Project Spark – looking good

I signed up for the Microsoft Project Spark beta initially for windows 8.1 but soon cross platform for Xbox 360 and Xbox one. It is a game building tool/environment/experience. It is still of course in its early stages but I was immediately impressed by the build and adventure tutorial.
Being used to environment like Second Life, Minecraft and also programming environments like Unity3d everything is instantly familiar.

Objects are dragged into the environment from a palette. These objects are detailed models not just graphic primitives. People, trees, goblins etc. In that respect it is very similar to Disney Infinity. You are also presented with lots of terrain tools. Sculpting, shaping and painting the environment.
It is clear though that there is much more under the covers. Each object has a “brain” associated with it. This reveals a vast range of interactions and behaviours that can be added to any object. This is done in a very “scratch” or LEGO programming language way. A line consists of a When and a Do programming block. When “wads” Do “move” is the first one it gets you to do. However there are lots of lines that can be added and a huge range of detection, action responses.
Before you know it you are have a single player character, who can run jump and shoot, a mountain range you have created and a bad guy goblin who, when you click test, chases after your.
I set the predlets on it, letting them just follow the tutorial. They have a lot of minecraft building experience and have also programmed a little in scratch. They were both instantly hooked and interested.

Predlet 2.0 left to his own devices just started not quite following the tutorial. It was directing you to create a normal size person, normal size goblin, but a huge mountain and a larger than the default tree. Within seconds he was laughing and playing a little game of escape the giant goblins. He had rescaled the default goblin, cloned it and had giants something around after him. It was an inventive step that is where just letting kids loose on these tools is a joy.

There are some other interesting modes other than pure creation too. You can access a little big planet style carousel of user generated content and play other peoples creations. You can also take those and see how they work and remix them. There is also “crossroads” which is a create your own adventure. Here the environment asks you questions as part of game play. You discover a ? and you pick from a list. Gradually you create a whole mini adventure level but also play as you go along. There will be lots of templates in the future, but for now the one there shows the potential.
it is not all good news though. There is of course a cost to all this freemium game creation. The basic palette of objects and the styles of levels are constantly offering a view of things you don’t own. You are enticed to buy objects or styles etc all the time. Each object can be bought for cash or by earning and grinding game creation time. The balance of this and the potential cost and pester power of needing to have x to play y will be interesting. There is an option to pay an amount (the prices are likely to constantly change) which gives you access to all the content whilst that subscription is valid. There is an implication in some of the video streams by the developers that if you keep using Project Spark you will earn enough in game credit to pay for the next months full time access. So it seems they have the option to appeal to all sorts of people and ways of paying.
Of course we have to generally pay for content, 3d models out in the world are not usually free. Code, animation rigs etc all cost so it is not wrong to be charging for things. It will depend how much we can do with the base kit, what offers arrive, how much time is required to earn credits, whether there is a linkage of family accounts to help kids work together and earn credits etc.
For now, it looks great and offers an very good experience, has some great potential and I can’t wait till I get to see my windows 8.1 creations appearing on my xbox one and vice versa.
Got to go, a giant Goblin has 3d printed itself from predlet 2.0’2 creation and is stomping down the garden

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