Reviewing a creative game that hasn’t launched yet is a difficult proposition. It is like trying to review a seed, not knowing what sort of tree it will grow into. Mountains of potential are there, but who knows which way the winds will blow? All you can do is look at the DNA, unclear on what environmental factors like rain, other trees, and human interference will do to that seed’s original plan. Crayta, the new First on Stadia creative game by UK developer Unit 2 Games, is much the same. With Crayta, the DNA is there for players to create remarkable things, but only time will tell what it will grow into. It is a great thing that this game will launch with an engaged, built-in audience. In a way, this seed is being planted into some fairly fertile earth.
When it comes to creative games, there are two sorts of people. There are creators, and there are players. Typically, I am a player. I browse around creative tools with a vague sense of longing and sadness, wishing that I were the sort of person with an attention span long enough to create something beyond the most remedial failure. Then I accept my place in the universe as a player, and dive into other people’s creations with a sense of awe at how long making all this stuff must have taken them.
But Crayta is threatening to convert me from a player into a creator. After one 90-minute session with the folks at Unit 2 – most of which was spent messing around with fun stuff they had created themselves – I felt sufficiently armed to jump into Crayta’s tool set and create my own game. Named “Transector,” my game is described as “a free-for-all shooter set in a surreal world designed to challenge your senses.” In reality, Transector is an impressive mess, but I made it, and therefore it is awesome.
What I was trying to achieve with Transector was a shooter map that might toy with people’s sense of perception. The entire map is constructed from glass, with see-through walls (hopefully) prompting players to take shots at others, not realizing there is a barrier between them. The idea was to create a hall of mirrors type of effect, disorienting players and leading them to discover the various vantage points and camping spots I had carefully planned.
What started as a simple glass maze has taken on new dimensions. After I recruited my 19-year-old shooter-fan son, his interpretation of what the map should contain exploded a hole in the barriers of my mind, and we set to work creating madness. Before long, we were slinging voxels in every direction, excitedly discussing our plan as we executed.
Now there are tunnels beneath the glass floor, where players will see others flanking them, but will be unable to reach them. Crazed spires lead to a second platform far above, with strategically placed holes allowing players to drop down onto choice vantage points in the main map below. The day/night cycle runs at 20-second intervals, which allows for some seriously disorienting skybox effects to come shooting through the glass. Smoke fills large areas of the map, and we’ve added sound effects and futuristic music to help round out the experience.
How does Transector play? Well, I’m afraid that I don’t know. I won’t have a real chance to try it out until Crayta releases as part of the Stadia Free with Pro program on July 1. Right now, Crayta is an eerily abandoned world, feeling much like an amusement park during a pandemic (sorry, couldn’t resist). But lack of players aside, Transector was fun as hell to make, and we are still messing with it. Our next expansion is already planned: a mountain on the top layer with anthill-like tunnels running through it.
This obviously isn’t a review of Transector (GN score: 2 out of 10), but rather the creative tools in Crayta that allowed me to make it with the help of my son. Sure, Crayta comes equipped out of the gate with a small library of multiplayer games built by Unit 2 and some other indie devs. There’s an Overcooked clone, several fun shooters, a game where players must work together to survive in a frozen wasteland, and something bonkers called “Super Doom Wall.” But these exist more as examples of what can be built than as full-featured games. The real draw here is the toolset.
The creative side of Crayta exists on a number of levels, and depending on how deep you want to delve into its plumbing, you can achieve some pretty amazing things. It is easy enough to pick up a controller and spend a few hours creating a glass shooter map on your TV, but to do things like adding the sound effects and changing the skybox, I had to dip over to the PC version (still on Stadia) and fiddle with some of the more advanced menus with a mouse and keyboard. But that’s not the limit of Crayta’s depth. For truly advanced creators, Crayta offers the ability to dig right down into the code. Tap a few buttons on your PC, and the code that is running your game is revealed, allowing for tinkering on a level that I will likely never achieve. Players can create scripts, animations, AI, you name it. It’s very impressive, and a little intimidating.
The downside of all of this functionality is that a lot of the “how to” information exists outside of the game itself. I had the advantage of some face time with the game’s creators. New players in the real world will have to seek out some of the rather extensive tutorial materials Unit 2 has created. There are livestreams and demos, and a very nicely detailed set of guides online. And of course, most players will probably learn how to do stuff by word of mouth. Communities tend to teach each other. But new players simply diving into Crayta and creating things seems like a tall order. Not having the tutorials built into the game might very well cause a certain, less patient or engaged segment of the audience to bounce off of Crayta.
When considering Crayta, the term “game creation” is at the fore (Crayta…creator…get it?), and instantly Media Molecule’s Dreams comes to mind. That is a fantastic game-building machine, but Crayta is not Dreams. It is its own thing, and just a few minutes with Crayta will reveal some of those differences. If one must compare Crayta to another game on the market, Roblox might be a better analog.
Crayta has a strong focus on multiplayer experiences, and while I have only scratched the surface of its creative powers, it seems that Crayta may spawn a lot more shooters than platformers, at least at the beginning. Hell, I don’t even play shooters all that much, and I immediately made a shooter, just because it had the lowest barrier to entry.
But as people dig into Crayta, I think we will see more and more unexpected stuff popping up. Keeping in mind that people will be able to create scripts and mess with the code, its likely that voxels will be rounded and in-game characters will gain powers beyond running, jumping, and shooting. My simple attempt at a game involved me creating a level for existing mechanics; more advanced players will be able to alter those mechanics and create new ones, then create levels around those. Those are the players that will drive this game forward.
An interesting twist in Crayta is that players both play the games and create them using their customizable characters. You build a character, and that’s the character you take into Crayta’s games. It’s an elegant solution that takes some of the pressure off of creators to come up with – and animate – a clever or unique lead character. The character art is friendly and accessible, not too far from something you might see running around in Fortnite. Players can alter their characters at any time in a rather nice non-binary character creator.
The more you play games or create stuff in Crayta, the more XP you earn, which in turn unlocks fun goodies for your character; cosmetics, sprays, emotes and the like. It is all rather lightweight, but it does as some structure to the proceedings that motivates the player to continue exploring. And I won’t reveal how I squealed with delight when I unlocked elf ears for my cute little Crayta avatar. That’s between me and her.
Crayta is also, of course, the first Stadia title to make use of the lauded State Share feature. Whether you are playing or creating a game, you can fire off a link that can be emailed, texted, Slacked, or even read out loud to another player. That player either clicks the link or enters it into an interface in Crayta, and they are instantly taken into your game. The various use cases involved with trying to get this thing up and running kind of make my head spin a little bit, but between Unit 2 Games and Stadia, they actually pulled it off.
During one session, another player shot me a link in Discord. I clicked on it, and a new instance of the game opened, pulling me right into their session. The overall experience was remarkable. Of course, the function is still in beta, so there are likely some bugs to still be ironed out. But the proof is in the pudding; the feature works.
You never know what the next killer app will be. Before release, Fortnite looked like it was going to be a dead soldier, then Epic added a battle royale mode, and the next thing we all knew, Fortnite was a cultural force that changed the face of video games. Rocket League came shooting out of nowhere as a PlayStation Plus release, and turned out to have longevity that no one could have foreseen. Games like Roblox have been quietly cranking away for years, printing money and selling gift cards with Roblox Bucks by the millions. Stadia needs a cultural game-changer of this nature to truly cement the platform. The creators of Crayta have a commitment to having a fun, friendly, and inclusive atmosphere for gamers to enjoy. Will they become that next killer app? I would not bet against them.
During the session in which my son and I created Transector, he made the comment, “If my friends and I had this, we would play it nonstop.” I asked him if he thought his friends would get Stadia in order to play the game. “Ten bucks a month?” he replied. “Yeah, that seems like it would be worth it to them.”
My reply? “Your birthday is next month, Stadia is dirt cheap, and the wi-fi at college is stellar.” I guess it’s time to start planting some seeds.
* The product in this article was sent to us by the developer/company.
Howdy. My name is Eric Hauter, and I am a dad with a ton of kids. During my non-existent spare time, I like to play a wide variety of games, including JRPGs, strategy and action games (with the occasional trip into the black hole of MMOs). I am intrigued by the prospect of cloud gaming, and am often found poking around the cloud various platforms looking for fun and interesting stories. I was an early adopter of PSVR (I had one delivered on release day), and I’ve enjoyed trying out the variety of games that have released since day one. I've since added an Oculus Quest 2 to my headset collection. I’m intrigued by the possibilities presented by VR multi-player, and I try almost every multi-player game that gets released.
My first system was a Commodore 64, and I’ve owned countless systems since then. I was a manager at a toy store for the release of PS1, PS2, N64 and Dreamcast, so my nostalgia that era of gaming runs pretty deep. Currently, I play on Stadia, PS5, PS4, PSVR, Quest 2, Switch, Luna, GeForce Now, and a janky PC. While I lean towards Sony products, I don’t have any brand loyalty, and am perfectly willing to play game on other systems.
When I’m not playing games or wrangling my gaggle of children, I enjoy watching horror movies and doing all the other geeky activities one might expect.View Profile