Microsoft has recognized that people appreciate the chance to make their own stuff, possibly due to the success of PlayStation exclusive LittleBigPlanet, and that’s why it created Project Spark, previewed back in June at E3. Spark is an even more free-form game creation engine with a focus on simultaneous game playing and building, which also encourages sharing among friends and family.
The beta for Project Spark kicks off today on Windows 8.1, which means if you’re one of the still quite small crowd on that latest desktop OS, you can take part – so long as you’ve also signed up for the beta over at the Project Spark website. The closed beta will extend to Xbox One users beginning in the new year, however, and that’s where I expect the software to really start to shine, given Microsoft’s sizeable user pool based on early sales numbers of the next-gen console. Microsoft also says cross-platform support is coming eventually, too.
Microsoft is touting Spark as a way to create collaborative, effectively unending games with your friends and connections, which is an interesting take on gaming as a social medium. Games have always had social aspects, to be sure: alternating turns or watching your friend who was lucky enough to own a PS1 play through Final Fantasy is no doubt an experience common to many of my particular vintage. Then of course came split-screen gaming, culminating the pure joy that was Goldeneye 007 for the N64, and the modern era of shooting and tea-bagging that is the Call of Duty series.
Now, Microsoft wants you to do something even more participatory, creating worlds as you explore them. At its most basic, Spark does most of the heavy lifting for you, with you specifying simply a scenario, setting and character before being thrown into a randomly generated game provided by the engine. But you can get much more granular, building different genres of games, using various different inputs including Kinect and the Xbox One controller, and even incorporating motion capture and voiceover using the Kinect for custom animations and dialogue. The Spark engine seems insanely flexible, so it’ll very interesting to see what a legion of brand new amateur game devs can do with this in their hands.
Grab the Spark beta app from the Windows Store, but you might have to wait a little while to use it if you haven’t yet got a beta key, and it’s not going to be available in all regions immediately. This is potentially the most interesting thing Microsoft has done for a long time, so it’ll be great to watch how this progresses, even if you’re not that interested in becoming an auteur yourself.