GDC 07: LittleBigPlanet First Look

Sony's intriguing new game asks what happens when felt creatures come to the PlayStation 3.

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Given the abstract nature of the theoretical talk that occurs when the power of the PlayStation 3's cell processor is brought up, it's somehow fitting that one of the most intriguing displays of what the system can do should be a unique game from the fine folks who brought us Rag Doll Kung Fu. During Sony's Game Developers Conference press event last night, Phil Harrison introduced reps from UK-based Media Molecule, who were on hand to show off LittleBigPlanet, an upcoming PS3 title with a funky twist. The demo of the game offered an intriguing showcase for what's possible with the PS3.

The demo started out with a long sock-puppet critter hanging out in a plain area. The player giving the demo touched on how the control scheme would work and showed off how the Sixaxis' motion control could be used to move the critter's head. Once the basics were covered, the host called up a menu and selected some items to place in the area around the critter. The items, such as a felt tree, could be rotated for placement and dropped anywhere. It was also possible to combine items. For example, when a gear was placed on a large piece of wood, it became something that could be interacted with by hanging on it, spinning on it, and running on top of it treadmill style.

Besides physical objects, it was possible to place stickers on the world. In the case of the demo, this included the fabric that formed the walls of the initial area. Once that was shown off, the demo moved to a four-player run-through in an area that had been created ahead of time and showed off the different looks possible for the sock critters. The basic sock critter was joined by a buddy in an Evil Knievel outfit, another wearing a dragon costume, and a more feminine pal. The quartet began at a starting area and then raced to collect sponge, which is a resource needed for making items.

The journey showed off the unique ways you can interact with objects once they're placed. Upon reaching a high area that couldn't be reached by jumping, the crew alternately used an orange and a soccer ball as a series of platforms to reach the upper area. It was also possible to swing and jump from the moving soccer ball or use the momentum of the rolling orange to vault there as well. Besides the individual platforming, a later sequence showed off the potential for teamwork as the four characters strapped on jetpacks and worked together to move a large item onto a platform by grabbing it and zipping up to where they needed to go.

The run ended with the four characters dramatically sailing through the air on a skateboard, commemorated with an in-game snap taken by one of the players. At the end of the run, signaled by a helpful "finished" sign, the reps showed off a video that gave an idea of what is going to be possible in the game. The big element in the video was the showcase of how you'll be able to create and upload levels to the PlayStation Network that others can download and rate. The closing bit of the demo also showed off the game's nod to Media Molecule's Rag Doll Kung Fu roots as the characters engaged in a friendly brawl.

The visuals in the game were sharp and featured a mix of modest and photorealistic detail of what was shown. The game's sandboxlike nature requires a degree of flexibility that's impressive considering how you can interact and manipulate with what looks to be just about anything. The demo area shown featured an impressive level of scale and interactivity with the demo, opening up in a small area and then opening up into a much bigger one seamlessly. The look of the game is interesting in that it blends real-world objects with more fantastical bits, such as felt trees and stickers. The little sock-puppet characters feature more personality than you'd think, though they definitely lean toward the cute end of the spectrum.

Based on what we've seen, LittleBigPlanet is a promising new idea that works as a showcase for the PS3. The visual elements coupled with the gameplay and the impressive amount of customization and online support are intriguing. We're curious as to the kind of structure the game is going to have, how much "game" will be in there out of the gate, and how much will rely on the user's imagination. Still, there's a lot of potential here for some cool stuff that we're excited to see realized. According to Harrison, LittleBigPlanet will be available for download later this year on the PS3 network and on disc in 2008. Look for more on the game in the coming months.

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