“Are games art?” This is a phrase that has been hotly debated in and around games almost since the first quarter was inserted into Space Invaders. Well, I’m here to put the debate to rest; games ARE art! Or at least they definitely have the potential to be so. The ability for users to create beautiful, fantastic, and fun experiences, when given the tools has been truly inspiring. A quick glimpse of User Generated Content (UGC) from games like Little Big Planet 2 and Minecraft shows just how eager people are to create, and recreate their favorite worlds.
The newest entry in the “create your own world” game genre truly has the potential to completely change the gaming landscape. This game is Microsoft in house studio Team Dakota’s Project Spark. Project Spark is currently available in beta form for the Windows 7 and Windows 8.1 PCs as well as Xbox One consoles. Like the aforementioned Little Big Planet and free-to-play PC game RoBlox, Project Spark allows users to create game experiences that run the gamut. Some of the games that I’ve been able to play in my limited time with the game have included a 3D adventure game, a pinball game where the “table” is a village and the bumpers are trees and a scenery demo where its only purpose was to allow you to travel via cable car from one mountain to another.
The amazing thing about this game is the ease with which a game world can be created. Mountains can be raised, lowered, deformed or smoothed. When inputting characters in the world, users customize the characters behavior via the character’s brain. The brain is a logic based, visual basic like template of simple When/Do statements. While initially simple it can be utilized in incredibly complex ways. The possibilities are virtually limitless.
When I first learned of this game at 2013’s Electronic Entertainment Expo (E3) I was intrigued but not necessarily excited. Like Little Big Planet before it, I was intrigued by the idea that I could create games from the depths of my imagination but found the execution to be daunting and/or limiting. It was with much trepidation therefore that I redeemed my beta key for Project Spark and entered the tutorial. Within 5 minutes of use, my trepidation turned to intrigue. In 10 minutes my intrigue morphed into unbridled excitement.
Episode 4 of the Spawn On Me podcast featured an interview with indie game developer, Shawn Alexander Allen, and his upcoming beat-em up RPG Treachery In Beatdown City. One of the most “controversial” elements of the game is the fact that the protagonists are minorities. It wasn’t until it was mentioned that I really thought critically about the lack of minority, non-stereotypical protagonists. If you exclude games where gamers have the choice of main character, there have only been a handful of games where the campaign’s story is told from the point of view of a person of color. Even fewer of those games present a protagonist that isn’t “stereotypical”. Prototype 2’s James Heller is a Iraq war veteran and Prey’s Tommy is a mechanic and also an Army vet. Even The Walking Dead: The Game’s Lee Everett, who is a professor by trade, is also a convicted double murderer by the time we meet him.
I think about my son, completing his junior year of high school, and the pride he displayed in his RoBlox game creations. Project Spark has the potential to not only allow him to create more sophisticated versions of the games he created years ago but also has the ability to evolve his pastime to a passion and then potentially to a profession. There’s a whole generation of young gamers who haven’t been burdened with the knowledge of decades worth of gaming. They can produce ideas that have as of yet been conceived. It makes me terribly excited for the future of gaming that users have the ability to define the experiences their peers will enjoy. As Shawn Allen’s foundation plainly states “You Can Make Games Too”.
What the future holds for the free-to-play Project Spark is completely up to the community. Will they take to it? Will there be compelling gameplay mechanics that we’ve never seen before in gaming? If the past is any indicator, the answer is an emphatic “Yes!”. I’m eager to see the first ametuer game creator who gets a job making games as a result of their Project Spark masterpiece.
What do you guys think? Have you joined the beta and have some thoughts? Are you as excited for the future as I am? Let me know in the comments below.