A spark of creativity.
I am not a programmer. I am one of the few writing about games that has never dreamed of making my own. I played with RPG Maker and Fighter Maker, and even more recently with Trials and LittleBigPlanet. Crafting what makes games fun is not my specialty. That said, diving into something like Project Spark is daunting. There are so many tools, so many ways to create, that it feels more like work than fun. Microsoft’s latest creation gives gamers a chance to put their money where their mouth is, and create something interesting and fun; and believe me, it isn’t easy.
Getting into Project Spark is easy. All the essentials are available for free, and players can jump right into an empty world, or modify any existing creation. There is a retail version packed with a healthy dose of cosmetic items for $39.99, but the meat and potatoes of creation is packed away in the free offering. That is of course if creators only want to use goblins and other limited models.
MSRP: Free to try, $39.99 for starter pack
Platforms: Xbox One, PC
Multiplayer: Online building and MP features for games
There is a “game” portion in Spark, and it does a decent job of teaching the basics of game creation. I could also opt to pause and edit at any point to see how things worked. It is a long learning process, and heading to the internet for tutorial videos is a must. Players cannot simply create interesting games with the limited knowledge the game provides. It requires patience, dedication and plenty of trial and error, but it is also more in-depth than anything I have ever seen. I can only hope that it lasts long enough to see some full potential. The current crop of games on the service are simple concepts, and far from what Project Spark is fully capable of.
One of the cooler features is being able to edit games with a friend. Having two minds working on various areas of the game, or even the same one, is extremely helpful. Bouncing ideas back and forth and finding out what works is the magic behind Project Spark. I just wonder how many players will take the time to learn all the tricks to make something truly special.
Now, I am terrible at making my own games, and Project Spark does little to change that. If there is one setback to the robust toolset, it is that it may be too complex for most creators. Players can opt to create almost anything, which means learning the intricacies will prove extremely challenging. There are “if” statements, and complex creation tools that allow customization of nearly anything. It is daunting at first, and downright confusing most of the time. YouTube tutorials are a must, as is dedication to the craft.
Another small gripe is that the game runs poorly at times. The frame rate bogs down and the art style is not the most eye-catching on the planet. Also, if players don’t purchase additional customization items, their palette is rather boring. There are plenty of garbage titles already on the service, which means people are experimenting, but wading through the trash has become cumbersome. The menu structure doesn’t help, as it is extremely non-intuitive.
Project Spark is a fantastic creation tool with some severe growing pains. The complexity will scare off lots of creators, and the customization items locked behind a pay-wall will deter even more. I worry that no one will be creating gems on the system outside of a few dedicated creators. A game like this lives and dies on its community, and I am not sure Project Spark has the legs to keep things interesting for years to come. Only time will tell, but the beta is free, so there is no harm in downloading it and giving it a whirl.
Review copy of game provided by publisher.