|System: Xbox One|
|Dev: Team Dakota|
|Players: 1 (2+ Online)|
|Screen Resolution: 480p-1080p|
by Angelo M. D’Argenio
When Project Spark was revealed at the Xbox One conference, my first reaction was “oh great, now they are ripping off LittleBigPlanet.” To be fair, that’s still kind of true. It’s a completely user driven game-creation platformer with very simple controls that even those not familiar with programming can use, and that certainly does scream LittleBigPlanet to me. However, the similarities end there, because Project Spark is far more powerful than LBP. While LBP is essentially a platform engine that was eventually overhauled to allow you to create other types of game, Project Spark is essentially a low-impact, easy-to-use, 3D world-modeling tool built from the ground up for that specific purpose.
On one hand, Project Spark is likely the most powerful consumer targeted game-creation engine we have seen on consoles or even PCs. When I demoed the game, I was shown how to use a touch screen (integrated through Xbox Smart Glass) in order to change the world. I could raise and lower terrain just by dragging it. I could plan rivers and gouge out their depths just by swiping my finger across the screen. I could zoom in and edit the cliff faces in my world on a near pixel-by-pixel basis, or zoom out and paint entire swaths of the landscape with trees. Heck, I could make an entire world shaped like male genitalia!!!... er… not that I would do that… but I could if I wanted to.
When you first start editing a world in Project Spark, you get feelings of old school SimCity terrain editors. By that I mean, it’s cool to be able to make an entirely new world, but at that point, it’s really just a nifty-looking paint program. It doesn’t mean anything until you actually hop into your world and start exploring. That’s when everything comes alive. While the trees and rocks and cliffs you placed were just errant doodles when you were editing the world, they are fully intractable objects when you actually control an avatar. The stones you dropped in the middle of a river just because they looked cool are now a platforming section that lets you travel from one side to another. You aren’t just an artist, you are a designer, and when that sinks in, you start thinking of how to design a world that isn’t just pretty, but that’s also functional for a game universe.
One “problem” I found with Project Spark is that there may, in fact, be too many options and tools to choose from. If you are the type of person who suffers from creativity paralysis, then you will be stunned into inaction with Project Spark. I only had 15 minutes with the game, and I had no idea what to make, and I was only shown the terraforming tools. I couldn’t even begin to think of goals and rules for a game or, jeez, A.I. behaviors for enemies and allies.
Luckily, the game does take this into account. If you aren’t the type of person who really wants to control the detail of your world to a fine degree, you can just ask the Xbox to do it for you. You can command it (via the controller, Kinect voice commands, Kinect motion controls, or a touch screen) to randomly generate terrain for you. Want hilly terrain? The Xbox has you covered. Want a forest? That’s cool. A desert? That’s cool too. Any number of game worlds are available at the push of a button, and while it’s not guaranteed that any of these worlds will even be fully accessible, they are certainly playable and make for fine substitutes for players who want to spend more time in-game than in creation mode.
Unfortunately, my demo for the game was only half complete. I didn’t really get time to play the game after I spent so much time creating. I was told that the tools were powerful enough to build essentially any type of game you want, and I believe it. The programming section of the game allows you to make pretty complicated if/then structures that are more than enough to make tower defenses, top-down shooters, platformers, stealth games, racing games, and more. However, that wasn’t available to try. Instead, I tested out a basic adventure mode. This mode allows players and friends to jump into a random world with simple goals. The big draw is that players can then edit this world together with their friends as one big co-op project. So, once again, it’s a great starting point for people who don’t like to make their games from scratch, but it’s also a great way for people to get lost in a sandbox that is far too big for their own good and eventually get bored.
Project Spark is a game that will live and die on its community. If ambitious artists and programmers find this game, you will eventually see world after world being remixed and remade. If someone makes a fun action game, someone else might take all of their assets and convert it into an RPG. If someone makes a fantasy RTS, someone else might make it a sci-fi game. However, this can only occur when a community comes together to make truly high-quality games, like they have in LBP. If the community doesn’t buy into Project Spark, then we will likely see half-finished, desolate worlds with no goals propagating the universe, a result of too few people having too many decisions to make. Nearly every Xbox One user will want to give this game a try just because of the incredible flexibility it gives would-be game creators. Let’s hope that those game creators see their games through to completion.
Angelo M. D’Argenio
Date: June 12, 2013