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  1. #1
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    How Project Spark on Xbox One is building for the industry's tomorrow

    http://www.oxm.co.uk/58559/features/...trys-tomorrow/

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0zmW_...e_gdata_player

    Xbox One world create 'em up Project Spark isn't just some throwaway Minecraft-esque novelty, designed to prove that Microsoft's serious about both the ostensibly popular Xbox SmartGlass app and free thinking at large in game design. It's not just an idiot-proof way to make friends with a rock, by endowing that rock with a brain, background music and super-robotic powers, using a tablet or phone. Project Spark is the latest manifestation of one of Microsoft's less-sung agendas: to make games so easy to develop and share, a child could pull it off.

    Also central to that agenda is Kodu Game Lab, a visual programming toolset released on Xbox Live Indie Games in 2009, which is currently priced at 400 MP. Kodu is designed to be accessible to people with zero programming experience, from roundabouts the age of eight years up. It's billed not just as a means of teaching kids how to design games, but as a means of passing on transferrable skills like narrative design and team organisation, and Microsoft has worked directly with educators in several countries to hone Kodu's offering and extol the benefits.



    There are preset terrain and character assets, which you drag and drop with a cursor, simple "if/then" behaviour routines for NPCs, and the option to set the camera angle or implement different levels of physics. Rather than reams of script, the interface comprises fat, tactile icons and button prompts, linked by cartoon arrows and presided over by a goofy robot mascot.

    Showing the ropes
    Kodu is rudimentary by the standards of a "proper" toolset like Unreal, of course, and the kiddy stylings may repel those who like a bit of mud and gore mixed into their recreation. But these ingredients lend themselves to a wide variety of game types nonetheless, as I found during my time at the finals of Microsoft's inaugural Kodu Kup competition earlier in the month. Moreover, Kodu serves as the foundation for Project Spark - "Kodu on steroids" is how Stuart Ball (himself a teacher) of Microsoft's Partners in Learning programme describes the latter - so if you want an early preview of Xbox One's user-generated content slate, you should definitely avail yourself of the trial.

    It's easy to be cynical about the timing of the first Kodu Kup, which is aimed at primary and secondary school students in the UK (catch the list of finalists and winners here). Microsoft has, after all, had a bit of a rough ride on the subject of independent developer support of late, thanks to its decision not to allow self-publishing on Xbox One, retirement of the popular XNA programming language, and the forthcoming merge of the Indie channel with the regular games channels on Xbox Live. It's also easy to be cynical about claims that the sight of kids pitching games overpowers such misgivings, but that's a claim I'm going to make anyway, because the kids in question were amazing.

    How Project Spark on Xbox One is building for the industry's tomorrow
    Ed attends the Kodu Kup finals, and learns about plans to get a new generation involved
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    The point of the Kodu Kup isn't just to develop a game, but to organise a development team and pitch a business plan. Finalists were given 15 minutes to impress a panel of four judges - including Lionhead's twinkly creative director Gary Carr, and Microsoft's "innovative teacher" Nicki Maddams. Pitch tactics differed dramatically from project to project. On the one hand, there was Afon Taf High School's "Nexus", a Mars exploration game starring a robot who looks like WALL-E, scouring the surface of the Red Planet for a mission-critical scientist.

    The three-man team had put plenty of work not just into crafting the game - which includes a terrain-sculpting laser, a giant octopod foe and puzzle areas conducted in top-down view - but into thrashing out a marketing plan, complete with customer surveys, points of reference (Fable: Anniversary put in an intensely calculating appearance, much to Carr's amusement) and ideas for post-release DLC. It was all rather terrifyingly professional.


    Then there was Bowser's Duel from Hampden Gurney CoE Primary, which was terrifying in a completely different way. Created by a two boys with more kinetic energy between them than the average F1 tournament, it's a blisteringly brief action-platformer in which a red-coloured robot (Mario) tries to rescue a green-coloured robot (his "cousin", Luigi) from a bunch of other robots by ramming him. The team's presentation consisted of playing the whole thing through while talking over one another, breaking off now and then to make ostentatious play of a bullet point, such as: "Uses Sound Effects". The target demographic? "It's not really for old people." By the end of the show, most of the audience were laughing so hard they could barely sit upright.

    In making it easier for the less technically skilled to get involved with games development, Kodu and Project Spark are also answers to a problem that's beset so-called triple-A development since this generation began. As Xbox director of development Boyd Multerer explained to us at the Xbox One's unveiling, the rise of HD gaming has resulted in a shift of emphasis from programmers to designers and artists. "It's all about the artwork and getting the maximum impact from the artwork that you're creating," he said. "That hundred million dollar budget, most of it is going into art."

    Language barriers
    This has been a source of internal strain, as many older game engines are closed books to those who can't code, which is why so much of the hype around "next gen" engines is devoted not to "power", but to user-friendliness - to the ease with which designers and artists can fiddle with level lighting, textures or animation suites. Project Spark and Kudo Game Lab compliment this by striving to ensure that up-and-coming artists and designers won't be deterred. All chilly corporate considerations aside, it's a genuine shot at building for the industry's future.

    Speaking to us afterward, Carr was enthusiastic about the potential. "I've obviously looked at Spark, and I've had a little play of that, and if it's based on that, I think: wow!" he said. "That's going to be amazing. It does look next generation, so if kids are going to get their hands on that, that's really taking the lid off the box. One day we may be judging one of these games, and we might think: 'we could ship that'."


    Look out for more on the Kudo Kup in a forthcoming issue, plus a fulsome chat with Carr about Lionhead and Microsoft. You might also want to check out this portfolio of submitted Kodu Games projects , or this introduction to the tools.
    Last edited by The Sith; 07-18-2013 at 07:53.

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  2. #2
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    I love games with user-created content. Witcher 2, Portal 2, Happy Wheels, Skyrim, and others are all filled to the brim with replay value just for the new experiences you get from this kind of thing.

    Edit: I don't get the Minecraft reference. This game isn't anything like Minecraft lol

  3. #3
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    Saw the gameplay demonstration looks interesting wish it could release on Windows 7.
    Playing - Tales of Xillia 2 and Atelier Escha & Logy.
    Awaiting - Xenoblade Chronicles X,Persona Q, Oreshika:Tainted Bloodlines, Ys
    Next, Tales of Zestiria, Tales Of Hearts R and Persona 5


  4. #4
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    Quote Originally Posted by Foraeli View Post
    This game isn't anything like Minecraft lol
    You don't think so? I don't know. It seems a little like it. Building everything from the ground up, from buildings to trees, ability to add different AI, customize maps for editing (creative) with others, sharing.

    I see some similarity. But Spark seems like a step in a different direction (closer to LittleBigPlanet) where it will mostly be about creating games vs. creating maps.

  5. #5
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    Update: creation tools will be free upon release.
    http://www.siliconera.com/2013/07/18...ased-for-free/

    uuummmmm...Fried Beer iis a reality.

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    Everything I wish LBP would have been, This "game" looks $#@!ing AWESOME!!!


    Next Gen top picks:
    PS4: Infamous SS, DriveClub
    One: Project spark, Forza 5
    Multi: Watchdogs, The crew, FFXV, KHIII

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    This game had me drooling at the E3 presser. Dat level design capability! So damn cool.

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    They seem to be starting off with the fantasy art style, looks great, but I'm hoping for Sci Fi and Cyberpunk stuff too.

    Maybe that will be the part you pay for.

    Overall it's looking great, could spend hours with this depending on how in depth it goes.

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