Despite a heck of a lot of buzz surrounding Microsoft Studio’s latest outing, I had zero idea what Project: Spark was until the moment I started the game up.
The colourful DLC artwork led me to believe it was some kind of platformer for kids – oh, how wrong I was.
Project: Spark is a game that resists a short, easy description – but I’m going to do my best.
Sitting somewhere between LittleBigPlanet, The Sims, Fable and Diablo sits this vast digital sandbox where, to be honest, pretty much anything goes. Microsoft have created not only the most robust world building tool kit I’ve ever seen, but also a surprisingly complex coding system to let you inhabit that world with all manner of life, objectives and other entertainment.
We’re introduced to this world with a really simple and surprisingly fun single player campaign.
Four heroes defend the world under siege from a dark force – with the help of the benevolent and godlike ‘Spark’ – floating about and helping them by constructing the world around them, in a way that helps them proceed. You move around a 3D world with a top-down camera, bashing out enemies as they come at you – the visual effects of Fable meet a simplified version of the combat of your point and click RTS.
This campaign is fun enough, but by no means deep enough to impress your average gamer.
However, what this section is good at is introducing you to the fundamental concepts of Project: Spark when it comes to world building.
Project: Spark perhaps can be best seen as a tool for teaching the very basics of coding – so much so that I become somewhat amazed at the depths of creation available.
Each creation starts out with building a landscape.
Everything you put in that world, however – hero, villain, objective – has a coded ‘Brain’. This determines everything that the game is capable of, but on a much more specific level than you might imagine.
If you’re making your Level a hero, you first have to program it to move – you do this by coding it’s brain so that ‘WHEN’ the left analogue stick is used, movement happens.
This is required for all actions, with a staggering degree of complexity.
The first tutorial has you set a marker to the conclusion of a Level, and you must set this marker’s Brain to not only end the Level, but to present custom ‘Game Over’ text and fade out at a certain speed.
This, arguably is the game’s greatest strength and weakness – the sheer amount of menus and options can make the game feel like a real chore when you’re sitting down to make something from scratch.
With that said, it allows you (if you’re really committed to making something magic) do it with a degree of detail and interactivity you’ve never seen in a world builder before.
And a lot of the joy I got from this game was getting to know these tools – getting an objective or an enemy to work in exactly the way I wanted it to, in a very nerdy way, is extremely thrilling.
A huge part of Project: Spark’s charm is it’s visual appeal.
Everything is rendered in the ultra adorable, somehow warm and kind style of Fable, with rounded edges making it seem like the world is made out of folded paper and cork.
It’s a sweet look, and it makes investing the time to make your world look exactly right.
Much like LittleBigPlanet, the nearest possible comparison to this unique title, the game shines when showing off what other players have already made.
The Campaign they offer is nothing more than a passably fun heroes quest – but the community creations really display what’s possible here.
In my brief dip into the world of other people’s genius, I experienced a pretty excellent Flappy Bird clone, a very, very impressive Avatar combat sim (much better than the Legend of Aang game), and a maze themed Combat Gauntlet. And all of them were excellent fun.
Project: Spark is one that if you don’t have a lot of time to spare, probably isn’t worth the effort.
Getting to know this game will exponentially increase your enjoyment. If you’re looking for something to pay off in the short run, find a FPS or Hack ‘n’ Slash.
But if you’re interested in world building and want to commit some playing time, I implore you to play this . Give yourself a chance to come up with something really incredible.