Project Spark Tutorial – Making Your First Game

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Of Sparks and Squirrels

Have you ever wanted to build your very own game? Well, if you’ve got an Xbox One or PC, then a great place to start taking those first few adventurous steps into the game creation process is Project Spark. Developed by Team Dakota, Project Spark is essentially the Microsoft equivalent of Sony’s Little Big Planet series, with a healthy splash of Halo‘s Forge mode thrown in for good measure. In other words, the game is a free-form games builder that provides players with a simple palette of tools from which they can craft a surprisingly large variety of games and worlds to play in.

You’d be forgiven for thinking that a game that mixes elements from both a futuristic sci-fi FPS’s multiplayer editing suite, and the wackiness and carefree creative abandon of a cute but world building game would be a total disaster. However, that’s not the case; Project Spark is one of the hidden gems on the Xbox One, and well worth a look if you’ve got some creative virtual muscles to flex. Whether you want to recreate your all-time favourite platformer in minute detail, indulge in some creative landscaping or create your very own gaming masterpiece from scratch, Project Spark is a great place for budding games developers to start tinkering away. You can even upload your creations so others can play through them, and likewise download other players’ content and remix it to your heart’s content.

The game originally launched in December of 2013 as an open beta on PC, but started to gain more momentum in March 2014 when it launched on Xbox One. At the time, Minecraft had yet to make the generational leap from the Xbox 360 to the Xbox One, so Project Spark found itself in the rather fortuitous position of being the only major world-creation game on Microsoft’s new console.

Conker Project Spark

Since Minecraft’s release however, things have been rather quiet on the Project Spark front…so just why is it exactly that I’m writing about it over a year later? Well, the first part of Conker’s Big Reunion just released yesterday, that’s why. A sequel game of sorts to the N64’s Conker’s Bad Fur Day, Big Reunion is an episodic adventure set within Project Spark (as paid DLC) which stars everyone’s favourite boozy squirrel in a quest to pay off a rather hefty bar tab he’s steadily accrued.

While I have to say that, personally, I would have much preferred to get a complete brand new stand-alone Conker game, I’m just pleased that we’re getting more Conker content at all, even if it is delivered in a bit of a fiddly piecemeal fashion. Bad Fur Day was a much-loved game during the twilight years of the N64 (later re-released as Conker: Live & Reloaded on the original Xbox), so a continuation of the franchise will hopefully give fans a further incentive to go back to Spark if they’ve been away, or try it out for the first time.

What’s interesting about this IP crossover is that once you’ve finished romping around in the main Big Reunion content, you have the option to have a pop at making your own Conker game…well, at a price anyway. You see, Project Spark functions as a free-to-play title, albeit one that is rather heavy on microtransactions – you can download and start playing the game with the main creation toolset, but you’ll find that certain cosmetic items and features are locked behind pay walls. Yes, this does mean that unless you start shelling out cold hard cash for items other than the basic starting props, everything you make does tend to look a bit Fable-esque (whether you want it to or not), but the good news is that all the important features of the game are free. Besides, with some clever design and imagination, players have even found clever ways to turn the default cutesy artstyle and bright colour palettes into effective vehicles for horror games – check out the faithful recreation of P.T. by user SpawnN8NE for a good (and spooky) example.

So, if you wanting to specifically make your own particular nuanced recreation of The Great Mighty Poo boss battle from Bad Fur Day, then you’re going to have to pick up Conker DLC assests, roll up your sleeves and prepare to get your hands dirty. If, however, you’re just wanting to get stuck in to Project Spark and have a pop at making your own game, then I might just be able to help you out.

The following guide will show you how to make a very basic game in Project Spark on the Xbox One without spending a penny on extra aesthetics. We’re going to go through step-by-step how to make a simple 3D platforming game, with coins to collect and enemies to beat along the way to the goal. Okay, so let’s get started. To the main menu…and beyond!

A Whole New World

Once you’ve started the game up, and the flashy introduction sequence has finished, you should be faced with a menu that looks like this (Figure 1):

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Figure 1: The main menu screen.

Use the d-pad/left stick over the Create option and press A to select it. One thing to note here is that if this is your first time playing Project Spark, the menu items and your onscreen cursor may be faintly outlined and look like the display shown in Figure 2 below:

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Figure 2: Some of the icons can be quite faint and translucent at first, but once selected they become solid and opaque like in Figure 1 above.

Don’t worry; this just means that you haven’t ‘activated’ each option yet (the game’s way of awarding XP or experience points, which you can use to unlock new things). All you have to do is move your (unhelpfully faint) cursor to your desired choice press the A button to activate it; the selected choice will change to a bright green colour and a short verbal prompt from the in-game narrator will play. So if you can’t see where your cursor bracket is at first, don’t panic; press A and you’ll be able to see it turn green on whichever options it’s currently over.

Okay, so to recap, with the Create option highlighted, press the A button and you should now be whisked away to a screen that looks like this:

Figure 3: Select the far left option, Empty World and press the A button.

Figure 3: Select the far left option, Empty World and press the A button.

Move the cursor to the far left option, Empty World, and press A. This will generate a new world template for you to customise to your heart’s content. You should now see a screen that looks like this, complete with a small chap in a yellow shirt – this will be our playable character in the game, but before we get to him, let’s run through the basic cursor and camera controls, and two of the main creation tools. He’ll still be there waiting patiently for us, so there’s no rush, take your time!

Lights, Camera, Cursor

Figure 4: The yellow circular ball you see is the cursor - in this case, it is currently set on the Paint tool.

Figure 4: The yellow sphere you can see is the cursor – in this case, it is currently set on the PAINT tool.

The game will give you a quick tutorial on how to move and control the cursor and camera; the cursor is the big yellow sphere that’s currently around the character and is controlled with the left stick. The camera can be rotated using the right stick, or ‘orbited’ as the game likes to fancily put it, around your cursor so you can see what’s around your cursor at different angles. You can also zoom in and out with the camera by clicking in the right stick – there’s a close, medium and far setting, and you cycle through them in that order with each click. I’d recommend leaving the camera zoomed in close for the time being so you can clearly see what you’re doing, but go with whatever zoom setting works best for you.

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Figure 5: The right stick controls the camera angles and zoom level.

You can also control the height of the cursor by pressing X to make it go down, and alternatively you can press Y to make it go up. Nice and simple!

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Figure 6: The X and Y buttons control the height of the cursor; X goes down, Y goes up.

Have a go now at practising with the cursor and camera controls. Once you’re feeling ready and you’ve got these basic controls under your belt, we can start our game by making a nice big area of land to build it on.

At The Mountains Of Madness

Okay, so we can move the cursor around using the left stick, look at it from different angles using the right stick, and control its in-game height by using X to go lower and Y to go higher. Let’s use our newly acquired giant yellow cursor ball skills to make some mountains.

Press the A button – this will extend the PAINT tool side bar on the left hand side of the screen, to show that it is the currently selected choice. We will do some painting soon, don’t worry, but first we’re going to make some land to put our paint on. Press down on the d-pad/left stick once to highlight the SCULPT toolset, and press the A button on Expand option (the first option in the SCULPT menu).

Figure 7: Press the A button to extend the PAINT option from the left hand side of the screen...

Figure 7: Press the A button to extend the PAINT option from the left hand side of the screen…

Figure 8: ...and press down on the d-pad/left stick once to get to the SCULPT options - Expand will be the first highlighted choice.

Figure 8: …and press down on the d-pad/left stick once to get to the SCULPT options – Expand will be the first highlighted choice.

The cursor will now change to a clear circle with an orange outline, to show that we’re currently in the SCULPT toolset. Expand lets us use the cursor to raise the terrain within the reach of the cursor by holding the right trigger, and lower it using the left trigger. Holding the left bumper brings up the Expand edit menu, and you’ll see that you have a few more variables with which to tweak the Expand tool. Scale changes the size of the cursor’s area, Shape changes the shape of the cursor (you can choose a square shape or cylinder as different cursor shapes) and Intensity controls how subtle or extreme you want the change in terrain to be. You can move between these variables by continuing to keep the left bumper held and moving the d-pad/left stick right and left, and you can change the numerical value of each variable by keeping the left bumper held and moving the right stick up or down. Phew, that’s a lot of directions and button presses to learn, but here comes the fun part, trust me.

Press the right trigger to create a raised area of land; we want a fairly large area to use for our game, so I’d recommend tweaking the Expand tool’s edit menu settings to about 40% Scale and 80% Intensity. Don’t worry about our character in the yellow shirt, he’s a tough little fellow and will be fine if you move terrain around and under his feet. Pressing the left trigger lowers the land with the same settings that we set for Scale, Intensity etc. so you can create varying landscapes of your choice – mountains, valleys, canyons, you name it. Don’t forget you can click in the right stick to cycle through the three zoom modes so you can get a good look at your landscape at different distances to get a sense of its size and scale.

Keep on using Expand by pressing the right trigger until you have something that looks roughly like the picture below – for simplicity’s sake, let’s make a basic long strip of land on which to build our game. Don’t worry, it doesn’t have to be exactly like the picture below so feel free to use your imagination if you want to design a different landscape.

Figure 9: Make a nice big long strip of land - quite clearly the most mind-blowing shape ever conceived by professional landscapers.

Figure 9: Make a nice big long strip of land – quite clearly the most mind-blowing shape ever conceived by professional landscapers.

Also, don’t worry too much about mistakes – Project Spark allows you to quickly go back and undo any errors you’ve made by pressing the View button so you can quickly undo a wrong move. Whenever you make an action, a coloured bar will appear at the bottom of the screen to signify that you are taking an action. The colour of the bar signifies the type of actions you’re making; Orange signifies actions performed in SCULPT or PAINT, green represents actions made in BIOME (the topmost toolset, used for putting vegetation onto your created landscapes) and actions taken in the PROP toolset (used for putting items into your game world) appear as blue on the bar. We’re currently using the Expand tool which is part of the SCULPT toolset menu, so the bar is orange to match the orange SCULPT colour scheme.

You can keep pressing the View button each time you want to go back and undo your steps in reverse order, or can also hold the View button and move the right stick left and right to scrub backwards and forwards along the orange bar to edit out your mistakes instead. Once you’re happy with your newly created chunk of land, it’s time to get your paintbrushes ready as we’re going back to the PAINT tool next.

Painting & Decorating

Right then, we’ve got a nice big slab of land on our screens, now it’s time to slap a nice coat of paint on it…and by paint I mean a coat of lush green vegetation, not your regular tin of Dulux.

Press the A button and then press up on the d-pad/left stick to go back to the PAINT tool, and then press A again to select it. This will bring up the PAINT palette menu at the bottom of the screen, directly above the orange undo bar, and your screen should now look a little something like this.

Figure 10: The PAINT tool palette menu - note the middle box in Free Slots (the left most category) is selected as the current paint.

Figure 10: The PAINT tool palette menu – note the middle box in Free Slots (the left most category) is selected as the current paint.

Press right and left on the d-pad to select what sort of foliage-themed ‘paint’ you’d like using the little glowing white cursor in the paint menu, located just above the orange undo menu. For our example, let’s go with the nice grassy looking second paint choice in Free Slots, as indicated in Figure 10 above.

Like with the Expand tool, hold the right trigger and move the left stick to paint your strip of land a nice leafy green with the cursor. You can also bring up the edit menu for the PAINT tool by holding down the left bumper and tweaking the variables for the tool in the same way we did for Expand; with left bumper held down, move between the options by using left and right on the d-pad/ left stick, and increase/decrease the value of the selected option by pressing up or down on the right stick. Pressing left trigger will ‘unpaint’ an area, so you can revert any areas you aren’t happy with back to the default blue colour if you want.

You should now be the proud owner of a lovely green strip of land like the one in Figure 11 below. Again, not to worry if yours is slightly different; as Bob Ross often said, we don’t make mistakes, just happy accidents.

Figure 11: Note the paint selected for the path is the fourth choice in Temperate Woodland section of the PAINT palette.

Figure 11: Note the paint selected for the path is the fourth choice in Temperate Woodland section of the PAINT palette.

Before we move on, let’s paint a path from one end of the island to the other for our hero to travel on. Let’s select the fourth paint in Temperate Woodland as a nice rural-looking choice of path.

Your grassy island, complete with a weather-beaten path, should look something like Figure 12 below; again albeit with your own personal little quirks and artistic flourishes of course.

Figure 12: Your very own island, complete with grass and path.

Figure 12: Your very own island, complete with grass and path.

Prop Goes The Weasel

So, we’ve done some painting, let’s crack on with decorating the island with some props – items and objects that we can put in our game. Press A to bring up the side menu bar, and move down to the PROP toolset option, and select the first highlighted choice, Add & Edit Props, by pressing the A button. This will bring up the PROP tool’s palette menu, which will take the place of the PAINT palette menu at the bottom of the screen.

Figure 13: The Add & Edit Props tool allows you to... you guessed it, add & edit props!

Figure 13: The Add & Edit Props tool allows you to…you guessed it, add & edit props!

The Add & Edit Props tool allows you to add and tweak the props and items you want to place in your game, and it’s where you can start to customise the look and feel of your game. Before we move on, let’s move our character to the start of our path so he’ll be ready to set off on his quest. To do this, having selected Add & Edit Props with the A button, hover the cursor (now a small blue crosshair-like circle) over him, and press the right trigger. Now, moving the left stick, you can move your character to your desired placement spot – let’s stick him at the far left of our path; we’ll put some more items at the right end of the path, along with our goal.

Figure 14: Placing the character on the path. Note how the preview window at the top of the screen changes when you press B to place your character. This gives you an idea of how the game will immediately look to players from their perspective when they start playing.

Figure 14: Placing the player character on the path. Note how the preview window at the top of the screen changes when you press B to place your character. This gives you an idea of how the game will immediately look to players from their perspective when they start playing.

Once you’re happy with your character’s placement, first press the left trigger to snap your character to your freshly painted ground – this means that your hero won’t end up stuck in the ground when you start to play, which, let’s face it, wouldn’t be an awful lot of fun. Snapping your character to a surface, or any other object or prop, is just an easy way of getting the game to automatically attach the item you want to the desired surface you’re wanting them to stand on, in a single neat button press.

Once you’ve pressed left trigger to snap your character, press the B button to set the new position and drop your character into place. You’ll notice in Figure 14 above that when you press B to set your character’s position, the character preview window at the top of the screen will change to show the new starting position of the player when you play the game.

So our character is in place ready to start the game, let’s add in a nice big tree at the other end of our island as some pleasant scenery. We’re still in the Add & Edit Props tool, so simply press up on the d-pad to open up the prop gallery. The prop palette just displays a small selection of the most commonly used props here, not the full catalogue of goodies on offer in the gallery, so I’ll show you how to search in the full prop gallery screen (see Figure 15 below).

Figure 15: The Add & Edit Props gallery selection screen. Note that the top left green highlighted box shows that we're currently looking at a selection of props in the objects category.

Figure 15: The Add & Edit Props gallery selection screen. Note that the top left green highlighted box shows that we’re currently looking at a selection of props in the objects category.

Here, we can select objects, characters, effects and lots of other fascinating things to put in our game. All the props are divided up into different categories – you’ll see each category is highlighted in the top left corner with a symbol and matching text. To cycle through the different categories of props, first press up on the d-pad/left stick to move the cursor to the symbols at the top left of the screen, and then press left and right on the d-pad/left stick to move through them, using the A button to select the category you want.

We want a tree, which is in the object section, so as it’s the default category that loads up, you can just simply scroll through all the choices by pressing/holding right on the d-pad/left stick. However, as there’s quite a lot of objects to choose from, that would take quite a lot of time, so let’s do something quicker! Move the d-pad/left stick to the right and then up, so that the green cursor is over the search bar, the small blue rectangular box at the top right of the screen displaying the text Begin typing to search. Press the A button, and then use the virtual keyboard to enter the word ‘tree’ before pressing the Menu button to begin the search.

Figure 16: The search bar is a handy way to search for a specific prop.

Figure 16: The search bar is a handy way to search for a specific prop.

This will bring up all the objects that have been tagged as trees by the game. Let’s go with the majestic Woodland Tree – Old B as the tree of choice for our game, which can be seen below in Figure 17. Move the cursor over the tree and select it by pressing the A button.

Figure 17: We'll use this tree, 'Woodland Tree - Old B' as a prop in our game.

Figure 17: We’ll use the Woodland Tree – Old B as a prop in our game.

You’ll now see a massive blue outline of the tree in the game. Looks like we’ve picked a particularly epic tree! Using the left stick, move the tree to where you want to place it in the game – for our example, let’s put it at the far right of your island. We place the tree in a very similar manner to the way we placed our character – once you’re happy with its position, press the left trigger to snap the tree to the ground (the roots will disappear and be below the ground, but much like with trees in real life, that’s normal), but this time, press right trigger to put the tree into the game instead of the B button. The reason for this is that pressing the right trigger creates a new object from the selected prop, for example the tree we’ve just placed, from scratch. When we placed our character on the path, he already was in the game to start with, so rather than making another character by pressing right trigger, we pressed the B button to just set his new position instead.

Figure 18: Move the tree to where you want it to go...

Figure 18: Move the tree to where you want it to go…

Figure 19: ...press L to snap it to the ground...

Figure 19: …press L to snap it to the ground…

Figure 20: ...and press right trigger to place it in the game. Voila! You've just planted your first tree!

Figure 20: …and press right trigger to place it in the game. Voila! You’ve just planted your first tree!

Okay, so we’ve got a nice leafy tree in our game. Let’s add a few more things to the game and then we can play it – we’re nearly there now!

Money, Money, Money

All the classic video game characters were usually obsessed with a single thing back in the early 1990s – money. Mario has always been obsessed about grabbing as many coins as possible while stomping on Koopa Troopas, and Sonic was always on the hunt for golden rings (presumably to send off to Cash 4 Gold for a nice hefty sum, the cheeky swine), so we’ll go with the same age-old video game goal – collect the coins and get to the goal! First let’s put in some nice shiny golden coins for our character to collect.

Open up the Add & Edit Props tool’s gallery menu screen again by pressing up on the d-pad. This time, let’s go to the search bar and search for ‘coin’.

Once the search results have loaded, you should just have two choices of coin props available – a Coin and a Coin Pile. Let’s resist the urge to go for the Coin Pile (as tempting as it is) and press the A button to select the Coin.

Figure 21: Try your best to resist the coin pile...it's difficult I know.

Figure 21: Try your best to resist the Coin Pile…it’s difficult, I know.

Using the same steps we used to put the tree on our island, place a line of coins along the path up to the base of the tree for our hero to collect. Use left trigger to snap the coins to the ground, and press right trigger to place a coin on the current spot the cursor is on. If you hold left bumper, like we saw with EXPAND and PAINT earlier, you can bring up the edit menu for the current prop you’re holding. We can change size of the coins if we wish using Scale, and there are options to rotate them so you can choose which direction they face. Don’t worry too much about their direction though; like any good video game coin worth it’s money (sorry, had to get that one in there), they rotate on the spot so you can just focus on where you want to place them. If you make a mistake and place a coin in the wrong spot, don’t forget you can either undo it by pressing the view button, or you can hover the cursor over the offending coin, hold the left bumper and press the X button to delete it.

Figure 22: This looks just like the tale of Hansel and Gretel, only with cold hard cash instead of breadcrumbs.

Figure 22: This looks just like the story of Hansel and Gretel – only with cold hard cash instead of breadcrumbs.

Hoblin’ Goblins

We’re nearly ready to test our game, but first, let’s make things a bit more difficult for our character; we’ll give him some goblins to fight off along the way! These goblins will not be best pleased that the player will be trying to collect the coins we’ve just put down and will attack when the player gets too close!

Once you’re happy with your trail of coins, open up the Add & Edit Props gallery screen again by pressing up on the d-pad. The screen will still be displaying results for our earlier coin search, so first we need to go to the search bar again, press the A button to bring up the keyboard, and this time delete the word coin by pressing the X button, followed by the Menu button. This will clear the search results and let us search the full catalogue of props again. Move your cursor to the top left of the screen, and over the character tab (indicated by the silhouette of a head), pressing the A button to select it.

The character tab contains, surprise, surprise, a selection of characters you can put into your game. From here, you can choose characters both to play as, and also put other characters into your game for you to fight against/interact with. We’re going to be controlling the man with the yellow shirt already standing on our island, so let’s pick the green Shrek-like Goblin Bruiser as our enemy template by moving the green cursor over him and pressing the A button.

Figure 23: Meet the Goblin Bruiser; lover of coins, hater of adventurers in yellow shirts

Figure 23: Meet the Goblin Bruiser; lover of coins, hater of adventurers in yellow shirts.

You’ll now have the blue outline of the goblin as your cursor, just like when we placed the tree and the coins. Let’s place 3 goblins in the grass along our path; spread them out a bit so they don’t all bother you at once! I recommend putting one at the start near your character, one somewhere in the middle, and another at the far end near the tree. You’ll also want your goblins to be facing your character; we have to give the goblins a fighting chance after all. Move your first goblin to where you want it to go, and before you place it, hold down left bumper to bring up the edit menu for the goblin, move the cursor over Rotate Y (short for Y-axis) using the d-pad/left stick and then rotate the right stick so the green directional symbol that appears on the ground is facing your character.

Figure 24: Although the green symbol is a bit vague, if you line it up with the rough direction of your character it'll make the goblin face towards him.

Figure 24: Although the green symbol is a bit vague, if you line it up with the rough direction of your character it’ll make the goblin face towards him.

Remember once you’ve got your goblin in it’s desired spot and it’s facing the right way, do the usual routine of pressing left trigger to snap it to the ground, followed by right trigger to place it. Repeat this process for as many goblins as you want, and like I said earlier, three is probably a good number.

Figure 25: The goblins are ready and in position, time to test the game out!

Figure 25: The goblins are ready and in position – time to test the game out!

Once you’ve got your three goblins in place in the grass guarding their trail of coins on the path, let’s test out our game so far! Press the Menu button to bring up the pause screen. Here, you can see options to save your game, get in-game tutorials and, perhaps most importantly of all, test your game. Move the cursor over the Test option and press the A Button.

Figure 26: Test let's you leap straight into your game and test out how it's coming along.

Figure 26: Test lets you leap straight into your game and test out how it’s coming along.

Now you’re able to play and test out your very own game. Run along the path, collect the coins and get the goblins! The default pre-set controls for our yellow-clad hero are:

Button Function
A Jump
B Forward roll dodge
X Melee attack
Y Fireball attack (projectile)
Left Stick Move character
Right Stick Move Camera
Figure 27: Use the X button to perform a close-range melee attack. Take that!

Figure 27: Use the X button to perform a close-range melee attack. Take that!

As you move down the path collecting coins, and you start to get close to each goblin, they will come towards you to attack – which is why it’s a good idea to spread them out a bit, you don’t want all three angry goblins wandering over to hit you at once! Having said that, if you keep an eye on the red health meter in the top left of the screen, you’ll see that they don’t do very much damage, and if you mash the X button on each one you should be able to take them down very easily.

Figure 28: Pressing the Y button launches a fireball attack you can hit goblins with from afar. Endokuken!

Figure 28: Pressing the Y button launches a fireball attack you can hit goblins with from afar. Endokuken!

See how you feel about the placement of your coins and goblins – I had to test my map out a number of times as I had trouble placing the coins in a straight line (pretty basic I know, I settled for a gentle curve instead), and some of my goblins were a bit too far away from the path for my liking (those pesky creatures) so don’t worry if things aren’t how you like them at first – you can press start and then select Edit at any time to go back to the create screen, which is the screen we’ve been doing all of our, yep, yeah you guessed it, creating and editing in so far. Keep going back and forth between Test and Edit until you are happy with the layout of your game so far.

 Kode Talker

Figure 29: Goblins, coins and a tree, for as far as the eye can see.

Figure 29: Goblins, coins and a tree, for as far as the eye can see.

Let’s recap. We’ve made an island, we’ve painted it with grass and a path and we’ve planted a big tree for decoration. We’ve added coins to collect, goblins to bash and we’ve tried out our game using the Test function in the pause menu and gone back to tweak it using the Edit function in the pause menu. All that’s left to add for our 3D platformer masterpiece is a goal – an endpoint that marks the end of the game.

Once again, let’s look back to some of those original classic games from the NES and Megadrive era to guide our inspirations. What did Mario always find at the end of his levels? Aside from the disappointment of being greeted by yet another Toad and the news that the princess was in another castle, Mario would find a flagpole, so we’ll take a leaf (albeit not a super leaf from Super Mario Bros. 3 that would turn us into racoons) out of his book and use a flag as our end of level goal too!

Figure 30: Choose the village flag - it's basic, but free.

Figure 30: Choose the Village Flag – it’s basic, but free.

First of all, let’s put a flag of our own into the game. Again, to quickly recap, you can do this by pressing the A button to open the side menu, scrolling your cursor down using the d-pad/left stick to the PROP option and pressing the A button again to select the Add & Edit Props tool. Then, scroll your cursor up to the search bar and type in ‘flag’. We’ll use the Village Flag for our goal. Place the flag at the far end of the path, in front of the tree, like in Figure 31 below. Don’t forget the usual routine of snapping the flag using left trigger and placing it using right trigger.

Figure 31: X marks the spot...well, no actually, the flag does. My bad.

Figure 31: X marks the spot…well, no actually, the flag does. My bad.

Okay, so we have a flag to use as a goal, but what next? We have to open up the flag’s brain – yes, really! Don’t worry, it’s not a gooey pink brain I’m talking about; every object in Project Spark has an AI brain which can be programmed to do different things. In our case, we want to program our game to end once we touch the flag. Move your cursor over the flag, hold left bumper and press the Y button to bring up the Brain editor.

Figure 32: Time to open up this flag's brain for surgery...STAT!

Figure 32: Time to open up this flag’s brain for surgery…STAT!

If your blood turned to ice when you read the word program, don’t worry! Project Spark uses a system called ‘Koding’ (woah, the crazy spelling must mean it’s cool, or extremely violent) which lets you program without having to know how to write and read code. You just have to learn how to read Kode instead, but as you’ll see, it’s quite straightforward. All the Kode programing works like an ‘if-then’ statement – once you open the brain of a flag, you’ll see two boxes, a blue WHEN box, and a green DO box. The WHEN box is the the equivalent of if, and the DO is the equivalent of then:

WHEN these criteria are met, DO this action.

All of this sounds quite complicated I know, but in practice it becomes quite easy. First of all, we need to tell the flag when the player reaches it. Press the A button on the + symbol to the right of the WHEN box.

Figure 33: The brain editor screen, displaying the blank first page of the flag's brain. Let's fill it up with Kode.

Figure 33: The Brain editor screen, displaying the blank first page of the flag’s brain. Let’s fill it up with Kode.

Then go to Sensors  bump.

Figure 34: This first bit of Kode tells the flag to recognise when an object touches it.

Figure 34: This first bit of Kode tells the flag to recognise when an object touches it.

You’ll see that the bump criteria we’ve just been coding has appeared in the blue WHEN box. Next, click on the same blue + symbol again and this time go to ObjectsPlayer.

Figure 35: This new bit of Kode we've added means that the flag will now recognise when specifically the player touches it.

Figure 35: This new bit of Kode we’ve added means that the flag will now recognise when specifically the player touches it.

This line of Kode now means that when the player touches the flag, something happens. We want that something to be for the player to have won the game and for it to finish.

Now move across to the green + symbol on the DO box and press the A button.

Figure 36: Move the cursor across to the right and select the green DO + sign with the A button to start programing the DO response.

Figure 36: Move the cursor across to the right and select the green DO + sign with the A button to start programing the DO response.

Then, press right bumper to display the second page of brain options. Select Brainsswitch page.

Figure 37: The switch page instruction is the first step in telling the flag's brain what to do next.

Figure 37: The switch page instruction is the first step in telling the flag’s brain what to do next.

This means the game will stop running instructions on one page and will move to another once the player reaches the flag – in our case, the instructions for finishing the game. An object’s brain can only run one set of instructions at once – as Project Spark says itself in one of the tutorials:

“Switching Pages is like changing states; like going from being asleep to being awake. You can’t be both at once”.

Once we’ve finished contemplating Project Spark‘s philosophical musings on the finer technicalities of human sleep, we need to again press the A button on the green DO + symbol to tell the game which next page of Kode to switch to.

Press right bumper, select Brains, and then next page. Your first brain page of Kode should look now like this:

Figure 38: The next page instruction combined with the previous switch page command tells the flag's brain to move to a new brain page to start the game over sequence.

Figure 38: The next page instruction combined with the previous switch page command tells the flag’s brain to move to a new brain page to start the game over sequence.

From this screen, press right bumper to switch to the new brain page. You can see which page you’re currently on by looking at the numbers at the top of the screen just above and to the left of the blue search bar. On this new brain page, we’re going to tell the game what to do once the player reaches the flag.

This time, instead of editing the blue WHEN side first, scroll the cursor right to the green DO + symbol and press the A button to select it. We’re going to get the game to display a victory message when the player reaches the flag. Select AppearanceDisplaydisplay.

Figure 39: This first Kode instruction will tell the game to display something - but what?

Figure 39: This first Kode instruction will tell the game to display something – but what?

Selecting the green DO+ symbol again, go to Values Textnew text, and enter what text you want the player to see once they reach the flag – let’s go with ‘Congratulations!’ for our example. Press the Menu button once you’re happy with your text.

Figure 40: Enter your message and press Menu.

Figure 40: Enter your message and press Menu.

Your screen will now look like this:

Figure 41: This means the game will display our message - but where?

Figure 41: This means that the game will display our message – but where?

Now we need to tell the game where to display our text when the player touches the flag. Once again, on the same line, press the A button on the green DO + symbol and then select ModifersPositioning Screen Locationscreen centre (the button onscreen actually reads screen center, but I refuse to bow to the American spelling). Your screen will now look like this:

Figure 42: This line now means the game will display the text in the centre of the screen, but we're not quite done with it yet.

Figure 42: This line now means the game will display the text in the centre of the screen, but we’re not quite done with it yet.

We have one more modifier to add to this line of code, and that’s to tell the game what size font we want the game to display our victory message in. We want the text to be nice and big, so it’s a fitting testament to the player’s skill at successfully navigating the deadly goblin-infested path they’ve just battled their way along.

That’s right, once again select the green DO + symbol by pressing A and then go to Modifiers Font Sizex-large font. You will now have a screen that looks like this:

Figure 43: Ta-da! The full line of Kode now means that the game will display the text in the centre of the screen in extra-large font. That's this line done and dusted!

Figure 43: Ta-da! The full line of Kode now means that the game will display the text in the centre of the screen in extra-large font. That’s this line done and dusted!

That’s the first line of Kode completed on the second brain page for the flag – together with our flag’s first brain page, the game will now understand to display the victory message once the player touches the flag. We’re not done yet though, we’ve still got a few lines of Kode to put into this brain to get a nice flashy ending sequence working, but we’re close to our finished game.

Move the d-pad/left stick down to the second line of Kode and press the A button on the second DO + symbol to select it. You can easily keep track of which line of Kode you’re currently on by looking at which line the horizontal blue cursor is on.

Figure 44: Move your cursor down to the second green DO + and select it with the A button to start inputting the second line of Kode. Nearly there!

Figure 44: Move your cursor down to the second green DO + and select it with the A button to start inputting the second line of Kode. Nearly there!

Then select AppearanceDisplayfade.

Figure 45: This first Kode instruction in the second line tells the game screen to fade to black.

Figure 45: This first Kode instruction in the second line tells the game screen to fade to black.

Next, select the DO + symbol on the second line again, and this time go to Modifers Transition Time.

Figure 46: This second Kode instruction tells the game to perform the fade out gradually rather than instantly, but on it's own it won't work; we still need to tell the game how long this will take in seconds.

Figure 46: This second Kode instruction tells the game to perform the fade out gradually rather than instantly, but on it’s own it won’t work; we still need to tell the game how long this will take in seconds.

After that, select the DO + symbol once more for this line and go to Values Numbernew number. Now we need to enter a time value (in seconds) for the length of time we want the screen fade to take. Let’s enter a value of ‘3’ and then press the Menu button.

Figure 47: Type in how long you want the fade to black transition to be. 3 seconds is a good amount, not too long, not too short - the goldilocks number!

Figure 47: Type in how long you want the fade to black transition to be. 3 seconds is a good amount, not too long, not too short – the goldilocks number!

Your completed second line of Kode will now look like this:

Figure 48: These two completed lines of Kode tell the game to display our victory text in the centre of the screen, and at the same time gradually fade to black over the course of 3 seconds once the player reaches the flag. It's nearly done!

Figure 48: These two completed lines of Kode tell the game to display our victory text in the centre of the screen, and at the same time gradually fade to black over the course of 3 seconds once the player reaches the flag. It’s nearly done!

This full second line now means that the game will take 3 seconds to fade out to black once the player touches the flag. We’re very nearly done, trust me! There’s just one last line of Kode to input, and it’s to tell the game to actually finish once the player touches the flag.

Move the cursor down using the d-pad/left stick and start a third line of Kode by pressing the A button on the green DO + symbol. Again, the blue horizontal lines of the cursor show you which line of Kode you’re currently selecting, and each line of Kode is numbered on the far left. Once you’ve pressed the A button on the DO + symbol, go to AppearanceDisplaygame over. This instruction will tell the game to end, but we also need to delay the ending so we can have chance to read the victory text.

Figure 49: The game over instruction ends the game, but we want it to sync up with our fadeout. We need two more pieces of Kode to get it all working together nicely.

Figure 49: The game over instruction ends the game, but we want it to sync up with our fadeout. We need two more pieces of Kode to get it all working together nicely.

The second to last step (very nearly done, don’t worry) is to move the d-pad/left stick to the left and select the blue WHEN (still on the third line), press the A button to select the + sign and then go to Timing and Logiccountdown timer.

Figure 50: The countdown timer instruction will delay the game over so it doesn’t happen immediately when the player touches the flag. We still need to tell the game how long to delay the game over for.

Figure 50: The countdown timer instruction will delay the game over so it doesn’t happen immediately when the player touches the flag. We still need to tell the game how long to delay the game over for.

Finally, press the A button to select the WHEN + symbol one more time and then go to ValuesNumbernew number to enter a value for the end of game timer. Let’s go with 3 again, so enter it using the virtual keyboard and press the Menu button to complete the last bit of kode for your first game.

Figure 51: Once again, enter our favourite number and press Menu - that's it!

Figure 51: Once again, enter our favourite number and press Menu – that’s it!

Speaking of victory messages, congratulations! You’ve just successfully created your very first Project Spark game. The final page of code for the second page of your flag’s now swelling brain will look like this:

Figure 52:  The flag's complete second page of Kode for our game over ending sequence. Combined with the first brain page of our flag, the game will now end and fade to black whilst displaying the victory message 3 seconds after the player has touched the flag.

Figure 52: The flag’s complete second page of Kode for our game over ending sequence. Combined with the first brain page of our flag, the game will now end and fade to black whilst displaying the victory message 3 seconds after the player has touched the flag.

Don’t forget to save your map by pressing the Menu button and then Save, and then Save As to give your game a special name, and use Save + Share to upload your masterpiece onto the Project Spark servers so your friends can download and play your game too. Once you’re happy with your game and it’s saved, go to Exit, and then select Play, and away you go!

Figure 53: You're now the proud owner of the world's brainiest flag. Well done!

Figure 53: You’re now the proud owner of the world’s brainiest flag. Well done!

If you want to download the map I’ve created whilst making this guide to tweak it, remix it, or simply destroy it, then from Project Spark‘s main menu go to Play, then Community, and search for ‘Everybody Plays Tutorial Game’ in the search bar at the top right of the screen.

Figure 54: Time to set out on your adventure! Have fun and thump some goblins for me! Don't forget to share your creations with your friends and see what they think of your game.

Figure 54: Time to set out on your adventure! Have fun and thump some goblins for me! Don’t forget to share your creations with your friends and see what they think of your game.

The steps we’ve gone through in this guide to make your own basic game are really only the tip of the iceberg. The worlds and games available to download from other Project Spark creators show off some remarkable skill and ingenuity in their design, which makes them a great place to learn new tips and tricks for your own creations. There’s also in-game tutorials that will teach you how to build games similar to the one we’ve just created, as well as several others that will guide you through how to build many different types of games. New content, help, items, tools and other bits and pieces are regularly added to the game via regular updates, so you shouldn’t run out of things to do or make any time soon.

I hope that this guide was helpful in getting you up and running with making your first game; perhaps it’ll be the initial spark (get it?) of inspiration to get you making many, many more.

56

Oddworld: New ‘n’ Tasty – Review

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(Reviewed on PS4 and Xbox One)

No Alf Measures With This Fresh Meat

17 years ago, the gaming world was presented with one of its most unlikely yet most loveable mascots. Blue, alien, dopey, and most certainly odd, Abe the Mudokon made his debut in Oddworld: Abe’s Oddysee, released in 1997 for the original PlayStation. Developed by Oddworld Inhabitants, figure-headed by series creators Lorne Lanning and Sherry McKenna, the game introduced players all over the world to the eponymous loveable blue stitch-lipped hero of the title, and his quest to save his enslaved Mudokon people from becoming tasty snacks at the…well, figurative hands at least, of the industrial Glukkons.

A 2D side-scrolling action adventure game, Oddysee was renowned at the time for its unique art direction, detailed environments, cinematic CG cutscenes, challenging difficulty, and, of course, its oddball characters. The game’s story followed Abe, a Mudokon slave labourer (think cute blue and green aliens with rather fetching ponytails) working as a lowly floor waxer in Rupture Farms; a shady and dangerous meat packing plant run by Molluck the Glukkon (think a purple suit wearing greedy Octopus and you’re on the right lines). Hard at work waxing the factory floors late one night, Abe eavesdrops in on a Glukkon profit meeting, only to discover that Mudokon slaves are next on the menu to be chopped up and served as tasty pie fillings. Yikes!

Hearing this fantastic news, our petrified hero goes on the run and begins his adventure. Over the course of the game, Abe escapes the meat plant, seeks out his hidden power by braving two shamanistic rites of passage out in the wilds of Eastern Mudos before returning to Rupture Farms to use his new-found power to free his fellow enslaved Mudokons. Simple right? Well, not quite. You see, as far as video game characters go, Abe was just a wee bit underpowered in comparison to your regular gun slinging action hero. Unlike your typical armed to the teeth space-marine clichés, he had no guns or any physical means of defending himself; instead, all you had to rely on were your quick wits, Abe’s handy but limited possession ability and his noisy bowel (seriously) to make it through each screen in one piece…and not in several smaller bloodier ones.

Anxious Abe

Abe, our loveable schmuck/hero finds out that Mudokons are next on the menu. Gulp!

Players would need to guide Abe on his journey through traps and environmental obstacles, and past trigger-happy guards and vicious wildlife all out to kill him in a variety of increasingly unpleasant ways. Because of his positioning as a hapless everyman-sort of character (only with far-from ordinary flatulence problems) Abe became a popular mascot for the PlayStation brand back in the late ’90s. A sequel, Oddworld: Abe’s Exoddus followed in 1998, before Oddworld Inhabitants moved development on new games in the series over to the big green Xbox machine, starting with Oddworld: Munch’s Oddysee in 2001 and later Oddworld: Stranger’s Wrath in 2005.

Anyway, I digress. Jump forward all those years to today, and our loveable blue chump has made the transition to PC and next-gen consoles in Oddworld: New ‘n’ Tasty – a complete HD remake of Abe’s Oddysee, with development this time being carried out by Otley-based studio Just Add Water. So, as Abe would say, “Follow me” and let’s get stuck in.

Boardroom

Molluck the Glukkon, along with the rest of Rupture Farms’ shady executives.

The gameplay in New ‘n’ Tasty is simple. Just like its 1997 predecessor, the aim of the game is to guide our hapless blue hero through each dangerous area alive. Landmines, trapdoors, electric chambers, meat grinders, flying landmines and many other horrific hazards are strewn liberally throughout the environments, usually in deadly combination with each other. Slig guards (think robotic trouser-wearing slugs with machine guns) march around with incredibly itchy trigger fingers, eager to mercilessly gun you down on sight, snickering loudly when they do (the swines), and dangerous wildlife that are more than happy to devour you become very present and real threats as you progress into the later levels. In other words, there’s a lot to worry about, and one wrong move is usually fatal.

However, it’s not just all about getting Abe out alive. Throughout the course of the game, you can choose to try and save as many fellow Mudokons as possible, simply ignore them, or, for those especially black-hearted gamers out there, actively go out of your way to kill them. How many you save/ignore/kill affects your Karma, or ‘Quarma’ as the game likes to call it, which ultimately influences which ending you’ll get. If navigating through all those previous hazards and enemies sounded difficult solo, trust me, it can be even harder with several Mudokons in tow. Saving your fellow Muds is tricky, but getting them to follow you is in fact incredibly easy; you just need to talk to them.

Chatting to your fellow Mudokons is done by using the ‘Gamespeak’ function; pressing the d-pad directional buttons when standing next to fellow Muds lets you interact using simple greetings and imperatives. This was a core feature of the original game, and it returns here with several small improvements, such as multiple variations on each response, and most importantly, a dynamic randomised library of fart sounds, which are both hilarious and actually essential to progression in certain areas of the game.

Additionally, this is the first of many fantastic improvements that Just Add Water have made to the original game. Whereas you could only give commands to one Mud at a time in Oddysee, you can now address multiple Muds at once in New ‘n’ Tasty – a feature which was only later introduced in Abe’s Exoddus. This removes a lot of the tedium that plagued the original game when you’d have to individually lead every single Mud in an area to the bird portal escape, before going back and braving all the obstacles you and your previous Mud just successfully navigated to do it all over again with the next escapee.

Bird Portal

Abe opening a bird portal for Mudokons to escape. Impressive stuff, feathery friends!

All the levels that you’ll be, running, jumping, sneaking and farting your way through have been carefully updated from the Oddysee, and some have been ever so slightly redesigned in order to better fit with the new screen mechanics. This is because one of the major changes from Abe’s Oddysee to New ‘n’ Tasty in terms of overall gameplay design is the conversion from a flip-screen camera to a scrolling one. In this sense, it’s almost like an entirely new game on a mechanical level, as all the original environments and puzzles have been built to accommodate this new change. It’s an incredibly awesome alteration to the original design that I absolutely adore; not only does it remove the small but irritating delays you’d get when moving from screen to screen in Oddysee, but it really helps the strange and wonderfully bizarre environments you’re moving through feel much more intricate and cohesive.

Don’t worry though, the new scrolling camera doesn’t suddenly make the game unfairly punishing. There’s plenty of ambient audio noises and helpful visual cues that clue you into what nearby enemies and hazards lie ahead so that you’re not constantly worried about bumping into some unseen threat that’s not currently onscreen. For example, the Sligs now have a radar-like scan ability on their visors, which keeps them challenging and effective with this new screen change; it effectively lets them search areas outside of their screen bounds. In the original, you could generally escape them by just running offscreen and hiding, whereas in New ‘n’ Tasty, they will give chase but now also stop to scan the environment when they lose you. It’s a cool mechanic, as it keeps them deadly and prevents you from running (and farting) rings around them without deviating too much from Oddysee‘s blueprint.

Slig Shooting

Watch out for Sligs, they can chase and scan for you offscreen now in New ‘n’ Tasty.

On a contrasting note, New ‘n’ Tasty does deviate from the original game’s template when it comes to difficulty, as there are now three difficulty modes to choose from when starting a new game. Rather than sticking slavishly to the Oddysee‘s challenging difficulty, which inspired Marmite style love it/hate it responses from gamers when it originally released, New ‘n’ Tasty opens things up for those completely new to the franchise. Although this might be something that returning hardcore fans of the Oddworld franchise might initially scoff at, in my opinion, offering the player a choice of difficulty options is a very considerate design decision.

On easy or medium difficulty, Abe has a health meter represented by a flock of birds (which can be viewed by pressing the Triangle/Y button), and can take a couple of bullets from a Slig before going down, as opposed to the one-shot kill of hard mode. It’s not a huge advantage; Abe still can’t take much punishment, and certain things will still kill in one hit, such as those annoying flying landmines, but this small concession to include a health meter makes many of the enemy encounters much more palatable for an unfamiliar and new audience.

Difficulty Select

The ability to choose your preferred difficulty level is a great move, giving newcomers to the series an accessible and gentler starting point without diluting the original challenge for returning hardcore fans.

New ‘n’ Tasty also implements an inspired solution to Oddysee’s spread out checkpoint system. The original game could feel incredibly punishing at times, often sending you a significantly long way back in a level upon each unlucky death. Thankfully then, the new game allows players to make their own ‘QuikSave’ checkpoints as they play, eliminating much of the frustration from a game in which difficulty and repeated deaths reign supreme. Simply tap the DualShock 4’s touchpad/Xbox One controller’s View button once to make a QuikSave, and then when things inevitably go wrong and you don’t quite time that jump right, or that pesky Slig manages to riddle Abe with bullets, never fear! Just hold the button down to instantly load your last QuikSave and you can seamlessly carry on as if that hideous yet darkly comedic death never happened.

This change to the checkpoint system doesn’t make the game significantly easier; it just makes it significantly more enjoyable to play. This is an Oddworld game afterall, and a violent death awaits Abe around every corner. Throughout your adventure with your loveable blue chum, Abe will get shot, electrocuted, minced by grinders, ripped apart by hostile wildlife and experience many other pleasant ways to go; being able to cut out the tedium of having to wait for a lengthy checkpoint load lends the game a more fast paced and arcade-y feel which suits it perfectly.

Speaking of hideously comical deaths, the fun and humour in New ‘n’ Tasty feels much more prominent this time round compared to the original game (hell, even the online manual is a hilarious read). The new ragdoll physics in play now mean that when things do go wrong (and trust me, they often do), the results are gloriously daft. Seeing Abe get shot mid-leap by a Slig, only to then flop down onto a tightly-packed pile of landmines below is both humiliating and amusing in equal measure. Abe in particular looks and moves with such charm, and the way the hideous Scrabs now barrel after you with a frightening, lurching gallop will make even the most hardcore of returning Oddworld fans tremble in their Mudokon loincloths. You will die a lot whilst playing New ‘n’ Tasty, but you’ll also be cracking up just as much, as each fantastically ridiculous demise plays out before you.

Scrab

Abe face to…well, beak, with a fearsome Scrab.

Graphically, it’s a real treat to see the game running in a buttery 60 frames per second. Having played the game on both the PS4 and Xbox One, it’s worth pointing out here that while the PS4 version remained smooth throughout, the Xbox One version did seem to repeatedly struggle to keep at steady 60. I’m no expert on framerates and I have a hard time distinguishing frame rate dips and such with the naked eye, but playing both versions of the game side by side, things did feel noticeably slower and not quite as snappy on the Xbox side of things unfortunately. However, it’s only a small disappointment, and the gameplay still manages to feel fast and enjoyable on both platforms (I haven’t personally played the PC version, but I’m sure that it’s probably closer to the PS4 version in terms of smoothness).

The Oddworld games are known for the grotesquely beautiful art direction, and New ‘n’ Tasty absolutely delivers on that front. It’s one of the first things that you’ll notice when you fire up the game, and it creates a pleasantly weird dichotomy; the levels look at once both nostalgically familiar yet also excitingly different, bursting with a vibrancy and brightness that the original sorely lacked. Even the menu screen looks fantastic, which displays Abe in all his HD glory.

Rupture Farms Escape

Even the interior shots of Rupture Farms look really vibrant and colourful.

All of New ‘n’ Tasty’s environments have been painstakingly recreated in a full 3D engine (Unity to be precise), as opposed to the pre-rendered backdrops of Oddysee, and the world looks far more interesting and detailed as a result. Oddworld itself looks nothing short of beautiful, particularly so in the more rural levels of Paramonia and Scrabania.

Paramonia

The outdoor areas are real graphical treats for your eyeballs.

The Oddworld series has never looked so alive and vibrant, even whilst you’re still inside the grimy blood-splattered interiors of Rupture Farms, the colours and lighting effects still manage to pop out at you. The early moments inside the plant showcase great big smelting vats and furnaces throw up fantastic orange embers and the glow from the swirling orange liquid metal creates some fantastic lighting effects, giving some of the early factory scenes a hellish Dante’s inferno look to them. The twilight evening sun that’s setting as you first set foot outside is another visually jaw-dropping moment, with lovely dynamic lighting from the low setting sun casting long shadows across the kennels and cages of the Stockyards.

Slig Foreground

Each level has plenty of intricate things going on in both the background and foreground.

The attention to detail is impeccable too. At various points in the game you can see Sligs on faraway platforms diligently patrolling about (and probably grumbling loudly to themselves out there in the distance), and on a more grisly note, Scrab and Paramite meat conveyor belts can be seen clunking away in the background of the early Rupture Farms levels. Outside the meat plant, the guard towers, glinting in the twilight now move like automated gun turrets and scan the environment in the foreground and background, with floodlights that sweep through the pens and catwalks that Abe’s navigating through.

Additionally, new camera angles dynamically respond to where Abe currently is in the environment, giving the game a smooth polished cinematic sheen that massively improves on the original game’s pre-canned CG transitions. The camera gracefully arcs over the scenery to track Abe as he goes through doorways, and it cinematically zooms in to create dramatic moments, and zooms out to bridge transitions between environments, all in glorious real-time 3D.

Rupture Farms Exterior

Rupture Farms, in all its orangey, industrial glory.

On the topic of moving through the lovely environments, back when the game launched in July last year on the PS4, I initially did have a couple of specific issues with New ‘n’ Tasty‘s controls, though thankfully these have since been addressed. The game’s default control scheme has been configured with today’s gamers in mind first and foremost; the original title’s controls have sensibly been revised and brought into line with what brand new players to the franchise would typically expect a platformer to handle like today.

One of these revisions is a change to the way the jump controls operate; When you pressed jump in Oddysee, it would make Abe hop forwards in the direction he’s facing; pressing jump in New ‘n’ Tasty now makes Abe jump vertically straight up in the air. This took a while to get used to as a big fan of the original Oddworld platformers, and it was hard to unlearn Abe’s original behaviours that I’d become so familiar with over the years. For other returning old school Oddworlders like me then, it can take a bit of practice to get the timing down for the hop (pressing the jump button ever so slightly before the desired direction seems to do the trick), but it’s not a massive hurdle, and likely something that a new player wouldn’t even think twice about.

Abe Hop

Whatever you do, don’t look down!

A slightly more frustrating concern however was that originally all of Abe’s movement in New ‘n’ Tasty was governed by how much pressure was applied to the left stick. Pressing the stick fully to the left or right made Abe run at full tilt, whilst applying gentler pressure caused him to plod along with his characteristic walk. Due to the overall faster pace of gameplay in New ‘n’ Tasty, having both the walk and run controls assigned on a continuum of sensitivity to the same controller input made sense for the most part, and perhaps made things a bit more intuitive for a new player who hadn’t previously played the originals.

Scrab Chase

The chase sequences and puzzles feel faster (and far more terrifying) than ever before.

However, without a clear tactile distinction between running and walking, a lot of the more intricate platforming sections quickly started to make the new movement controls feel maddeningly imprecise. I spent a decent chunk of my early hours in New ‘n’ Tasty desperately fighting my own ingrained 17-year old muscle memory until I could start to develop a feel for the appropriate walk/run sensitivity needed to make a pixel-perfect precision movement between obstacles under pressure.

For example, while navigating through the more meticulous meat drill puzzles in some of the game’s challenging secret areas, it could sometimes feel incredibly inaccurate and frustrating when I’d just slightly overshoot/undershoot the correct left stick pressure and repeatedly send Abe careening into the gnashing blades of death over and over again. After only a few such sections, I really missed being able to toggle running on and off with a separate button like you could in Oddysee.

Meat Drills

Watch your step Abe!

Thankfully though, in a very neat move, Just Add Water later patched in an optional control setting which gives you the option to assign the run control to a separate shoulder button press, just like in the original game. Problem solved – and now I have absolutely no excuse for my terrible platforming skills…sorry Abe.

Finally, to top off the whole New ‘n’ Tasty experience, Just Add Water have also not only revamped Oddysee, but added their own piece of unique content to the franchise as well. Alf’s Escape is a brand new piece of DLC that tasks players with a rather unique and interesting spin on the main game’s platforming mechanics.

Unlike the main game, you’ve only got the one Mudokon to rescue here, and it’s none other than the fan favourite, mailbag-checking, amateur shrink and barista extraordinaire of Oddworld Inhabitants himself -yup, Alf from Alf’s Rehab and Tea fame of course. The DLC is essentially an intricate and extended obstacle course for two, an elaborate Oddworld version of Takeshi’s Castle if you will, in which you first have to navigate through successfully solo, before reaching Alf’s bar and making back to the start of the level in tandem in order to escape.

The action here can get insanely fast and can require some particularly quick thinking to pull off. Having to coordinate your movements so that both Abe and Alf can escape uneviscerated is challenging, requiring both quick reactions and nimble finger dexterity in equal measure. There’s also some cool easter eggs for observant oddballs to ogle along the way, so remember to keep your eyes figuratively peeled and not literally peeled as you dodge the myriad of meat drills, swinging buzzsaws and many other nasty, sharp pointy objects that are in your way.

Abe Grin

Overall, Oddworld: New ‘n’ Tasty is a bit of a paradox. It feels like a completely fresh and brand new experience whilst also delivering a heady rush of nostalgia for fans of the original game. It’s faithful to the original’s legacy, whilst also carefully taking thoughtful creative liberties here and there when necessary. The smooth framerate and responsive controls make the game a real pleasure to play, and without the flipscreen changes of the original, there’s a faster and more enjoyable rhythm to the gameplay thanks to the on the go QuikSave system. If you’ve already guided Abe out of Rupture Farms (and beyond) all those years ago, then New ‘n’ Tasty will far surpass your expectations. If you’re new to the series, then get ready for a whacky and delightful adventure into the world of Odd.

Solarix – Preview

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(Played on PC)

Eternal Darkness: Sanity’s Requiem

A question I find myself frequently mulling over is whether I’m more on edge when playing as an armed or unarmed protagonist in horror games. Whilst my personal preference is generally for the unarmed variety, there’s certainly a strong case to be made on both sides of the argument. If you’re playing a title like Resident Evil or Dead Space, then there’s definitely something intensely panicky and stressful about having to make every last shot from your weapon count in order to survive; hearing the chilling empty click of its chamber when in combat can really make your blood run cold. Likewise, when sneaking around in a game like Amnesia: the Dark Descent, Alien: Isolation or Outlast, where discovery is practically synonymous with death, the constant dread and terror of being found with no way to defend yourself can feel like a nightmarish game of cat and (terrified) mouse.

Pulsetense Games’ Solarix is a stealthy sci-fi horror first-person shooter which has clearly been influenced by both stealth and weapon-based horror games. Described as “a science-fiction horror game featuring open-ended levels for both combative and stealth-focused playstyles”, Pulsetense’s goal was to “combine old-school sci-fi horror with next-gen style and graphics”. A hybrid of these two broad approaches then, Solarix has moments where you must hide from enemies, and moments where you must use your limited arsenal of weapons and tools against them. Unfortunately though, whilst the game has some interesting ideas and story themes going for it, the game’s clumsy presentation, awkward stealth mechanics and its overall lack of horror and tension left me in the dark.

Hallway

Let’s start out with the basics. There’s not much of a narrative setup included in the game itself to immerse you into the world of Solarix, but what you do get does the job; you play as Walter, a survivor who’s stationed on a military/research base on an alien planet who wakes up to discover that the base’s inhabitants are slowly becoming infected by some mysterious virus. Contacted by A.M.I., the base’s AI, you’re instructed to go about the steps required to synthesise a vaccine, whilst dodging both infected humans and hostile guards. Along the way though, you’re also contacted by other characters, such as the mysterious Betty; a rather neurotic survivor who alongside telling you that she’s erased parts of your memory also grants you access to weapons and items whilst offering her own warped advice along the way. Not exactly the ideal person you want on your side in a dangerous space quarantine scenario, but hey, you take what you’re given I guess. You pull on your hazard suit and start to explore, twitching with apprehension as you venture out into the darkness.

Bloody Hallway

Unfortunately, one of the first significant issues that I encountered when playing Solarix was that for a horror game, it very quickly loses what little horror and tension it manages to build up in the game’s opening moments. The opening level easily felt the most suspenseful, featuring a suitably tense evasion section against one of the many infected humans who roam the facility’s corridors. While it’s perhaps not set in the most original of environs to be creeping around in – a dark abandoned industrial warehouse – nonetheless it’s familiar horror game territory; you’re unarmed and with no way of fighting back, you absolutely have to play stealthily and stay out of sight.

Courtyard

So far, so good – but the problem is that when you shortly get hold of a gun in the next section, the horror elements are pretty much gone. You walk outside into a rainy courtyard, and the game becomes just a mediocre stealth shooter – but unfortunately one that doesn’t particularly work very well. From this point on, you’re mainly dispatching the rather bland human guards (who rapidly spout their repeating lines of dialogue over and over) as they routinely patrol their posts. Gone is the dread of being discovered; now your aim is to just sneak further into this nondescript base and dispatch the rather dim guards that are in your way. To be fair, being found by a guard does usually means a quick death, but it’s nothing particularly scary or horrific – you just catch a facefull of bullets, and one checkpoint reset later and you’re back in. It’s about as frightening as Perfect Dark or Metal Gear Solid (bad example, the Metal Gear series has some really fucking weird stuff going on in it actually, but you get the point).

Solarix‘s stealth mechanics feel dull and frustrating, and there’s a variety of reasons why – a rather annoying one being that it’s incredibly easy when sneaking through a level to get caught in the environment’s walls and floor textures. You’re encouraged to play stealthily and avoid making direct confrontation (i.e. shooting people), so you’ll find yourself spending a lot of time slowly crouching your way around the edges of the maps, sticking close to the shadows to slink past guards and space zombies alike. However, whilst slinking around, I’d far too frequently end up getting stuck in the ground, walls, objects, practically everything and anything in close proximity to my character over and over again. At one specific checkpoint, I would have to consistently untangle myself from the floor by repeatedly moving, jumping and crouching before I could move on, every single time I respawned. Annoying to say the least, but hopefully these glitchy moments will be fixed by the time the game properly launches at the end of April.

Zombies

When you’re not busy getting trapped in the environment, there’s further frustrations to be had when trying to play like a sci-fi Solid Snake. The taser-like tool the game provides you with for performing stealthy non-lethal takedowns has an interesting design (it only works when fired at the back of your opponent’s head) but more often than not it just feels fiddly and awkward to use. It has an undiscernibly vague range, and there’s no visual feedback to the player with the targeting reticule to let you know if the jolt is going to hit. You have to get right up behind your wandering guard/space zombie of choice, but not too close or they will whip round and start blasting/mauling you. Fair enough, this does add some mild tension back into the experience a tad, but using the taser still felt like a consistently awkward and arbitrary process to me even after several hours of playing.

Strangely though, you’re actually better off ditching the stealthy tactics altogether. It’s actually significantly easier and a far more enjoyable experience to simply forget about the taser and go in all guns blazing. You see, this is one of the more fundamental issues with Solarix; you have no real incentive to play stealthily whatsoever. Rather than bothering to spend time carefully distracting guards with thrown objects or shooting out lights to sneak by, it’s far easier and way more enjoyable to charge through each level whilst gleefully headshotting your enemies like a maniacal madman.

Contrary to the information the game tells you, you actually have plenty of ammunition to take on all threats in the demo, and spare clips can often be acquired from the various storage boxes littered around the levels. It’s a shame, as tighter ammo restrictions would have easily made the stealth mechanics feel much more relevant and tense to the playing experience. Making sure that the player has to carefully keep track of a dwindling supply of bullets would naturally encourage them to opt for using stealthier playstyles…but as the stealth mechanics are so frustrating in their own right, I’m actually quite thankful that Walter is packing plenty of heat in this case.

So, without a serious threat of running out of bullets, you can save yourself the rigmarole of going through the game’s awkward stealthy shenanigans. Even when you re-encounter the space zombies in the third level, it’s easier to just take the opportunity to practice your sharpshooting skills and pick them off from a distance than to bother trying to sneak up on them. Unfortunately though, even shooting your way through Solarix is not exactly a glitch-free walk in the park either. Just like the non-lethal taser, the pistol is plagued with its own particular set of frustrating and obtuse quirks as well. Sporting a vague and inconsistent range, and wildly fluctuating damage output, every time you virtually squeeze the trigger you’ll never be quite sure whether your bullet will hit its target, and if it does, kill or just alert your opponent to where you are. For example, killing an unaware opponent takes a single bullet to the head, whereas an aware one can take upwards of four. Again, there might well be some narrative explanation for this in the finished game, but in this demo without any external context, it just ends up feeling inconsistent and cheap.

Computer

Actually, speaking of hypothetical story explanations, let’s hold up just for a second here; while you don’t get many narrative threads to cling onto in this demo, what little story elements you do get are actually pretty good. While I found most of the in-game world and its inhabitants itself to be largely uninteresting, there’s a handful of crew logs scattered about which help to liven things up quite considerably. One in particular had a chilling written account about a group of technicians unearthing and observing an ancient alien machine, and the threat of a sentient AI interfacing and infecting the crew of the base. It’s in these moments that Solarix manages to claw back some of the horror and unsettling atmosphere that it regrettably jettisoned out of the airlock so early on. The piecemeal delivery of the story information here reminded me of the effective way in which the horror is slowly drip-fed to the player through written artefacts in games such as The Chinese Room’s Amnesia: A Machine For Pigs; even though you’re not told exactly what’s going on, your mind can’t help but uneasily churn the few disturbing details you do have around in your brain as you blast your way through the game.

Loading Screen

Additionally, there’s some cool Silent Hill-style implications that what you’re seeing and experiencing might not be real, which might be an issue that the final game explores as part of the narrative – is it right to be gunning down the clean-up squad mercilessly? Are these infected humans I’m pumping full of intergalactic lead actually innocents? In this demo though, there’s no such moral restraints to hold you back, and the combination of the frustrating stealth mechanics and the ever so fiddly taser mean that you’d probably not care all that much if such in-game ethical concerns actually were an issue.

Crashsite

Regretfully, there’s still another problematic aspect of the game that I’ve yet to address, and get ready, it’s a pretty big one. The game is just too damn dark. It sounds like an utterly ridiculous complaint to level at a horror game, but trust me, in this case it’s entirely appropriate.

Things are fine to start off with in the indoor corridor sections, but it’s once you get to the great alien outdoors and you’re mainly wandering around in wide-open valleys in murky darkness that the lack of light starts to really grate on you. You have an unlimited flashlight attached to your suit, which you think would solve this problem, but for whatever reason it’s ineffectual after the first indoor level, throwing out just a watery crescent moon of pale yellow light at your feet and nothing else. It barely illuminates anything, rendering it practically useless. The game’s Steam blurb boasts about its next gen-graphics, but you’ll have a hard time appreciating them without whacking the gamma settings up to max.

Gloom

At first, I didn’t mind the gloominess all that much. As I trekked my way in practically pitch-black darkness across through these strange alien hillsides and picked my way through various burnt out spaceships in order to find supplies, things initially felt nice and eerie. After about five or ten minutes of uneventfully wandering around however, I soon found myself getting bored of looking at nothing but the same dark dull environments, empty save for a few dopey infected milling about in specific spots. There’s just so little contrast in terms of the in-game lighting that the ubiquitous darkness quickly stops feeling sinister and just becomes plain boring. While it’s nice to not be in the typical claustrophobic tunnels of practically every other horror game, by the time I got to the crashsite in the third level, I was just tired of seeing nothing but empty, perpetual darkness.

Trees

This unfortunately means that in these low-light conditions, it’s incredibly easy to repeatedly miss items and areas that are necessary to make progress. As the majority of Solarix is a featureless black landscape, it can be painfully dull to try and navigate your way around successfully, and just one glance at the fuzzy, undynamic in-game map let’s you know that it’s going to be completely unhelpful in your attempts to orient yourself.

Map

On top of that, there’s these invisible walls that prominently protrude into several paths you have to take throughout the levels, and others that block off empty areas that otherwise look perfectly accessible, making your fumblings about in the dark even more confusing. To make matters worse, there’s also places where there aren’t any barriers in place where you do want them – i.e. solid rock walls, meaning that it’s actually incredibly easy to end up accidentally clipping out of the map entirely. It ends up creating this no-win, no-fun situation; you have to search every nook and cranny of the maps to find what you need, yet if you do go poking into the nooks and crannies of Solarix then you also risk getting stuck out in the great dark beyond with no obvious means of getting back in. Once again, I appreciate that this is a pre-release demo that I’m playing here so hopefully these are things that will also hopefully be patched out for the final release, but the fact that it’s so easy to get trapped outside of the level without explicitly trying to force your way out doesn’t exactly encourage you to go off and explore the game’s world.

Outside Map

Obviously, horror games are loved for the very reason that they don’t offer the player as much help as other genres, that they are designed to make you stressed and anxious and that more often than not they can be more punishing than other genres. Yet while I admire Pulsetense’s choice to not hold the player’s hand as they explore, or to not broadcast giant distracting navigation markers to herd the player towards the next objective, I felt that Solarix ought to have done a lot more to clearly communicate important information to the player about just what exactly they’re supposed to be doing at times, or what specific item they’re currently after.

For example, in my first playthrough of the demo, there was a point where I just got completely and utterly stuck. Perhaps I’m just a complete fucking idiot, but after finding a door locked with a handprint scanner in the second level, and later a conveniently-placed hacksaw nearby, I felt pretty confident that I knew exactly what to do next – namely go back to one of the still-warm guard bodies I’d only seconds ago riddled with bullets, roll up my sleeves and start to slice ‘n’ dice.

I then proceeded to spend what felt like an eternity trying fruitlessly to chop hands off the fallen guards, and getting increasingly baffled as to why I couldn’t. As I wandered from corpse to corpse, desperately trying to detach a hand (and even in a moment of grim determination resorting to hurling a dead body at the scanner to see if that worked, sadly to no avail) a string of ever-more puzzling questions were starting to race through my head. What am I doing wrong? Do I need to equip the hacksaw as a tool? Why can’t I equip the hacksaw as a tool? Is it space bar or left mouse button to cut off their hands? I keep clicking on their hands but I can’t chop them off? WHY OH WHY ARE THEIR BLOODY HANDS NOT COMING OFF ALREADY!?

It was only after spending the best part of an hour fruitlessly clicking and aimlessly wandering back and forth in the level over and over again like a complete chump that I just happened to stumble across a pitch-black cave hidden round a corner and completely off the beaten track which contained the very specific corpse and the very specific hand that I needed to sever to use on the door panel. Nowhere had the game bothered to inform me that only a specific hand would work, and thanks to the vague in-game map, it was just pure luck that I’d stumbled across the actual solution. The reason that I’d missed the cave every single time as I roamed the area was – yup, you guessed it, the entrance was pitch-black. I could have still been there in that section to this day, furiously clicking on corpses and mashing the space bar to no avail if I hadn’t stumbled across the solution by accident. By this point, I was just so annoyed that I desperately wanted to start hacking Walter’s own hands off just to make it all end right then and there.

Corpse

Anyway, look, I know I’m just textually ranting by this point so I’ll draw things to a close. Overall, there’s also just this sort of rough, unpolished feel to Solarix which makes it really hard to get into and properly enjoy. There’s some cool ideas in the game, wrapped up in what looks to be an interesting narrative, but there’s just a such a litany of various annoying problems cluttering up the experience which repeatedly get in the way of the player’s immersion. The stealth mechanics don’t really work that well, and there’s practically no horror elements whatsoever, and the interesting narrative ideas buckle under the weight of boring and dull level designs. Whether you play stealthily or aggressively, combat in Solarix is vague and murky at best; you’ll be crossing your fingers each time you line up a headshot or prepare to jolt the back of somebody’s head, never quite sure of whether things are going to work predictably. In short, you’re left with an underwhelming and fiddly shooter experience in a dull world that’s shrouded in darkness.

Pit

Again, just to be totally clear about this, I’ve been playing a pre-release demo of Solarix, so hopefully Pulsetens can get the smaller glitchier problems with the weapons, invisible walls etc. fixed before the proper release. I’m just concerned that the bigger problems the game has with the stealth and combat systems are fundamental design issues that unfortunately can’t just be fixed with a quick patch. Personally, the game feels undercooked; Solarix needs to get out of the shadows and back into the developmental oven – ASAP.