Now that I was done with the smaller games, I looked longingly towards the two I really, really wanted to play, Spore and Boom Blox. They were set up next to each other, and after gazing upon them lustfully for a second, I got a chance to sit down with Alex Hutchinson, the lead designer of Spore who not only has a great first name, but a great job. He’s been working on this thing for 3 years now, and spent too much time explaining things over and over to people like me, but it’s impossible not to see how excited he is about the game. It’s infectious, and when he took us on the demo of it we soon saw why. This game looks amazing.
For those of you who have missed out, Spore‘s being touted as the next thing in gaming. The simple way to describe it is as a be-all, end-all to Sim games. Which makes sense… it’s the brain child of Will Wright, designer of all those games, and was originally titled Sim Everything. That’s exactly what it is… and is basically 5 games in one.
You start off as a single celled organism. It wasn’t shown to us but at this stage it’s you on a 2d plane, sucking up all smaller creatures. It apparently plays somewhat like Pacman, until you get so big that land appears in the background. It’s at this point that you can choose to get out of the water and get your land legs, where the rest of the game begins.
We took a look at the creature creation system a little more, which is amazingly intuitive. I took my shot and created a strange being with large hind legs, huge forearms, horns and a hook nose (my own Borat Jew chick!), and all it took was a few clicks. You’ll choose what sort of body part you want (arms, legs, eyes, etc.) from a list that increases as you unlock more in the game, and just drag it over to your creature. You place it wherever you want and then can morph it in any way you desire, for example, making the arms varying lengths (for each part! Hands, forearms, biceps, etc.) and even coloring it any way you want. It’s really astounding if you sit back and think about all that went into making the creatures be able to walk, with the designers having no idea what things people would come up with. They’ll even be able to emote, no matter what parts you put on it, you sick Dr. Frankenstein.
Once you’ve chosen your being, it’s then uploaded into EA’s server where it will be hosted. Anyone’s creature can be downloaded and added to your game, or even changed any way you like. Alex showed us this feature by quickly downloading someone’s creation that looked like a gorilla and messing with him. You can even comment on your friend’s monsters, and possibly rank them- they’re looking into a rating system of sorts so the best ones will float up to the top.
You’ll take your creature and go around the new land with him, completing little quests and trying to become the highest life form in the area. We were shown what happens when you get a brain upgrade, which is pretty damn hysterical.
Alex showed us the code here that determines what sort of creatures will be appearing in your game. What does that mean? If a part of the world has a particular sort of creature you need for a quest, your game will snatch one from the internet, from the players already playing all over the world. This means that every world is different and filled with creatures that people have created. There are no computer-created beings. The mind boggles.
During the game you’ll earn DNA, which acts as a monetary system of sorts to allow you to buy new features for your specimen. So there’s literally thousands of options for your creature, but you better be sure it’s what you really want, because what they evolve into you will be stuck with. When you’ve picked what it will look like and confirmed that you want to end this stage and go on to the next, there’s a hysterical animation where your creature picks up a stick and starts smashing it, while 2001: A Space Odyssey‘s famous song plays.
The next stage is the “Tribal Phase”. Here you’ll be able to control entire groups of your species. It looks reminiscent of an RTS, but don’t you dare ever tell a developer that. Alex shrunk back like he was Christopher Lee and I’d just thrust a crucifix at him when I said such. He was quick to mention that it’s in no way as intensive as an RTS, but there’s so much else going on. He showed that by zooming in from the standard overhead screen that the stage uses all the way close up to the ground, and then zooming out till you saw the whole planet. It was fluid and seamless. Here he mentioned another bit that he was geeking out about- namely, that any planet you saw out in space can one day be traveled to. Damn.
After that is the city stage, which apparently plays a lot like Sim City. You’ll develop your cities and build them up while your critters walk around the streets. We didn’t see it but a vehicle developer will be added, allowing you to customize all sorts of transportation for your people. You can choose to be diplomatic or just take over everyone on the world, and then…
The space phase. Wow. You can journey around your solar system, around your galaxy, and then around the universe. There are literally a million worlds to explore- they originally said it was limitless, but really, how the hell are you going to visit a million worlds in this game?
Every single one will be unique, yours to do as you please. We watched as Alex terraformed a volcanic planet to make it habitable using a rare item called the Genesis Device (yes, relax, dorks, that’s a Star Trek reference). Without it you’d need to change every aspect of the planet’s atmosphere to fit your creature. He also showed how you can have fun with it in a silly way by lobbing an
asteroid at the planet and watching a crater get knocked into it. Sometimes you’ll find other civilizations to deal with as you please on different worlds, and there’s really no end for this part of the game.
It was hard to pull myself away from the couch after all this. I wanted to play the full game, god damn it, and I wanted it now. The one thing I needed to know- what kind of specs would you need for something as awesome as this, which is clearly designed to appeal to both the casual and hardcore gamer?
“If you’ve bought a PC in the last 5 years, you can play this game.”
I sighed my relief. This game will be a revelation if it manages to do all it promises, and it’s looking good. September is when everything changes.
Next up was Boom Blox, which I still was unsure of. If you’re unaware, it’s the Spielberg produced game that officially got announced last week.
I sat down with producer Amir Rahimi and watched him take me through most everything the game has to offer.
Before though, I asked him- what did Spielberg really have to do with this title?
He laughed and told me that after the former Boyscout sampled the Wii at E3 a few years ago he loved the idea of the system. Something that could appeal to the hardcore gamer and his family alike? It was a godsend. And what was more pure than people’s innate love of knocking things down?
I’ll admit, I was skeptical. I loved knocking over blocks and dominos as a kid, but I’m 26 now, god damn it.
And yet, it turns out I still love it.
Amir first showed off the single player puzzle mode, called the Explore mode. There’s a nice learning curve here as it takes you from knocking over regular blocks, to using explosive blocks, chemical blocks that only work when mixed together like the stuff in Die Hard with a Vengeance (“Syrup?”), blocks that vanish when you hit them, and more. The controls are great and easily used- you hold down the A button to lock onto an area and pitch the Wii remote to throw a ball at your target. The speed of your throw determines how fast you throw it. There’s another mode where you have to grab blocks and pull them around, somewhat like Jenga, and the controls work nicely, with every little move you make transferring to screen. Every stage will be ranked depending on how many points you get, with bronze, silver and gold medals awarded to you depending on how you do.
The physics are amazing, naturally, since they use the Havoc engine (Half-Life 2). The puzzles also get tricky as hell, and he showed off a few that would’ve stumped me for a while. One (which I failed miserably) involved you trying to safely get a lamb to the ground safely, even though he was on top of a ton of blocks. That sucker died and was made into BBQ right fast.
The next mode for single player is the Adventure mode, which is indicated by a nice Indiana Jones-style whip and hat on the icon. Clicking it will bring you to what amounts to the story mode of the game. Spielberg of course wanted something more substantial that just blocks, but instead of bookending it with a meaningless story that added absolutely nothing to it (What? You know Saving Private Ryan would’ve been better without.), you’ll get it here in little ways. You’re still knocking over blocks but now there’s a reason for it. There are 4 different worlds to explore- a medieval one, a tiki-styled world, a western, and a haunted house. We checked out the Medieval one, and saw the animation for the first level. There’s a kingdom of sheep who are in need of gems, and whatdayaknow, they’re on top of these blocks here. Knock them down for the sheep!
The difference with the adventure mode is that it counts how many throws you take, so it’s all about knowing what to do in advance and doing it. You’ll only get a gold medal here if you use the least amount of throws. This way, there’s something for the casual and the hardcore to go for.
Gamers like us will unlock a whole new set of insanely hard levels for getting the best medals, in both Explore and Adventure modes. These will take a ton of brains (or experimenting) to get right.
Next, to the multiplayer. There are both co-op and competition modes here, but of course we both went into competition, with Amir handing me my ass on every stage. We played a few different levels where the objective was to throw balls and knock off blocks of different sizes. The bigger ones are heavier and harder to knock out, but of course give you more points. We played one level where all the blockes were jammed into a frame, standing vertically. A big 50 point block in the middle was surrounded by 5 and 10 points blocks around it, and we tried to knock all the ones out underneath it, hoping the other person wouldn’t be the one to get the big score. It requires a bunch of foresight and luck, the perfect party game.
This is really where it’s at. The full game will support 4 players, but just with 2 it was fun, intuitive and exciting. Holding down the B button allows you to turn the camera, and pressing the A starts your throw (or grab, depending on what mode you’re in). It’s the kind of thing your Grandma would understand, and will, the next time you bring it over there for a holiday.
The last big feature is the creation mode, where you can make your own levels. You take any board in the game and add to it, or simply start from scratch, and save them. It’s insanely easy to do that, all you need is the Wii Nunchuck. You can copy and place blocks with all kinds of ease, and everyone knows how fun it is to build up some insane structure just to destroy it.
You’ll also be able to create levels that will play themselves. There are creatures in the game that do their own things. Chicken lay bomb blocks, Skeletons eat sheep, Dogs attack enemies, Beavers blow up bomb blocks, and so on. He showed off this amazing level that a tester made that reminded me of that Honda ad (you know the one). In it, a huge amount of things went off… a beaver blowing up a bomb block, that knocks another one into a chemical block, which hits another one, and so on and so on and so on, until it sets off a fireworks display in the middle of the level. It immediately sparked memories of me playing with my glow in the dark Domino Rally set (with glowing Skull!) from when I was a kid, and in that moment, I understood what Spielberg meant. I wanted to do this.
So you’ll be able to save these levels and distribute them. I asked if you’d only be able to send the levels to friends, or if you’d be able to upload them to them to host them, but unfortunately they don’t have an answer for that yet.
To say I was impressed by Boom Blox would be an understatement. I’m the kind of guy that can convince my entire family to play a Wii game when they come over, from Wii Sports to Warioware, but last month during my birthday I didn’t have a new Wii game for them. I had Rock Band. When this hits in March it will be the next one to be pulled out at parties, no doubt. Here’s the site.
After those two incredible games, I was pretty much done. It couldn’t get better than that. I went and grabbed one more beer and watched a video of FaceBreaker, which is a new boxing game from the developers behind Fight Night 3. This time they’re making a much more cartoony game that reminded me of the old Dreamcast game Ready 2 Rumble… ironically, since a third one was recently announced. Course, that game was never that great, and Fight Night was incredible, so…
I watched the guy play a match between two characters, a big Russian fellow named Molotov and a Don Flamenco looking feller named Romeo. The characters all bruised in real time, as you’d expect. The game will also offer a character creation mode which will allow you to finally upload your own face (or penis) for other people to pummel.
There were some other games there, but frankly it was nothing I was interested in. There was EA Sports GameShow, which is a free trivia game for the PC which has been out for a while. I might’ve checked out if it weren’t only about sports. Also available were two of the latest iterations of The Sims (no.) and Simcity Societies Destinations, which I’ve been done with for years and years, ever since Godzilla trounced my city on the SNES. There was also Fifa Street 3, but I absolutely detested the game when I tried out the demo, so… skip. And Burnout Paradise, which I already love (review here) and will have much more on in the next few days. (Just wait!)
And there may be some of you who are sad to find out that I skipped checking out The Littlest Pet Shop. It’s not my fault, really. I was born a male, I have testicles, and this game was not meant for me. Simple as that. But here’s something for the ladies-
I SEE YOUR SOUL
So all in all, a great few hours trying out these amazing games. Spore was obviously the coolest thing I saw but I have the feeling you’ll all be pleasantly surprised to see how cool Boom Blox is. Thanks to everyone for spending their time talking to me and allowing me to be a part of this event, I had a blast.
Till next time…