Somewhere in the corners of the Internet where trolls like to fling their poo lies Stadia, Google’s cloud gaming platform. The service has a dedicated fan-base, as any tech or product does, and it has its detractors, but at least in my circles it’s mostly a non-entity. It’s not just limited to Stadia, though, as I don’t see many people talking about Nvidia’s offering, or Shadow, two services which exist in a similar space.
This is not a post about the pros or cons of Stadia or cloud gaming, but I wanted to set the tone that since Stadia does not get a lot of community air time, Crayta might not be something that many folks are familiar with.
If you watch some videos on the project — which you can find on YouTube – you might be lead to believe that we’re talking about yet another Minecraft entry here on account of the focus on building things. I’ve seen articles talking about Crayta comparing it to Minecraft, Roblox, and everyone-over-25’s-least-favorite-touchstone, Fortnite.
What Crayta reminds me of is Project Spark.
Project Spark was Microsoft’s attempt to bring game development to the masses in the lowest-rent way possible. The best thing we can say about it is that it was available on PC and Xbox, so Xbox users could create mini-games for their friends and the wider community. In Spark, users could choose from a small selection of basic land-masses which defined the limit of the buildable area. From there, they could terraform the basic structure. Features could be added by selecting them from a palette and dropping them into the world. NPCs could be added and behaviors scripted using a block-based scripting paradigm. All of these elements could be shared with the community, and users could earn the eponymous “sparks” by playing and rating other user’s creations.
Of course, if this is the first you’ve heard of Project Spark (or the first you’ve heard of it in a long time), then you can understand my feelings on Crayta. “This has been done before, and not successfully,” is something we can say about a lot of other games, and mimicking what’s come before is how the industry works at it’s most basic. This is not a bell-ringing for the impending doom of Crayta, but the fate of Project Spark should at least be a warning here for players, at least (I hope the developers have done their due diligence and are well versed in the pros and cons of Spark’s limited run).
A lot of the trumpeting about Crayta — like it was for Spark — focuses on “you can build games!” which is technically correct, but could also be horribly misleading.
Crayta is not Unity or UE; it’s a template-application app. While creative users might be able to make “a pinball game”, it’ll no doubt end up looking more like something out of The Running Man and less like the kinds of pinball games we can already get on PC and consoles. There’s no doubt going to be some limitations that are going to disappoint those who haven’t actually looked into the project and have only heard “create your own games”. I suspect that some of those limitations are going to mirror what Spark did: some blocks are provided gratis, while others need to be unlocked, earned, or bought.
I’d imagine that Crayta is going to attract two crowds: those who want to build something fun, and those who see the ads for it and are expecting to play AAA or at least AA-level creations. When creative tools are put into the hands of the community — any creative tools — there will be those who stand apart and make something magical, and then there’ll be the acres of cruft that users will have to wade through in order to find those diamonds. That means that unless you’re hell-bent on being the best Crayta builder you can be, you’ll show up looking for something awesome to play. Good luck with that. I don’t have a lot of hope that Crayta will be swimming in quality content based on the limited amount of promo material I’ve seen on it so far, and because, yes, we’ve been here before, courtesy of Project Spark.
So rather than this post acting as my sandwich board as I shout at passers-by from the street corner, I’m going to sign up for Stadia Pro in order to test Crayta out for myself when it goes live tomorrow, July 1st, 2020. As I consider myself to be a creative person, I fully intend to give it a fair shake: there will apparently be some worlds on offer that the Crayta team and their inner circle of hand-picked beta “influencers” have created, so hopefully there’ll be enough to play through on day one. I’ll also be sure to kick the tires on the building tools, which is ultimately where my interests lie anyway. Unfortunately I only know one person who subs to Stadia Pro, so I can’t gather some critical mass to help me test thing, but we’ll see what we can see, and I’ll submit a follow-up post later on.