The Littlest LittleBigPlanet 2 Launch Event
On a wintry, snow-covered Toronto afternoon, invited media guests poured into the Gladstone Hotel in Toronto, Ontario (Canada) to get an early look at LittleBigPlanet 2, which releases today.
The small venue was set up with six flatscreen HDTVs, each running a retail copy of LittleBigPlanet 2. Two-player games were being encouraged, and the first thing I noticed right-off is how much better the campaign levels played in a co-operative setting. The game is much more cinematic thanks to dynamic camera options and the ability to animate non-player characters; in LBP1, the story was conveyed by flat characters and text bubbles, making the whole thing feel like a puppet show. In LBP2, the story is driven by fully-animated and voiced NPCs. Stephen Fry still returns as the game’s instructional narrator, but the campaign progresses with likes of Larry Da Vinci and the robotic Ms. Bathysphere.
There are plenty of new tools available to Sack Things (a more gender-correct pronoun used by the game) that bring it in line with modern platformers. Grappling hooks, grabbing gloves, and jump pads seem like no-brainers for a modern videogame. Even so, LBP2 manages to use these objects to unconventional success, an example of which being the Basketball level (a level that dominated one screen for the better part of an hour, it was so fun). Unfortunately the game’s creation tools were locked behind a wall of tutorial completion and campaign item collection, so very little of it was shown. I did get to see a few improvements, however, such as the ability to fullscreen the Popit menu and control over a level’s gravity.
The real star of the game, and the thing budding designers should be most excited about, is the Controlinator. It’s something you almost never see directly, but you can tell when it’s being used: it’s the tool that lets you map specific in-game actions directly to the controller, rather than having to build an elaborate setup for Sack Things to influence. It was immediately apparent as soon as one encountered rat racing, mechadogs, or the camel spit shooter (that played like Missile Command) that the Controlinator is, quite literally, a game-changer.
We got a chance to speak with Christophe Villedieu, level designer for Media Molecule. He has quite the interesting story; he used to work in advertising when the first LittleBigPlanet was released, and he was hired by Media Molecule based on the strength of the content he created using the game’s tools. He described how his designs often had to work around the limitations of the first game. For instance, when making a pinball table, he couldn’t get the camera to focus on the ball, since it was always locked to Sackboy. To solve this, he built an apparatus behind the table which kept Sackboy moving with the ball and, thusly, kept the camera on the ball. Christophe is happy to report that thanks to the involvement of himself and other members of the LBP community, such workarounds will no longer be necessary. Between the new camera controls and the Controlinator, budding designers can spend less time working around limitations and more time creating something fun.
After enjoying some free beverages, snacking on some Sack Thing cookies, and playing some intense rounds on the Basketball level, we were ready to call it a day. We couldn’t leave, however, without being given a couple Sack Plushies!