LittleBigPlanet PSP: developer interview

Wonderful things were to be found in the PSP lounge at this year’s Eurogamer Expo. Many PSP Gos (some of which even worked), several people from Media Molecule (three of whom Ross and I hijacked for a full half an hour to interview), and even people from Studio Cambridge, developers of the PSP version of LittleBigPlanet. Artist Laura Dilloway was in the wrong place at the wrong time, and found herself being quizzed by my good self before teatime.

With LittleBigPlanet’s established community and critical acclaim, I wondered, did Studio Cambridge feel any pressure to deliver?

“I don’t think we’ve been pressured so to speak, but we have listened to the LBP community when making certain decisions.” she says earnestly. “Costumes, for example. There are going to be loads and loads of different costumes for Sackboy, but we steered away from full body costumes. The community have said ‘We don’t like all in one pieces, we want smaller items like hats and shoes we can mix and match’. We’ve had a huge amount of feedback from the community and Media Molecule on various aspects of development, and it’s played a huge part in how the game has evolved.

“The guys at Media Molecule have been a guiding hand more than anything, but their input has been really valuable to us and to the game. What they’ve seen, they’re really pleased with. Although we started developing the PSP version before the original LittleBigPlanet had been released, comments from the community since then have definitely influenced several design decisions.”

Are they expecting existing LBP fans to be their main audience?

“I think we’re hoping for a new audience, as the PS3’s quite a specialist system, and obviously in a different price range as well. Being a portable, you can take the PSP on the school bus, train etc. It’s a lot more accessible. I think it’ll appeal to an even wider range of people. Not just journeys to school, but of course people play their PSPs on the long journey to and from work. You have the whole Play Create Share thing, and with the PSP, you can Play Create Share anywhere; you don’t have to sit in your living rooms and do it.”

Had they been given strict rules about what they could and couldn’t do with the game?

“We didn’t really have any limits. When we first started designing the game, every person on the project played through the PS3 version, so we had a good idea of what we were working with. With regards to art style, we split into two groups within the development team, We had the artists, and the designers. The designers did all the functionality, made sure everything was working perfectly. Each artist was assigned a theme, and they then had control over the entire art style for that theme. The themes are all new, so that meant we could do what we wanted; but because we were so familiar with the LBP style, we carried it on whilst doing our own thing with it.”

And gamers can copy what the developers have done exactly, as with the PS3 version?

“Completely. You can make anything we’ve made.”

So far so good; it sounds like a surprisingly faithful LBP handheld experience. The PSP, and PSP owners, have been crying out for a second analogue stick since the system’s release, however. The second stick is integral to the LBP big screen experience; did the lack of a second stick cause problems for Studio Cambridge?

“There aren’t any problems, but we did have to make a few changes to the controls.” Laura conceded. “For example, in Create mode, the two shoulder buttons are used as shift buttons. So you hold them down, and the analogue stick is then used for scaling rotating, zooming etc. as appropriate. It’s a small change, and you get used to it quite quickly. What we can’t have without a second stick, is moving limbs individually so you can slap your friends and that kind of thing. What we have got, is really cool little animations. So depending on what mood you’re in, you can set off one of these animations with the d pad in conjunction with the left shoulder button. And if you leave Sackboy idle for long enough, he’ll go into a pre set animation then, too, start doing star jumps or something!

“I don’t think it has caused any problems. The d pad is used for the animations etc, so that wasn’t an option for character control. In story mode, it works perfectly fine. In Create mode, the zoom is actually really useful, as it allows you to get the right level of detail for what you’re doing. It can take a little bit of getting used to, but you adjust very quickly.”

How will they provide level sharing without the benefit of PSN?

“We’ve still got upload and download, we’ve still got community moon. When you go online, you’ll be presented with levels that people have uploaded, and you can then download them. Because you’ve downloaded the levels, they stay on your PSP even when you go offline. Which is quite cool, as you don’t have to be online, you can still take them with you wherever you go. When you reconnect however your scores will be uploaded, so people can still see how many people have played each level. It still works in a similar way to the PS3 version. You can upload a maximum of twenty levels, and how many you can download is dependent on the free space on your memory stick.

“We’ve also got a new feature in ad hoc sharing, so you don’t have to go onto the moon at all. If you’re sitting with your friends and you’ve just made a really cool level, you can send it to them straight away with ad hoc sharing, which is basically instant local level sharing via wi fi.”

Is there anything the PSP version will offer that the PS3 game doesn’t?

“One thing we do have which is really useful, is static and dynamic objects. Whereas in the PS3 version you have to use ‘dark matter’ to make objects that hang in the air, in the PSP version you can make anything hang in the air like that by making it ‘static’. It’ll never move, and it doesn’t matter what material it is. ‘Dynamic’ objects will be subject to gravity however, and you can change the property of objects you’ve made as and when you want. This can be incredibly useful, because I don’t know if you’ve ever made a level on the PS3 version, then unpaused it and watched the whole thing crash! We don’t get that.”

Anybody hoping for connectivity between the two games will be disappointed…

“We’ve got seven brand new themes in our game, and thirty nine new levels and minigames. There’s no connectivity. They’re completely different games made by completely different companies, and they even use different servers. So there’s no compatibility.”

A LittleBigPlanet game…without multiplayer?

“It’s true, but, the multiplayer was a trade off to get the whole Create experience in. LittleBigPlanet without Create would completely defeat the Play Create Share philosophy. It was either the full Create mode – which we have, the functionality is exactly the same as the PS3 version – or multiplayer.”

So does that mean a more challenging single player mode?

“Our checkpoints give you unlimited lives. There are only unlimited life checkpoints but I think that’s a good thing, because you don’t have to keep redoing the same few tricky levels in order to progress because you ran out of lives, and keep redoing the sections you have no trouble with, as you do in the PS3 version.”

Luke annoying - er, interviewing - Laura.

Luke annoying - er, interviewing - Laura.

Will existing LittleBigPlanet fans be able to find levels made by Studio Cambridge devs somewhere on PSN?

“I think some people had made levels outside of work, but sometimes it’s hard to do a full day making your own game and then find time to make a complex level when you get home! Doing this kind of work, you really do appreciate how long it takes to put together a really good level.”

LBP fans have enjoyed a phenomenal level of post – release support, and it seems that people who buy LittleBigPlanet PSP can expect similar long – term developer attention.

“We’ve got downloadable content planned until Christmas next year. Lots of costumes, lots of stickers, possibly some new levels, although we haven’t made any yet. There’s also the possibility of working with other game franchises, such as the Metal Gear Solid pack on the PS3 version. I’m not saying we’ve got that, but that kind of thing is a possibility. We were working on something, but it’s on hold at the moment, and I can’t talk about it.”

Are you sure you can’t talk about it, I ask? Could she just give me an anagram?

“No.” she says, laughing. And then, deftly changing the subject, “The Media Molecule guys are putting together a new community website, so hopefully we can get some PS3 players over to the PSP version with that, and build up the community by bringing players of both games together.”

Developers are always secretive when it comes to future plans, but I thought I’d give it a shot…

“We’ve got some in – house projects that I can’t talk about because they haven’t been announced yet, but yeah, we’ve got some exciting new projects.”

You should by now find yourself more excited about LittleBigPlanet PSP than ever. To find out more about LBP PSP, and other games on Sony systems, visit uk.playstation.com.

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Written by Luke K

Luke plays lots of videogames, now and again stopping to write about them. He's the editor in chief at Critical Gamer, which fools him into thinking his life has some kind of value. Chances are, if you pick up a copy of the latest Official PlayStation Magazine or GamesMaster, you'll find something he's written in there. Luke doesn't have a short temper. If you suggest otherwise, he will punch you in the face.

One comment

  1. Balram /

    I think that Sony are making the best games of ALL time, but no one’s buying em and aren’t receiving enough hype, I don’t mean UC2, that’s got enough hype but games like R&C, LittleBigPlanet just reached 2 million sales! I think it should have got 10 million, what games are the Sony PlayStation Owners buying nowadays??
    WAT!??!?!!?

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