Tired of slapping together creatures with the same old parts from Spore’s original creature creator? EA hopes that the Spore Creepy & Cute Parts Pack will be a shot in the arm that you, the Spore junkie, will crave. But is it enough?
Judging from the pattern established by other Maxis/EA hits like the Sims franchise, Spore C&C will be the first in a long line of updates. As with The Sims 2, Maxis has confirmed in a press release that they will employ a two-pronged approach to deliver additional building tools (in the form of “stuff packs”) as well as altered gameplay (in the form of “expansion packs”). The first expansion pack, scheduled for spring 2009, will add depth to the Space phase.
This delivery model will hopefully keep the game (and its accompanying online community) fresh and growing. It will also keep the cash flowing into EA’s coffers, and this parts pack in particular feels more like a greedy grab for green than a bona fide attempt to refresh the gameplay. Coming just two months after Spore’s initial release, the parts pack adds 60 new body parts, 12 new paint themes, and 24 “test drive” animations. None of these additions alter the mechanics or difficulty of the gameplay, but are intended to give players more control over the appearance and abilities of their creatures.
I strongly suspect that Spore’s upcoming expansion will be the first in a series of four expansions that will address each of the four phases of the game after cell phase. Many critics of the game (myself included) felt that each phase merely scratched the surface of the genre’s capabilities, and I imagine that the expansions are going to offer Spore fans an opportunity to add complexity to the phases they like best without being obligated to spend money upgrading every part of the multifaceted gameplay. Meanwhile—and this is pure speculation—now that a collection of creature parts has been released, expect to see additional stuff packs that expand the vehicle and architecture tool sets as well.
After installing and playing with the Spore C&C for a while, I did feel that the game benefited from the greater variety of parts available. Still, adding a few dozen body parts to the creature creation tools seems like a disappointingly simplistic approach to sparking creativity in the user community. I couldn’t help but think back to a simpler time, when user-created content was an indie thing that required a fairly rigorous set of digital design skills but was completely and absolutely open-ended. It seems to me that since so much of Spore’s concept revolves around a shared, creative community, limiting players’ creativity with a pre-set collection of materials impedes the growth of the fan base. In other words, I think it’s a big, fat, hairy mistake.
Once upon a time, back in the dark ages of 56k dialup modems, there were games that were both fun and hackable. Players would create their own content for their favorite games and upload it to fan sites, sharing among themselves free of charge. Sure, you had to muck around with graphics editors and such, and the results were sometimes comically bad, but back in the early days of The Sims—and I know I am dating myself by admitting I can remember this—people just made stuff and shared it. Independent programmers even made simple tools to help other people make stuff, and it was a labor of love.
I mention The Sims specifically because, although there were many other mod-able games at the time, the large, creative community that emerged was an unforeseen consequence of The Sims’ open-endedness that took even Will Wright by surprise. Later, the huge success of the fan community inspired Maxis to create tools like Creature Creator and The Sims 2’s Body Shop, which would theoretically allow more people to create more stuff with less effort.
However, when the grassroots movement was absorbed by the establishment, as it were, Maxis wanted (and needed) to exercise control over user-created content in order to maintain their “T” rating. In other words, bye-bye, nude skins and double-D-cup meshes. By standardizing and controlling the tools, Maxis was able to limit inappropriate content, but they also squelched much of the creative open-endedness that was inherent in the first-generation, third-party tools. Furthermore, they opened the floodgates for the less skilled, less devoted, and less innovative designers to create enormous truckloads of mediocre work. In short, more people are now able to make stuff, but most of it is crap.
Should Maxis give more control back to the players and create tools that allow users to generate their own custom body parts? Is it worth having six hundred creatures that look like anthropomorphic genitalia if it means we also get a digital equivalent of the Venus de Milo? For Maxis, the ability to control and regulate content is an important part of their business model, so it’s unlikely that they will be willing to relinquish that. But it certainly would be interesting to see what would emerge if they did.