Project Spark

Project Spark

Written by Jeremy Duff on 12/18/2014 for XBO  
More On: Project Spark

What gamer hasn’t dreamed of making their own game? At some point, we all have. The problem is that very few of us actually follow through with those dreams and make something to show. There have been a variety of options for the untrained, aspiring gamemaker over the years, with different levels of accessibility; software like RPG Maker, GameMaker, and what is arguably the most prevalent option for consoles, Media Molecule’s LittleBigPlanet franchise, have been helping make these dreams easier to reach. These types of programs don’t make our dreams of creating our own game come true, but they do make those dreams a little more accessible.

Project Spark brings an extremely robust set of creation tools to both the PC and the Xbox One for free. That’s right, absolutely no charge for the base set, as well as a starter set for $29.99 which gives you a variety of bonus materials and assets to use. Note that I said "tools" and not "games." There really isn’t a game to play here. There is an episodic adventure available for you to experience, but its purpose is to show you what is possible within this system rather than anything else. The story isn’t even the slightest bit memorable and neither are the characters; however it gives you a glimpse of what is possible in the most basic sense with the title. You will be guided through an RPG-esque adventure that gives you examples of enemy actions and behavior, NPC interactions, and even boss design. The best part about the experience is that you can stop and examine the gameworld at any time, peeking behind the curtain and seeing how things have been constructed and programmed to function.

As I said, Project Spark isn’t a game, it is more of a toolset or creation suite. The options here are seemingly endless in terms of what you can create. You can make pretty much any type of game that you can imagine, from action-adventures and RPGs to puzzles and two-dimensional sidescrollers. Aside from the episodic adventure, there are a variety of tutorials to run through which will give you a deeper insight on how to best use the tools at your disposal. There is a lot to learn, and unfortunately the tutorials don’t go nearly as deep as necessary to make you a professional at using any of them. Instead, they will give you an introduction and a broad overview of their use. If you want to master them, you are going to need to put in some serious time and further exploration of the concepts with things such as online tutorials and by studying shared community creations.

In terms of actually creating, you will use both predesigned objects that are provided to you as well as "painting" your own worlds and landscapes. Map editing, for example, is sort of like painting and it is a real joy. You can point and click using different textures and make your world come to life in seconds. Laying the groundwork is easy, but bringing it to life takes more. The heart and soul of the creation system is an object’s "brain." Every object or character that you create and insert into the world has one. It is what you will use to determine how things function within the confines of your created worlds.

Programming a brain is one of those things that is incredibly easy to learn but extremely difficult to master. Actions and behaviors are programmed by a series of "if-then" statements that you assign. They can range from being incredibly simple, such as, “If button A on the controller is pressed, then the character jumps.” Again, that is one of the most basic examples of a simple action. If you want true personality and behavior in your objects, then it is going to require strings upon strings of these to dictate how they act at different times. The best way to do this—or better yet, master it—is through trial and error as well as examining what others have done within the community creations.

You can test your creations on the fly with a few simple button presses. It is not only incredibly fun but amazingly effective in the creation process. The game’s multiplayer functions are equally as effective. Up to four players can create cooperatively in real time. You can have one person creating a level while others follow behind, inserting and programming characters and objects. It brings things together a lot faster than doing it all on your own.

The one area of the game that I am most impressed with is how microtransactions are handled. While you get a small amount of objects and characters to use from the start, there are tons of others available via the in-game store. As you would expect, you can easily pull out your credit card and buy to your heart’s content using real-world money. However, you can also buy them using in-game currency that you earn from doing all of the things that you would normally do within Project Spark. Playing through the adventure earns you coins. Spending time in creation mode earns you points. Playing and rating shared community creations earns you points. Just playing the game earns you coins. Granted, a lot of the prices for the objects in this form of payment are pretty high, but time and effort will give you access to them all.

Make no mistake about it, although Project Spark gives you access to a variety of easy-to-use tools, making a game isn’t easy. If anything, it makes it easy to put together a proof of concept of your ideas, but expanding and finalizing that project is going to take a lot of time and effort. I have tried many different gamemaker toolsets over the years, both paid and free, and this is easily the most robust and easy to use that I have seen. These are just the tools, however. You will have to put in the work to make something out of it all.

It is going to take a strong community to keep Project Spark alive. The level of complexity in players’ creations will undoubtedly grow along the way, too. I can’t wait to see what people come up with as they learn more and more about what these tools are capable of. If you have ever even considered trying to make your own game, this is the best opportunity that you can find today without learning full-fledged programming. Plus, for the price of nothing, what have you really got to lose?

Project Spark won't have you churning out incredible games like a development powerhouse. It will, however, provide you an accessible set of tools and assets to begin the process of bringing your dream games to life. This won't happen overnight, so plan on spending a lot of time here if you are ever going to make something memorable.

Rating: 8 Good

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About Author

Guess who's back!!! If you have been here before, you know the basics: lifelong gamer, father, and of course, former certified news monkey. I still consider myself all of those things, just maybe not in the grand scale that I once did. I’ve been blogging on the industry for more than decade now, in some form or another. It wasn't until I landed here at Gaming Nexus that I really dove in head first. Now, writing about games has become what I do for fun (and sometimes work) and something I intend on doing until the day I die (in some form or another).

I'm a huge fan of just about everything you can interact with using a controller, no matter how old or new, good or bad. If you put it in front of me, I will play it (at least once).

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