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Project Spark looks to spark the creativity of Microsoft's player base

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Posted by: Josh Wirtanen

None of us knew absolutely anything about Project Spark when we went into E3 this year. But then, out of nowhere, it showed up and drew us into its creative little world. Actually, the “out of nowhere” part of that previous sentence makes for an incredibly appropriate description here, because Project Spark lets you very quickly create detailed fantasy worlds from pretty much nothing.

It sounded pretty cool when it was announced at E3’s press conference anyway, right? So when I was wandering around Micrsoft’s E3 booth, I absolutely had to stop to check out the Xbox One version of this game. The booth rep who walked me through the experience handed me a controller and let me take the game for a test drive, which drew a lot of envious glances from the people around me. Apparently, I was one of the elite few who actually got to go hands-on with the game.

Essentially, you’re given a blank 3D canvas and allowed to create a world with a very user-friendly set of tools. I was given the choice between making a forest, a desert, or an arctic environment. Since I live in Minnesota, I immediately crossed the arctic environment off my list (I’ve seen plenty of snow in my lifetime, thanks). And since everyone around me was making forests, I decided to take the road less traveled and make a desert.

There were terrain tools, which were quite adept at making hills, valleys, and even tunnels. If I dug below the water line, pools would appear and fill with gorgeous water.

Project Spark

Populate your world with things like this, and then chop them to bits!

Yes, I just called the water “gorgeous,” which probably sounds weird if you haven’t actually seen the game in action. See, Project Spark has this fantastic art direction that instantly brings a jaw-dropping sense of beauty to your worlds, no matter how terrible you may be at making them.

One of the coolest features was that the “paint” you use to color your world has some intelligence to it. You can paint a world with a single brush, but the look of the world will change depending on how steep the terrain is. So when I painted a spire with a rock-type paint, the top of the shape had a different look to it than the sides did.

You can also populate your world with creatures that behave in various sorts of ways. You want to add evil goblins that will attack players on first sight? Go ahead. In fact, this is something I actually got to do during my play session.

While the creative tools were simply more powerful and more user-friendly than pretty much any world-building game I’ve ever seen, I was curious about the “game” elements of Project Spark. See, while it’s awesome to make beautiful worlds, there’s no real point if you can’t run around them and interact with them in a truly game-like manner.

Project Spark has this really neat adventure creation tool that they’re calling “Crossroads,” which I got to try for a little bit. It brought me through a series of menus so it could build a quest especially for me. For example, I could choose the type of environment I wanted to play in and a time of day (I chose riverlands and morning), and a world was generated. Then I could select a place where I wanted the adventure to begin. I chose a tavern, because, well, that’s as good a place as any to begin a fantasy adventure, right?

Project Spark

A flying game in Project Spark? Easy!

I was allowed to chose a character and pick an objective, and the world magically spawned a whole host of baddies between my tavern starting point and the objective. I was told that it would probably take me about fifteen minutes to play through the story I had created, but I wasn’t allowed to actually do that, since there was a substantial line forming behind me. So I respectably handed off my controller and thanked the booth rep for the tour.

Now, while the creation tools and the “Crossroads” mode are insanely powerful and easy to use, I’m still not entirely convinced the game can stand on its own without some sort of campaign. (Then again, I’m the sort of person who won’t touch Minecraft’s Creative Mode, because I know I can’t stay invested in a game that doesn’t have any sort of conflict.) Whether or not Project Spark will include something like this is still being kept under wraps, so I’m not able to comment on it quite yet.

Still, from what I saw, Project Spark is an incredibly beautiful art project made for creative types who want to make awesome fantasy worlds and share them with their friends or with strangers on the Internet.

Oh, and while the demo I played was on the Xbox One, the game will also be available on 360 and Windows 8-based tablets.

Tags: Project Spark, Xbox One, Microsoft, E3, E3 2013

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