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Sunday, January 18, 2009

Theme Set: Parkaboy's Li'l Bugs

Lately I've been playing with early creatures, trying to discover what's possible to make under the limitations that I discussed in the last post. I ended up making a number of lovely tiny insects. Here they are. Click the thumbnails for Sporepedia links or check my profile.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Creator Tip: Making Early Creatures

One of the Spore editors that appear under the "Create" tab is the Early Creature Creator. It is essentially an hybrid between the Cell and Creature creators: it has all the parts of the Cell editor, but with the addition of three types of legs and the full 3d appearance of the Creature Creator.

The creatures that you make in this editor can be used as a playable species if you choose to begin in the Creature Stage. More complex creatures are only available on later stages (unless you use the EvoAdvantage cheat, earning the "Joker" badge, though).

The critters made on the ECC also tend to appear as NPC creatures on the beggining of the Creature Stage - they're likely to be the first creatures that you'll meet in land. Since most people have few early creatures in their database, the early Creature Stage tends to be populated mostly by Maxis Creatures, wich is a shame.

So making lots of Early Creatures is important not only to give you choices of playable creatures, but also to populate your game with NPCs that match your style. Shall we start?

Facts of life in the primitive SPORE worlds

That little critter abova was my first creature in the game, evolving from the cell stage. I learned a few things from it, a few facts that we must accept if we want to enjoy using the ECC.

1- Little choice on parts. Yep, we can only use 12 parts and 3 types of legs, so you have to get really creative with those parts, if you don't want all early creatures to look nearly the same. The main concern should be the mouth, since you have only one choice of mouth for each diet type.

2- Small Budget. Not only you have a small pool of parts to choose, but you also can only use a few of them. This means that most early creatures should be bipeds, with very few quadrupeds. Hexapods are almost out of question, since you can't use enough joints for a decent animation.

3- The Paint will save you! Since you can't put much details in the poor creature's body, the way to go is to get crazy with the painting. You have access to all of the same textures and colors of the full creator, so dedicate a lot of attention to paint here. My little guy abov wouldn't be nothing without a smart combination of textures.

Modding for variation

To add a little variation to the small choice of parts, there's a little mot that I love called Cell Part Xtended, made by DarkDragon. You can find the download link on this topic on the GamingSteve community. This small mod adds morphing handlers to the cell parts on the ECC, allowing you to stretch and contract them.

See the "eyes" on the critter above? They were made with a distorted Electric part. See another example below.

The only problem with this mod is that animations on the mouths get a little weird if you distort them. All other parts are safe, though.

Turning limbs into bodies

Now pay attention to the example above. You have 3 choices of limbs in the ECC, and you can break them apart by holding the "Ctrl" key and dragging each articulation out. This means that a limb part does not have to be used as a limb. If you use it to create more complex body shapes, a new field of possibilities opens before you.

Also, the limb parts react differently to certain textures, so you can use them to create unique color effects.

More options if you want an NPC creature

The game uses what the developers call "archetypes" to choose the NPC creatures for each stage. There are 2 archetypes for early creatures: NPC_Social and NPC_Combat.

The cool thing is, you don't really have to use the ECC for making these early creatures. You can edit them in the full Creature Creator, you only have to respect some limitations. For a critter to fit in one of these archetypes, it has to have the following stats:

NPC_Social is any creature made with a maximum of 145 dna points (meaning at least 1,855 points left on the full CC), with Sing and Bite level 1, Charge and Spit level 0 or 1, and all other stats level 0.

NPC_Combat is the same as above, but it can have Charm level 0 or 1.

This means you can use a few parts not available on the ECC. These are them:

- You can use the heads available on the ECC, but can also use two heads from the full editor: the Toucan't and the Sauroclod; You can use
- You can use any eye part, but remember that they're more expensive than the eyes on the ECC;
- You can use any legs, but will have to use the default feet. The Exoskeleton Limbs from the third patch come with a new default foot, though;
- Since you can use any eye part, you can also use the "Senses" parts, the noses, nostrils antennae and ears;

You can do all that, if you remember to follow the instructions for each archetype.

Now you can have shells!

If you follow the instructions above, you can use a bunch of new parts on the NPC early creature. The green creature above, for instance, has a shell made with Snortle noses. So you don't really have to use a nose on the middle of the guy's face, understood?

The shell offers zero protection, though...

Exoskeletons are fashionable

You can also use the new(ish) Exoskeleton limbs on the NPCs, by following the already mentioned strategy of turning limbs into bodies. I should mention, though, that your creature is going to have to be really small for some of these tricks work, since the limbs, as well as the Sense parts, can't be made to be very big.

Create new faces

Even with the expanded options for NPCs, we still are restricted to 5 types of faces and their morphing variations. You can combine Sense parts and limbs to create some weird heads, though.

For instance, antennae can be used to give a herbivore creature something more resembling of bug pincers.

Combining strategies

You can create some truly astonishing early NPCs, by combining the tips above. But remember something: some textures don't go well with the exoskeleton limbs. If you're using them, you may want to try simpler, smoother textures.

Let your imagination float!

Finishing this lengthy tutorial, I remind you that you don't really have to use legs. I never managed to make good slithering creatures, but I'm proud of some of my floaters.

The tricks for a good floating animation are: using limbs as parts of the body (or else the body will try to touch the ground), and using details under the body to adjust the distance from the ground.

Here's just one more creature, for no reason other than I like it:

All of the creatures in this post were made by me and can be foun on my profile. Check them out!