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Project Spark guide - how to create a great game in the Xbox One beta

By OXM Staff for OXM on Tuesday 18th Mar 2014 at 5:30 PM UTC

It turns out playing Project Spark with an eight-year-old is pretty much the best way to experience Team Dakota's ambitious game creator. My son's curious request - one of many - led to just a few minutes of tinkering with the PC beta's intelligent interface before we had our answer: yes, we can indeed make the bird shoot fireballs.

In truth, I'm the kind of player who'd rather place their trust in content created by professional game designers than build my own. In my limited experience with games that ask you to create your own levels, the process follows a depressingly familiar pattern: several hours spent fiddling listlessly with a variety of tools, only to turn out something that even the designers of Ride to Hell: Retribution would reject on sight. Relying on others isn't always the wisest decision either - 99 times out of 100 the best stages are the ones you're supplied with.

The beauty of Project Spark - which is now in beta on Xbox One - is that it doesn't demand the level of commitment that can often prove off-putting to lazy designers like me. Sure, control freaks and wannabe Miyamotos can tweak as many parameters as they want, from camera angles to jump heights and AI behaviours, but if you fancy a ready-made procedurally generated world that you can simply stamp a little of your personality on, this has you covered.

It's pitched as a place "where players create and creators play," and the likes of Crossroads mode blur the lines between the two. In the beta, the town-building and tower defence options are absent, which just leaves the Adventure game type. Here you're given a series of choices to shape your story - choosing whether your environment is a parched desert or a lush green woodland, for example, before deciding whether your hero should live in a thatched house, windmill or tavern. More choices emerge even before your quest begins: does your village square host a festival, or is there a mysterious shrine at its centre? And will you play as a ranger, a goblin berserker or a shape-shifting druid?

What follows is a fun if rudimentary third-person fantasy romp. Bandits have invaded our camp, but that's only because I'm playing as a goblin and the 'pack of evil squirrels' (no, really) option isn't currently available. My squat, green hero whacks them about with his stumpy sword and then happens across a question-mark icon. From here I can choose whether to furnish my now-safe hamlet with either a bakery or a fortune teller's shack. But oh no! Those invaders have poisoned the well, so I need to find the potion/mystery meat/magic apple from the enemy chieftain/haunted scarecrow/dark ranger and their guards, who number many/few/none.

Zoom

This ability to colour your own story by responding to a series of multiple-choice questions is a familiar but appealing idea, though it will do little to appease the wags who suggested that Project Spark's promise that you could make any game you wanted should come with the caveat "as long as it looks like Fable". Lionhead's series isn't a bad template to follow, but others hoping for more creative freedom may initially be disappointed at what looks to be a relatively limited palette of tools.

What they'll want is the Create mode, which on the first visit at least offers a simple tutorial to get you started. You're placed in a crisp, sterile, pseudo-futuristic space, and asked to first pick a hero, and then to get them moving. To which end you have a prop palette, from where you can choose from a host of pre-existing fantasy archetypes, animals, or even a sentient rock.

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