Since the Xbox One was announced, I’ve really been looking for a reason to love it. Its predecessor, the Xbox 360 won me over this console generation, stealing me away from my affair with the PlayStation 2, but that didn’t mean that I would blindly follow Microsoft into the next generation of gaming consoles. The Xbox One does have a lot going for it, as well as more than its share of backlash, but that’s fair to say whenever new hardware gets announced. I was really looking for something to stand out though, something bigger and better than the competition had to offer, and I think I found that in one of the launch window “games,” “Project Spark.” The title was announced and showcased on stage at E3, but it wasn’t until recently that I had the opportunity to see up close what the game could do, and I walked away impressed.
At first glace, “Project Spark” appears to be the next generations first attempt at allowing users to create their own content, something that became a pervasive theme towards the end of this generation’s console cycle. While “LittleBigPlanet” really helped the gaming community get their sea legs with basic level design, other titles like “ModNation Racers” and “Sound Shapes” adapted the user generated content idea for their own experiences. “Project Spark” takes a lot of these ideas, and builds on them, allowing creators more tools to express themselves, helping them step outside of level design, and into game design.
“Spark” includes a full range of tools that allow users to create and customize worlds in a manner very similar to the way that real game designers do. As soon as you load up the creation space in “Project Spark” it’s instantly recognizable as the same type of environment that developers that use engines like Unity work with every day. While the look of the workspace is the same, the feel is very different.
As someone that has messed around with Unity in the past, I can tell you that it is a very intimidating and powerful tool. If you look at the games that have been made with it, it’s clear to see why it is the choice of many professional teams, but there’s a pretty steep barrier of entry for someone like me who hasn’t even been properly trained to use it. And that’s where “Project Spark” comes in.
“Spark” offers tools that are very similar to the ones that you would find in Unity’s toolbox, but does so on a console, tablet, or PC, and lets “designers” use whatever input method they prefer to create games. For example, like countless other console gamers out there, I was born and raised with a game controller in my hand, and it’s my preferred method of doing just about anything. My thumbs are better versed than my hands when it comes to computers, which is the main reason I prefer console games to PC games. The biggest hurdle I experienced while exploring Unity was grasping the control scheme, and correctly orienting the environment – something that has to be done constantly. I recognize that this is a skill that would manifest with more practice, but fighting with it at such an early stage just became a point of frustration. Now, if I was using a console controller instead of a mouse and a keyboard to navigate through my creations I think I would have been more encouraged to continue. Herein lies my excitement about “Project Spark,” since it will allow for players to use a console controller to create entire worlds, alleviating my main point of frustration.
Input method isn’t the only thing that “Project Spark” has going for it, in fact, there are quite a few elements that this software contains that should help would-be developers dig in to their first creations. For instance, the software comes packed with an assortment of models and environments that “players” can drop into their test space, allowing them to get a rudimentary level up and running in minutes. Each object that is dropped into their world comes complete with customizable logic that can be used to make whatever you place in the world act the way you want it to. If you don’t want work out the logic for every goblin that you drop into your scenario, the game will fill it in for you with default settings. However, if you want that goblin to be an NPC with a rich back story, and pages of dialog, you can work that in as well.
While “Project Spark” may only allow you to create games within the confines of the game, it’s a simple and easy way to bring ideas to life almost instantly. With enough time and practice, players can make just about anything, from “Pong” to “Grand Theft Auto.” Like many other design tools, the end result is really dependent on who’s holding the controller. While the devices that the game includes are easy to understand and are created to be accessible for all, the level of customization for each creation is really left up to the creator. “Project Spark” truly showcases the potential of next generation gaming in a way that most other announced titles haven’t even considered. With an infinite number of possibilities, “Project Spark” may redefine what it means to be a consumer in the next generation of consoles, especially if players start making better games than their professional counterparts.