Preview: In Project Spark, paint and play new worlds

July 9, 2013


Microsoft’s Project Spark has its roots in an oft-forgotten initiative on Xbox 360: Kodu Game Lab. Like Kodu, Project Spark is a simplified, console-based programming tool, and the two share many basic tenets. Spark, though, is a much more fully-formed and robust package, allowing for both intricate, professional-feeling games and easily-created amateur sandbox environments.

What it is: Aiming for an Xbox One release but also coming to Windows 8 and Xbox 360, Team Dakota’s Project Spark uses all the tools and quirks of the platform to allow players to easily create worlds. Supporting SmartGlass, Kinect voice commands, controllers and mouse-keyboard setups, it lets you interact however you choose, and while you can delve into the tiny pieces of the programming system, getting started is as easy as placing something and attaching a “brain” to it to define its actions.

The tools are simultaneously robust and simple. Lead producer Jesse Merriam says Project Spark is designed so that worlds don’t take hours to create; the system recognizes walls and cliffs and decorates them appropriately, and it places small touches like plants and wildlife around to make even basic environments seem fleshed-out and alive.

Why we’re excited: All of the creations we saw were very different. You can see the trailer above to check out some of them, like a full Limbo clone, a twin-stick shooter and a tower defense game. All controlled how you think they should, which is the truly crucial part: these need to be fun to play and not just to marvel at.

What’s nice is that any of these can use the under-the-hood tools while playing. One thing we got to try was a platforming world in which players can create and paint terrain. This got us thinking: could you even access a customized version of the “brain” controls in-game to program autonomous fighters in a way similar to the cult favorite Carnage Heart games? Merriam says that’s possible.

What we’re wondering: With games like this, it’s crucial to have a good system to let the best creations get more exposure, and we won’t know that until it launches. Also: are these small samples a good representation of how a user’s experience will be, or will those who venture off the beaten path run into control issues and general frustration? Mainly, though, we just want to sit down with it for a few days and try to make something interesting ourselves.


Project Spark doesn’t have a release date yet, but it’s heading into beta on PC soon.