Yesterday I brought an orange and yellow, three-mouthed stack of two bulbous blogs to virtual life. I made him in "Spore" creature creator. The game's lead designer, Alex Hutchinson, called him Flumpert. And somehow - ridiculous as I think this is considering I spent all of five minutes creating him -- I feel proud of Flumpert. I feel attached. And I'm hoping, if you encounter him in "Spore" you don't turn him into lunch.
"Spore," the long-promised crossover between "The Sims" and the Book of Genesis is close. The full game ships on September 7. The Creature Creator, one of several powerful content creation tools, will be released for PC and Mac on June 17. It will be available as a free download that contains a quarter of the limbs, eyes, mouths and other configurable content, and a complete version will be sold for $9.99 with a $5 rebate for "Spore" purchasers.
Here's why the Creature Creator matters. Here's -sniff- why cute, large Flumpert matters.
Hutchinson was able to remind me both how to create creatures and then show me the part they will play in the full game. And while the creation tools are impressive it’s the life the creatures that can then have in the game that truly show the emotional consequences of making this stuff.
Hutchinson showed me the full game of "Spore," running in a laptop that is carried in a bag that has brought the game around the world, hence the Indonesian loose change found in one of its pouches. We loaded the creature creator, which randomly presented a torso to which I could apply appendages. At inception, Flumpert was two globs of clay stacked and leaning toward what would be his front. I put a tusked mouth where you might think his posterior is, two more bug-like mouths where you could imagine he'd have ears. I applied limbs and hands and ears and saw that the features I added began to statistically define his personality.
Hutchinson, always one to give a good quote, pointed out that "Spore" is "a game about infinite content." Not-so-cute Flumpert was my first addition to that infinity.
We took Flumpert into a demo area, where you see him pictured at the top of the post. A couple dozen options were available to test him. I clicked the "hippity-hop" option and he did a funny dance. I clicked another button and babies appeared. I learned that Flumpert isn't necessarily a "him." Hutchinson reminded me that there's no gender in "Spore." There's also no inter-species romance in "Spore," but it sounds like every Flumpert will have plenty of life partners nonetheless.
Flumpert was fun to create, but let's talk about Flumpert's potential.
All that I described above is possible with just the Creature Creator that ships in two weeks. Creatures can be made and sent to the demo room to be poked and prodded and to dance. They can also be traded online, uploaded to the games ever-expanding database and have clips of their demo room dances sent to YouTube (via the game's YouTube button of course -- where on that site they'll appear, I'm not sure yet. Possibly here?).
Flumpert might show up in your copy of "Spore," but actually probably not as potential lunch. He's too tall for that. Every Internet-connected copy of the full game will be on a perpetual database hunt for new content. Hutchinson explained that the game will look for content of certain criteria. To build a city for you to find on a new planet, for example, it might look for any structures made in the building editor of a certain color and shape. For "lunch creatures" (Hutchinson's term) it will look for creatures of a certain smallness. Taller creatures will be pulled in as predators. Others will be brought in as potential friends.
Hutchinson took me into the tribal phase of "Spore" and showed me how encounters with other people's content might work. He had a little creature making fire and interacting with some other species, none of them a herd of Flumperts. Then he was attacked by predators. They weren't Flumperts either. They were Rambos. Hutchinson clicked on them so he could find out who made them. "They were made by Will," he remarked, referring to Will Wright, the man who thought of "Spore," It would be good to report how that revelation affected Hutchinson's behavior to that creature -- fight it or friend it? -- but, honestly, I was still scanning the horizon for Flumpert.
Then we saw him. Flumpert. Waddling in the distance. "He came in as an epic!" Hutchinson cheered. He explained that Flumpert was officially one of the dinosaurs of this planet we were on. That's nice. I just hope no one messes with him.
Hutchinson described "Spore" as an "unusual hybrid of toy and game." He says that after "Spore" launch in September the developers want to offer even more toy-like tools to use for playing with creatures, things that might put the creatures on your desktop or in a virtual terrarium. It makes sense to me. The point I'm getting from recent "Spore" demos is that "Spore" is not strictly -- or even mostly -- an adventure game or a linear experience. It's a toolbox for toys. It's a play set for creating virtual life to then fiddle with. And it's a nest from which to watch your creations fly off in hopes that they'll make good in the world. Because of that, the Creature Creator coming out in June is very much central to the "Spore" experience. It, coupled with the UFO editor, the building editor and all the other content creators shipping with the full game, may even be the main draw.
Look out for the free demo in two weeks. And look out for Flumpert. Be nice to him. Or look out. He has three mouths, one of them on his butt.