Interview: Soren Johnson - Spore's Strategist
July 11, 2008 Page 4 of 7
CR: This is a really esoteric question, but when you say that, it kind of reminds me of the early history of film narrative, where the directors had to be extremely specific about everything that was happening, to the point where they were explaining in words what was already going on on screen. As audiences got more acquainted with the language of film, directors take more risks and were more fluid.
I know Will Wright has grand thoughts about where gaming could go, but I'm wondering - do you think gaming could get to the point where you could release a game where you were fluidly switching between different types of gameplay and having enough faith in your audience to... even if they haven't necessarily played that one type of thing before, have enough of a sense of how they're interacting with the game that they could more easily transition?
SJ: I think that depends upon how tied the future of games are to genres, or as individual pieces? It certainly seems to be going in the direction of genres so far. If it continues like that, yeah, I expect that will be true.
There's a lot to be said for familiar genres, because you can definitely do interesting things within those boundaries and people are ready to go. You don't have to teach everything from scratch every time. You just have to be careful that... you know, strategy is in a bit of trouble now, because the genre's gotten very complicated.
BS: With the look and feel of it, Spore's got kind of a casual kind of visual style. It avoids the Uncanny Valley completely by being cute little guys. I feel like it's got the aesthetic for the casual gamer, and then the gameplay for the hardcore gamer, but I'm wondering if those two actually meet, like if the casual look turns off the hardcore gamer and the hardcore potential gameplay vice-versa.
SJ: It's possible. There's a lot of speculation that goes on within the Spore team about, "Is this a mismatch for this audience or that audience?" I think a lot of it goes back to Will not really thinking in terms of audience and just thinking in terms of, "This is a radical new idea." Ironically, as years have gone by, some other games seem to be incorporating similar ideas.
BS: He's been talking about it for a while, so...
SJ: It's been quite a long project, but I think it just started with, "Wow, this is a really powerful idea, letting people see what everyone else has done." I think to some extent, he's not very worried about that. I'm sure there are people who are worried about that, but...
CR: The industry as a whole is very driven by that. [laughter] That's what makes it so surprising.
SJ: You'll have to talk to someone else on the team that knows this a lot better than I, but I believe that originally, it was a lot more realistic-looking. It did not have that cartoony look.
I don't think they made that change to appeal to the casual crowd. I think they made it because it just looked kind of weird. You'd end up with a lot of really grotesque creatures, I think, whereas if you have more googly eyes and bumpy parts, people ended up making more appealing-looking creatures. I think that's more or less why the decision was made. It was just part of the creative process.
BS: What have been the challenges for you? You've touched on some of it, but just moving from a project that was so explicitly hardcore gamer-focused to something that is less about a focus on an audience and more about trying out new ideas. Or has it not been more challenging and more freeing?
SJ: It's definitely been more freeing. I think it would be harder to go in the other direction. Because I kind of went into it at the very beginning and said, "Okay, this is not about making the most balanced game in the world. This is not about giving people a challenge that's going to take them years to work through all the different levels." I decided right off the bat to not worry about that too much.
But there have been many times where I would put stuff in the game that I had to take out because it's made the game frustrating for people - things that I probably would not have taken out if we were aiming for a classic gamer audience.
There isn't a lot of space in the game for instruction. For a game like Civ, it's taken for granted that when you decide what to build in the city, you're going to have ten choices, and we're going to have fairly detailed pop-up help to help you understand that, and there will be a place to go to, to explain all the different concepts.
In Spore, there are three different building types, and there are three different vehicle types. There's not necessarily a lot of room for maneuverability there. So yeah, I think for the most part, I haven't worried about that too much.
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