Project Spark scared the hell out of me. It scared me because it challenged me to do something that I didn’t think I could do. It wanted me to create a game and I’m not the particularly creative type. An extremely robust game building application it attempts to walk you through ‘Game Design 101’. In this it mostly succeeds and even had an imagination stunted guy like myself feeling like I could possibly make a game worth playing… well almost.
Project Spark is a free-to-play release for the Xbox One and PC. It’s a game in the sense that you can play offerings from other people who have created their own epic masterpieces but it is more precisely a game builder. It offers an entry level way for someone to bring their game making dreams to fruition without necessarily having a background in programming. That’s not to say that it isn’t a powerful tool however as the creative suite is very deep should someone want to venture down that road. The trick with something like this is that no matter how good it is it’s only catering to a very niche market.
Project Spark does its best to slowly introduce its game building mechanics with a short built-in game called Champion’s Quest. Throughout the game it will teach the player the ins and outs of the brains behind everything that is Project Spark. An action styled game where you take your sword wielding hero on RPG like quests it piece by piece instructs you the most core things you’d need to learn in order to create something of your own. By making the tutorial—because that’s basically what it is a relatively fun experience, it does help relieve some of that pressure to learning something that seems downright confusing at the start. At the end of it all I had the premise down to truly begin creating on my own but only at the most primitive of levels.
At the simple level you’re taught to use the ‘if/when’ principle or the ‘when/do’ scenario. It is a basic programming code no matter what language you use and is easy to understand here. For example you can program an enemy to begin chasing a player character when they enter into a certain area or you can program your player character to jump when the A button is pressed on your controller. If someone wants to take all of this further they can add many more if/when brain codes to almost anything they want in game. Using one on an enemy character will create a simple foot soldier whereas stacking multiple if and when commands can create a difficult encounter with a thinking enemy.
The deeper you go into the game building system the more you’ll find that it opens up the possibilities of creating almost any type of game you can imagine. Feel like making an RPG or a puzzle game? Go nuts! The caveat here is that in order to create these pillars of future game design it will require hours upon hours of dedicated time. Not only that it should be expected that a lot of your time will be spent working out bugs you’ve encountered along the way. While I managed to create something a toddler could muddle their way through, it takes some serious chops to create something much better than that.
Now it is free-to-play but lots of the pieces you might want to use to create with are locked behind a paywall. The Starter Pack ($39.99) is a great way to get a lot of options from the beginning to play with but I’d only recommend this if you truly want to dive into hardcore creation. In it you’ll receive the base game download, the Champions Quest: Void Storm adventure, the First Contact sci-fi theme pack, Sir Haakon the Knight playable champion, Arctic Glaciers winter landscape, Massive World Builders Pack expansion, Yeti's Rage content pack and one month's Spark Premium membership. For those who really take the time to create and share their games there is a reward structure which could help avoid someone shelling out any money at all but the games they make will have to be some of the best of the best.
There is still fun to be had if creating isn’t really your forte. It is extremely easy to find games that have been created by the community for you to download and play. Users are able to rate games they play so the top notch ones will shoot to the top of the list in short order. You can even keep those games and use the remix feature to manipulate and change it in ways that you like. No matter what though, if making a game isn’t really in your wheelhouse and you have little to no interest in it, well I can’t say that I’d recommend you to invest much time here.
If game development is something you’re curious about I wouldn’t hesitate to tell you to cut your teeth on Project Spark. It might be a long and arduous road ahead of you but if you dream big enough and are willing to put in the leg work you could create the next big game!
Want to learn more about Project Spark? Pick up the Nov issue of CGM to read Shawn's extended review.