Thu. Mar 23rd, 2023
Project Spark review: If it's in the game (design)…

“Play. Create. Share” has long been the three-word slogan for the charming, if a little worn, Little big planet games. For most players it is probably more than a motto, it is also a current schedule of events. You play the game to get a sense of what’s possible, then mess around with the creation tools and finally share it with the community in the hopes it’s worth it.

About a year later Little big planetIn the 2008 release, Microsoft tried its own hand at the design-your-own-play game with Kodu Game Lab, a $5 download doomed to the backwater of the Xbox 360’s Indie Games program. I spent $5 and an ounce of curiosity on that release at the time, and I can’t say I was impressed. I expected a magic wand to impart knowledge and power in the wizardry of “coding” in a way that I could understand as someone with no real programming or game design experience. Instead of, Kodu was a bare-bones logic learning tool that threw me into the deep end of ifs, thens, and whens with little guidance and little ability to build something with real depth.

project spark, the free-to-play design lab that Microsoft first showed off at the E3 2013 press conference is everything I wanted Kodu be at that moment. Spark is of course a learning tool, but it is also a real platform for creating games.

You can go wherever you want…

Where Kodu can be called generous easy to look at, Spark pops with color and an angular, almost claymation-esque style. The “Project” begins with a sharp, if cloying narration about the nature of creativity and sharing, seemingly plucked from mid-afternoon Disney XD kids’ shows. This sets the tone for a slightly edgier-than-children’s game aesthetic that, with a little nudge, will suit just about any genre you might want to shoehorn around it.

In terms of scale, projects are designed in Kodu were small and sparsely populated and nearly impossible to develop into anything that could be fully termed a ‘game’. Spark programs, on the other hand, can be vast and varied and freely shared with the world on both Windows 8 and the Xbox One.

Immerse yourself in creation mode Project spark opens up a world of options for creating places, characters, goals and mechanics that are almost too numerous to describe. Most objects run on standard “if, then” logic, but there are plenty of modifications to customize them.

For example, after creating an enemy non-player character – perhaps a ready-made goblin, bandit, or even a creature you’ve sculpted yourself using the in-game editor – you can populate its in-game “brain” with sequences basic AI instructions. “If the player character bumps into this unit, it will become hostile” could be such a brain-filling instruction. Another can cause the enemy to retreat after the hero leaves a certain area.

Add one string to an enemy’s programming and you’ve got a foot soldier. Add a dozen to that and you can create an army of finely tuned nemesis to take down unsuspecting players in everything from first-person shooters to side-scrolling platformers.

Beyond these character-level instructions, you can also make greater adjustments to the wider game world. With a little tweaking to the player character’s camera and movement options, a 3D island exploration game suddenly becomes a twin-stick shooter. Dim the lights and increase enemy speed instead, and you get something with more of a survival horror feel.

The density of tools is literally too great to describe in full detail. Hours of carefully shaping environments, encounters, and goals provide a sense of accomplishment that’s just a little short of what I can only imagine professional game developers get from months of hard coding and modeling.

Tools don’t make the designer

Unfortunately, unless you’re willing to put in huge amounts of patience and experimentation, you’ll probably still get mediocre results from your time playing in Project spark.

This may not be a shocking revelation for everyone, but game design is incredibly difficult. Even with the relatively limited tools available to players in project spark, the process is daunting for a beginner. You have to make sure that one line of “code” (as Spark calls its instructions) doesn’t interfere with another, and without the benefit of game testers, you have to confirm for yourself whether that finely tuned fighting machine will run right off the track. perfectly formed mountain that you put them on.

Getting strong results Project spark requires so much time, patience and practice that the community has not had the time or interest to fully develop during the long beta period of the game. So many of the community-created levels are shells designed for other players to download and “remix” themselves. Few have actual gameplay of their own. As such, the “play” corner of Little big planet‘s holy trinity is a hard sell.

That does not help SparkThe complex and true-to-life design elements are combined with shockingly limited community feedback tools. After playing a level, you can choose to rate it higher, lower, or not at all. There’s no commenting system (probably for the best), but there’s also no ability to crowdsource crit tags like “difficult” or “unfinished” as in Little big planet.

Findability is also a problem. Even while creators can tag them own levels, there is no way to filter them. The only way to find new creations is through the curated lists provided by the developer, or by searching for keywords containing the titles of the project. I once found a third-person, wave-based shooter I’d like to try again, but searches in the “genre” category didn’t even turn up similar projects, much less the game itself. What happened to that opening piece about creating worlds for everyone to enjoy?

For a game seemingly over interact – with games and with those who play them –Project spark is a lonely experience where only the “create” part of the “Play. Create. Share” trinity is truly satisfying. To be fair, that’s the main pillar for a game like this to get right. So for those willing to stick to the game design process, this is as rich a set of tools for generating and prototyping rich, deep game ideas as a non-programmer can expect.

The good

  • There is literally no better tool for learning and tinkering with game design on consoles right now.
  • Although complex, the creation tools are presented in such a way that changing an entire game world seems simple.
  • The art is generic enough to work with just about anything, but colorful and unique so as not to be boring.

The bad

  • Most community-created content is mediocre at best; you might find a few raw gems, but time will tell how many.
  • Player feedback tools are incredibly bare bones.
  • It is difficult to search for games of a specific type with today’s tools.

The ugly one

  • If you think the amateur-level design looks rough, check out some of the dialogues players have come up with.

Pronunciation: As a free experience, it’s hard not to recommend at least trying the creation suite if you have any interest in game design – just don’t come looking for a great time playing one of the community’s creations .

By akfire1

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