This past weekend at FanExpo in Toronto, Canada, Microsoft gave attendees a closer look at Project Spark, their upcoming game creation tool for Xbox One, Xbox 360 and Windows 8. The brief demo was the first real glimpse that Canadians have had since the title was unveiled at E3 back in June. While there were no hands-on demonstrations, Microsoft instead showed off various elements of level creation, game modes, and a fully integrated artificial intelligence system – all in real time.
Running on a Windows 8 development kit, the Project Spark demo began with a quick overview of the software and its ambitious goal: to create a tool that would allow anyone to develop a video game, regardless of experience level. With that, the presentation jumped right into the Crossroads game mode, a “wizard” of sorts, which allows players to quickly setup a game based on simple and easy to use templates.
It was at this point in the demonstration that the Microsoft representative enlisted the help of the audience to choose templates, characters, and other objects for the scene. After all of the elements were in place, NPC characters appeared to give the player some goals to achieve in the level. Using the Crossroads mode, an entire pre-made landscape with hills, rivers, and points of interest was created in a matter of minutes. From this template, any number of things could be added, subtracted or tweaked to fit the player’s needs.
Next, we got into the meat and potatoes of Project Spark: creating game worlds from the ground up. Several of the landscape editing tools were shown, pushing and pulling at the fabric of the game that was being created before our eyes. The level creation system is smart enough to texture hills and cliffs appropriately based on their shape and height, and props such as rocks and trees were easily dropped using a fluid three-dimensional brush tool that is as intelligent as it is powerful. Since this circular brush tool works within a 3D space, caves and other interior spaces are simple to create, just by clicking and moving the tool around through the landscape.
After showing off the body of the game creation tool, Microsoft went even deeper, opening up the most interesting part of all of Project Spark: the artificial intelligence. Behind every creature and every object – even rocks and trees – there is a brain that can be manipulated by the end user to suit the needs of the game. By dragging and dropping simple conditions like proximity, inventory contents, and player character level, the game puts together a rudimentary scripting system, in a user-friendly and visually appealing way. For example, a goblin may have a condition where it must attack the player if he or she is within 10 meters of its location, but this process can be swapped out for any number of pre-made conditions, or the player can create one from scratch.
Few multiplayer features were shown in the demonstration, but Microsoft remains adamant that it will play a huge part of the game, allowing players to download and even edit other players creations. So far it seems the best part about Project Spark is that it doesn’t feel cramped despite having an abundance of features. Hopefully the finished game will be as intuitive and easy to use, considering Kinect will be touted as the preferred method of interacting with it.
Project Spark is currently being developed by Team Dakota, and published through Microsoft Game Studios. It is expected for release on the Xbox One, Xbox 360 and on Windows 8 PCs, though no official release date has been given.
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