Dananddna’s thoughts on GA
Posted by ballightning on May 17, 2009
Taking it to the Maxis: Thoughts about Galactic Adventures
I just came back from Maxis studios in Emeryville, California. It was a truly amazing trip. Not only was it my first time on the west coast, it was my first time flying period. In spite of having no flying experience whatsoever, everything went pretty smoothly. The people at Maxis are really great people. They treated us so well and always made sure that we were comfortable. The other creators who were invited were also very cool. Unfortunately, by the time I was getting to know some of them, the trip was over.
I’m not sure how much I can actually disclose about the new Galactic Adventures expansion, so I will refer to it in somewhat broad strokes (haha, fail). First of all, it will change everything. Though it will operate within the standard Spore game, it really shines on its own. There was a general consensus that the game packed far more than any of us had anticipated.
One of the concerns about the pack revolved around the learning curve. Yes, it can be a bit steep, especially when compared to the standard Spore game. Yes, it can be a little intimidating. There is just so much you can do, and there is no easy way to explain every detail all at once. Learning the options and commands takes time. Hopefully online tutorials will alleviate these issues on release.
In spite of that, I think that the developers did a good job of layering the AI editor difficulty, to accommodate different players. There were three levels of complexity that could be worked with. When a character is placed in the editor, it starts off with a part-based-basic AI. The next level allows you to make it generally aggressive, friendly, etc. The advanced AI editor (that I only really scratched the surface of) allows you to add conditions to AI behavior (Run away when attacked, or drop banana when befriended). I can’t wait to see how people put these options to use.
Unlike the days of the creature creator (with its insanely exponential rise in content), I suspect that the rise of published missions will be a little more logarithmic…in other words, not so rapid. With all the tweaking required to perfect a mission, it may take some time for there to be a sizable collection of missions available. A lot of people from our group feared the related problem of poorly made or unwinnable missions overwhelming the few decent ones. Honestly, I’m not sure how it’s going to pan out, but I think it will reach some sort of equilibrium.
During my two days, I managed to semi-finish two missions. The first one was called Mesocity, which took place in this very ancient-looking-Aztec-like desert city. Building the actual city was surprisingly intuitive, especially if you are used to the building editor. The Ctrl and Shift buttons are your friends (especially since you are working on a sphere). With just a few basic buildings, you can make all sorts of interesting large-scale architecture (city walls, massive platforms, etc). My city ended up quite large and filled with lots of characters milling about it, but the complexity meter never rose above orange (a planet-wide city would probably hit the limit though). I don’t think complexity will be much of an issue.
One issue that initially confused me while working on this mission involved making objects visible at the appropriate act. As a default, objects and characters have locked properties. Whenever you change a property, it automatically changes it for every act, which may or may not be what you want. It took me awhile to figure out how get out of the default mode (honestly, it was a rather large, somewhat obvious button that I didn’t think of pressing), so that different properties can occur at different acts (Visible in one act, invisible in another, etc).
My next mission, To Zombie or Not to Be, was a little more action packed. You can’t go wrong with zombie generating portals and the subsequent destruction thereof. Also with this mission, I took advantage of the screen filters, which you can actually incorporate into your mission. This is going to open up all sorts of interesting opportunities (Western-themed, Film Noir themed missions).
There were several aspects of the game that really took me totally by surprise, even after reading the reviews and Q&A’s online. First of all, the “effects” that you can put in the game are amazing. They really help make the mission your mission. Pretty much anything you might need (lightning, lasers, flames, fog, clouds, etc) is available. In a similar vein, the music and sound effects are quite extensive. There are looping tunes, single shot tunes, sound effects, crowd effects, etc. For my Mesocity mission, I put an outdoor crowd sound effect inside the market area, and it really makes you think that a lot of activity is going on.
The terraform editor is a gem by itself. I especially enjoyed manipulating the colors at different elevations to create strange marbled, grand-canyon-esque planets. There are also plenty of terrain stamps to customize your surface (mountains, hills, craters, more geometric shapes, etc). It’s a huge step up from the terraforming/planet sculpting tools currently in the game. There are several different types of roads, all of which are flat textures that are stamped right onto the terrain. My only minor complaint about the roads is that you have to place each section individually (you can’t draw a path). It’s a little bit tedious, but one gets used to it.
Finally, there was one cool aspect to the expansion that I meant to bring up. The game really puts you in the mind of a game developer/tester. A lot of my time was spent squashing bugs within my own mission. If my character ever got stuck between buildings or reached some sort of obstacle in the test drive mode, I instantly jumped back into the editor and fixed the problem. There is a decent amount of problem solving involved. Maybe just maybe, formerly critical players will appreciate the work and decisions that game developers make.
So yeah, that was my experience. It’s going to be a great game and tool. I have no idea what I’m going to do with myself while waiting for GA to finally come out. Perhaps go crazy. We’ll see. If you have any questions, let us know. Thanks Maxis for inviting us.