Please allow us a moment of editorializing before we get to the meat of this preview: LittleBigPlanet is awesome. There--now that we've got that out of our system, we can move on and try to describe what developer Media Molecule was showing off of their fascinating adventure/creation game here at E3 2007. The demo presented at the Sony media HQ showed off a number of different aspects of LBP that look to comprise a game that is both big on charm and fully dedicated to making each player's experience unique.
Let's start with the main characters, affectionately dubbed as "Sackboy" (or "Sackgirl") by Media Molecule developers; they're tiny little creatures that are able to run around the world's horizontally scrolling levels of the game, overcoming obstacles as they go. Using the Sixaxis controller, you're able to move your Sackboy around through the levels, jump by pressing the X button, or grab onto items (or other Sackfolks) by pressing the R1 trigger. Holding down either the R2 or L2 trigger and moving the analog sticks will let you articulate Sackboy's limbs (or throw a slap at one of the other players in the level with you), and you can even change Sackboy's facial expression by pressing in different directions on the D pad. Simple controls combine with cute design to make Sackboys adorable right from the get-go.
By default, Sackboy is made out of a drab, brown burlap material, but you'll have tons of ways to customize your personal Sackboy on the fly. By pressing the square button you bring up a menu where you can choose from different heads, body materials, and accessories. With just a few clicks of the X button, we were able to outfit our Sackboy with a fancy top hat, a superhero cape, a dandy Wyatt Earp moustache, and a pirate's hook hand. Anyone playing the game with you--and the game will support up to four players either online or offline at any given time--will be able to customize their Sackfolk with similar ease and variety.
But this is quite literally just scratching the surface of the amount of depth found in LBP's customization. The next level comes with stickers and a host of different shapes and colors, which are available also by pressing the square button and going to a menu. Stickers can be stamped on any existing object in the world, and it's as easy as moving the template sticker where you like and pressing the X button. You can place as many as you like in the world, and the game is smart enough to have stickers wrap around 3D objects in an intelligent manner.
In addition to slapping stickers wherever you like, you'll also be able to create objects from thin air in LBP, using a simple tool that the developer has been refining since it debuted the game at the 2007 Game Developers Conference. Now, summoning an object from nowhere is as simple as, once again, going to the build menu by pressing the square button, selecting the item you want, and stamping it into the world. You can stamp an item as many times as you like and, once you press the square button again, your summoned items will appear--if you've created them in thin air, they will fall to the ground, demonstrating the game's intensive physics engine. The E3 demo of the game featured a good number of items to create including spongelike squares, woven bowls, and chili peppers as well as a huge host of simple objects made of metal, wood, and various cloth materials. Developers are promising many more shapes and objects to build with in the final build of the game, as well as downloadable content in the future.
These simple objects can easily turn into quite complex ones with the help of some simple helper parts and tools that greatly expand the depth of creation in the game. For instance, creating an object on the outside edge of another will cause them to merge when you finish their summoning, resulting in a shape that is the combined result of the two basic forms. As an example, the two Media Molecule developers quickly created a wooden snowman-like construct using only resized circles--you can resize and twist shapes in the world before you summon them by manipulating the right stick.
Other tools in the game include a simple bolt that will help you mechanically attach one object to another, glue splats you can place in order to stick two parts together, and cogs which add movement to your object. To demonstrate, the developers created a working wooden tank from several precut wooden shapes and what looked to be yarn spools. After gluing the main part of the tank's body together, the developers attached bolts to the yarn spools and then stuck those on the tank body to create a working tread. It's important to note that multiple players can work on the same object (or create separately) at the same time in LBP--indeed, both developers were busy constructing their own individual parts of the vehicle. The whole process took maybe two minutes and, after it was done, the two Sackboys were able to ride on the rolling tank; they even added some decorative stickers for added flair.
Another cool tool at your disposal is a "cut" tool that will let you remove sections of any object in the game. The cut tool comes in several shapes--square, circle, and triangle--and just like a "real" object, you can manipulate the size of a cut shape in order to remove exactly what you want. An easy example of the cut tool was a huge wooden block, which the developers sliced sections from in order to create a makeshift staircase the Sackboys could then climb to progress through the level. In our experimentation, we noticed that when cutting a hole in the middle of a fabric object, the game will intelligently "stitch" the remaining fabric around the new hole.
So what do you use all of this customization for? The easy answer is just to mess around and have a good time. The more compelling answer is to create objects you can share with your friends. Any object you create can be sent to a friend, who can then add on or subtract from it, and send it on to someone else, essentially creating an endless cycle of creativity as the object moves around from player to player. Developers showed off a couple of examples of objects created by Media Molecule staff simply using the shapes and tools found in the demo build--standout examples included a huge lumbering, mechanical dinosaur, and an absolutely mind-blowing binary adding machine made out of wood.
Beyond exercising your creative juices on objects, the larger goal for the create tools in LBP are to create entirely new levels that will complement the game's already premade levels. By stacking levels with created objects--levers, pulleys, obstacles to transverse, even a makeshift skateboard like the one shown in the GDC demo--you can create entirely new levels in the game and share them with others. LBP players worldwide will be able to rate your levels or objects, so the more skill you show with your creations, the more recognition you can earn from your adoring public. In addition to all of the different objects, you'll be able to swap new backgrounds in the game, The demo showed off a tranquil Japanese garden, a spooky cemetery, and a dusty desert setting complete with the dried skull of a bull in the background. According to producers, levels will come in different sizes depending on the size of the background. In addition, there will be some limitations to the amount of objects that can be present in the level at any given moment as well as the size of the object. In the latter case, however, the restrictions don't seem to be that bad--the developers showed off an absolutely massive tower built of metal squares that loomed over the tiny Sackboys.
With a game as open-ended as this, it's scary to think where LittleBigPlanet will be in roughly a year, which is the tentative release window. With that much time to pack content, shapes, tools, and new levels into the game, LittleBigPlanet looks well on its way to being one of the standout games on the PlayStation 3. It's a long wait until next year, but we'll be keeping you up to date on all the latest on the game in the coming months, so stay tuned.