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Microsoft Studios ignites Project Spark

11 Oct 2014

In the early days of home computing it wasn’t unusual for kids to dabble in a bit of BASIC programming and knock up little games.

It was this pioneering spirit of bedroom coding that lead the Darling brothers to form Codemasters. For a brief time anyone could make games.

And then along came Nintendo, Sega and Sony. Kids that would have progressed from their Commodore 64’s to the Amiga and beyond were instead enticed into the easy-access world of the games console.

Microsoft Studio’s Project Spark brings gaming full circle. Instead of just mindlessly tapping on buttons, players are invited to create and share their own games.

Game creation is a complex process, so thankfully Project Spark has a comprehensive tutorial system. Potential creators are also spared having to produce their own designs, instead picking themed objects from a vast library.

Project Spark uses the freemium model- the base game being provided for free with a number game objects and assets to get you started. The NZ$59.99 retail “Starter Pack” includes the free game plus some extra themes, hero characters and a special game level.

Additional content packs can be purchased using either credits earned in the game or tokens, which you can buy with real cash at about NZ$1.30 per 100 tokens. If you create enough of your own content you will apparently be able to obtain all the additional items without spending any real cash. With content packs costing up to 40,000 credits or 1,000 tokens each, that’s a big investment either way.

Starting with the hero, I chose a female character for my game. I then added movement and attack controls. This process, cutely called koding, is actually a cool way of creating Boolean expressions, the building blocks of computer programming. It’s pretty impressive and relatively easy to pick up.

The spark

Before switching over to the world editor I created an enemy assailant for my hero in the form of a goblin.

The entire world is editable. You can shape the terrain and paint the landscape, adjust the lighting and add ambient sounds and music.

I made an island with a huge arched rock formation as a centrepiece. After painting the landscape I ended up with a lush island with a foreboding snow-capped rock in the middle. To finish it off I added some trees and carved out a couple of rivers.

I added a bit of detail using props. I placed a nice stone bridge over one of the rivers and added a few houses to make a little village. I also added a few picturesque waterfalls.

My world needed more animals. It need a giant fish swimming near my village, a huge snow fox atop my rock formation and a cheeky-looking giant bird sunning itself in a tree.

Ingame screen

With the island practically finished I added some ambient forest sounds and some suitably adventurous background music. After a bit of testing I saved it and shared it on the Project Spark servers. You can find my quick "Big Animal Island" on the Project Spark site here.

I’m not going to say that anyone can create their own amazing game with Project Spark, because that would be incredibly disrespectful to the thousands of talented developers out there. Hopefully what it will do is ignite a spark (not just a clever name, see) among some young gamers to look a little further into the world of video game design and perhaps study to be our next John Carmack or David Braben.

Project Spark is available now to download for free on Xbox One and Windows 8 PCs.

Verdict: 8/10

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