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.