LittleBigPlanet, developed by Media Molecule, is hands down the exclusive game of the year for the PlayStation 3. This game stole the entire show for me as it was the lone title I went in excited to not only play, but to grab a closed door session with. The behind the scenes demonstration was conducted by technical director Alex Evans. I had the privilege of sitting next to N’Gai Croal for this full hour of Sackboy fun, so you could imagine how much Sony fanboyism was flooding over the room from the first row with the two of us combined.
Evans began the demonstration by jumping into user-created levels, which resulted in him explaining how the level 'world' truly operates. LBP will feature a full 360 degree world that you can traverse in order to find the level or map you’d like to play. When you find a level, you can actually see if anybody else is playing that particular level as well. A question that popped up was, “Does this mean if we play a level online with someone already in it, they’ll be there too?” To be honest, Evans never clearly answered the question, so I’m not 100% sure if you’ll be able to play a level with only your friends or if you'll be forced to peruse the world with other users that you don’t know. I imagine both will be potential possibilities.
The community universe that Evans showed us was actually very much like a YouTube subscriber’s profile. You’re able to ‘heart’ certain maps which will save them to your favorites. The system is set up so that as you begin to heart levels, the software will be able to take the specifics within the levels and create recommendations from other users that may be offering similarly styled worlds. This will make it far easier to find more maps that you’ll enjoy rather than trudging through creation after creation to find one that you'll actually be glad you stepped into. While I’m on the subject, you’ll also be given 'activity levels' for everything you do. So, if you’re a guy who plays levels that nobody else has tried yet, you may be known as an “explorer."
Within this community aspect, you’ll actually have the chance to search for levels that have yet to be explored, levels that have been hearted the most and so on. You’ll also be able to tag levels with keywords. It is through these abilities that you’ll be able to get the most out of your LBP experience. From what we were shown, it should work pretty well.
To continue on the path of community-driven content, I’d like to discuss some of the cooler aspects of actually creating your own levels. Evans mentioned to us that some genius had created a level with nothing but boxes running along the floor. Each box had a certain sound effect equipped to it that would take effect when the box was weighted down. A vehicle was placed at the beginning of the level that your Sackboy would hop in to and ride to the very end. Of course, by now you’ve figured out what makes that so cool - the boxes actually played a tune as you rode through the level. Slowing or speeding up the vehicle allowed you to change the tempo of the song. It's been said so many times but I'll say it again - the possibilities within LittleBigPlanet are endless.
After this explanation, Evans dove into the level creator and showed how easy it was to set up these boxes with triggered sound effects. He also demonstrated how easy it was to set them on fire, which in turn lit his Sackboy ablaze. Poor Sackboy. For those of you who are artistically challenged like myself, you’ll be able to use other people’s creations within your world, as long as they’re not copyrighted that is. Within the level creator pop-up menu, there is a section of user-created content where you can sift through pre-made vehicles, trees, gadgets and so on. The ones within the demo had all been uploaded by beta users who allowed other users to utilize them. Creationists will have the option to upload these for the community either with a copyright or without one, which leads me to believe that yes, you will eventually see purchasable user-generated content.
A brilliant part about the level creator is the ability to play through your level as you create it. This definitely makes it easier to fine-tune every aspect without having to save, load, play, quit, reload level editor, tweak, rinse and repeat. Without question, ease of use is something that will determine how many individuals put time and effort into this aspect of the game. Luckily, the creation process is a lot more user-friendly than I originally expected it to be.
After the demonstration, it was time to jump into some hands-on time with Alex Evans and a former PSU journalist, Usman Ihtsham. Now, I won’t lie, I spent a good portion of my hands-on time chasing Usman down and slapping his Sackboy across the screen with my own, mostly because it was absolutely hilarious to watch his Sackboy go flying through the air. After I laid the law down a handful of times, the level was fully loaded and it was time to show this map who was in charge. First, I had to dress up my Sackboy. When my amazing fashion creation was fully materialized, Sackboy had on a Fargo-like hat, some shades, a floatie tube around his waist, a mustache and the ugliest Gladiator outfit possible. He was a warrior to be reckoned with and, just to express his new found dominance, he pranced over to Usman’s Sackboy and slapped him to the floor once more.
I then took off through the level trying to collect as many energy orbs as I could, because let’s face it, I’m a hoarder of collectables. While doing so, I accidentally ran into an electrically charged enemy and my Sackboy met a painful demise. I grieved for a brief moment, but then Sackboy popped back to life and I was given another opportunity to send this electric baddie into oblivion – which I proceeded to do with glee. I then had to grab onto a swinging ball to fly across a gap in the world to reach the other side. I’d like to mention here that if you tap R1 a thousand times, you’re not going to get a reaction each time to grab something - you have to wait until the first grab attempt is over before you can perform a second. This kind of sucks, because if you miss the ball on your initial attempt, you have to wait for it to come back to you to try again. It does add to the physical behavior of your actual arms however, as it’s hard to grab twice simultaneously in real-life unless you’re some sort of super-human.
Once across this platform, it was time to slide across some ice on top of what looked like a sled. As we approached the end of the ice, there was a small wall in the ground that caused the sled to halt and it actually sent us seatbelt-less Sackboys soaring through the air into a giant pit of energy balls. I incredibly impressed at how the sequence of events took place. The small pops of the energy balls just added to the kid-like glee that was building up from spending some quality time with the game.
After hoarding as many energy balls as I could, it was time to race to the finish line like the marathon runner that Sackboy is. Of course, Alex beat us all across the line. I didn’t mind though, showing my sportsmanship by once again slapping Usman’s Sackboy to the ground.
Unfortunately, once the level was over, my hands-on time came to an end. The game had honestly left such an impression on me that I was in a sad state when I was forced to detach myself. Media Molecule showed me that this innovative title wasn’t all talk with little action, but a fully delivered masterpiece that will undoubtedly make it into the homes of millions of people. I left the room satisfied and in dire need of a time machine. October, here we come.