LittleBigPlanet, The Next Big Thing


Initially a promising demo at GDC ’07, Media Molecule’s LittleBigPlanet has more recently ballooned into a flagship PS3 product after an impressive E3 showing. The heavy emphasis on user created content in a 2D console platformer made it something I knew I’d have to keep a close eye on.

At the Edinburgh Interactive Festival last Tuesday, LittleBigPlanet “Super User” Barra Collins, who has the revered occupation of demonstrating the game to other Sony employees, sat down with me for a formal 40 minute play session. There is a core game which progresses from tutorials to puzzles to boss encounters, but it was the editing features in the latest build of the game that I wanted to explore.

Giraffe Attack!

Barra joined me with his character, telling me that “Create, play, share” is the core concept of the game and so we started creating. The creation menu has a number of options: a pointer for selecting objects (called the “Tadpole tool” due to its appearance), a list of stickers and avatar customisation. Using this menu, I set up Sackboy with a classy top hat. The whole process is slick, requiring only single button presses and analogue stick movement.

Arriving at an empty stage, Barra explains that although the game operates on a 2D plane, there are four “layers” of movement on any platform; three that an avatar can move between (from the foreground to the distance), and one which is purely a backdrop. Physics also work on a 2D plane, so you won’t have to worry about objects falling into the player camera.

Whilst editing, your avatar can float around the stage, immune from level elements. The creation menu is also expanded to include materials, pre-made objects (some collected in game), and favourite objects. To get a feel for the controls, Barra and I attempted to co-operatively construct a swing puzzle. I grabbed sponge material, smeared it out flat onto the ground and lit it on fire. Barra built the swing out of chicken drumsticks and string from the toolbox. I made a couple of mistakes through this, the volume of content and options is staggering, but I used the impressive undo function to amend these, rewinding time and stopping objects in air when I needed to.

After making a time trial race for players with a finishing podium I fashioned one of the more unique game objects, a Non-Playable Character. Using materials such as wood and sponge together with a series of motors I gave the NPC life. I even appended a text box to it, which would give players advice should they approach it.

Creating items this way seems limited only by what you can think of. We put together two cars and added momentum by attaching rocket propellent to the back of each. Placing the cars at the end of our level, I couldn’t help but elicit a massive grin at what we had achieved in mere minutes.

It seems that players can not only share levels but also created objects across PlayStation Network. Before long it was time to save and test our level. Level properties can be modified from the toolkit; the time of day, level location and strength and colour of ambient lighting can all be set. We decided on a jungle theme. Our hard work paid off when it came time to play, and we drew quite a crowd at EIF by the time our rocket fuelled cars blasted across the stage.

Keeps children engrossed, guaranteed!

Keeps children engrossed, guaranteed!

I was curious which build I was playing, given the level of content and polish evident. “This is the latest E3 build, the builds between now and GDC are quite different”, Barra said. Indeed, the only thing that seemed unfinished about the experience was the frame rate, which was sporadic, occasionally dipping below 20FPS and topping 50FPS, but always playable. I was told that the developers were aiming to lock down the title at 30FPS, which seems entirely plausible given the time left until development ends.

As the demo ended, I confirmed the European release date. “Around the 30th of October”, Barra said, “the voice actors for each localisation have already been booked”. A Quite Interesting choice for the British localisation, the legendary Stephen Fry will guide players through the initial gameplay and creation tutorials.

Coming away from my time with LittleBigPlanet, I was left feeling that the hype has been justified. It reforms many of the rules of content progression, while at the same time refreshing classic platformers. It’s a ton of fun, endlessly charming and it may be the best reason to get a PlayStation 3 yet.




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3 responses to “LittleBigPlanet, The Next Big Thing”

  1. Tony avatar

    After Ben’s post about needing a time machine to fit in all the games to be played at the end of this year, I’m thinking that if I did have a time machine I’d just jump straight to LBPs launch date and forget all the other games…

  2. Donna avatar

    Yay Stephen Fry!!!

  3. Shaz avatar

    LOl Stephen Fry narration!
    So do the sackboys and girls have voices of their own?
    Upon the news of the bonus Kratos and Nariko characters,wouldn’t it be cute to see a little angry one and his chibi grunts. Hopefully he doesn’t whip out his weapons chopping everyone else up!

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