Three Things That Stand Out About the Spore ExpansionS

EA announced a bunch of new stuff at last night's semi-swank reveal event – but the main draw was Galactic Adventures, the first real Spore expansion.

Adventures adds a new branch of gameplay to the Spore experience, accessed from the main menu. Once you click on it, you have your pick of preset adventures on present worlds. Each adventure is like a long MMO quest with a series of goals spread out over up to five "acts." That probably isn't the best way to sell it, but it works way better than it sounds. Moreover, it also integrates into the main game – so instead of the lame existing set of stuff you have to do during space exploration, you actually get the chance to play out one of these adventures instead.

As with most of what comes from developer Maxis, there's a lot of stuff to soak up whenever they make something new. Adventures is way more than just slapped-on content or a single new feature; you really have to play it to even get a feel of just how much is going on. But in lieu of that (and because they wouldn't let me near the keyboard), I'll just single out the three things that left the biggest impression.

I Can Create My Own "Get Ye Flask" Adventure
Galactic Adventures is about making adventures — almost any adventure you can think of. The adventure editor lets players choose a planet, choose a protagonist creature and populate the world with other NPC creatures and objects. You set the behavior patterns for the NPCs, the possible interactions with the objects and the main goals for each act of your quest. Then, you get down to adventuring.

First, we watched the test drive mode in action. Like the Creature Creator's test drive function, this lets gamers customize and test out whatever scenario they cook up for themselves in the adventure editor. Spore Producer Guillaume Pierre started out by choosing a purple planet and populated it with rocks and rivers (more on the planet editor below). Then he set up some ancient pyramids and selected a protagonist and a couple of NPCs – a llama and what can best be described as a T-rex. He set the T-Rex to be aggressive toward everybody and the llama to be aggressive toward all NPCs, made them both mega-huge and gave them fire-breathing powers (another new perk in the expansion). He let the test drive run and watched as the giant Llama NPC started fireball-ing the giant T-rex when the protagonist wandered near them.

Aside from populating your adventure world with items and fire-breathing llamas, you also have to set goals for your protagonist to accomplish. These can be anything from defending or befriending a particular NPC to basic fetch quests and "go talk to this guy" goals. Pierre took us to a Back to the Future replica adventure – complete with clock tower and 50s-looking car objects – where the first goal was something like "Go talk to the classy guy."

There are obvious limits to the adventures. The quest items and goal options aren't advanced enough to recreate the entire plot of Lord of the Rings (although I wouldn't put it past a Spore community member to try ‘til their blue in the face), but I'm almost sure you could do your own version of Super Mario Brothers. Alas, Spore producer Caryl Shaw tells me that there's no mating in Galactic Adventures –- so Princess Peach still won't be putting out. And you can't leave the planet you choose for your adventure, so no "last five minutes of Namek" adventures where the planet blows up and you have to escape.

There's hope, though. Pierre says a super virus item has been discussed…

I Can Build Worlds (Even if I Can't Blow Them Up)
Originally, there was talk of letting Spore users access the terrain-forming tools to customize their own planets down to the last detail. But for whatever reason, it didn't pan out and we got stuck with whatever we could effect through the terraforming parts of the main game.

Well, all that changes with Galactic Adventures. Players can pick a base planet and do just about anything they want to its surface. Using a series of sliders, you can make a snow world or a lava world – or a world with only 15% landmass. Aside from terrain, you can also change the color of the sky and the ground, alter the atmosphere so it's more likely to storm, and throw down paved roads or mountain peaks wherever you want.

The only thing you can't do from what I could see is make a donut world with a hole in the middle. The cube world cheat from the main game will work, says Shaw, but other than that no funny shapes for planets. Also, I'm pretty sure you can't recreate that Twi'lek world from the Star Wars books – the one where it's icy on one side and burning hot on the other – because the temperature of the planet is one one slider.

Bananaman!
Between building worlds and trying to replicate an episode of Battlestar Galactica with what's in the Sporepedia, new users and even seasoned Spore fanatics might find themselves swamped by the options in Galactic Adventures. Not one to leave gamers out in the bewildering cold, Maxis has made a series of tutorial adventures to walk them through everything that the expansion has to offer. One of the earliest of these is an adventure starring a chimp with what looks like a jetpack and a bananaman with a mustache.

With all the talk of Spore being this big, special cultural phenomenon, it's kind of a relief to have some non-self-important humor. I'm glad Maxis hasn't let Spore's popularity go to their heads.

"It's a strength of ours to make creation tools," says Shaw. But the team at Maxis is aware of the complaints about Spore – its repetitiveness, how shallow the space exploration was in the main game, and so forth. With Galactic Adventures, they're hoping to address some of these problems and give gamers whole new reasons to love Spore.

For me, it's gotta be the firebreathing attack. Now my pink winged penguin can finally be a dragon.

Spore: Galactic Adventures is shooting for a spring 2009 release.