Spore creator Will Wright is addressing the massive Comic-Con crowd at ballroom 6CDEF right now, talking about his own nerdy obsessions, a topic attendees are quite familiar with. Wright is talking about his otaku bent, the Stanley Kubrick directed 2001: A Space Odyssey. The film, which features aliens, evolution and space travel quite prominently, is clearly a perfect lead in to talk about the upcoming Spore.
Will's obsession with the movie sounds hardcore, as he talks about his hunt for a lenticular version of the 2001 movie poster. He finally came across one, a poster that he ultimately had Gary Lockwood aka Frank Poole from 2001, sign.
Will's now moving into other topics — his obsession with aliens, the acceptance of video games as an art form, and the evolution of the book, among other topics — moving at a mile a minute.
Will's discussing the power of the printed book, bringing knowledge, religion and fiction to the masses, before sprinting into a discussion about Alexander Graham Bell's invention of the telephone and immediately thereafter into the informative power of the television. On the topic of the computer, Will talks about how it has adapted to meet the user's needs, ultimately resulting in something the creator likely didn't expect — namely, the shooting of Hitler in Wolfenstein 3D.
The internet, he says, developed by DARPA, probably wasn't originally intended to catalogueone's Pokemon card collection or download internet porn.
Will's talking about archetypes in popular culture, citing Gilligan's Island, whose seven inhabitants represent the seven deadly sins. Say, that's news to me! Thanks, Will. He makes a Neil Gaiman's Sandman joke that flies over my head and emits a boom of laughter from the crowd. Comic-Con loves it some Will Wright!
He's moving on to video game settings, archetypes and gameplay types. "Storytelling", he says "is something you kind of have to be taught". But "play" is separate.
"I wonder", he says "who would win in a fight with a Cylon cruiser, an Imperial Star Destroyer or a Borg cube". The stuff of internet debates is something we can resolve in a video game simulation.
You should see this man's PowerPoint presentation, not only is he blistering through his speech, he's throwing slides at the crowd at a lightning pace. He's talking about the deconstruction of story, bouncing from subjects like Thunderbirds, pulp comics and Stanley Kubrick. Slow down, Will!!
Will's talking about the Powers of Ten movie that helps to explain some of the zoomed out evolution from single-cell organism to the formations of galaxies, essentially the core mechanic behind Spore. If you haven't seen Powers of Ten, I suggest you watch it (after the liveblog).
Will is talking about creativity, how kindergarten age children are confident in their abilities to draw, dance, sing, but that the same question asked of University students results in fewer raised hands. Wright says that the educational system essentially teaches students that they're not good at anything. That confidence in creativity, he notes, comes through in games like The Sims and Spore.
He talks about the reaction to the Spore Creature Creator, saying that the team expected to fill the creature database with 100,000 creations within a few months. They reached 1 million in 22 hours. He touches on the "Spore fans = 38% God" statistic, noting that the 2 million creatures currently in the database have outpaced God's creation of the world in seven days.
Wright is cycling through some of the more interesting creations users have made, from robots to near-humans to inanimate objects like chairs and Portal's Companion Cube.
"One of our aspirations with Spore" he says, "was to make players feel more like George Lucas or JRR Tolkein" and not so much like Luke Skywalker or Gandalf.
Spore, he says, is loaded with pop culture references, saying that it will be fun to watch players discover allusions to science fiction and fantasy.
Will's firing up a working copy of Spore right now, showing us the later, Galaxy-view stages of the game.
We're looking at the Civilisation Stage right now, a simplified combination of SimCity and Civilisation. We're zooming in and out of cities, the camera orbiting around the planet. This planet's natural resource, known as "spice" (Dune loving crowd laughs), is spewing forth from a geyser.
Will cuts to this game's History view, showing the evolution from simple low level creature to civilisation level. This timeline emits a "Whoa...". from the crowd, as it shows dozens and dozens of milestones, from what his little slugman ate at genesis to what alliances he's formed with other alien civilisations.
This particular civilisation is a religious one. Will flies a blaring airship over one religious institution, converting its denizens to materialism, wowing them with bright lights and the promise of mass consumption. Awesome. Just like real life!
We're now browsing through a library of "religious vehicles". Some look like tanks, some like simple non-war machines.
He shows off Spore's procedural music generator, designed by Brian Eno, giving his city a randomly generated theme song. The crowd likes this. They also like the holographic religious figureheads that try to convince the populace to convert (or stick to) their religion of choice.
Now on to the Space Stage of Spore.
The crimson lifeforms of this particular planet discover the ability to launch a rocket into orbit, moving them to the next level of civilisation. Will's building a spaceship via the game's vehicle editor, adding "blinky things", showcasing the depth of the editors parts, decals and warping tools. Will makes one that looks a heck of a lot like an Enterprise-style ship (the most recent, Scott Bakula captained ship, that is). It's skin is based on one of the pre-built template styles, making the creation of a unique ship even faster.
As we move around the galaxy, Will zooms in and out smoothly, heading toward distant stars — "This one's a T-1" — and beginning the terraforming process on one of the star's planets. He establishes a colony, adding to their happiness with a newly built Happiness Booster. It's one of those long rubber tube-men that whips about outside car dealerships thanks to a jet of air. Again, crowd laughs.
A spacefarer passing by initiates a trade discussion with Will's race. Wright drops diplomacy in favour of blowing the living bejeezus out of their home planet with a massive bomb. The bomb was so intense, it even blew up the moon orbiting it. Will is mean!
"One of the things I wanted to accomplish in Spore, was to give players a sense of what a galaxy is like, what a galaxy is really made of", Wright says. That's why the team used real world types of heavenly bodies — stars, black holes, wormholes. We're now travelling through a wormhole, taking Will's alien species across the galaxy, hundreds of lightyears from their home planet.
Back to planet colonization, Will says players will have to be concerned with not just terraforming the planet's surface, but with managing a planet's atmosphere. He creates a volcano, one that "thickens" the atmosphere and warms the air. "It's very easy to overshoot on these things", he warns. Pushing things over the edge on the atmosphere side can lead to in-game global warming.
Obviously, Will overdoes it, turning the planet into "a living hell". This planet is about to go magma, becoming a nasty sulfur spewing rock, filled with spires and volcanoes. Oh, and the surface is pure lava. Lovely!
Will's about to wrap up. He asks the audience if they want a Q&A or a Russian Space Minute. Cowering in fear of Will's intellect, the crowd opts for the Russian Space Minute.
Wright pulls a bait and switch, renaming it the German Space M inute. One of Wright's other otaku obsession, he admits, is space travel history. He's talking about Germany space rocket prototypes developed in 1941 and the Nazi's space experiments, focusing on Wernher von Braun a German rocket physicist. One slave factory, named Mittelbau, produced some 3000 V-2 bombers, resulting in 7,250 dead targets. Some 20,000 factory workers, however, died during manufacturing.
Some of the former Nazi scientists later went to work for the U.S. government, working on rocket science programs in Huntsville, Alabama. Von Braun, Will says, later met Walt Disney and became the face of the space program. You know, we'd much rather refer you to his Wikipedia entry than try to capture Will's retelling of history.
Von Braun later met John F. Kennedy, another influence on the sceientist's life. Will talks about the A12 multistage rocket, designed with the intention to bomb New York, ultimately became the basis for the Saturn 5 rocket. And that's my horrible recreation of Will Wright's German Space Minute. Visit your local library to learn more.
Will wraps it up and the Comic-Con masses swarm. Off to the Activision panel. See you next panel!