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Interview: Soren Johnson - Spore's Strategist
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Interview: Soren Johnson - Spore's Strategist

July 11, 2008 Article Start Previous Page 2 of 7 Next

CR: Are certain modes indefinite sandbox modes? Are there any modes you can just play forever?

SJ: Oh, sure. In Civ, if you eventually take over the world, you can keep playing forever, but there's not a lot to do. It's similar with Tribe. But having the difficulty levels has enabled us to do... we were in a really tough spot before we had that, because we were constantly bouncing back and forth between, "The game's really boring. Let's turn up the competition."

And some people were like, "I can't just do whatever I want to. My sandbox is gone." And we turned it back down again.

Pretty much the easy mode on all the levels is like that. It's like a sandbox mode. People who are going to be making videos and doing weird and wacky stuff, that's probably where they're going to be playing. The game mode is definitely not supposed to give you resistance to that. That's really the mode for people who are used to The Sims or SimCity or whatever.

BS: Does it very much rely on the player to figure out what difficulty level they're going to be in?

SJ: Yeah. It's a setting you get right at the very beginning.

BS: It seems like it's such a spectrum, because character creation is obviously super-casual, but RTS is super-hardcore. Even I don't touch it, because it's too much for me to think about. It's such a spectrum for a game that is more casual-targeted in general.

SJ: Yeah, doing an RTS is really tough inside of Spore, because I would say the RTS genre in general has a big problem, in that it's one of the most ghettoized. I'll dip into almost any genre nowadays except for maybe fighting games or whatever.

I'll play almost any different type of game, and I play strategy games, so I play RTSes. But I think there are a lot of players who will play almost any type of game except for RTSes, because people just have the sense of, "There's a thousand things to do. I'll never be able to get them all. I'll never be able to handle it all."

BS: Too many stats?

SJ: Yeah. The single-player campaigns have never been very compelling, mixed with the fact that if you're going to be playing multiplayer, you're just going to get wiped out. It's a very intimidating genre. It's been kind of freeing, to be honest, to make one that... one of the nice things about the Civ and Tribe game in Spore is that there's not a story and it's not multiplayer. So right off the bat, we don't have those issues to deal with.

But yeah, I think the strategy genre in general has to deal with this question of... a lot of people are just ignoring it, basically. Ironically, publishers are generally less willing to make turn-based games, but I think a lot of gamers are a lot more willing to play turn-based games. A lot of people play Advance Wars, but are not willing to touch an RTS.

BS: Are you targeting the housewife market that exists for The Sims? If so, do you have to teach them how to play this game and why even they should care about it?

SJ: That's a good question. In Spore, you'll probably get some official answers about who our demographic is. I think to some extent, the demographic is unknown. It's people who are interested in doing something weird, wacky, and fun with their computer, and I think it's going to appeal to a lot of people, but yeah, I think there's a good chunk of the audience that playing Civ on medium or hard is never going to be a part of their playing experience. It's just not what Spore is going to be about for them. And that's okay.

I mean, I think we had to accept going into Spore - and this is not true for something like Civ IV, where I felt that everything that was on the table was something I wanted the player to experience at some point. With Spore, we're definitely okay with some people who just don't want to play the other modes. They just want to make cool stuff, put them up on the web, play around with them, and ignore the game altogether.

And there's other people who will probably just want to spend all their time in Space, because Space is a really unique environment. Once you try Space you keep zooming out farther and farther and seeing how much stuff there is out there, there are very few games that are anything like that.

So yeah, I think that there are definitely parts of the game that are not going to be appropriate for certain parts of the audience. We're just trying to make sure that that doesn't prevent people from enjoying Spore.

BS: It seems tough that the difficulty is determined at the beginning, before they've actually figured out what level they are. In a way, a difficulty level seems almost like a barrier.

SJ: Sure. You mean, in that some people have never chosen difficulty before?

BS: The idea of choosing difficulty would be... take my mom, for example. If there are difficulty levels, she would be like, "I don't know. That's scary. Goodbye!"

SJ: Well, we default to easy. You're on a four or five-step path to start the game, and it's just one of the things you go through. But yeah, we don't want it to be a big deal. We'd really be happier with most people just playing the game on easy. If they want a challenge, there are these other difficulty levels that, "I guess I can adjust that if I want to." But you know, we're not trying to bang people over the head with it.

And the design in some sense is a little bit in flux, so I forget where it is right now, but it's certainly not like if you choose easy you're stuck with that for the rest of your experience. When you're in a level... each level, except for Space, you more or less can play... a specific game is an hour or two hours.

Even if you like Creature the best, you're not just going to play Creature for ten hours. If you play Creature for ten hours, you'll be playing five different things, and each time through, you can change the settings to be whatever you want them to be.

Article Start Previous Page 2 of 7 Next

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