Beta impressions: Project Spark

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Games are hard to make, I didn’t need to tell you that. Scores of talented people work for years to bring you high quality interactive entertainment. Project Spark is one of few games that gives you an engine to mess around with and create your own games and levels out of it. After seeing the demonstrations at the Xbox One launch last year, I was definitely intrigued at the possibilities of an open framework for game designers with limited programming skills.

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In its beta state, you are limited to what you can do. You can very easily create a small map with different textures and props. But anything fancier you need to pay for to use, and any user created levels with the fancier stuff needs to be paid for as well using in game currency and play time. That being said, it was fun to mess around with the limited tools they give you. Terraforming land is similar to a Sim city style tool where you can expand or shrink the ground. Biomes and textures are painted on using a simple brush. Creating a good looking world isn’t difficult, although the scale is limited to a small island. You can also play through a randomly generated level with random objectives.

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The graphics are appealing but slightly generic. I wouldn’t imagine it would be too limiting but the graphics aren’t going to appeal to everyone. As far as performance goes I was able to run this on an ultrabook with a Geforce 740m, so it should run smoothly on most hardware. You will however need to upgrade to Windows 8.1 in order to even run Project Spark however, which may deter people from the get go.

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After you’ve created your level, you can walk around and test it using third person WASD and mouse controls. Your default character has a double jump, a punch, and a roll. Enemies and objects can be added and their AI or pathing programmed in accordance with your level design by assigning objects a ‘brain’. It works on a simple logic system, for example, IF player is close, THEN follow player. It was pretty easy to have a halfway decent looking and functional level. But as always people far more talented than me have created completely new and fully functional games which have their own art style.

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One of the most impressive I’ve found was ‘Anti Smasher’. It’s a fully functional puzzle game with a title screen and custom controls. The aim is to move the black and white square together, but every time you move one, the other goes the opposite way. It was a really interesting puzzle game, and I couldn’t believe it was made in this engine with such polish.

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Another one I found was a really faithful recreation of Tetris. As far as what I’ve seen, the more advanced brain scripting can help people do some genuinely interesting things. The engine is nowhere as limited as I originally thought it would be. It reminds me of the Trials Evolution level editor, and the absolutely bonkers levels content creators come up with.

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Overall, Project Spark is an interesting tool. Not being a programmer or game designer myself, I can’t be completely sure of its usefulness to game design. However, there’s enough here to at least satisfy the casual game makers. Perhaps it would be a useful tool to try out game design ideas without having to go to the trouble to program and debug it in a more traditional engine.Who knows, maybe this’ll be the next big engine that everyone uses once it’s out of beta.

At the moment, it’s more like Microsoft’s answer to Little Big Planet, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing.

Last Updated: January 21, 2014

stephens

Once upon a time, in a land long forgotten, I wrote for this site. The details were gobbled up by an errant database, so instead you’re reading this painfully obtuse default bio.

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