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LittleBigPlanet 2 – dev interview

So we’ve had the user-created content revolution – what’s next? If Media Molecule has anything to say about it, users will soon be creating more than just levels – they’ll be concocting fully-functioning games.
After seeing LBP2 in action, we’re convinced that Media Molecule’s refurbished Creation tools are up to it. We caught up with Alex Evans to talk about the future.

Above: Alex with some of his creations

Who is Alex Evans? Prior to co-founding Media Molecule, he worked at Lionhead Studios – responsible for the genre-breaking Rag Doll Kung Fu. He was also active in the demo-scene community of the early 90s – made up of individuals who create software dedicated to showing off their programming, artistic, and musical skills. On to the interview…

LittleBigPlanet is LEGO for a new generation. Discuss.

You’re the first person who’s got it! I’ve been explaining to people, they ask, “Can I build X? Or can I build Y?” And the answer is yes. That’s what Mark, the Creative Director, is great at doing – seeing the requests that we get daily, like “can we have this feature, or that feature,” and sorting it out. We have discussions internally. I said to Mark: I really want to be able to make an RPG, can we have an RPG kit. He says you can already do it with LittleBigPlanet 2.

With the tools being expanded, do you still expect to be surprised by what people create?

We invited a bunch of top creators to come to the studio and create some levels and initially they were a bit nervous, because we gave them the LBP 2 spiel, and they were like ‘oh, wow… I don’t know where to begin’. You know, blank paper syndrome. And after a few hours of it, they were like, this is really enjoyable. There’s less faff. One said, “In LBP I have a place I want to get to with design. And in LBP it would take me two days to find my way. But in LBP 2 it’s much easier to get on my way.” So I think they’ll go as broad as ever, but hopefully the process will be more fun.

Are you worried that widening the range of options will deaden that creativity?

I see what you mean. I really like your point about constraints, and you know there still are constraints – it’s still 2.5D. What’s interesting is, taking the example of, say, a Gradius clone, you play it in LBP and you’re like, that’s amazing, and you have respect for the guy who built it, but when you look at it as a Gradius clone it’s not very well balanced, it doesn’t really play that well.

That’s what we want to change. In LBP 2 if the creator makes a Gradius clone he can spend his time balancing it and making it awesome. So the constraints are still there, but you can spend your time on the stuff that actually makes the gameplay fun.

Are you happy with the divide between creators and consumers, or are you trying to find ways to bridge that gap?

It’s a good question… there are different types of people. I gave the example of myself; I don’t tend to create levels that much. The sharers and the mechanisms of ‘share’ really allow people to link the two. Actually, I consider dressing up your Sackboy to be part of the ‘create’ aspect of LBP. Now by doing things like customizing your earth, and the way levels are presented, and the way you can follow specific creators like [with] Twitter.

These elements kind of highlight the people behind the level, and I hope these social aspects encourage people to actually publish their levels. The fixation of the gaming press and people like me is on levels and gameplay, but with the new share and search functions it’ll be easier to see that people are just creating and messing around with.

I hope that these new features make people more inclined to just share their stuff, because you can do stuff, like tweet about your creations – like, I’ve just created a shrine to Madmen, my favorite TV show of the moment, stuff like that.

How do you develop LBP from being something throwaway to something that players can come back to again and again?

When we were designing LBP 2’s features, we were asking ourselves what makes really good gameplay, as opposed to what makes an ‘interesting hack’, and it came down to character, control and story. So the idea was that we would help people tell stories, which is something that users were really trying to do in LBP – and now you can, because you can do voice recording, you can act with the Sackbots.

The main one was control, in terms of design. A lot of the time levels were at the mercy of the physics. The bridging of the gap between something playable and something throwaway now is in the precision of the controls. The proof will be in the stuff that’s published – they’re going to blow levels from LBP out of the water. The creators we brought over to check out LBP 2 are now like “I can’t play LBP anymore” Because they know what’s coming and can only get frustrated.

What’s LittleBigPlanet’s greatest achievement?

I think it proves the creativity of gamers. User-generated content has proven that we should never underestimate PSN users. We’ve hired four people from the community so far.

Aug 11, 2010