Inside Pulse 12

Project Spark (Microsoft Xbox One)


Project Spark
Developer: Microsoft Game Studios
Publisher: Microsoft Game Studios
Genre: Sim, Sandbox, Game Creator
Release Date: 10/07/2014

Project Spark is an incredibly ambitious idea that Microsoft released. It’s one part game creation studio, one part online community project and a little bit of a game here. The one thing that is heavily push is the idea of creating worlds that you share with friends and other people around the world. It’s bold move for Microsoft especially after they just bought the Mojang games, makers of the insanely popular Minecraft. However does this concept of one part game creation studio and other part interactive game translate well? To be honest my feelings regarding Project Spark are mixed.

What I like about Project Spark is what it enables you to do as a platform. The ability to create a wide arrange of worlds using your imagination. Project Spark start you off well enough will a rather slow but incredibly detailed tutorial on how to make a basic world. It teaches you how to alter the terrain, adding various items like trees, stones, NPCs, monsters and items like coins and weapons. You can alter the size, shape and even expand to world boundaries to unknown lengths.

You also have the ability to add variables to any creature, item or npc you add into the world. It’s kind of like an odd form of beginner programming without using. Everything you insert has default variables but you can alter them to do different things. However one problem arises with this concept. Unless you feel like spending hours upon hours experimenting with each variable, you will have no idea what they can do. The tutorial explains how to work the programmable variables to an extent but leaves you to figure out the rest. There are some minor explanation bubbles but they don’t really help out.

After building my worlds I have noticed some flaws in the engine they used. One of the things I have always wanted was to have a giant epic battle in the woods fighting off tons of monsters. Upon creating such a scenario, Project Spark‘s frame rate start to plummet to s snails crawl until I either left the woods or killed all the monsters. Also I liked the ability to just instantly hop in your game world to test it.

After spending many hours making a suitable world to your liking, you can then share it online with the world and even play in the worlds of other creators. This is highly encouraged as it lets you see what your peers have made. I’ve explored lots of unique worlds ranging from exploring a huge city to a small island that have me collecting skulls. There are even some crazy 2D styled games out there developed by some very patient creators.

There’s also an actual game that you can play but you have to purchase that content separately. In fact the whole model of Project Spark requires some you to purchase at least some amount of content in order to creator your worlds. There’s the starter pack which is about $40 and includes some extra content to be used in your creator studio as well as the first chapter of Project Spark stand alone game.

Playing the episodic game allows you to gather experience points which can level up your profile and unlock new content over time. The levels are simplistic and straightforward, letting you easily navigate and introduce yourself to the world of Project Spark. You can play as one of 3 heroes and can purchase more to adventure with fighting off goblins and restoring the land from the curse of the void. You can level up your chosen avatar as you progress allowing you access to even more goodies to be used in the creation studio.

Playing through the story mode is rather enjoyable and honestly it should just be its own standalone game. You travel through multiple zones solving unique puzzles that allow you to alter and modify the terrain and combat numerous waves of monsters in a very unique looking and beautiful world. The story is pretty straightforward and doesn’t do anything fancy but it does provide a decent narrative.

Outside of the story mode and creation studio, Project Spark probably has one of the most awkward and clumsy menu systems I have ever seen. Sometimes I have issues with the highlighter briefly freezing in place or sometimes not selecting or moving to right icon. There’s very little in terms of the options menu and the store is a pain in the neck to rummage through. Even the menu system in the studio can sometimes be a little off with it’s delayed searching and over inputting for selecting an object to place in the world.

Now graphically speaking, Project Spark has a very decent graphical engine and it’s style is very unique. The graphical style of the objects, sprites, and terrain reminds me heavily of the Fable franchise. There’s tons of unique and greatly detailed items to fill you world up with and they come in a huge assortment of shapes and sizes. Trees come in multiple variations along with bushes and tall grass. Entering your world you can see they also sway and move to give them that eloquent life-like feel. The lighting and shadowing effects are also spot on. My only issue is the framerate. Normally the game engine seems to run at 30 frames per second but at times will drop and either slow the game down of get a little choppy. This is rather disappointing as I mention earlier when I was creating a special scenario.

The audio of Project Spark is hard for me to comment on because it’s pretty much nonexistent. There might be a couple of tracks to go along with the story mode and moving about the menu system. There are the status quo of sound effects to be heard when combating monsters or placing objects in your world. It makes the whole experience of creation feel empty.

Overall Project Spark is a very unique title with lots of potential and a strong community backing. With lots of time, anyone can create a master piece of a world and share it with millions of people all over the world. The experience is marred by some issues of limitation and forced experience collecting to expand your collection of items to insert into your world. The story mode is a solid experience and offers a glimpse of what you can do with the engine of Project Spark. It’s definitely a unique package that people should check out if they are in the mood to be creative.

Short Attention Span Summary:

Project Spark is a unique and interesting entry in the sandbox creation genre. Project Spark‘s creation studio is adequate enough that will allow you to do almost whatever you want within the limitations of the engine. If you have the patience and time to figure out how to properly use the object programming, then you can do some really unique things. The ability to creator worlds and to share with other people is highly encouraged and I really enjoy checking out the creations of others. The story mode is a unique feature that gives you an idea of what is possibly with the studio and is quite fun in its own right. There are some minor technical issues with the framerate and navigating the clunky menu is kind of a hassle at times. If you have the itch to create something and don’t play Minecraft, then Project Spark is something you should consider checking out.