Game Chang­ers: Lit­tlebig­planet

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In an is­sue ded­i­cated to how you can do more in the world of gam­ing, we thought it was a good time to look back at Me­dia Mol­e­cule’s ode to player cre­ativ­ity and how its Play, Cre­ate, Share mantra has gone on to in­flu­ence the in­dus­try in all the years that have fol­lowed

De­vel­oper: ubisoft Mon­treal Pub­lisher: Sony In­ter­ac­tive en­ter­tain­ment Re­leased: 27 Oc­to­ber 2008 Sys­tem: PS3

Me­dia Mol­e­cule put the cre­ativ­ity of the com­mu­nity in con­trol and came out all the bet­ter be­cause of it. here games™ re­mem­bers one of the Plays­ta­tion 3’s best ever ex­clu­sives

Of­ten, The SUC­CESS or fail­ure of a com­plex con­cept lives and dies in the pitch. Lit­tlebig­planet may have re­leased ex­clu­sively for Plays­ta­tion 3 in 2008, but for de­vel­oper Me­dia Mol­e­cule the jour­ney be­gan back in 2005. It en­vi­sioned a physics-based, 2D side-scrolling game that would serve as a can­vas for the com­mu­nity’s cre­ativ­ity – ex­ist­ing un­der the pro­to­typal name Craft­world. Con­sole gamers weren’t yet au fait with the joy to be found in user-gen­er­ated con­tent, only just be­gin­ning to flirt with on­line-con­nec­tiv­ity. It was a risk, but it was one that piqued the in­ter­est of Sony all the same. fast for­ward to 2008 and Me­dia Mol­e­cule had cap­tured the at­ten­tion of the en­tire in­dus­try; a stun­ning GDC demon­stra­tion the year prior was a state­ment of in­tent, but ul­ti­mately the suc­cess of Lit­tlebig­planet falls on how much its core mes­sage, its pitch, res­onated with the masses: “Play, Cre­ate, Share.” Those three words be­came an ex­pres­sion of in­tent for Sony in the ear­li­est days of the PS3. Lit­tlebig­planet was the largest proponent of the con­cept, de­liv­er­ing a ti­tle that put a huge em­pha­sis on three core el­e­ments: play­ing alone or with oth­ers ei­ther on­line or on the same con­sole, cre­at­ing new con­tent with easy to un­der­stand ingame cre­ation tools, and shar­ing those cre­ations with mil­lions of other play­ers across the world.

It’s easy to forget that Me­dia Mol­e­cule de­liv­ered one of the most en­ter­tain­ing plat­form­ers of the gen­er­a­tion in Lit­tlebig­planet. So much at­ten­tion has been cast on the Cre­ate and Share as­pects that its Play


is of­ten over­looked. But a com­mu­nity of play­ers quickly formed around Lit­tlebig­planet, ea­ger to dig into a main story com­prised of 50 pre-built lev­els, each of which drew in­spi­ra­tion from a va­ri­ety of real-world lo­cales in a fan­tas­ti­cal fash­ion. These lev­els es­tab­lished a solid level of qual­ity across the breadth of the ex­pe­ri­ence, rep­re­sent­ing the base-line that would-be cre­atives could draw from as they looked to vi­su­alise their imag­i­na­tions and form their own de­sign ex­per­tise.

Im­pres­sively, these lev­els weren’t flat 2D af­fairs ei­ther; Sack­boy could ma­noeu­vre be­tween three planes of depth, duck­ing be­tween the fore­ground, mid­dle­ground and back­ground to fur­ther ex­plore the de­light­ful patch­work con­struc­tions. It was starkly imag­i­na­tive; the story mode, while short, was out­stand­ing in its pro­fes­sion­al­ism and cre­ativ­ity. Bet­ter still, the stu­dio handed the com­mu­nity the tools to recre­ate the whole thing over; the en­vi­ron­ments, the ob­jects that filled them, the physics sys­tem, ev­ery­thing. What fol­lowed was a gen­uine rev­o­lu­tion in the gam­ing space, ush­er­ing in a pe­riod in which play­ers were not merely con­sumers but di­rectly in­volved in shap­ing the ex­pe­ri­ence it­self.

What’s more im­pres­sive still is how in­trin­si­cally linked each of the three pil­lars were to the ex­pe­ri­ence, even at launch. Me­dia Mol­e­cule put a ma­jor em­pha­sis on Cre­ate. Play­ers were en­cour­aged to cre­ate their own ad­ven­tures with the in­tu­itive built-in level cre­ator and to utilise the va­ri­ety of ob­jects they had made through­out the cam­paign to be­gin bring­ing them to life. The cre­ation tools were com­pre­hen­sive; AI rou­tines could be es­tab­lished, the physics sys­tem could be used to cre­ate mov­ing ob­jects, mo­torised struc­tures, and a va­ri­ety of in­tu­itive, in­ge­nious cre­ations. Pre­made level and ob­ject tem­plates were in­cluded to give play­ers a good place to start, but it’s what came in the months fol­low­ing re­lease that re­ally cap­tured the at­ten­tion.

As play­ers be­gan to learn the com­plex­i­ties of the tools they had been handed, the tem­plates started to fall away. Lit­tlebig­planet may have been de­signed as a plat­former, but it wasn’t long be­fore it was home to a

va­ri­ety of gen­res – in­clud­ing rac­ing, fight­ing, shoot­ing and sports games. The in­ge­nu­ity of the com­mu­nity seemed to know no bounds, and that’s a tes­ta­ment to how fan­tas­tic Me­dia Mol­e­cule’s im­ple­men­ta­tion of its cre­ation and test­ing sys­tems were. Back in 2008, few truly be­lieved that this would or could even work; by 2009, as on­line co-op cre­ation ses­sions were in­tro­duced to play via a soft­ware patch, the in­dus­try was fully be­hind Me­dia Mol­e­cule’s dream de­but.

The big­gest prob­lem with games that build their iden­tity around com­mu­nity cre­ations are the ques­tions of qual­ity and that of sus­tain­abil­ity. Look back to the re­views of Lit­tlebig­planet, and you can see echoes of these con­cerns; whether any­body would ever cre­ate any­thing that other peo­ple would ac­tu­ally want to play, and of how easy it would be to ac­tu­ally find the good amongst the bad. Teething is­sues re­gard­ing server sta­bil­ity and mod­er­a­tion aside, the global com­mu­nity fea­tures in­tro­duced by Me­dia Mol­e­cule were a huge suc­cess. With over two mil­lion lev­els cre­ated and up­loaded to Lit­tlebig­work­shop by 2010, Lit­tlebig­planet’s com­mu­nity would only grow in size over the years.

Re­quir­ing cre­ators to play through their level to the end be­fore it could be shared en­sured that most were at least func­tional, while an in-game sys­tem of rat­ing and re­view­ing would prove to be enough to push the best into con­tact with a pub­lic ea­ger to di­gest the cre­ations of their fel­low gamers.

The con­cept of Play, Cre­ate, Share was a huge suc­cess for both Me­dia Mol­e­cule and Sony, start­ing here with Lit­tlebig­planet – a game that found huge suc­cess and brought so much to an in­dus­try that was look­ing to con­nect with play­ers in a new age of global ex­pe­ri­ences. Lit­tlebig­planet was a land­mark re­lease, prov­ing that even the most con­tentious con­cepts can be­come a re­al­ity when the ap­proach is forth­right and gen­uine. It in­spired a decade of con­struc­tion, imag­i­na­tion and ex­plo­ration, and its in­flu­ence will for­ever be felt in the de­sign and ex­e­cu­tion of re­leases that seek to put the com­mu­nity in the spotlight.

Stephen Fry made his videogame de­but in Lit­tlebig­planet, star­ring as The Nar­ra­tor. that It was his pres­ence en­sured the game felt de­cid­edly Bri­tish.

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