Team Dakota’s cross­plat­form toolset is prob­lem­atic yet promis­ing


Project Spark is a chal­lenge to its de­vel­op­ers. De­signed to run on PC and con­soles – and mo­bile and tablet via SmartGlass – its pow­er­ful cre­ation tools have to be easy to both un­der­stand and use across a va­ri­ety of in­put de­vices. It’s a chal­lenge to play­ers, too, who will ul­ti­mately de­fine the value of those tools with their cre­ations. The re­cently launched Win­dows 8 beta gives us a first look at how both par­ties are far­ing, and a chance to see how Team Dakota’s promis­ing plat­form feels in the hands.

Early signs are pos­i­tive, with a step-bystep tu­to­rial do­ing a fine job of con­vey­ing the flex­i­bil­ity of Project Spark’s cre­ation tools. Af­ter choos­ing a hero from the beta’s as­sort­ment of hu­mans, goblins, fish and birds, we set about as­sign­ing our pro­tag­o­nist some be­hav­iours. Dubbed ‘Kode’ state­ments – a nod to Project Spark’s pro­gen­i­tor, the kid- friendly pro­gram­ming plat­form Kodu – be­hav­iours are split into two sides: When and Do. In just a few mouse clicks, we’ve told our hero to move in re­sponse to our WASD key presses, to jump when we press space, to melee at­tack when we left-click and to fling a fire­ball at a click of the right mouse but­ton. We’ve also set up a third­per­son cam­era that fol­lows the player, though we could have gone with first­per­son, fixed or boom cam­eras, or told the view­point to track an en­emy. And we’re never more than two clicks away from jump­ing into the world and test­ing it all out. We’re still look­ing at an empty blue world, though – the blank dig­i­tal can­vas to which de­vel­oper Team Dakota has so fre­quently re­ferred. This is a world in need of life and we’re only too happy to oblige. Us­ing the Sculpt tool, we raise a hunk of land into a

Spark Power is eas­ily the game’s most con­tro­ver­sial el­e­ment and risks split­ting the com­mu­nity in two. Twenty-four hours of ac­cess costs 100 to­kens – about 70p in real money – though it can also be bought with cred­its earned in-game.

Right now, player cre­ations are, nat­u­rally, a lit­tle buggy, with one physics hic­cough send­ing our hero spi­ralling high into the air and out of the game­world. Ryse Son Of Spark proved rel­a­tively sta­ble, though it’s ham­strung by rudi­men­tary com­bat sys­tem.

Cross­roads is a smart way of bridg­ing the gap be­tween cre­ation and play, though its sim­plic­ity rather un­der­mines the pow­er­ful plat­form on which it is built. Choices are sim­ple and ar­bi­trary: do you want to fight goblins, for in­stance, or ra­bid squir­rels? It barely mat­ters, since both bat­tle in much the same way

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