We don't like The Sims, but we do like its creator Will Wright - a man whose undiluted creative vision cross-bred with the vast resources provided by his monolithic paymasters at EA has just been waiting to create something marvellous. And now the marvellous thing is happening, and it's called Spore. We've touched on it before, but having met with the man and heard it all first-hand, we're still reeling. He effectively has every one of us from the very moment he saunters into the presentation room and breaks the ice by handing out bits of meteorite from a large bowl.
"You start the game very small, with a single-cell creature living in a drop of water," begins Wright, as tiny organisms flitted around the screen behind him. "There are things that it can eat, and things that can eat it. If you click on it, you can modify it by, for example, adding a spike. That lets it attack things that it couldn't attack before. Over several generations, it gets larger, until it is 20mm in size or so. Then it scales up to a 3D creature living in the ocean.
"It then lives in a full 3D environment, with a whole ecosystem going on around it. When it lays an egg, you can go back to the editor, where you can design its skeletal structure. You can pull bits off, and sculpt your creature's body. The parts that you put on determine how your creature functions in this world. If, for example, you add legs to your creature and it no longer has fins, it cannot swim any more, so it will walk out onto land. All the animations are generated depending on the physics of the animal that you've designed."
Now with the gigantic screen behind him showing his newly non-aquatic creatures, and with our furious nodding almost out of control, Wright smiles and dives further into his mysterious creation. "Out on land, the creature has to survive so it can, for example, hunt other creatures. The computer decides the best way to fight - in this example, my creature has a spiked tail so it uses the tail as the primary weapon," he says, gesticulating towards his on-screen lizard-things. "Here, a whole ecosystem is being simulated, populated by creatures coming from other players. As they play the game, their creatures are put in a database, while my game is requesting that database. Every bit of content is highly compressible - for example, a 3MB creature actually compresses to about 1KB." A game that's moulded by being online, when you're not actually playing online? Jaws start to hit the floor at the sheer ambition and audacity of the man.
"To get back to the editor in this phase, you have to reproduce, which involves finding a mate, so you get your animal to make a mating call," continues Mr Sims unabated. "In this way, I am indirectly controlling the evolution of my entire species - every creature born from it will have the modifications that I made. You can make weird, very very goofy creatures if you want. We studied things like Neopets and Pokémon, and think that players have a huge amount of empathy with things that they designed themselves. You can, should you want, make a creature with six legs, and girls can design creatures that look cute." We agree, roll our eyes at the ineptitude of the fairer sex and laugh in condescending ways like the lads we are.
Getting back on track, Wright moves onto his creatures' brains. "When you get to the highest level of brain, you leave the evolution game and go to the tribal game, in which you are controlling a whole tribe," he explains, bringing up a screen reminiscent of many an RTS. "Your tribe of creatures can communicate and you can, for example, buy them weapons. You can buy them campfires, or a drum, so that they discover music, which might make them more ritualistic in the future. And you can upgrade the tribe's hut, grow the tribe larger and earn a higher level of tools."