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Review: Microsoft’s Project Spark

January 6, 2014 • Reviews

While it was announced at last year’s E3 conference, Microsoft last week issued 10 000 beta keys to their world and game creator title Project Spark, and IT News Africa was lucky enough to receive one. The game allows users to creator their own adventures with pre-set objects, but it is paint-by-numbers or fail-by-fumbles?

A screenshot of one of the enemies from Project Spark (image: Microsoft)

A screenshot of one of the enemies from Project Spark (image: Microsoft)

What we like about it

The title sparks the creative juices of players, which allows them to create their own adventure games with a number of already-built objects created by Microsoft. The best way that the title be described as, is that it’s Microsoft’s answer to PlayStation’s Little Big Planet, which also allowed games to create their own worlds, games and levels.

At the start of the title, players are put through a detailed tutorial on how to create the own adventures. With some clever narration, players are given options to start building their game. First, a hero needs to be selected, after which a home terrain and some buildings are placed. But every hero needs an enemy, and players can select from bandits and trolls to populate their world. A quest is also available, but the general idea of the tutorial will always stay the same: select a hero, selected a terrain, enemies and an object that needs to be retrieved from said enemies.  Once all those have been chosen, the title will program the world and off the player goes.

It’s very reminiscent of the old Chose Your Own Adventure books, where readers had to turn to a different page depending on their choices.

In terms of graphics (and it’s not surprising being a Microsoft title), it’s very similar to the studio’s Fables and Fable Heroes titles. It’s fun and quirky at times, and the narration and comments are often packed with humour. As for the control scheme, it’s incredibly basic, as it can be played with a mouse and keyboard, or with a game controller. But then again, the controls depend on what other has coded for their individual mini-games.

But that is about where the fun ends. The title is entertaining throughout the tutorial, but once it comes to building actual levels, a lot of patience is needs – and a semi-working knowledge of basic computing coding.

What we don’t like about it

As mentioned, the title uses an incredibly simplified way of game coding, which they have called Kode, through simple radial menus and options. The basics involve When and Do actions, in the sense that “When” this happens, the selected object should “Do” this.

The make a hero perform basic movement in a created title, players will have to kode When + keyboard, Do + movement. When + left mouse button, Do + light attack, will be the code for attacking a target using the mouse. While that doesn’t sound so hard, it can become very intricate. For enemies, users will have to delve into the creatures “brain” and add a number of lines to make the fight the way they want to. For example, to make an enemy return an attack when assaulted, player will have to kode When + attacked, Do + attack. Then users will have to modify that kode to program how much damage is done to the player.

It becomes too complex for the casual gamer to care or bother with. Oh yes, and that is just for the various characters – players will have to additionally populate the game world with objects, such as trees, houses, caves and a terrain of their choosing.

And because the title is still in its beta phase, many of the objects are either locked from use, or has a green Coming Soon sticker plastered over it.

While most of the objects and characters are available for free to use in the limited games that can be created, there are a great number of “premium” content that is unlocked by making use of the title’s in-game currency – Credits and Tokens.

Taking on a freemium model, Credits are earned by completing challenges and are used to buy content packs and single props from the marketplace. Tokens, on the other hand, can only be acquired by purchasing them with real-world cash, and is used to quickly access content packs for which the player might have insufficient Credits.

Conclusion

Players will find the tutorial level rather interesting and fun, but the creation of other level might not be suitable for players with limited time or patience. Created levels can also be shared with the community, allowing other players to wander through created adventures from others. As with anything user-created, there are a few gems available but the bulk of them are rather rubbish. Then there is also the issue of Spark Power.

This is a 30-minute total play time allotted to players per day. While some created levels don’t make use of it, premium levels eat up a player’s Spark Power. Naturally players can increase it by purchasing Spark Power in the game’s Store.

The title has a lot of potential, and even though it is still in its beta phase, Microsoft will have to make a number of changes to attract the masses to world and mini-game creator. While it has the ability to stand on its own, gamers can help but see the striking resemblance of Fable-meets-Little Big Planet-meets-Minecraft.

Our score: 7/10

Charlie Fripp – Consumer Tech editor

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