Reader Mail #1: Little Big Planet, Growth, and Creativity

Ahoy, readers! I cannot believe it’s now officially been over a month since we last spoke. A lot has happened since my last post. I’ve submitted my MSc dissertation, and took a couple of weeks off from life; a break punctuated by the occasional job application. I’m now back to kick ass, rock and roll, and other things like that.

A few days ago, I tweeted a call for topics to blog about. Today’s post is inspired by the wonderful @doctorcdf, writer extraordinaire, who has recently been published. Christian also writes the wonderful Whirled Peas, and is more eco hardcore than I could ever dream of being.

Christian asked (although I can’t seem to dig up the exact tweet) what effect Media Molecule’s expansion of its Little Big Planet franchise, Little Big Planet 2, will have on the creative levels of its community. For those of you who don’t know, Little Big Planet is a game production warehouse in itself. It’s sold with a few pre-made levels, but with the real emphasis being on making your own levels and uploading them to Media Molecule’s servers, for all to see and share. It’s a great formula, which has really taken off, and has produced some absolutely outstanding stuff.

Little Big Planet 2, which is to be released next January, brings all sorts of improvements into the mix, such as the ability to create NPCs, and reconfigure your level’s control scheme. It also includes a number of ‘templates’, which mean you’re no longer restricted by a platform game framework, and can instead build racing games, puzzle games, and even RPGs. This last point is a novel addition to the series, but I fear it’s one that may be somewhat moot, considering what people have made using existing tools from Little Big Planet.

Check out the above video and you’ll see what I mean. Someone has successfully recreated Duck Hunt (the NES game that used the NES Zapper), with visually accurate ducks, dog, and everything. It’s a shooting game. You shoot ducks. In short, the level resembles nothing of a platform game, which just goes to show the level of creativity showcased by the LBP community. Indeed, LBP players have built everything from Zelda and Mario remakes, to Donkey Kong themed levels, and have also remade more classical games like noughts and crosses. One chap even used one of his levels to proposed to his girlfriend. In short, the possibilities are practically endless, especially when you bear in mind these levels were built using a set of relatively simplistic tools.

This is all fantastic, but there’s one thing that strikes me as odd. There seems to be a definite trend of creating levels that mimic other games. I’m not saying this is a bad thing by any means. These original games are all based on tried and tested formulae, and if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. It’s also fascinating how people have overcome the limitations of Little Big Planet’s level editor to come up with things so far removed from conventional platform gaming, and so different from anything you’d expect from a level editor for a platform game. I’m sure this is partly due to the absence of crushing rigidity found in other level editors, but also due to something of a human need to rebel, and conquer such a system. I’m sure some people saw the rules of Little Big Planet as a challenge. After all, it’s people like this, I’m sure, that are responsible for the creation of Counter Strike, and more recently, Garry’s Mod, which were all originally based upon the architecture of the Half-Life games.

What will Little Big Planet 2 do, then? Well, I’d firstly hope that it removes more boundaries from the level creation process. I hope this means people will be less preoccupied with beating the system, and more concerned with producing original levels, and original games, which is something Little Big Planet 2 cites as now possible. As I said before, there’s nothing wrong with the current slew of remakes on Little Big Planet, but hopefully with more tools, and less rules, people will be able to concentrate more on being creative, and making awesome happen. I’m sure there’ll still be those who try to conquer the rules that govern Little Big Planet 2’s creation system, but in lesser numbers, as the system is less restrictive, and makes it easier to allow you to make what you want to make. Although (in my opinion) this greater freedom will sacrifice some of the ingenuity that made Duck Hunt on Little Big Planet happen, but will also allow for more creative ideas to come to fruition. That’s my opinion, anyway. We’ll have to wait and see what happens when Little Big Planet 2 is released.

What do you think? Am I making sense, or does the above equate to complete codswallop? I’d love to hear about some of your favourite Little Big Planet levels, too.

I’ll be having some hands-on time with Little Big Planet 2 at the Eurogamer Expo this weekend, and will surely let you all know what happens.