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Monday, May 18, 2009

Galactic Adventure Camp - mission log

Act 1
Goals: talk to MaxisCactus v
get a passport and a visa

So a few weeks ago I got an e-mail from MaxisCactus inviting me to join a few other creators for a 2 day event at the Maxis Studios in Emeryville, California, where we would play the upcoming Spore expansion pack Galactic Adventures, talk to the developers behind the game, and eat pizza. After I got over my initial reaction - thinking it was all an elaborate scheme from an international gang to steal my kidneys - I got really excited, and started making arrangements so I could attend and still keep my job (and hopefully, my kidneys).

I'm from Brazil, so there was some stuff I had to take care of, such as getting a passport and an american visa. Thankfully I managed to get everything I needed on time - though the people from the U.S. consulate had a hard time believing that I was going California just to play a videogame, and I feared they would deny my request for the visa.

Act 2
Goals: get to Emeryville alive v

Then I went on a 26 hours journey (counting all the waiting hours at airports, flight times and waiting for my baggage to appear). Unfortunately the EA travel coordinator had me booked on a fligh that would get me to San Francisco late for the first day of the event, and a few more delays (such as the shuttle from the airport leaving without me to Emeryville, but it eventually got back) meant that I would only get to Maxis by 2 PM, instead of 9 AM.

Act 3
Goals: get to the Maxis offices v
get a sandwich

So I arrived at Maxis, where I was greeted by Tammy (their sweet receptionist), MaxisCactus and Aaron (who were in charge of the event). They took me to the Aquarium, where the other 9 guys were already playing on neat Asus* laptops (oh, the blinking blue lights!). G3NJI, Fotosynthesis, Shattari, Masscolder, Gryphon57, dananddna, Slartibartfast38, Terry from TnT-Productions and Ceece were all there. They barely moved their eyes from the screens to greet me, but I guess that's easily understandable. I myself couldn't wait to get my hands on the Adventure Editor. MaxisCactus gave me a sandwich because I hadn't eaten anything since breakfest on Miami time, but I only ate half of it - that's how axious I was.

* Well, I got an Asus poster and a t-shirt, so it doesn't hurt to advertise a little.

Act 4
Goals: create a planet for my adventure v
place down buildings, creatures, vehicles and other stuff
use effects, sounds and behaviors

I login to the game and play a couple of adventures at MaxisCactus' suggestion. They're cool, but I'm itching to create. I load a Maxis-made planet to the editor, and start twitching it.

The planet editor isn't exactly as I expected, so I have to make a few changes on my plans. The sculpting tools are actually brushes that can be placed, moved, rotated, resized and distorted - much like detail parts on a creature's body. It's all very versatile, but I wish we had more time, because it would probably take a couple of hours to get the planet looking like I wanted.

The coloring options are a lot more complex (and yet easy to use) than I anticipated. Sure, you can change the colors of stuff like the ocean, atmosphere and beaches - but you can also create cool color gradients that vary according to terrain elevation. I think I could probably make a Death-Star-looking artificial planet just with the scuplting and painting brushes.

The building placement is exactly what I was dreaming it would be. You have all the freedom you could wish to create detailed cities, placing things anywhere (the tab, ctrl and shift keys work just like on the building editor), resizing and combining stuff. I made a city inside a dome and a drilling camp that had cracked ice with real water inside the crack.

The effects and sounds make it all even better, allowing us to create awesome visuals and ambiences. Oh, and the building textures may look blurry from far away, but as the hero approaches the stuff, it gets as detailed and clear as in the editor*.

BTW, it's crucial to place the hero near the buildings and check them out in the Test Mode. For instance, we're placing buildings that have a flat base on a planet with a spherical surface - that creates a gap that you can only see from the surface, and you have to fix it by either creating a flat surface or by sinking the buildings on the ground a bit (holding shift).

Every creation has behaviors that affect how they're going to, uh, behave during the adventure. You can set a creature's team or level of aggressiveness, you can change a building's hit points or set it to invincible, you can disguise game objects as any other stuff, and a lot more. What's coolest is that you can set the behaviors according to each act, wich means you can change behaviors from act to act, and even set a creation as invisible and effectively non-existent during some acts. The possibilities that smart combinations of behaviors offer is practically infinite.

* that may vary according to your graphics card, though. Did I mentioned we were playing on awesome Asus laptops? Okay, enough advertising...

Act 5
Goals: eat some mexican food X
chat with the campers and maxoids
get some sleep, for Spode's sake!

By then the first day of the event had ended, and the Maxoids invited us to grab some mexican food with them. MaxisCactus drove me to the hotel first, so I cold check in and freshen up a bit before going to the Fresh Mex restaurant. It was awesome talking to the Maxis folks, they're really great people and they truly love this game as much as we do. i chatted a lot with Kip, Guillaume, Aaron, MaxisCactus - and also with Shattari, who kept drawing a creature during the dinner (I guess that's like a nicotine patch for editor-addicteds like us...). I actually forgot to eat, really (only had a couple of chicken wings). I finally crashed in the hotel room, and slept like a baby, or a rock, or like a baby rock. Or a rock baby. Sorry, I'm still a bit jetlagged...

Act 6
Goals: walk to Maxis with MaxisCactus and the Adventure Campers v
finish my adventure v
eat a big chocolate chip cookie!

On the second day of the Camp we met at the entrance of the hotel and waited for MaxisCactus to arrive and guide us to the offices. We stopped to take a few pictures on everyone's cameras (check the one just above*). We arrived at the offices and had breakfest. We really didn't stopped for breakfest, we just grabbed all we could carry and went to the laptops.

I put the finishing touches on my adventure (I had planned a simple one, so I was able to finish it on time), and played a few of ther Maxis adventures. Kip tested my adventure and was able to play it all the way through.

We had sandwiches for lunch, and I ate a big chocolate chip cookie for dessert. I love cookies! I messed a bit with the advanced AI options and checked what other people were making. MaxisCactus showed us an adventure she had created, about "what really goes on in the Maxis offices at night", and showed us a few neat tricks with the image filters for the adventures.

*I'm using mostly the pictures taken by Ceece or on her camera, since my camera is a bit old and my pictures didn't came out very good.

Act 7
Goals: Watch a presentation by Chris Hecker v
show off our adventures to the developers v
have pizza and beer

By then MaxisCactus had announced we would have a surprise presentation by Chris Hecker. Too bad we can't really talk about it... We also got tons of gifts, such as a Maxis cup, a couple of t-shirts (including the "Made of matter, anti-matter and it doesn't matter" one I always wanted), and a poster with a rendered version of one of our creatures. But wait, it doesn't stop there! MaxisCactus had us follow her to a desk where little boxes were waiting for us with little figurines of our creations inside! You can check mine on the picture just above. And they also let us take home the spore mousepads we were using. Oh, and MC announced that we would receive the game at the release date! Come on, Maxis, you're spoiling us!

A few of us showed off our adventures on the big demo screen. Shattari created a high-tech scenario (I believe it was called "Power Down"), where the hero had to jump between platforms to collect power ups. Looked good, but also pretty hard. I showed mine, and played through it with a captain made by Kip. Then dananddna used the captain I created to play his adventure called Mesocity, wich was awesome and really funny. And then Ceece showed off a colorful quest for her Floone. At the same time we were having beer and pizza with the developers.

Act 8
Goals: eat some chineese food X
go to Telegraph Hill to take some pictures X
fly back home

We tried to resist, but finally the Maxis people had to get rid of us, so we went back to the hotel. Those of us who weren't flying home that night went to the city by subway. There were four of us: Photosynthesis, Slartibartfast38, Shattari and me. Slarti got a map from MaxisKane, and we went to Chinatown to find him some chineese food. Unfortunately the restaurants that MK had suggested were all closed, so we kept walking. We got lost and couldn't find Telegraph Hill, so we ended up going back, grabbing a bit on a McDonalds, and riding the subway back to the hotel.

And then the trip was over. I had to start another day long trip, arriving home in time to prepare for another day of work...


Unknown said...

Great to meet you! Hope the trip back to Brazil went smoothly.

MaxisKane said...

It was great to meet you and I'm glad you had a good time! I'm sorry the restaurants didn't work out in San Francisco. Two of them should have been open until 10pm and one of them open until midnight. Did you get there after ten?

I can't wait to see what you create when GA comes out!


Filipe Freitas said...

The trip back had some delays, but I made it home without trouble. About the restaurants, we could only find one and it was closed. I think it was a little before 10pm, but I'm not sure.

But we had a great time nevertheless. Thanks to you guys!

- Parkaboy

dananddna said...

Haha, sorry about not introducing myself right away, my laptop wouldn't let me get up. I'm so glad I got to meet you. The mission that you presented was really cool and really well thought out. Keep it up man!


Anonymous said...

which one in the picture is you?

Filipe Freitas said...

I'm the one in the bottom/center.

DiegoFZ said...

I'm also from brazil, felipe, parabéns aí, cara, você é um dos jogadores de Spore mais populares e eu garanto, suas criações são as MELHORES, é uma pena eu ter perdido o Spore C & C, porque senão eu ainda estaria jogando SPORE,

K said...

Are you drinking beer?

Cabra said...

Do you still live in Brazil?
I live, in Belo Horizonte.

Unknown said...

Wow, you guys deserved it! You' re so good creators that everybody admits you! Imagine that Fotosynhesis must have 100,000 or maybe more subs right now. I wish I had your talent...
And a question for Maxis team members
I saw that some spore users like fotosynthesis and sakiara got into the Maxis team. I want to confirm that, please.

We all admit you guys!
Sincerely, 90Yannis, Greece