Game Changers: Littlebigplanet
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
THE CONCEPT OF PLAY, CREATE, SHARE WAS A HUGE SUCCESS FOR BOTH MEDIA MOLECULE AND SONY, STARTING HERE WITH LITTLEBIGPLANET
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.