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Submitted by Jon Wilcox on January 26 2009 - 13:36

TVG explores EA Maxis' galaxy further, as the 'create-an-adventure' expansion is unveiled by the publisher...

The anticipation behind EA Maxis' 2008 'creatiolutionary' title Spore, it's fair to say, was pretty great.  Years of development under the gaze of The Sims master Will Wright, teasing previews, and big ambition, all meant that the weight of expectation was very nearly tangible.  However, the end product didn't quite meet those expectations, and for many it seemed like EA Maxis had bitten off more than it could chew.  Some of the stages lacked the sort of depth that gamers expected, especially the Civilization and Tribal phases, and the end of the Space Phase left many feeling unsatisfied.

Just a few months after it secured a release, the studio is already preparing to bring the first true Spore expansion pack, in the form of Spore: Galactic Adventures.  Aimed at taking the Spore galaxy into a wealth of player-created planets, each with their own community-created adventures, Galactic Adventures is Maxis' first step towards crafting an ever-evolving brand like The Sims.

TVG recently voyaged across the stars to get a preview of what this Spore debut will deliver come launch day...

Focusing entirely on expanding the Space Phase into something more fulfilling, Galactic Adventures aims to evolve the organic growth of the main game into the next logical step.  Largely leaving creature creation behind (additional armour packs and weapons will be added in the expansion), Galactic Adventures looks at the bigger picture: the creation of planets,  the creation of planetary adventures, and their 'pollination' throughout the online Spore galaxy.

Like the original release, the essence of planetary creation is something that EA Maxis is ensuring will be as intuitive and accessible for a wide an audience as possible.  Sliders for a range of different attributes, from sea level, global temperature, and even the colour of the land itself, can be changed.  Dropping the temperature on a planet covered by water will turn it to ice, whilst doing the opposite will turn the surface into an inhospitable and hellish vision of molten lava, fire, and brimstone; even the height and density of mountains and hills can be changed.  That level of climatic extremes shows only a basic level of what players will be able to achieve when Galactic Adventures finally drops.  Choosing the level of vegetation for the world (and the colour of its leaves), deciding upon which buildings to choose (and where to place them), and whether to add vehicles to the planet, offer some of the details for the surface.  Players can even drag musical phrases over certain areas, which are then triggered when a gamer's creature crosses into the region of the planet.

As for populating a user-created planet, players will have the option to drag and drop any of the creatures from the expansive, multi-million strong species list that Sporepedia contains, and instantly used them to populate your planet.  There is apparently a cap on the number of objects (or 'actors' as Maxis prefers to call them) that can be added to the planet, but EA Maxis is eager to point out that the cap is linked to a 'complexity' bar shown on the interface.

Modifying and pollinating a planet is one thing, but it's far from the end story of what Galactic Adventures will be about; the clue is in the name after all.  Players will be able to craft an adventure across up to five acts (each with their own trigger conditions) leaving a lot of room for what's looking like significant creativity.  Having dropped one of the creature actors onto the world from the Sporepedia – or just one of your own – the next step is to scale its size up or down, and apply various attributes from an 'awareness radius' that tells the creature when it can detect a player-controlled character, to giving it a voice with chatter text boxes.   The creatures can be told where to walk or how to act with the use of what's so far looking like a fairly accessible collection of options, something that's essential if EA is to succeed in making a springboard for further Spore success.  From there, players will then be able to add multiple goals that Spore Galactic Adventures gamers will have to fulfil in order to progress.  Like the rest of the Adventure creation tool, adding these goals is very intuitive, utilising a simple drag 'n' drop process.  Finally, like the creatures themselves in the original Spore, the adventure will be released to pollinate the game's galaxy. 

Having watched a demonstration of the process with a straightforward set of goals (namely to walk up and talk to an oversized dragon before heading over to some sheep-like creatures), it's clear that there'll be a lot of scope for some creative masterpieces on the release of Galactic Adventures.  Planets entirely covered in a single maze, volcanic plains, or even a pan-planetary city, are sure to pollinate the galaxy; the quests and adventures are sure to be equally impressive.  However, there's a nagging sensation in the back of heads that concerns us.

Given that Spore has been pitched as 'the next big thing' from the House of The Sims, its audience may not deliver on the promise of engaging adventures to occupy the community.  There'll be some sort of rating given to a created planet and adventure no doubt, but sorting out the wheat from the chaff my end up to be a monumental job – especially if you're playing through the Space Phase and one of the lesser adventure planets crop up.  Isn't it all just going to drag the franchise down a bit?  Perhaps Galactic Adventures should have been a bonus pack, and a 'true' expansion developed?  The funny thing is this: Galactic Adventures wasn't the first idea for an expansion by EA.  That title (which remains nameless and mysterious to us) is currently on hold...and we'll all be left with this, instead.

The first step on Spore's continuing journey certainly falls into the franchise's user-pollinated plan, but we're yet to be convinced.  Whilst the ability to craft new adventures and planets sounds like a logical step, crafting a high-quality adventure is a far more complex task for users than throwing together a couple of legs and eyes to a ball of virtual plasticine – it could become a universe of bland and patchy planets.

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