Talking to producer of Spore Creatures about the DS game's start in life

How did Maxis tackle making such a massive title portable?

Talking to producer of Spore Creatures about the DS game's start in life
| Spore Creatures

Spore has been pollinating Pocket Gamer far and wide recently following our first hands-on with both Spore Creatures on DS and Spore on mobile. Clearly we wanted to know more – not least how Maxis has managed to recreate such an epic idea on DS – and thankfully Jason Haber, producer of Spore Creatures, was willing to talk to us about everything Spore.

Sadly he didn't drop any hints on whether we can expect a PSP Spore incarnation. He did however give us a lot of information on the DS's Creature Creator tools and how you'll be able to use the game to pollinate other people. In an entirely clean and legal way.

Pocket Gamer: Was it difficult for Maxis to decide which phase from the PC game to focus on for DS? Why did you decide on the creature phase?

Jason Haber: We of course wanted to bring the full 'powers of ten' gameplay to the DS, but when we sat down and looked at what would make the biggest impact we knew that we needed to focus our efforts on building a unique Creature Creator.

Our first step in developing Spore Creatures was to think about how we wanted to approach a Creature Creator that was based around the touchscreen interface of the Nintendo DS. We then began to design the core aspects of the game that reinforced the key features of Spore: creativity, exploration, sharing and collecting.

An avatar based creature design lined up perfectly with these aspects of the game and seemed most appropriate for the DS audience. We decided to focus the design around the evolution of a creature at the planet level with a story that would help drive the goals for the players and their custom creatures.

What influenced you on the art style of the game on DS? The flat characters clearly look quite different to those of the PC version.

From the start of the project we wanted to be sure that Spore Creatures had a distinct look from the PC – one that really showed it was custom for the platform.

Once we defined our central design direction, we knew that our focus would be on the ability to customize creatures. So we directed our look around what would make the Creature Creator easy to use.

We were all really inspired by the look and feel of flat Japanese rod puppets and shadow box art, and how their creators would customize scenes to bring them to life. This was something that we wanted our players to be able to do on the DS, allowing the game to feel completely unique while supporting an intuitive and open editing system.

Did you take inspiration from any other DS games for Spore Creatures? We'd say elements of The Sims appear to have crept into the game…

We really looked to the PC game for our inspiration more than anything else, keeping our eyes on the core features of creativity, exploration and sharing.

We wanted to keep true to the name Spore while keeping the specialized DS offerings in mind (touchscreen input, wireless features, portability, etc). With that said, the team was no doubt influenced by their past experience with The Sims on DS and how Pokémon, Zelda, Nintendogs and WarioWare all brought unique interactions to the DS touchscreen.

What were you able to do with DS (as a result of its portability, microphone, touchscreen, etc) that made this experience distinct?

The Nintendo DS touchscreen made the DS version of the Creature Creator such a powerful and initiative tool – it's really fun and easy to use! We've also incorporated the touchscreen into a number of different gameplay mechanics in combat, socializing and exploration to create a visceral experience completely unique to the platform. We've also used the built-in wi-fi features to include the sharing of creatures, pollination, a feature that is core to the experience for Spore PC.

Was there ever a temptation to wait and develop Spore Creatures alongside the Wii version of Spore to enable some sort of connectivity/virtual pet style gameplay? Would it still be possible for the Wii version to include some sort of downloadable DS element?

There is always the temptation; however, the DS stands alone as its own game experience. We felt that letting users share their creatures over wi-fi was really powerful and we wanted to keep our focus on DS to DS exchange.

As for Wii features and connectivity, we have not announced anything in particular, but that is the future and who can really predict the future?

Was it Maxis' decision to concentrate on and announce a DS version of Spore before the home consoles? Or was it more a decision borne from EA's growing support of the Nintendo platforms?

Maxis decided to focus initially on two platforms to accompany the core PC release, mobile and Nintendo DS. We wanted users to be able to expand their Spore experience on the go as well as in their home.

If you were to create a PSP version of Spore, do you see it being a similar style of game to the DS one (so concentrating on the creature phase)? Do you feel more could be done on PSP or that you'd want to aim it at slightly older gamers?

All of the Spore titles will adhere to what is core to [the] experience; creativity, exploration, and sharing of content. If we were to create a PSP version of Spore, our approach would be to determine what would be the most appropriate type of game for the platform and the audience.

Details have cropped up about the multiplayer/online modes in the game and that you'll be able to trade creatures and have them appear in your friends' games. Can you give us any more information on this – will there be any further features to online or any competitive elements?

During the development of the game we found that the desire to share creatures was a huge drive in going online. The Creature Creator is so intuitive and flexible that players really can create just about anything they can imagine.

Players can save their favourite creatures and then use the built-in wi-fi connection to share them with their friends or receive creatures created by others. These creatures will then appear in-game, where players can befriend them or engage them in combat.

We call this creativity sharing 'pollination' and it is one of the features I'm most excited about. I can't wait to see the huge variety of creatures that other players will create!

Did you have specific goals when you started creating Spore for DS regarding accessibility for casual/younger gamers? What sort of balance have you struck to keep both more hardcore Maxis/Will Wright fans happy and the casual demographic DS has?

One of the biggest challenges we had when developing this game was to try and create something that the entire DS audience would enjoy.

This meant making the game accessible and fun for all players – those that want to explore, those that want to interact with others, those that want an adventure, and those that just want to be creative.

The Creature Creator alone will satisfy most audiences and then you add in the unique gameplay on top of evolving your creature and I believe that we've created a game that will satisfy both the hardcore Maxis/Will Wright fans and our younger casual players.

Do Spore's creatures speak to one another in the game? Is there a Simlish-like Spore language?

In Spore Creatures, the creatures don't speak a language that you or I would understand, but thanks to the creature you create, it will help to interpret what those other species keep going on about.

Finally, what's been the best part of being able to build a new Spore game for DS and has Nintendo's handheld been a good platform to create this game on?

We could not wait to start the designs for Spore Creatures on the DS. We knew that taking something as massive and unique as the PC version of Spore and putting it onto a handheld platform would certainly been a huge challenge, but we knew that the touchscreen would enable us to create a unique experience that you can not get on any other platform.

The most satisfying part for us has been looking at the features and mechanics that really make Spore what it is and adapting those to the DS – a platform that is also so very unique. The unique stylus input for fight and building the creature creator had the most iteration and the platform enabled us to quickly test and try new ideas until we ended up with we have in the game now.

We found that many of the core features of Spore and the DS compliment each other so well that they allowed us to really create something distinctive… not to mention completely addictive!

Our thanks to Jason for his time. Spore Creatures on DS is due to be released on September 5th in Europe (September 7th in the US).

Kath Brice
Kath Brice
Kath gave up a job working with animals five years ago to join the world of video game journalism, which now sees her running our DS section. With so many male work colleagues, many have asked if she notices any difference.