Updated 10/31/08 – See bottom of post

Poor Chris Hecker (Spore animator) …the guy is getting ripped apart at the Sporums and it appears he is unable to defend due to EA/Maxis rules in getting involved with the community. Players are tearing him up as they found out he’s the scrapegoat to blame on why Spore is the way it is with it’s “cuteness” approach. They found a quote from an article in which Chris states how he founded the ‘Cute’ teamand how he persuaded Will to drop the science aspect from the game:

This was Spore’s central problem: Could the game be both scientifically accurate and fun? The prototyping teams were becoming lost in their scientific interests. Chaim Gingold, a team member who started as an intern and went on to help design the game’s content creation tools, recalls a summer spent playing with pattern language and cellular automata: “It was just about being engaged with the universe as a set of systems, and being able to build toys that manifested our fascination with these systems and our love for them.” But from within this explosion of experimental enthusiasm came an unexpected warning voice. Spore’s resident uber-geek and artificial intelligence expert Chris Hecker was having strong misgivings about how appealing all this hard science would be to the wider world. “I was the founding member of the ‘cute’ team,” he says with pride. “Ocean [Quigley, Spore’s art director] and Will were really the founding members of the ‘science’ team. Ocean would make the cell game look exactly like a petri dish with all these to-scale animals and Will would say, ‘That’s the greatest thing I’ve ever seen!’ and some of us were thinking, ‘I’m not sure about that.'”

Soon rival camps had formed. New recruits were taken out to lunch and covertly probed to discover where their natural leanings were. Quigley’s microscopically accurate concept drawings were vandalized with stuck-on googly eyes; there were suggestions that it might be cool if the creatures wore sneakers. It might have been painful for the founding members of the science team, but Quigley acknowledges the need for compromise. “From a single-celled organism through the four-and-a-half-billion year history of life on Earth to a self-projected future where we are gallivanting around the stars? I mean, it is so absurdly vast, so radically outside of any scale that people can really empathize with, we knew we had to turn it into a toy.”

In fact, this whole deal even blew up to getting a front post on Digg – with 1101 diggs and 222 comments at the time of this post. And to top that off, he’s even got his official Spore Creature that a crafter creator made:

Cute Hecker
The Cute Hecker is a curious creature who’s sole purpose seems to be ruining everyone’s good time. Its head is oversized to accomodate an inordinately large mouth, but appears to contain no brain at all. The ears are vestigal–Cute Hecker doesn’t listen.

While I did get a chuckle out of the creature (if you’re reading, Chris, I do apologize – but it is funny), I do think some of the things they want to do to the guy is pretty horrible. We just don’t have the full story on why Will made the switch from the game, but the fault cannot be placed on Chris alone. He just put in his opinion on changing the game and in the end, a majority of the developers ended up going with it.

So if you’re reading this Chris, just thought I would let you know that at least you have one person that is not mad at you. Upset, kind of, but I’ll get over it. 🙂

*Update – 10/31/08*

Lucy Bradshaw comes forth to post a message in the thread about Chris Hecker. Her post is as follows:

Hi all. I wanted to weigh in on this thread. I appreciate the comments and the open discussion about the game, the look and everyone’s expectations. I think that this type of dialog is a healthy exchange of ideas. We get a lot out of it and I’m not interested in shutting that down. However, I do think that the aspersions toward any individual member of the Spore team are unwarranted and are getting out of hand here. The concept of Spore that Will presented at GDC 2005 was the guidepost for the development and execution of the game. Will very much remained the visionary and design leader throughout the development of Spore. He worked collaboratively with the team when opinions differed but decisions were definitely in his domain.

The cute vs. science debate within the team had more to do with the concept of accessibility, character and aesthetic than it had to do with the underlying gameplay. Some of this was driven by the simple reality of a very unique and rather cutting edge approach to animation. Procedural animation is just one of the incredible contributions that Chris Hecker made to this game. It was a huge area of focused work and learning for us as the animation engineering team developed this system. One thing that we learned is that setting an expectation of very realistic looking animations that, for instance, captured the discrete differences of movement of a cat vs. the movement of a dog would be off target. Moving away from an aesthetic that set such expectations was a well considered decision on our part. I’m personally amazed at what the animation team was able to achieve. Will set a goal for the team that we be able to hit a mark, in terms of creative breadth, that reached from Pixar to Geiger. The aesthetic, physical and placement constraint decisions that we made regarding the Creature Creator were held to our tenets of unconstrained creativity and accessibility for the creators.

Chris contributed so much in the way of innovations for Spore and deserves to be recognized for his work. While we have no interest in stifling conversation on the Sporum about Spore from anyone, I request that people show respect for others and refrain from outright defamation and threats.