E3 2008: Little Big Planet Updated Impressions
We check out the many possibilities of playing, creating, and sharing in Media Molecule's upcoming game.
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Last year we kicked off our E3 preview of Little Big Planet with the simple phrase, "Little Big Planet is awesome." Here we are a year later and, after a killer appearance of the game at yesterday's Sony E3 2008 press conference, we're quite happy to report that, yes, the Media Molecule-developed Sony exclusive is still knocking our socks off. In addition to having the game on our live stage show, we got a chance to check out an extended preview session of the game hosted by Media Molecule's Alex Evans, in which we got a deeper look at this highly anticipated game.
Little Big Planet's subtitle "play, create, share" describes the three main tent posts on which the game is built. What's interesting is that the game pays attention to exactly how you play and will reward you for participating in its various aspects. Some players might want to focus on the play aspect of the game, making their way through the various levels that will come shipped with the game at release. Others might want to forgo the playing altogether, and instead choose to experiment with the game's extended creation tools. Finally, sharing your creations with the rest of the world will earn you rewards, too, either as in-game trophies, or as recognition from other LBP players who choose to download and play your levels.
Evans took us through several levels of the game, demonstrating a huge breadth of creativity from the developers at Media Molecule. First up was a traditional platforming level, one with a wintery theme that featured icy ramps that you could slide down, a mechanized dogsled that was powered by a rocket engine, and falling icicles that you had to dodge and then use as ledges to access higher areas of the level.
The platforming levels are likely to be tons of fun for fans, but what really fires us up are the more creative levels that use some of the new tools introduced today. For example, Evans introduced the audio tool, which will let you attach prerecorded audio samples to objects and then choose from a variety of criteria to determine when that sound is triggered and how it sounds when it plays. As an example, you might have a simple box to which you can attach the sound of a ninja yelling. In addition to being able to tweak the sound of the ninja's scream (slowing it down or speeding it up, for example), you can set when that sound is emitted, such as when your Sackboy character comes near, or when another object comes into contact with it.
Although this is a simple example, it can be taken to extremes. Evans showed off a Media Molecule demo level that featured a huge stack of boxes with attached audio samples, arranged to play in a very specific order as the player's Sackboy drove by in a cart. The result was a fascinating, sequenced musical piece that included full percussion and accompaniment. It was just another example of the kind of flexibility in the game's toolsets, the kind of creativity that seems to be limited only by the imagination (and the available free time) of the creator.
Some LBP players might want to focus mostly on playing the game, whereas others will want to spend their time creating things. Media Molecule recognizes these two very different approaches and is designing a path through each play style that will allow both kinds of players to be rewarded. For creators, there will be a series of levels that will consist of more than 60 focused tutorials, which end up at about two hours total of gameplay. This path will unlock the entirety of the tools you'll need to create anything you want in the game. However, if you're the "player" type and you make your way through the game's created levels, you'll not only unlock the same tools, but also a lot of prefabbed items that you can plop into your created worlds right away. Add to those tools things like the ability to create stickers from scratch by using the PlayStation Eye camera, and the results seem to be virtually unlimited.
Collaborative creation will let multiple players join in on the fun of creating levels and objects together. When creating with a friend, there will be a hover mode that will let you float through various parts of the screen to easily access things that you might have to climb to get to otherwise. For more complex objects, you'll see exactly how they are put together, including any behind-the-scenes wiring that makes an object work but isn't viewable when encountering the object in the played version of the level. In addition, players will be able to "copyright" their created objects, which will let them share it with other players but will also lock it so that those players won't be able to break down how the object works.
Once a level is created, you'll be able to tag it with a number of preset tags to better describe your level in preparation for uploading to the world. All of the content that is published online will be easily moderated by the community using some simple in-game tools. If you find something that bothers you, the first step will be to take a photo of the objectionable content, then explain why you find the content offensive with some handy preset tags, and then upload the photo, at which point the LBP community will check into it.
Thanks to some handy (and undoubtedly complex) behind-the-scenes code, the in-game community aspect of LBP seems to be rich and robust. In addition to the aforementioned tagging of levels, the game will let you keep track of your favorite levels and players in the game. You'll be able to tag your levels with a "heart" system that will let you tag levels as favorite and, over time, the game will present you with user content that is more attuned to your personal preferences. In addition, Evans said that the team hoped to have a Web version of the favorites system that would let you keep track of your favorite players and levels, and even check out who's been playing through the content that you've created.
Each time we see Little Big Planet, our smile seems to grow a bit wider. As we said in the beginning, the game is looking awesome, and there's better news ahead: A beta is in the works, which we hope to be playing in the near future. The final version of the game is due for release this October. We'll be bringing you much more coverage of the game in the near future, so stay tuned.