We had this vague sense that “Project Spark” was interesting–in that “oh, yeah, I think I’ve heard of that” way–and indeed, it is! It’s an internal MS project, by a small team out in Redmond called Team Dakota, and it’s both a free-to-play Xbox One game (that alone seems kind of amazing) and a whole platform for building new games. One of the community members we talked to (the inventor of an in-game “Godzilla” that Microsoft’s lawyers haven’t discovered yet) even compared that aspiration to becoming like Unreal within a few years. (Project Spark will be on the PC too.)

The demo we played was underwhelming at first, just in seeming like a conventional top-down, vanilla-fantasy arcade adventure game. Like this:

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But then we realized that this was just a tutorial for the building blocks of the system, a visual program language of “when/do” programming tiles–so we were adventuring around and finding little tiles that we could then use to activate elements in the game.

The real meat of the game is the Minecraft-y world editor, in which you can build all sorts of games, with a ton of different textures, building blocks, and custom “brains”–basically AIs built out of the code tiles. In the beta, people have made everything from RPGs to tower defense games. Even cooler (and like Minecraft), the editor is multiplayer, so you can team up with friends to build games and levels. This is also the revenue engine of the game: it’s free to play, but the “whales” will be the game designers who will pay to buy more varied and interesting world-building ingredients.

What a nice surprise! Really looking forward to this, it comes out on 10/7. Although fair warning: While Mary and I were having coffee at Monorail Espresso (another great PAX refuge, that’s where we’re sitting as I type this!), we ran into some friends who had DL’d the beta a while ago and said it was so buggy it was unplayable. Let’s hope the in-game experience is smooth in the released version.

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