When Microsoft unveiled Project Spark at their E3 press conference it at first didn’t appeal to my gaming habits, but after talking with a Team Dakota developer who worked on the game, I must admit that this highly creative title may prove to be a big hit with imaginative gamers looking to get into game development, or those who just love to exercise their inner designer.
For all intents and purposes Project Spark can best be described as a Minecraft meets Little Big Planet hybrid. The entire point of the game is to create actual game worlds for other players to play in. This is achieved using your imagination and an impressive amount of easy-to-use tools, which have been designed with an intuitive feel to make Project Spark behave like a game development for dummies course. The level of manipulation that can take place in this game is staggering, so there’s a great chance that rabid fan communities will spring up in support of Project Spark once it goes live.
Spark can be played (more like used) with touch controls via Xbox SmartGlass (or a massive 55″ touchscreen like MS had at the demo), traditional controls, or with Kinect voice commands. All of the different input methods seemed to work quite well as the presenter at our demo started building a new world right in front of our gazing eyes. It was amazing to see how fast a game world could take shape using the various input methods that Project Spark offers gamers. With a few clicks of the controller and a little bit of imagination, a whole new amateur game experience can be created, and you don’t need a degree in video game design to do so.
Building the overall landscape and look of a new world in Project Spark is just one small side of the proverbial coin though. The true magic takes place in programming the brains of each and every object you put into your creation. This may sound like a daunting task, or more like computer science, but it’s actually easier to execute than basic algebra. This is achieved through the ingenious “When/Do” GUI interface that appears after choosing to toggle the brains of an in-game item.
For example, in the demo we saw, the Project Spark developer programmed a few random rocks to take flight if the main character (generic little sprite that can also be customized) got close to them. All he had to do was select them, bring up the brains menu, and then choose the “When” and “Do” actions. The manner in which this is presented to gamers makes it simple to create advanced AI rules without the need of a programming degree, or any degree for that matter.
The level of detail that can be assigned to each programmable item in Project Spark is mind boggling, and the simple method for doing so will surely produce some fantastic user created worlds. The developer we spoke to said he has seen everything from sprawling RPGs to a fully touch-controlled music synthesizer created by regular users in-game. The trailer for Spark also featured a FPS style game, a side-scrolling Limbo-ish title, and an Angry Birds inspired experience, so the possibilities for user generated content are limitless.
This game left a great impression on nearly everyone who had a chance to see it up close and personal that we talked to, so there’s a great chance that it will be a must-play title when it releases, and it could even be a reason to own a Xbox One. Minecraft and Little Big Planet extruded massive amounts of creativity from their respective user communities, and there’s no reason to think that Project Spark won’t do the same. If you’re a gamer thinking about getting into video game development, then Project Spark will make for a great introduction to game design course without the need to buy a $200 text book and sit through boring lectures.
Project Spark will be an exclusive title for the Xbox One, Xbox 360, and Windows 8 PCs. It will also be free to download, but will feature in-game purchases for exclusive content and build items. Gamers interested in getting some early hands-on time with the game can sign up for the beta here.