I also had a chance at PAX 2010 to talk with Michael Perry, Executive producer of Dark Spore. He starts off the Q&A talking a bit about Dark Spore and then starts fielding my questions.
Answer: Dark Spore is a new game from Axis, We took the deep creature editing from Spore and we used it to make a new game. It’s not a sequel to spore. It’s not an expansion pack to Spore. It’s a new Sci-Fi action RPG. What you’re doing in Dark Spore is your building a collection of genetic heroes, each of which has its own unique set of abilities that can be used in combat. Each of those heroes can be organized into squads, which you then take down to attack planets and collect loot for upgrades. Question: Does it have the same format as Spore where you go check out other people’s planets online? Answer: Dark Spore is an online game, so you will be playing with other players as you play though the game but, it’s very focused on the action RPG game-play. So rather then playing on planets that are created by other players you’re playing on planets that are created by Axis. You’ll go down and play through planets that have different types of NPCs and you’ll want to figure out which squad of heroes is the right group to attack that planet. Question: How in depth is the creation of your squad members? Answer: We’re creating a large set of characters that you can unlock in the game. All of the heroes in the game belong to different types and different classes. The types are what we call genesis types and they each have different sets of abilities that fall within those types. For example we have bio-genesis types that have plant like abilities, snares, poisons, roots. Plasma-genesis characters are made out of fire and lightening. Cyber-genesis characters have laser attacks. Quantum-genesis can manipulate space and time; they can warp between different areas. As you collect characters that fall into these types, you will find that they fall into different classes as well and as you build this collection you’ll organize them into squads. Squads are where you can combine the abilities from the variety of heroes in your collection. So the way that works is in our unique campaign system, the campaign design is something we internally call a chain game but it’s very much inspired by games like Plants vs Zombies. What I mean is, before you attack a planet in the game you’ll actually see the enemy NPCs that spawn in on that planet.
You’ll then choose which squad is the right one to attack that group of enemies. You’ll go in, you’ll attack the planet, you’ll play in either solo of co-op (the game totally comes to life as your playing co-op by the way), and you’ll defeat the enemy NPCs in the planet and fight the boss. Then you will have a choice, the choice is, take the loot that you’ve collected on that planet, cash out take it back to your ship and use it to upgrade your heroes. The way you upgrade your heroes is by putting loot on them, parts, hands, armor and so on. Or you can choose to forfeit that loot, leave it and go on to another planet, which is going to be harder. Now why would you make that choice? Harder planets give you better loot. So there is this risk reward system, where you go to harder and harder planets to get better stuff but, if you fail you won’t get any loot at all. Question: So it’s like doubling down? Answer: Absolutely, that’s exactly what it’s like. Now when you do cash out and you take that look backup to your ship, you will go into a new version of the editor that’s very much inspired by the original Spore editor. This will allow you to put these parts on your heroes wherever you want to, everyone who plays this game is going to have a totally custom set of heroes. The parts really matter, they upgrade your stats, they upgrade your gear score. This means you can fight harder and harder enemies, so you can push that chain game farther and farther. Question: What have you done to avoid repetition in the levels? Answer: Re-play is key in a game like this, because you want to go back to earlier levels and grind to get better loot. What we have is a AI director, very much inspired by left for Dead. The AI director in our game controls what NPCs spawn in, it watches how you play the game, dynamically adjusts the difficulty and the behavior of the NPCs and how they’re put together. Every time you go back and re-play one of our levels you’ll see a different experience based on the AI director. Question: How different are the levels? Answer: The levels are created by us, what we’ve done is we’ve created a fixed number of planets they all belong to those five genesis types that I talked about earlier, but when you get to those planets the NPCs that spawn in are all very different. Question: Are there plans to keep adding planets as time goes on? Answer: That’s right, it’s an online game so we’re going to launch it and build an online community and as the game stays online we’ll keep releasing new add-ons for it. Question: So aside from the obvious inspiration, Spore, what else did you draw on for this? Answer: Quite a few different games, obviously we’re big action RPG fans, so we love Diablo, we love Torchlight. But, you know, when I mentioned Plants vs Zombies, there’s a game that you can play in a quick session, it’s very addictive, determining what tools you bring in is part of the game-play. We adopted a system like that to decide which squads you want to bring planet side with you in Dark Spore. Left for Dead, we love that game because you know, you’re playing the same levels over and over again but it’s great every single time. Co-op is awesome in Left for Dead, so we found that very inspiring as well. Question: Re-playability is really what separates the men from the boys in the gaming world. Answer: It is and it brings a quality to the table that’s way beyond what you get with a game that you win and finish and your done playing.
Thanks to Michael for sitting down with us and talking about Dark Spore. Dark Spore is slated to be released in February 2011 for PC and Spring 2011 for Mac. You can find more information at www.darkspore.com.
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