Develop 08: Media Molecule on LittleBig challenges

Indie studio head Alex Evans reveals some of the hurdles to developing the PS3's LittleBigPlanet.


BRIGHTON--Media Molecule's LittleBigPlanet is due to come out exclusively on the PlayStation 3 in October. The game, which company cofounder Alex Evans describes as the combination of "games and pop culture into an online community-based game," has piqued the interest of many in the industry. It is being developed by a team founded by former members of Bullfrog and Lionhead Studios, including Mark Healey, Dave Smith, Kareem Ettouney, and Evans himself.

At Develop 2008, Evans presented a session that he described to the audience as "half postmortem, half me waving my arms around hoping one of you will come up with a better idea." During the hour-long session, he reflected on the development of LittleBigPlanet to date, as well as his previous experiences at Lionhead Studios and Bullfrog, and offered some advice to other developers in the room.

Evans was quite candid about the game's development process. He said, "We're making all the mistakes that Bullfrog and Lionhead did," and he highlighted some of the common pitfalls. "A huge amount of effort in games development is wasted in what I would call the wrong place." This is what he referred to as glue in between two bits of code--the enjoyment for a gamer might be something completely different from what a programmer is working on, but Evans said that some are busy building the glue without actually knowing what they're joining together.

If you choose the right constraints, stripping back a game (for example to 2D) is acceptable, Evans said, although he doesn't always practice what he preaches. "I know this and yet daily I try and add features. I want the game to be 3D." Despite this, Evan said "you can make great levels in 2D that look next-gen," and in the end the team compromised on what he called "deep 2D levels."

"Especially for programmers, don't let yourself expend any effort when at the back of your mind you don't know what you're doing." It's something he said he's learnt the hard way: "At least for me, it has been the most incredibly, incredibly hard process."

The team at Media Molecule consists of a mere nine coders in total (including Evans, who doesn't code much from day to day). It's not by chance that the team's resources are limited. "We're not very good managers," Evans confessed, and he said the size is an arbitrary constraint they've placed on the company.

The studio head was asked by an audience member how he might cope with a lack of constraints, following the release of his first game. "What I'm looking forward to is keeping some of those constraints quite arbitrary, like, for example, keeping our company size 30 people," Evans responded. "If I do change, I want to change slowly. If we grow to 100 people, I want it to be an incremental process."

Despite the pitfalls and perils, Evans also talked about his passion for developing games. "Why is my experience of making games with friends the same as it was 10 years ago?" He said one of the reasons is that the people making games with him haven't changed. "We're still a room of boys and girls at 2:00 in the morning with a dev kit. We're still making the same things as we did 10 years ago. We just have the opportunity to get it out to a wider audience."

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