Review: Project Spark

At some point in their life, every gamer has dreamt of creating the next big video game; whether it’s a futuristic first-person shooter, an intense racer or a challenging puzzle title. Thanks to Microsoft’s Project Spark, those dreams may become a reality (without the need to learn all the coding and gobbledygook that comes with it).

Project Spark is a video game creation tool that offers very little in the way of limitations. Players are able to sculpt terrains, as well as add creatures, characters, sounds, props, gameplay interactions… the list goes on. In fact, the only real constraint is the player’s imagination.

So, how does it work? Project Spark uses a simple visual programming language which, combined with the easy to use interface, allows anyone of any knowledge of coding to create games/worlds.

In the creation mode, every object has a brain, which can be modified to determine how it responds to specific commands and objects. The amount of customisable options is incredibly diverse, with a large range of options on offer. Nevertheless, despite being easy to navigate, it does take some getting used to and, as a result, there’s a slight learning curve that comes with it. Thankfully, this is easily overcome with the help of step-by-step tutorials, which excellently introduce players to the basics of the software.

Nevertheless, as Project Spark players will soon discover, creating the next big role-playing game doesn’t happen overnight, as more complex creations are extremely time-consuming, frustrating and (more often than not) tedious. All the same, Project Spark is a title that rewards persistence, and there’s a particularly satisfying feeling that comes with successfully building a game or world, however simple it may be.

Project Spark contains multiplayer support for up to eight players across Xbox Live, allowing users to collaborate on creations or to play existing games and worlds from the community. The inclusion of multiplayer adds further depth to the title and there’s a real sense of teamwork as groups of friends work together on games and worlds.

Finished creations can be shown off and shared in the Project Spark community, where they can be played and rated by fellow creators. At the time of writing, the community was largely populated with clones of already-established titles (such as Angry Birds and Jenga), along with a lot of mediocre designs. However, it’s only early days for Project Spark as players have only scratched the surface of what can be achieved.

Each creation can be “remixed”, which allows users to download an existing game or world from the community and make alterations to them, no matter how large or small the changes are. The option to tinker with other creations has been well implemented and it is a great addition to the title.

In terms of presentation, while the visuals are by no means on par with other next-generation titles, the cartoon-like graphics brilliantly suit the style of the gameplay. It’s a shame the same can’t be said for the audio. The looping soundtrack will gradually get on your nerves (especially during long sessions) and, whereas the voice acting and sound effects are to a high standard, it doesn’t quite reach the heights set by LiittleBigPlanet.

It’s hard to believe that such a sophisticated tool and the wide range of content is (largely) available for free. Project Spark adopts a freemium model, awarding the player credits for completing challenges, which can be spent on additional content packs and props from the in-game store. Such content can also be purchased using tokens – virtual currency that is purchased using real money.

Other payment options include the Spark Premium membership (which offers multiple perks and bonuses), as well as the Project Spark Starter Pack (RRP £29.99). While the extra content is a nice addition to have, there are plenty of features in the free version to create a whole host of impressive games and worlds. Not to mention that further content is set to arrive as downloadable content in the near future.