How Project Spark remixes fun 
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Zoe Hawkins
August 13, 2014 at 3:30 pm

GC project spark

Everyone loves to be creative, right? We want to pretend that we could make bigger and better games if only we had the tools and the knowhow. Well, Project Spark is a game built for gamers who want to prove their creative mettle – build your own levels, challenge others and push your imagination to the limits.

Showing off two creative modes here at Gamescom, Project Spark lets you express yourself in whatever form you like. First up there was the normal build mode – you can create levels using build and paint to terraform the environment, add different textures and make it unique. For example, you can build your own hills and valleys, combine them with crazy tunnel systems and then paint it all in desert landscape with bizarre woodland paths throughout. It’s really a matter of playing with the tools and on Xbox One it seemed particularly intuitive – the Right Trigger builds up while the Left Trigger hollows out. Easy.

 

It’s not just about painting on some colored textures, though. You want to bring your world to life and you can start doing that with Biomes. Biomes are also added to your environment with a weird spherical “paintbrush” – as you paint the environment you can add bushes, trees and even woodland animals (if that’s the texture you’re using). The larger the paintbrush, the larger the items in the biome. So, start by adding some small shrubbery and squirrels near your paths, eventually growing into towering, Dr. Seuss-esque monstrosities.

 

Everything in the game has a brain – at least, that’s how they phrased it. Realistically, it means that each item or creature has program strings built in. However, these can be altered in specific ways, or all together. For example, a rock has nothing as its starting program. However, you can then make it follow the character, turning it into a pet rock instead. Enemies naturally want to attack you on sight, using a specific set of programs to decide when to chase and when to fire in your direction. If you don’t want them to be hostile, just change their mind/brain/program to become healing allies or any number of options. Programmers will notice the classic “if this then that” approach to programming, but it’s seriously easy to use – it’s essentially just a matter of stringing together a bunch of pictographs that represent what actions you expect from the various characters or objects.

 

Crossroads is also a creative mode, but it’s designed for a younger (or more lazy) audience. You can still customize the world, but it’s based off of more pre-made environments. Players start by deciding what general landscape they want (hills, mountains, canyons) and then it goes on to let players place villages, customize appearance and build from there. The tools are essentially the same, just simplified and grouped together for player convenience.

 

Levels created in any mode can be shared and even remixed. I like the idea of a remix – you can find a level that you think is pretty good, but needs some tweaks. Grab the level, customize it as you think it should be, and re-upload it. The original creator will still get credit for making the design, but the remix will also be credited. This is awesome for building the creative spirit in such an imaginative and user-generated game, and also helps to make sure that no one feels deprived of credit where it is due.

 

Project Spark is currently in Open Beta on Xbox One and Windows 8.1 PCs, showing that Microsoft can do some things cross-platform. When the game launches, it will do so with “starter packs” with a variety of environments and designs. Of course, this terrifies me – will I need to pay extra for a lunar landscape? How about the add on to make my enemies into goblins instead of zombies? I love the whole creative approach, but I get very worried when monetization means that not all people will be able to create all the things unless they slowly dish out all the money. At least those who choose to make cool things can make all manner of coolness – people have made games in the beta spanning all different genres; from adventure to FPS, cutesy to impressive, Project Spark really is determined to ignite your imagination. I’m just worried that without enough love of the game, it will fizzle and die… but not before adding more paid expansion packs.

Wielding my lasso of truth, I am the combination of nerd passion and grammar nazi. I delve into all things awesome and geek-tastic. I believe people should stop defining themselves and just enjoy playing games, so let's get on with it!

  • Pieter Kruger

    Can’t stop playing the beta, cannot wait for the full release!! SO MUCH FUN!????

    • Hammersteyn

      Microtransactions are good!
      For 50c I’ll tell you why.

      • Pieter Kruger

        But I haven’t spent a dime on it? Think you get rewarded in credits for things?

        • Hammersteyn

          Well that would be silly, spending money on a Beta

  • Alien Emperor Trevor

    This monetizing craze is probably the main thing that’s stopped me preordering games, even more so than having to hope that it’ll be good, because I like knowing upfront how much I’m spending on a game.

    That’s why the only thing I’ve preordered is Witcher 3 – because I know CDPR won’t screw me over. And because it’s the only way I can get a birthday/xmas pressie I know I’ll really like.

    • Hammersteyn

      Agreed, I for one would like the option to buy the full game at least, instead of little pieces at a time like they did with Killer Instinct.

      • FoxOneZA

        You can buy all the little pieces in a $40 bundle.

        • Hammersteyn

          Or not

    • http://www.themovies.co.za Rinceable

      ALL DOORS OPENED! DOOM!

      • Alien Emperor Trevor

  • moocheese

    I’m really glad you took a liking to Project Spark! I would like to help you enjoy it as much as possible, and address your concerns over the monetization model in Project Spark-

    *TL-DR: You can earn in game currency to purchase the content packs.

    Content packs within PS can be purchased with either real money -or- with in game currency called “Credits”. Users earn Credits by using Project Spark in various ways, denoted as ‘Challenges’ (though most of them aren’t so much challenging as a ‘to do list’). The three types of Challenges are ‘Timed’ (these refresh daily or weekly and can be recompleted after each refresh), ‘Milestones’ (these keep track of cumulative use of most tools/uses of Project Spark and award Credits at certain marks), and ‘Goals’ (one time bonuses, mostly for new players to try new things). Currently, when content packs are released initially for a period of time they are available to users for money only. After the few weeks is up, anyone can purchase the content pack with Credits. There is also something called ‘Spark Premium’, which is an optional 2x boost to the earning of Credits and XP while an account has it. XP is basically earned alongside Credits, and after a ‘level up’, you gain bonus Credits. With both XP and Credits being doubled, the rate at which levels are earned is doubled, and the amount of which Credits are earned from those level ups are doubled, essentially being a 4x modifier for leveling bonus Credits.

    When the game launches, it will do so with “starter packs” with a variety of environments and designs. Of course, this terrifies me – will I need to pay extra for a lunar landscape?

    * The sci-fi pack is included in the Starter Kit. From what I have seen potentially listed as being included in the Starter Kit, it looks like a big discount to buy the Starter Kit rather than the content packs ala-carte. It is intended most for new users who didn’t earn/purchase content packs during the beta, but users who would like the new content (Champions Quest and Sci-Fi “First Contact”, Massive World Builders Pack and 1 month of Spark Premium) made first available in the Starter Kit look to still come out with overall savings.

    How about the add on to make my enemies into goblins instead of zombies?

    * Goblins are part of the base game, zombies are not, they are in a content pack.

    I love the whole creative approach, but I get very worried when monetization means that not all people will be able to create all the things unless they slowly dish out all the money.

    * If they keep creating and playing, they’ll be able to keep getting Credits so they never have to spend any money.

    At least those who choose to make cool things can make all manner of coolness – people have made games in the beta spanning all different genres; from adventure to FPS, cutesy to impressive, Project Spark really is determined to ignite your imagination.

    * For sure, new users should check out the following levels in no particular order (leaving out my own)

    Godzilla v3.0 by Rust Plague – Destroy the city and fight monsters as one of the monsters
    Pixel Run by Chrisco – Cute simulated pixel art ‘war’ game
    Stuff & Things by NieNieChu – Hyper-stylized side scroller, full of cute
    Ball of Destruction by TheCatSalesman – You are a ball that destroys things. ALL the things.
    A Hero’s Journey by the South Side – A well designed adventure game
    Goblin Pool Party by Erikinthebakery – A 4 year old’s idea brought to life by his father
    SUPER 16+ by Defco7T – Truly impressive psuedo-pixel art, looks AMAZING
    Turn Based Combat by Lord Zarquon – A tech demo akin to Final Fantasy Tactics gameplay
    Dark Mines 7.0 by GrzesiekBialek – He essentially built a new combat engine within PS

    I’m just worried that without enough love of the game, it will fizzle and die… but not before adding more paid expansion packs.

    * Well they pretty much need to have something to sell in order to validate their continued development, don’t they? If they gave the game out for free, and sold nothing, why would Microsoft continue to have them work on PS and not reallocate those resources to other titles which make money? I believe the idea behind making it free was to give a bigger audience for their creators, allowing anyone to play any game made in PS for as long as they desired as many times as they desired. There used to be something called “Spark Time” which limited the amount of time a user could spend playing levels which contained content which they did not own per day. The PS users voiced their opinion/opposition to Spark Time, and Team Dakota, the creators of Project Spark, listened intently and removed Spark Time from Project Spark. They listen, and they want PS to be the best it possibly can be for all users.

    I am a community volunteer helping demo at the Project Spark booth, if you have any further questions or would like to discuss this further, please stop by and say hi! :)

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