The Cell stage from Spore, developed by Maxis and published by Electronic Arts
In Part I
of our world exclusive Q&A with Maxis chief designer Will Wright,
we discussed what caused Spore to overshoot his original projected release date by nearly two years; how Facebook, YouTube and Flickr
became metaphors to navigate user generated content withing the game;
and why hardcore gamers shouldn't worry that Spore isn't "game-y"
enough for their highly advanced palates. In the second and final part
of our interview, Wright shares some tidbits on the Wii version of
Spore; explains the machinima tools; and reflects on the irony of
building a revolutionary title on the back of classics like Pac-Man and
Once someone has
their initial toy box experience, they then decide, "Okay, I'm going to
start at Cell and progress through." How much time did people
collectively or individually want to spend in each of the stages before
moving onto the next? Especially because like you said, there's an arc
of evolution, but at the same time they're separate genres, and as you
already said, different people respond to each of genres differently.
of the things that we also decided not that long ago, based upon a lot
of this focus group testing, is that we were actually going to put in
difficulty levels in that the player selects, so when you start playing
you can start at easy, medium or hard. We found that a lot of players
that preferred playing with their toys in the world, where the world
was pushing back at them less hard--those were closer to Sims players.
Whereas the gamers wanted to go in and really play some hardcore
fighting games in Creature or Civ.
We decided that it when you
select the planet at the very start of the game, you select a
difficulty level, so players can surf that as well. That's going to
influence not just difficulty, but also the pacing in some of these
games. Some of them are like a lot of RTS games or empire-building
games, where you start out very lean on resources and you're digging
yourself out of the hole; on the hard setting, it's going to feel a
little bit more like that. On easy, I think the pace will go a little
bit faster through a level. So it's going to depend primarily on the
difficulty level. And once you get to Space, that's the point at which
you can sit there and play the thing for 30 hours if you want, and it
feels little bit more like an MMO at that point.
A Wii version
has already been announced. What can you say about what that's going to
play like in terms of structure, control, etc.?
I can't say
much about it except the fact that the overriding kind of factor in my
mind and Lucy [Bradshaw]'s, in terms of looking at what direction that
team goes with it, has been to make really good use of the controller.
What interests me about the Wii is that in some sense you have a much
higher bandwith controller than you have with any other console or even
a PC. How do we abstract the maximum Because one of the biggest
advantages we have is our procedural animation system, which means that
we can have an infinite of variety of animations that we can make the
creature do because it's done procedurally. So that's a natural kind of
strength of having a higher bandwith input device--it should really
feel like I'm puppeteering this creature very directly, as opposed to
I'm just indirectly controlling with a few buttons here and there. The
rest of the design is totally going to evolve around that.
of the prototyping they've been doing is, "How do we make you feel like
you have the most control over this creature, even in a very subtle
ways, by moving this controller around?" and then make the gameplay
serve that, because I think if I had nothing else, but a really fun
creature to drive around the environments, and I felt like I was really
controlling in a very expressive way I would have a blast with just
that alone. So that's a really good starting point.
thing we talked about in our original interview was that with all of
these different areas that you were pushing into, it was almost like
Dave in "2001: A Space Odyssey" going out to the furthest reaches of
space and time, but coming back, or maybe it's more like Prometheus--
I hope not. [Laughs.]
these things, and bringing them back. When you have time to look at
some of the games that EA currently has in development or has recently
released, what are some of the things that you guys have come up with
that you think are going to be relevant to your fellow game designers
I think certainly the way we deal with content is
going to be something that could be used in a lot of different ways
across gaming. The way that players think about content in the game,
because you're already dealing with a trend in gaming of players being
given more and more creative control of the game experience, and games
also having social currency around the game play experience, either
with things like achievement ladders on Xbox Live or fan Web sites or
whatever it might be. So I think that's a big part of it. Thinking
about other aspects of the game, the creativity tools--a lot of
computer intelligence can actually make a player feel more creative,
giving them a higher amount of creative leverage in the game. That's
something that we found universally appeals to everybody.
know, I liken it to when I first got my computer way back when, my
first Apple II. I'd go out and buy software at the one computer store
in New York City, and every piece of software felt like something brand
new that I'd never seen before. It was like another magic thing that
the computer can do. The first time I saw a spreadsheet it was like
that; the first time I saw a 3-D modeling package; the first time I
played the Pinball Construction Set--each one of those felt like kind
of a minor miracle like, "Oh wow, this magical device can do this thing
now." Games used to feel that way. Some of the very first games that I
bought--each was basically showing me a trick that I my computer could
do that I never imagined it could do. It seems like as games have
gotten more mainstream, and more genre-based, it's kind of lost that
magic. So now when you see a game, it's like "Okay that's a little bit
better first-person shooter than Half-Life," or "That's a little bit
better so-and-so than this," and it feels very evolutionary instead of
Recapturing that magic where come up to the
computer, and in ten or twenty mouse clicks you've done something that
really surprises you, that you didn't think you could do or the
computer could do, but really the credit comes back to yourself, that
"Wow, I didn't know I was so good at building cities or designing space
ships or whatever." In some sense, it's a self esteem generator. You
should go up to the computer, and you should walk away thinking, "Wow,
I didn't know I was so good at that."
Are you guys going to put "It's a Self-Esteem Generator" on the box?
I don't know if it's so much a marketing slogan, but I think it's a
good design philosophy. You want the player to walk away feeling better
about themselves then before they walked up to a computer, rather than
the other way around. We have the ability to build systems that unlock
creative potential within players. It's amazing just with The Sims how
many people ended up making these amazingly elaborate machinima movies
using The Sims 2. I bet you half them had never picked up a video
camera in their life, but they got so good at playing The Sims, and
then they started making these wonderful films, and sharing it, and
getting feedback. People saying, "Oh, I love your film", and all of a
sudden they're like these little independent film makers. And it was
only because the computer was encouraging them the whole way; at some
point the game went from being an entertainment diversion to a tool and
they started seeing it that way. It's like, "Oh, not only have I
learned to play this game real well, but in some sense I've learned to
play this instrument really well, and other people enjoy looking at the
creative output from me playing this instrument."
What are the machinima tools like within Spore?
have that built in throughout the game where you can capture game
footage at any time, photos and stuff. In the Creature Creator--this is
another thing we went down the path of, "What would we really want to
do with this?"--I can design a creature, have them play all these
animations, move them around on either a set backdrop or a black screen
which is essentially a green screen, so I can actually mix it in with
other footage, and composite it. There's also a one-button upload in
that moviemaking feature to YouTube. So I can actually make a movie in
the game, and with one click of the button upload it onto YouTube.
Again, this is where we wanted it to blend from the game world to the
world of Web content so that it felt like this game was another
creative tool pouring into some of these sites. Plus you can take
pictures, email them to your friends, and all that stuff within the
Going back to what you said about games now feeling
evolutionary rather the revolutionary. You've created a game that
sounds like it will be revolutionary, but you've built it on top of
established genres, and established metaphors, and then tried to weave
all of that together into something new. Do you see something ironic in
that? Or is there something here that actually ties into what you
studied and researched about how the processes of evolution and design
It is interesting because as you go through the game
you're not just going through different genres, but the genres you're
going through are almost in order of historical appearance. So you
start with this Pac-Man like thing; then you go into what's more like a
third-person shooter; then you go into the the RTS-like stuff; and then
you end up in an MMO. So you're kind of recapitulating the development
of games is a medium. But in some sense games are built upon
predecessors, and they borrow concepts, and metaphors, and control
schemes. So that actually served us pretty well. First-person shooters
I think were influenced by things like Pac-Man, in terms of how you
control your character. The feedback that you got from an RTS was
based upon things that you got in the early first-person shooters, etc.
homage part of Spore has been one of my favorites in that I've always
wanted to put in homages--not just to games, but to a lot of movies. So
especially as you get into the Space phase of the game you know it
feels like this mashup of every sci-fi cliché you can imagine all stuck
into one thing. What we're really trying to achieve actually at every
level of the game is what we call "narrative density," which is that
each of these levels has a lot of inherent storytelling within it. So
when a player goes through the level I want you know as much as
possible the players to feel like the story that they experience in
Civilization or in Tribe was very unique to them, and if they compared
it to another person's experience playing Tribe that they hear a very,
very different set of stories. To me that basically implies narrative
breadth in the game design, which at the end of the day I think is one
of the really interesting metrics for game aesthetics.
Sims first came out one, I was following the Usenet groups. With The
Sims the Usenet groups were actually the first to start playing it--the
hardcore gamer groups-- and at first you know people were saying, "Ah,
it sounds like a stupid game," But a few people were playing the game
and coming on and saying, "Oh, I was playing The Sims last night, and I
made this guy starve," or "He went into the bathroom, and I locked him
in." They would describe these stories as to what happened when they
played the game, and every story was completely different. I mean no
two were the same it wasn't like, I" saw this cutscene, then I got the
sword, then I killed the dragon." And the other people listening to the
stories got very intrigued like, "Wow, I didn't know you could do all
that stuff. I didn't realize that the breadth of possibilities was that
large within the game." So I think that gamers--even non-hardcore
gamers--recognize that the more narrative breadth in a game the more
interesting it is to them, because the more personal it is to their
When we talked about the game back in '05, you spoke about procedurally generated music. Where did that end up?
that was one of the things I was really at the outset very skeptical of
because I never really heard any decent procedurally generated music.
At some point in the project, though--probably right around then--we
hooked up with Brian Eno who ended up working with us on the procedural
score. So actually we ended up with over probably--about half of our
music is now procedurally generated within the game based upon things
We found it was so fun, we've actually built this
little kind of harness where Brian and our sound engineer could play
around with the underlying levers on the procedural engine. This is one
of those things that became so fun to play with, we decided we had to
surface it the player. So in the game right now, when you're designing
a city, one of the things that we allow you to do is open this little
device and compose your own theme song for your city--
it's actually using the procedural generator. So I can hit the "roll
the dice button," and it generates a new procedural melody with rhythm,
or I can actually grab the notes, and if I want to even put in my own
tune on the notes. We've basically turned the procedural music
generation into its own little toy and embedded that within the game as
I asked you this back in 2005, and after this interview,
I've got to ask it again: this seems like everything is in there.
What's left for you to do after this game is done?
Oh, there are so many ideas and things to do, and so little time. I've
never felt I was constrained by lack of ideas, in the least. There are
plenty of things I would love to do. You know Spore is--it's one I'd
say strong, fanatic, artistic vision, but it would be really depressing
if I couldn't think of a game I could do after that. You could say the
same thing about The Sims: The Sims is a game about all of life, what
could you do beyond. This is just one particular triangulation of the
world through a particular set of lenses. There's going to be a lot of
learning after Spore. For me, the first half of it is when we ship the
game; the second half is when we see what the players do with it. I
know that's going to surprise us, and it's going to open up new areas
to explore that we didn't even think of right now.
So it doesn't feel like your ultimate game. You don't feel like this is your magnum opus, the thing that you were meant to do?
I'd like to think--it feels like something that you know has been
latent in me for a long time. I've spent a lot of time, many years,
thinking about this; all of the stuff I wanted and the aspirations I
had for it. Coming to the end of it, it's feeling really nice to see it
all working; the vision really becoming tangible. That doesn't mean
that it is the end of my creative aspirations. [Laughs.] I mean at the
end of the day it's going be an artifact that our team throws out into
the world, and the world takes it, and does stuff with it, it will grow.
really interested in the franchise, because I've always thought about
Spore from the very outset not so much as a game, but as a franchise. I
don't think I can talk too much about some of the other stuff we're
doing around this, but we're looking at doing a lot of stuff way
outside the game space, with this kind of franchise theme. Because I
really like the idea of conveying science as a toy, or just education
as a toy, but I think science especially is really applicable to that
process, and I don't think games are the only way to do that.
thanks very much for your time--oh, I forgot to ask the last question,
the most important question of all. When is it going to ship?
been told I can tell you that it's going to ship in September, and then
we're going to get you an exact date before your story goes to print.
Right now we're hammering out what exact day in September, but I can
tell you it's in September.
And do you all ready know what
you're going to do after you ship the game? I don't mean
professionally. It's like what they say to the quarterback, "You've
just won the Super Bowl, what are you going to do?" So Will, "You've
just shipped Spore, what are you going to do?"
Oh gosh, I don't know. I'll tell you over a beer one day. I've got a lot of ideas I'm kicking around, including other games so….
Excellent. Will, as always, thank you very much for your time, and I can't wait to see the game in person.
Well, thanks. Good talking to you, N'Gai, and good luck with the article. To read Part I of our Q&A with Will Wright, click here. For our world exclusive interview with Maxis vice president and Spore executive producer Lucy Bradshaw, click here.