Sadly, not much. As of this month, Spark is officially on hiatus. I can’t tell you what the future holds for Spark, because we don’t know ourselves. All I can tell you is the story that lead us here.
Spark was a very ambitious project for our small team. Our website describes a 2d/3d multiplayer native cross-platform non-programmer/programmer game engine with cloud capabilities that runs either as an application or on the browser. Add to that our AI, live collaboration features, a healthy asset store from launch-time, a project management system complete with Git and Slack integrations, and you’ll start seeing why Spark hasn’t been released yet, with just 1 programmer (me) on the team.
There were definitely some good and some bad turns we made during the last few years. For one, I’m very glad we didn’t crowdfund, because we’re stressed out as it is. We wouldn’t need the burden of having taken your money to be adding to that. Also, I’m happy we communicated our vision to you guys, and you guys got it and kept on supporting us. We’ve stopped marketing Spark a long time ago, but somehow there’s still 10-20 new subscribers every single day, resonating with this idea of a non-programming engine that allows for so much flexibility. I’m not big on empty words, such as ‘we couldn’t have done this without you’, but it’s true that at the end it was you believing in it so strongly that has kept us going, kept us pushing forward for just one more day..
So, what went wrong.
Why would we plan out a project that we never had the resources to actually finish? I think, at some point, we thought our team would expand, we’d get two, three, even four more programmers on this. This never happened. Lots of time was wasted looking for accelerators, trying to raise funding, or self-sustain Spark ourselves. I’d say more than half of the development time for Spark was instead spent on either making presentations, creating tech demos or working on side-projects that somehow also involved Spark. But hiring someone full time in Greece is expensive and complicated, and having people to work remotely for short 2-3 months periods was out of the question. So we kept going like this, meanwhile trying to release an alpha, as tiny as possible, that would make even the simplest game.
But that’s easier said than done.
Game engines are complicated. A side-scroller platformer is VASTLY different than a top down shooter. Even the platformer genre has myriads of possibilities. Mario is a platformer, but so is Contra, and so is Braid and Limbo, each with hugely different mechanics. Do we limit you, making Spark a glorified level editor? Or do we give you choice, adding complexity to the project? And then there’s the matter of UX. Turns out, the easier a tool is to learn, the harder it is to make it. Every single button required enormous thought behind it. We liked the direction Spark has taken but it made an already ambitious project, even harder to make.
Tech-wise, there are currently some big problems that keep us from releasing whatever we already have for you to see. There’s some crashes here and there on the level editor. Spark currently only works on Chrome, and it’s still unoptimised and laggy. You could create a level, drag a character and add some behaviors, but that’s about it. UI for your game isn’t there. Sound/Music isn’t there. Main Screen, Win Screen, Level navigation aren’t there. The behaviors are still very limited to a Mario-like level, only with no brick breaking, no power-ups and very simple enemy movements. Meanwhile, the 2d rendering library that we used for Spark was a third party open source one that through the development of Spark had died out and hasn’t been maintained for 2 years. We had to switch to a different one, before adding new features to Spark.
Burn out and some advice
Somewhere in the middle of all this, the whole team burned out. Long hours, no money, and no finish line in sight will do that to you. So we had a meeting and decided it was time to take a break. Look after our lives a little bit, maybe get a job for a while, or just work on something else. It’s not a great feeling. Whatever engine you plan to work on for your next game, be mindful that no one is immune to failing. So take a step or two to protect yourself from being in this situation. Cut down your plans a bit, don’t go too crazy with your ideas and always try to have fun first. In the end, only if you have fun while doing what you love, can you say that the journey alone was worth it. And in our case, the journey was invaluable and so much fun. The bitterness is still there, but no one can deny how much we’ve learned from it and the good times of working on Spark.
I said in the beginning that we took some good turns and some bad turns. One of those bad turns was losing touch with our community. And I take full responsibility for that. I’m not exactly sure why that kept happening. It could be in part that I had nothing much to show/update you on, and in part that I dreaded those awful “when is it going to be out/where is my key/y no spark yet” questions. To be fair, the question itself is harmless. It’s the coming up with an answer that is stressful, especially when you have missed a couple of deadlines already. No one likes to break promises. Not even devs…
So, what happens now?
We’ll keep the Skype group alive for a while. Chat and answer questions. We did honestly want to help game devs because we know it’s hard, but we love making games so very much. So, even though we might not be able to help you with a game engine just yet, maybe we can give you a piece of advice or two. Tech, marketing, UX, we know stuff and we’ll be happy to help. However, we’ll be closing the website soon. We don’t want to give new people the false hope that Spark is actively being developed. Now, if we’ll ever open it up again, only time will tell. But for now, we have to say goodbye.
Aris, Athina, Theodora