Media Molecule’s Alex Evans begins his presentation on LittleBigPlanet 2 by recalling, with considerable pride, how journalists had responded to the first reveal of the original game by ‘complaining’ that it was impossible to write a piece about a game with such mind-boggling potential. He goes on to outline the team’s hope that journalists will have exactly the same problem this time too.
It’s more than a hope, really. It’s an expectation, a confident one, and one that has been fulfilled and then exceeded by the end of our day in the company of Media Molecule and LittleBigPlanet 2. We’ve got another 1500 words to write here and we have no idea how to begin, how to end or what to put in the middle. It’s already too much for out feeble brains to comprehend and we get the horrible yet wonderful feeling that Media Molecule has only really scratched the surface.
We even went to the trouble of asking Kareem Ettouney, art director and co-founder of Media Molecule, how he’d go about writing a preview of LittleBigPlanet 2 if he were in our shoes and he went off on one like you wouldn’t believe, giving an answer with an abundance of passion, conviction and belief, but almost no coherence, structure or focus. It was a bit like asking a child to describe how big the universe is. Fellow co-founder Mark Healey had similar difficulties in trying to sum up his hopes and expectations for Sackboy’s second outing, pretty much giving up halfway through a sentence, leaning back in his chair with his head in his hands and sighing, “I just… can’t wait.”
So if even the guys making it can’t sum up LittleBigPlanet 2 in some kind of orderly way, what hope do we have? Probably none, but we’ll try. Put it this way, we saw more than enough of the game in one day to make us literally dizzy at the thought of what might be possible, and were promised that there are plenty more unfinished details still to be revealed and that more features and content will be added after release, just as they were with the original. So all we can do is try and cram as many of the details we now know as we can into these four pages and not worry too much about arriving at some sort of conclusion because by the time you get to the end of this piece you’ll probably be too drooling and cross-eyed to notice anyway.
Let’s start with what Media Molecule’s staff describe as the ‘hottest thing’ in the whole game, the thing that they believe would justify the release of a sequel by itself. Oh yes, it’s the snappily titled Sixaxis Direct Control Seat. The name will change as soon as someone thinks of something better, but the functionality will stay pretty much just as we saw it. The seat is a little square with a picture of a D-pad on it that Sackboy can flip down and pop himself onto. Once in position he will have direct control of whatever it is the seat is wired up to – most obviously a vehicle but, as with everything in LittleBigPlanet, not necessarily. The potential applications are vast.
But let’s say the seat is both attached and wired to a vehicle. Sackboy can now drive that vehicle without needing to clumsily grab things and pull levers like he used to. That in itself is pretty cool, but think a little deeper about the implications and you realise that if Sackboy needn’t be visible in the seat and the seat needn’t even be physically attached to whatever it is it controls, then what this means is you can effectively have entire levels where the main playable character – or playable… thing – isn’t Sackboy. Not just levels, entire games. Oh yes, you can link your levels together so that they work as games in LBP 2. Just think about it, but don’t think about it too hard, you’ll do yourself a mischief.
The Direct Control Seat works using a special variant of the new chip system, which is set to play a very important part in shaping how the most advanced creators do their stuff. Our heads are starting to hurt from thinking about it, but we’ll persevere. Okay, remember how switches and sensors had to be placed on the physical environment in the first LBP? And how that could get very cluttered and confusing? Well, now you can put your switches and sensors and other gubbins onto a circuit board, which can in theory be as big as an entire level and can be condensed down to about the same size as a single switch. The special chip that exists in every Direct Control Seat is a pre-set example of one of these circuit boards. A switch representing every function of the PS3 controller is mapped onto it and each of these functions can be wired to an object, and a corresponding action specified. But in other chips, actions don’t need to be wired to functions of the controller, they can be wired to a huge range of parameters and conditions to the point where you can even start programming complex AI routines.
There are loads more types of sensors beyond those that detect the proximity of Sackboy or of a specific Key and there are loads more types of action, way beyond the simple on/off mechanics of the first game. For example, any object can now move independently of gravity or of any mechanism. Winches and bolts and pistons and that kind of thing are still there if Creators want to use them, but to make things simpler a platform can be made to move up and down or a wheel go ‘round and ‘round because it is specified to do so and not necessarily because physics makes it happen. What all this means is that advanced Creators will be able to make characters and creatures entirely from scratch and give them intelligent, responsive, adaptive behavioural patterns designed from scratch. Put that together with playable entities and control systems that can also be designed from scratch and you should start getting a sense of how enormous the possibilities are. Makes you go, “Er… um… so… whu… ca… huh… blschdblpgurgh,” doesn’t it?
Now, if all this sounds very complicated, that’s because it is, but even if you don’t get to that advanced level of Creation yourself, it’s worth knowing that some people can and will do incredible things with all these new possibilities. And the cool thing is that even those of us not smart enough or dedicated enough to design our own chips can still create NPCs with simple AI behaviour thanks to the inclusion of Sackbots. A Sackbot is essentially a clone of Sackboy that isn’t controlled by the player, at least not directly. They’re easier for Creators to use than characters made from scratch because their form and many of their actions are pre-made, and there are loads of uses for them. In one of the Story levels we played, there were seven mini Sackbots (they can be scaled either up or down) that needed to be rescued from a factory. They essentially had two actions. One was to follow Sackboy, the other was to get sucked up a pipe whenever they walked under one.
They were smart enough to jump over obstacles and switch paths where necessary without that needing to be manually programmed in, which goes to show how easy they are for Creators to work with. A few different settings and they can be used as enemies, and you can even wire one up to a Direct Control Seat and have Sackboy directly control a Sackbot using the default Sackboy controls. We were shown an example of how Sackboy could use a bigger, stronger Sackbot to move objects too heavy for him to drag himself. All this can be done without using custom-built chips, but you can programme Sackbots with chips if you want. Media Molecule even reckons it might be possible to programme a Sackbot capable of completing any level automatically. Whuh!? Yeah, we know, but that’s what was said.
So, that’s the really, mind-bogglingly awesome stuff covered in-depth, which hopefully leaves us enough space to go over various other, mostly self-explanatory details before we finally collapse in a puddle of our own brain goo. Ready? Go…
The whole game looks a touch better, and that includes LittleBigPlanet levels running in LittleBigPlanet 2. The difference isn’t huge, but everything basically looks a bits deeper thanks to some improved shadowing. The Share side of things has been massively improved thanks to an improved in-game interface as well as integration with Facebook, Twitter, mobile phones, QR Codes and a unified LBP website that allows you to queue up, and even launch, levels from your PC, as well as a whole host of community features. Basically, it’s less likely you’ll spend a fortnight on a level only for just eight people to ever play it.
There are loads of new tools along the lines of the paint gun and the jetpack. We tried out the grapple arm, which was loads of fun, and saw the power glove, which made Sackboy stronger and able to throw things. Also, you can now create cut-scenes and even entirely non-interactive movies should you so wish. So this means LittleBigPlanet 2 isn’t just for creating platform games… it’s not even just for creating games… it’s for creating movies and… and… and… oh, we just can’t wait…