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Hands On With Project Spark, Xbox One Beta Live Today

Last week, we got hands-on time with Team Dakota’s world-building platform Project Spark. Not only did we experience some of the creations that people have been building in the PC beta, but we saw the Xbox One version in action.

After a short video featuring many community creations, executive producer Saxs Persson and designer Claude Jerome took us through some of what players have been building since the beta began in December 2013. To date, there are 55,000 beta participants with over 6,000 creations available on the service.

These include game prototypes like a pinball table made of logs, a long stovepipe plunger, and various other pieces of the fantasy tool kit. We also played a devilishly difficult Super Meat Boy style platformer called Blaze Jumper, requiring precise wall jumps and countless deaths on spikes.

There are also concept pieces like Colour. This artistic experience takes players across a watercolor landscape just to see the sights. As you might expect when players get their hands on a toolkit like Project Spark, there are also homages and recreations.

Game of Thrones fans can walk through a replica of King’s Landing. Fable fans can relive the opening moments of the original title’s Oakvale childhood sequence, complete with quests and dialog. There are action RPGs with steampunk flare and even an Asteroids clone with an option to enable the traditional vector graphics. 

When Project Spark’s Xbox One beta goes live today, all of these creations will be available for players to download. You can also provide feedback, leave comments, follow creators, and mark your favorite levels for a quick return. 

Project Spark makes use of the Xbox One’s Internet Explorer app, and you can move back and forth between the two easily, including launching creations from the website. Persson and Jerome tell us that creations are often handed off from player to player. 

For instance, one person might take a town square as far as he/she wants. Others can download it, remix it, and make their enhanced version available. Users are starting to specialize in different type of creations, further enhancing Project Spark’s utility as a toolkit.

One thing that hasn’t been possible before the Xbox One beta are custom animations and voice overs. Using the Kinect camera, players can add personality to characters. As an example, Jerome loaded up a dance party and selected a character template for me. 

As terrible a dancer as I am, the Kinect picked up subtle movements like a jutted hip, raised eyebrows, and open mouth. Where the original Kinect would get confused as hands passed over one another, the new camera was able to mimic my pathetic disco moves perfectly.

Animations can then be edited for optimal looping, and different movements can be tasked to different controller buttons. Persson and Jerome also showed the value of props. For instance, the Kinect won’t pick up a chair, so sitting on one and moving can easily be made to look like falling as the model appears to be floating.

The duo also shared some tricks. For instance, attaching props to a human skeletal form can be used to create monsters. Recording sound effects from a phone, for instance, through the Kinect can help create roars, gurgles, and unearthly screams. Project Spark makes a better case for Kinect as a gaming device than most of what has been released for either version of the peripheral.

Just as people are creating gameplay and environments, the Xbox One beta will give a crop of character creators a chance to more fully develop elements for others to use. Nothing will be wiped, so all of the creations in progress now will be available in perpetuity.

Project Spark will be free to play, with the fantasy toolset part of the initial download. Other kits, including the deserts, castles, snowy terrain, and more are available for purchase now. These building sets run between $1.50 and $10. The team likens these to digital LEGO sets. 

There is also an in-game currency that is earned through building and playing. It’s possible to acquire all of the themes just by playing. “It’s like LEGO, but with frequent flier miles,” Persson tells us.

Team Dakota expects to quickly ramp up participants from 55,000 to 1 million. If you haven’t yet received a beta invitation, chances are there will be more opportunities soon as the population grows twenty-fold. 

Project Spark does not have a narrowed release window yet, but you can expect it some time this year. Since there’s no NDA and Twitch support is coming to Xbox One soon, even if you don’t get in the beta, expect to see more soon.

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