LittleBigPlanet continues to amaze us. The game, introduced approximately 15 months ago at the San Francisco Game Developers Conference, has come a long way since that debut, and remains one of the more intriguing games in the Sony PlayStation 3 pipeline. We got to sit down with the developers at Media Molecule today to see where the game stands ahead of its release.
Though LBP is perhaps best known for its multiplayer aspects and creation features (more on those in a bit), we first checked out a handful of the single-player levels that the developers have created for the game. First up was a traditional platforming level, what the developers refer to as a "main" level. These levels are used to forward the storyline of LBP along, as well as unlock new levels to check out. There will also be smaller, miniature levels that are often smaller and best thought of as minigames.
The main level, known as Elephant Expedition, featured our two sackboys sprinting along and working together to move though the level. Cooperation is a key to getting from one part of a level to the next; whether you're pushing and pulling items to create impromptu staircases or activating levers and switches to gain access, you'll always be looking for ways to help your fellow players out. In fact, those levers and switches are a new aspect of gameplay that we hadn't seen before, and they run the gamut from simple levers you can push to activate something to proximity sensors that activate whenever your sackboy comes near. In the latter case, for example, the level had several towers that would elevate or lower whenever we ran past. And, as you might expect, all of these kinds of items are available to you for creating your own mechanics in the game.
The collectible sponge objects that were part of the previous iterations of LBP have changed to bubbles, and this build features a counter of the total number of bubbles both players collect during the level, as well as an arrow that points to whichever player does the most work on the level (that is, collecting the most bubbles). In addition, collectible items such as new stickers, textures, or items for use in the creation part of LBP will be scattered throughout the levels. To unlock an elephant sticker for our sticker tool, for example, we had to first reach it in the Elephant Expedition level.
The creativity of the level designers at Media Molecule continues to amaze. One of the minilevels we tried out during our demo was a race from one end of the level to the other. The twist was that the sackboys were being chased by a lumbering hulk of a contraption on which a sackboy spawn point hung from a chain. The idea wasn't just to get across the finish line first, but also to avoid being run down by the monster. It was a hectic level, full of lots of near-miss moments as we did our best to keep in front of the mechanical monster while trying to scoop up as many bubbles as possible. The dangling spawn point came in handy more than once during our time on the level, giving us an easy chance to jump back into the level and keep the race going.
The element of danger is also relatively new to the LBP gameworld. While we've seen sackboys taken down by fire in the game before, other elements will be in the game including electricity, ice, and noxious gas. The ice effect on objects is particularly fascinating; not only will your sackboy slide on the slippery surface but, if he stays too long on the ice, he'll become temporarily encased in a block of ice. To break him out, you'll have to shake the Sixaxis controller back and forth. And while it will be possible for your sackboy to die, you will typically be able to respawn on a level using the aforementioned respawn points. The developers are still deciding whether they will have life counters on the levels in the game, but we do know that users will be able to choose the maximum numbers of lives they will allow per level.
You'll be able to add these elements to any object you create in the game using LBP's incredibly powerful but easy-to-use creation system. During the demo, we watched as a developer, with just a few elements out of the object bag and a few clicks of a buttons, created a huge downward slope then immediately added the ice effect to it, essentially creating a huge, icy slide for our sackboy to slip and slide on.
Though LBP will come with a full slate of single-player levels built in, it seems like the real treat will be playing through the levels and checking out the objects that the LBP community will create once they get their collective hands on the game. Certainly the toolset for creation looks to be more extensive than that of practically any other console game we've seen before. In addition to creating shapes and objects from scratch, you'll be able to add life and motion to them with gears and the aforementioned switches.
The movement of all the objects in the game relies on real physics. One of the objects we saw in the game was a monster with a retractable jaw that moved up and down automatically. By attaching the lines connected from a switch to each side of the jaw, we could control the movement of the jaws by turning the switch on or off. But, if we connected both lines to one side of elevating jaws and then threw the switch, the entire object would topple over as it became unbalanced. Media Molecule looks to be making things as easy to work with as possible here; in addition to simple building tools, they recently added an undo/redo feature that will wind back through time through your last procedures, letting you start over from scratch or at any point in the creation process.
But the creation doesn't stop there. If you like your monster with the switchable jaws, you'll be able to save the entire object as a "plan," essentially a template you can use later. You can even choose to copyright that plan, so that other people with whom you share your levels and objects won't be able to break down or build upon. In addition, we got a brief glimpse at how to use the PS3 Eye Toy accessory in the game to create stickers. You can take a screenshot at any point, then choose a number of different shapes to wrap around it and then place it anywhere in the world you wish, including your home base, which serves as the game's front end. When playing with friends online, your friends will be able to check out your customized HQ before you move on into the gameplay proper.
Though our expectations are already high for LittleBigPlanet, the game seems to be keeping up with, and often surpassing, those expectations each time we see it. We're greatly looking forward to seeing more of the game in action, as well as to spending some extended time with it to let our creative juices flow. Hopefully the wait won't be too long--and you can be sure we'll keep you updated with the latest news on the game in the coming months.