[Disclosure: A beta code was provided by the publisher for the contents of this article]
After further messing around with the new Project Spark beta for the Xbox One, it's becoming somewhat clear exactly how this tool can be used to create some very impressive games for Microsoft's platform.
Before getting to the good stuff, one thing worth mentioning is that Project Spark is as intuitive and interesting as it is overwhelming and complex. Gamers who have a modicum of interest in designing their own games might find Project Spark a worthy compliment to that interest, and possibly as a gateway to greater things in the field of computer engineering, programming science or game design.
However, it should be noted that if you're a newbie looking to get knee-deep into the trenches of Project Spark's mechanics, you may find yourself a bit lost in how much the toolset offers. In other words: if you're coming into Spark thinking it's going to be as easy to pick up as Minecraft or Terraria, think again. As I mentioned in the original preview, this toolset is practically a GUI-friendly version of 3D Game Studio, and a script-tool short of typical Visual C++ style programming.
Nevertheless, if you have the time and the intuition to bring your imagination to life in the digital space, developers Team Dakota have done as much as they possibly could to make the process as pain-free as a controller and a series of tool-tabs would allow them.
There's also a variety of different creation and play modes available, so some of the tutorials will walk you through some of the more advanced features, while other modes will guide you as you mess around with picking environments, placing down objects and even customizing and/or creating your own protagonist.
Since Project Spark is free-to-play, a lot of the game's customizable content will be made available in the cash shop. For instance, changing or modifying a character's outfit – you might find that you want them to look a certain way or have access to specific weapons; the cash shop opens up opportunities for players to expand the default character's aesthetic horizons. Typical F2P MMO fanfare right there.
Beyond the basics of putting together worlds and characters that emulate your artistic vision, Spark has growth potential unlike anything else currently available for home consoles. Yes, Project Spark will share a lot of common comparisons with LittleBigPlanet, but it's when you see a 1:1 recreation of Tetris that allows you to recognize just how powerful and diverse Project Spark can be. Even more than that, there's a work-in-progress game centered around Namco's Dragonball Z games. The footage below gives you a brief hint at the possibilities, but doesn't even scratch the surface.
Now the really fascinating thing about this particular project was that the designer has enabled physics-based destruction with the fireballs. You can charge up, turn Super Saiyan, fly, battle and perform many of the similar actions found in the Budokai Tenkaichi series. Impressive feels a bit like an understatement. That's not to mention that with just a few days of playing around, the user accomplished something grand... just imagine what sort of fruition comes about with a bit more time and tools put into the project?
Someone also managed tried to recreate Blizzard's Hearthstone – even though technically it was more like a tower-defense version of League of Legends – allowing players to level-up, take down mobs, earn new weapons and defend their base. One of the more impressive creations was a 3D Marble Madness style puzzle game that featured lots of dynamic environment interactions and physics effects.
Literally, your imagination is your only limit.
Now, for those of you wondering if this sounds too good to be true, let me satisfy your skepticism and suppression of enjoyment by saying that Project Spark is not perfect.
There still seems to be a struggle with getting vehicles to handle properly, and some of the game's physics systems could still use some refinement. A lot of it boils down to how well the user can work their way around the toolset limitations to create something that works, as opposed to simply relying on what's there to work for them. Then again, this circles back around to what I was saying about Spark not being entirely affable toward newbs with little or no problem solving skills when it comes to designing games using programmer's logic.
Still, I think if users can “kode” in a decent set of physical vehicle instructions in the same way that users brought TDM and SCars to Garry's Mod, then Project Spark could grow, expand and iterate to unforeseen heights on home consoles.