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    Project Spark: Xbox One, Review

    This is an odd creature. A toy box game creator limited by restrictive components but also with unbounded creative depth from a full programming language. If you’re feeling casual you can throw together a few pre-made parts, or you can create from scratch, dictating camera views, making HUD or levelling up systems and more at a coding level. Sorry, ‘koding’ level. Let’s just all agree that’s
    a terrible spelling shtick and move on.

    One of the most interesting things about Microsoft’s attempt to do LittleBigPlanet is that it does such a good job of being both super simple and jaw-droppingly complex. On the surface there’s the pick-up-and-drop creation of something like Disney Infinity sculpt a terrain, pop in a few props and done: you’ve made a game. It takes minutes to create a basic adventure, or sci-fi FPS, or your version of Dark Souls, or… you get the idea.

    If you want to get more involved, poking around these parts shows what’s possible. Things are given life by ‘brains’, which can be picked off the shelf ready to use or [grits teeth] ‘coded’ from scratch using a ‘When X happens, do Y’ system. In-game tutorials, some of which feature as unobtrusive story mission puzzles, show the basics, but it’s only when you start picking apart pre-made constructs
    or other people’s games that you start to see how deep it all gets. One in-game enemy has ten pages of ‘kode’ to govern AI, movement and attacks. Despite the pictogram tile vocabulary this is a programming language.

    Stay inside the lines
    There are a few drawbacks. You’re limited to the objects you’re given. You can resize and reposition to your heart’s content but you can only ever use, not create, objects. Spark also seems to struggle technically, with frame rate drops and audio glitches not uncommon.
    Then there’s the payment structure. It might looks like a console game but it’s priced and structured like a mobile one, with props, playsets and parts behind a paywall. In-game currency includes a form you earn by playing and one you have to buy, so you can grind but that’s not the most fun way to create.

    There is at least plenty to play. There are ready-to-go levels, including an episodic RPG and a choose your own adventure that reduces creation down to picking parts that then self-assemble. Plus there are all those user-created levels. Déjà vu abounds from the recycling of parts most people seem to be using the free stuff, while the unlocked bits aren't noticeably different so that leads to a lot of fantasy RPGs because what else can you do with a box of goblins and ye olde houses? But there are gems. Little wonders like versions of Tetris, or well-crafted games you forget aren’t ‘real’ after a few minutes of playing.

    That sense of exploration and discovery, both in the content and the creation, just about make up for the shortcomings in structure and functionality. It scales to what you want to achieve, whether that’s to play a few games and cobble together bits to see what happens, or slavishly create programming-based projects. The parts and shapes you’re given might be limited, but the potential of what you can do with them is anything but.


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