Microsoft’s Project Spark (Preview)
At the Microsoft 2013 E3 Media Briefing, Project Spark was introduced to the world. On paper, this game sounds like yet another ‘create your own world’ title, much like the ever-popular Minecraft. However, with each new glimpse into this innovative game, you’ll realize: it truly is a blank slate for you to build an entire game from the ground up. In that sense, I would say Project Spark is actually more akin to an amalgamation of Legos, a canvas, and paint set, where you’re told “bring your imagination to life!”
The basic premise of Project Spark is for people to create a game, play it and share with their friends, and even anyone else around the world. Project Spark provides you with a set of tools that’ll help you sculpt the very land you’ll be playing on, manipulate all the elements, and fill the world with animals, monsters and humans. That means you can put mountains, rivers, oceans, forests… practically anything! Choose between various themes like the Desert or Arctic, and adjust the sea level any way you’d like, from adding a tiny river to submerging your world entirely and creating your own Atlantis.
It may sound like creating just the landscape from scratch could very well take hours upon hours – yet it’s possible to craft something rather elaborate in a matter of minutes! The game uses a Smart brush, which can tell whether you’re painting the land, water, mountains, or greens. Adjusting the size of the brush will not only let you paint either a larger or smaller area, but it’ll also scale the dimensions of environmental items up or down (like trees, for example).
You’ll also be provided with basic character models, such as trolls, goblins, birds, squirrels, and human beings. Although it seems like a very cookie-cutter selection to begin with, you’ll soon find that almost everything about these characters is customizable – from their appearances (where you’ll have an entire colour palette to work with) to their movements, and even their behaviours!
If there’s one thing that truly stands out in the level of customization afforded to the players, it’s the Brain function. Players will be able to go into the characters’ Brain properties and script their behaviours using WHEN, IF, and DO as well as noun and verb tiles to create simple cause-and-effect sentences that basically read like “WHEN A does X, DO Y”. For example, to program a troll to attack you, you would simply craft a sentence such as “WHEN the player approaches, DO attack the player”. This can lead to some truly hilarious instances, such as monsters cheering and dancing when you approach them, rather than attack you, or your pet rock turning into a bouncing explosion of hurt against oncoming enemies.
But Project Spark isn’t just about creating a landscape to play in, you can create an entirely interactive world. In the Crossroads mode, players can build their own adventures, complete with quests, objectives, basic storylines, and even boss fights! It’s a step above just creating the environment, as you get to lay out exactly where you want your character to go and the types of obstacles or assistance he’ll find along the way. What’s even more entertaining about this mechanic is that you can go online and share your creations with the Project Spark Community. Alternatively, you can browse through other’s games and expand on an existing idea, improving other player’s creations in a new and interesting way.
During these live demos, we got to see the wide spectrum of gametypes one can design with Project Spark. We saw a variety of possible games, such as one similar to Limbo (down to the black-and-white visuals, and creepy monsters chasing after you), or even a few simple gambling games like Black Jack.
Overall, Project Spark looks like a game that will transcend any one demographic. There’s truly something for everyone, as it’s a virtual canvas and playset, allowing you to build anything from action to adventure, to RPGs, to card games. It’s also likely that this will be a game parents won’t mind their children spending hours playing, since it’s allowing them to put their imagination to good use. Perhaps the greatest thing about Project Spark is that it’ll be free to play, and can span across different platforms (Smart Glass, PC, and Xbox)! This is definitely a title to keep an eye out for as it might very well be the next big hit!
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