Media Molecule were at the Eurogamer Expo for one day only, which just happened to be the one and only day we were there too. Resisting the temptation to fall down and cry “We’re not worthy!” in a Wayne’s World stylee, we kept what little dignity we had. I’m sure Media Molecule felt the same.
Cornering producer Martin Lynagh and level designers Danny Leaver and John ‘Johnee’ Beech, we began the assault. I started off by asking if the whole community idea was there for LittleBigPlanet from the very beginning?
“The original game concept was to be a purely multiplayer community experience.” said Danny. “We weren’t even sure that there was going to be a single player story.”
Why haven’t other developers embraced their communities in a similar way?
“That’s a good question.” added Martin, proving himself to be a remarkably handsome man. “It does take a lot of effort, and it’s not a model that the games industry is really comfortable or familiar with yet. People are used to shipping the game, then working on the next thing. We are definitely very very different.”
“You know, everybody’s got good ideas. A game’s community is such a giant thing, that a lot of developers would be hit with all different opinions, it would be quite hard to sift through. But we…” Danny stopped, and saw the perfect example sitting next to him.“John is actually one of those community people. He was a community member that was excellent at level designing.”
“He’s somebody who was hired from the community. That was his job application, if you like.” said Martin, making me wish my levels didn’t tend to look like a half finished Bagpuss set. So as somebody hired on the strength of his levels, does Johnee think user created content is the future of the industry?
“I definitely think so. I think people who play LittleBigPlanet say ‘this is amazing, why has nobody done this before?’. And as more and more community based games come out, and people start making more and more interesting ideas that developers just don’t have the time to make..”
Danny picks this up by adding: “It’s weird, because I got into the games industry by modding, which is taking the tools that the pros use and making your own thing with them. Unless you’re really focused on it, it’s quite hard. I think we’ve made a pretty easy system to make levels and stuff. I’m sure that people are working on even easier ways now. I’m sure it’ll only get more accessible.”
“I think it’s definitely something that’s still evolving.” agrees Martin. “In ten years, it may be that it’ll be the norm.”
“A good example is Modnation Racers.” This is first suggested by Danny, but all three nod enthusiastically. “The way that you build tracks in that is by actually driving the track. So if you’re good at driving in the game, you can just pull off some awesome moves, and build the track through gameplay! I really like that idea.”
So modding is still a great way to get into the industry. Could LBP be used like that, to get a job not only as Johnee did – even with a different developer?
“Absolutely. A mod is just user generated content. Say I go for a job with a developer, and I made a bunch of levels [in LittleBigPlanet]. I’m not using the same tools as them, but they’ll look at that and go ‘wow, that’s a great example of work using other tools, so maybe you could make something like that for us’. LittleBigPlanet is just another tool. It does all the rendering for you, all the lighting for you.”
Talk about modesty! Danny thinks LittleBigPlanet, or the level editing part at least, is ‘just another tool’?
“It’s just a tool that’s been repackaged in a user friendly way. That’s all it is, it’s a tool.”
Though they’re less common than they used to be, nobody who’s played LBP can have failed to notice the so called ‘heart for heart’ levels. These are sometimes no more than one – second affairs, where anybody playing them instantly drops onto a level exit. They exist only so the people who made them can ask fellow trophy hunters to play and ‘heart’ them. When I start talking about this, Martin and Johnee start laughing at a rather sheepish looking Danny, who answers:
“John probably has a different view, because he was a community guy. I feel largely responsible for this, because…” he pauses, facing more laughter. “Well the thing is, we looked at the trophy system – I’m a trophy addict, I love trophies – we thought, ‘how can we reward creators’? Because rewarding players is quite easy. But creators, I thought ‘let’s make it so that if you get a level published, and enough people play it…’. However, some people who aren’t that creative want the trophy – which is fair enough -” The other two agree on this. “And the way to do it without creating something of worth, is to ask…” yet more laughter cuts off the end of that sentence. “I respect them for doing that, because I want the trophy, I want all the trophies.”
“If they were clever enough to think of doing that, why not?” says Johnee.
“It was entirely our fault.” declares Danny. “You can’t blame the community for it.”
“You can’t blame the community.” Martin agreed. “I mean, I suppose the real reward of creating a great level is the actual acclaim and comments, and the fact that you’ve created an experience that other people have enjoyed.”
So the ‘heart for heart’ level phenomenon is unfortunate, but if any blame is to be apportioned, it lies solely with Media Molecule?
“Absolutely. Send me an e mail!” says Danny, to yet more laughter. “John at…”
“What?” cries Johnee. The laughter is more powerful than ever now.
Moving away from the sticky subject of levels made just for trophies, I ask about downloadable content. There’s been a nigh on perfect mix of free and paid for DLC, but what do they have planned for the future? Martin signals that community support isn’t going to stop any time soon.
“We have a lot of stuff coming out, especially next year. We can’t really talk about specifics for a lot of it at the moment, because a lot of it hasn’t been announced.”
“That would’ve been a good exclusive for you!” smiles Danny.
Indeed it would and, on the spot, I come up with an ingenious plan. I try to bribe them with Maltesers.
“I’m cracking!” wails Johnee, shaking with pure temptation. When I offer to throw a boiled sweet into the deal as well, he damn near spills the beans. Unfortunately for Critical Gamer, Martin steps in.
“Be strong. Be strong, Johnee.” sadly, Johnee is brought under control. Martin continues: “We’re working with…” he didn’t finish that sentence; perhaps if I’d had a Mars bar? Martin Lynagh looks like a Mars bar guy. “We’re looking forward to some really good original content, and some really strong brands we’re working with. There’s a lot of cool stuff coming. We haven’t stopped making the game. This is what we’re talking about, when we talk about different business models in the games industry. We’re still making LittleBigPlanet.; the amount of DLC is a testament to that. I think there have been more costumes after launch than there were in the original game. There’s more of pretty much everything; it broadens creators’ talents.”
That’s all folks… for now. Don’t miss part two on Monday, where the MM guys talk about, amongst other things, what was unusual about Johnee’s levels. You know, the ones that got him a job…?