Born out of a heritage of sandbox games that allow you to define the world around you, Microsoft showcased Project Spark at E3 this year. It rapidly became one of the most talked about “games” at the show.
So what is Project Spark? Simply it’s a game creation interface, but unlike games development environments like the Unreal Engine or Unity, anyone could pick up project Spark and create a game. However this explanation doesn’t do it justice.
Take a look at Minecraft and the first thing you’ll notice is that the graphics look like a game out of the early 90s. I know people will argue with me here that Minecraft has a sort of retro aesthetic beauty but personally I don’t see it. If I spend time building a world I want it to look beautiful. Second Life does this a little better and environments can look visually stunning but the time and effort required to create such a beautiful sim is significant. Both environments use scripting to give objects behaviours and in both cases this requires real scripting ability and in depth knowledge. In both cases, although you can create fun games, the emphasis is on environment creation rather than a game-play experience. Project Spark is still pre-beta so we don’t know yet if it will live up to the promise of its E3 demos but if it does it will have succeeded in achieving a defining change in the way we look at Sandbox environments. What’s the “secret sauce” Microsoft have come up with?
- Don’t make building hard – learning from Minecraft they have created a world builder that allows you to create compelling gaming environments in minutes.
- Make it beautiful – The landscapes and characters you can create are truly beautiful with a great deal of thought applied to how you create graphical components that flow together but don’t stifle creativity.
- Make it easy to give things behaviors – Games programming is all about objects and their behaviours, by inventing a graphical development environment Microsoft have made it easy for anyone to apply behaviors to objects without having to resort to scripting.
- Concentrate on the game – Make all these things come together to allow the user to create really fun games.
Recently I wrote an article on Disney’s Infinity which allows kids to build worlds in Toybox mode. Although it doesn’t look nearly as sophisticated as Project Spark it’s an interesting trend that several of the large gaming studios seem to be looking at ways of allowing us to be more creative in our gaming. I suspect that they’ve realised that by allowing people to be creative you engage them for far longer than if you provide a linear gaming experience and that translates into big bucks for game publishers, not to mention a whole genre of new exciting games for us!