|System: Xbox One|
|Release: October 7, 2014|
|Screen Resolution: 480p-1080p||Fantasy Violence|
by Angelo M. D'Argenio
Project Spark is nothing if not massive and powerful. This game creation suite really does give you tools to make just about anything you could possibly imagine. The only limit is your imagination… and you’re willing to put up with grinding and microtransactions.
Project Spark is, essentially, Microsoft’s answer to LittleBigPlanet, though infinitely more complicated. Whereas LittleBigPlanet offers you a limited selection of mostly platform game pieces that you can finagle into other game types, Project Spark is literally and specifically designed to give you maximum control over a game environment without requiring you to know coding. You can basically change and edit anything, from the map itself, to the items you find, to the way characters and enemies behave, to what happens when you press a button or combination of buttons, to where the camera is, and so forth. This allows you to make action games, RPGs, RTSs, fighting games, shooters, and more.
Editing the map is basically done with a pseudo paint interface. You can move a cursor around in 3D space and that cursor will build terrain as you choose. You can simply paint it into space, stretch it, dig into it, pull it up, and more. You can make your cursor bigger or smaller, allowing you to get down to minute details and sculpt the perfect cliff faces or sci-fi hallways. You can paint on textures and blend them with other textures. You can also put down items and objects, from trees to doors to fires and more. This is all actually very simple and, while it can be time consuming (especially if you are sculpting the perfect platforming puzzle), and the controller is much better swapped out for the keyboard and mouse of the PC version, it’s a whole lot of fun and will make you feel like you are truly and honestly making something to be admired.
Behavior and… basically everything else… is handled through simple logic trees. If you ever took basic programming in high-school, you’ll get the picture here. It’s a bunch of nested when-do trees, linking conditions to effects. On the basic level, this is all pretty simple. When you hit and enemy, you deal damage to the enemy. When you come close to a character, the character speaks with you. However, the flexibility in this engine is really something and you don’t have to stop there.
With a little bit of practice, you can program magnificent enemy A.I. using randomly generated variables, movement conditions, team association, and more. You can program party members that seek out enemies near you and destroy them. You can use button presses as “when” conditions to create fighting game special moves, combos, or even secret cheat codes. You can use cameras and camera position to create cinematic Heavy Rain style games. Eventually your programming pages will get absolutely massive, with tons of conditions, tons of variables, tons of modifiers, and more. Luckily, every time you scroll over a piece of code, the interface shows you what that code is referencing in the game, allowing you to keep on track as you weave your logic web.
If this all seems intimidating, it’s because it is. Luckily, Project Spark does a good job of walking you through the basics. There is a game included that essentially acts as a tutorial. It will ask you to build the area up around you and fix broken pieces of code, slowly letting you realize how game creation works. I highly recommend playing every single included pre-genned game that Project Spark has to offer. Not only will this show you what the suite is capable of, but at any time you can decide to pick apart the moving pieces and see how they are programmed, allowing you to straight out copy paste or modify for your own game projects.
Another thing that makes Project Spark less intimidating than it has to be is the multiplayer aspect. If you like, you don’t have to build and test your game alone. In fact, you can build a game while another person plays it, and I highly suggest doing this. Heck, this might be a revolution in actual AAA game design if it catches on.
Why is this so good? Instant testing! If you are building a platforming segment, your friend can jump through it as you create it, allowing you to make it harder or easier. If you are building an enemy, your friend can tell you if it’s too hard to beat. Nobody should be building a game alone in Project Spark, and interacting with friends is probably the best part about the game.
There are three big problems with Project Spark, however, and they do hold the game back in some profound ways. The first is that it’s so large and powerful, it’s intimidating. You can easily sink 20 hours or more into world creation. When all your programming is done, you will easily have spent 50 hours if you have anything reminiscent of a halfway decent and playable game. The number finagling in programming and the detail by which you can sculpt the world simply begs for obsessives and perfectionists to make every single thing just right. But even then, with hours and hours spent, you’ll only have a short action or puzzle sequence or two. You will need to spend DAYS in order to make a truly great gameplay experience that lasts even an hour. That’s a tall order, especially for people with no programming or design experience.