simplicity. I like Civ because it's so complex and huge and you're controlling tonnes of dudes, and I like Space because it's so open ended, it's just freedom.
Each of the phases feels like a cool game. For me just getting into the editors, making a UFO so easily, making a robot and a robot vehicle, it's so awesome. If I was only getting that from Spore I would be like, sold. That's already so powerful. Where else are you going to get a procedural animation tool, where else can you share content?
VideoGamer.com: Thanks for your time.
Spore is set for release on PC and DS on 7 September 2008, with a Wii, Xbox 360 and PS3 version to follow.