LBP 2: delays and design philosophies

I’m basically just pizza delivery boy today.”

That’s how Alex Evans, co – founder of Media Molecule, half seriously explains his one day only presence at the Eurogamer Expo to me. Indeed, developers and fans alike are sharing pizza when I arrive at the row of TVs running LittleBigPlanet 2 – which initially sets me off screaming with frustration inside. I’ve already been informally chatting with a few Molecules over the last few hours, and even the previous day. But I missed the free pizza!

Then I notice that the pizza is infected with olives, and become considerably less disappointed. Who likes olives? Seriously?

It’s nothing to do with the beta, funnily enough.” says Alex, when I ask the inevitable question about the LBP 2 delay. “The beta’s actually been one of the happy things that’s kept me going through this dark time. We were gutted. It actually boiled down to just playing the game a bit, and realising it was nearly there, it was 98%. We had to do that final few percent, we knew we’d regret it if we didn’t do it. The thing is, a lot of people still don’t have online. The solution of patching it isn’t really good enough. We were like ‘we’ve only given ourselves four weeks, which isn’t a massive amount of time’ and we really felt we needed the time to polish it.

I’m a programmer, so I’m more the bugs side of it. The story was sorted, and now it’s the programming team. The story’s the first thing to benefit; they just totally raised the bar. The decision [to delay the release of LittleBigPlanet 2] was made a while ago, a little bit before it was announced, and we were down for a bit. But the story team were the first to really pick themselves up and go ‘okay, we’ve got four extra weeks on our schedule’ and they went through and breathed new life into the levels. So now it’s the code team that’s got to step up, our focus at the moment is ‘framerate framerate framerate’. There were a few places where when you’re playing four player, it really suffered. That’s the difference. It won’t be more levels; it’s all about quality.

We looked at the game, we weren’t pleased with it as a whole. It wasn’t like there was one thing that was wrong, we were like ‘This is 98% good. But the story could do with a polish, the code could be…’ ask any coder, is it ever done? No. Even when you ship it. We just thought…”

Two thousand bugs as well!” Adds a nearby LBP fan.

Due to time constraints on my part, the interview is taking place on the Expo show floor. As a result, the interview is interrupted several times by fans determined to take the opportunity to talk to the immensely approachable Alex. And who can blame them?

Although he apologises more than once for the interruptions – which are of course not even his fault – it’s impossible to get annoyed at Alex in the same way I found it impossible to get annoyed at the fans. The way he instantly devotes all of his attention to each LBP fan, yet politely returns to the interview as soon as is reasonably possible, is admirable to say the least.

No, two thousand bugs didn’t help.” he agrees, when the interview resumes. “We’re down to nine hundred and… something now.”

Media Molecule is small for a development studio (about forty people) – particularly one now owned by a company as big as Sony – and presumably, keeping it small fits in with the family vibe that seems to surround everything MM do.

Just one of the companies to help out Media Molecule.

I can’t comment on other studios, but I hate working in a big company. It’s not my style. Some big studios are amazing, and I’m not saying that they’re rubbish; I’m just saying that personally I don’t like being in a big team, I like being in a little team. We did a blog post the other day; there’s loads of other studios that have done tons of stuff for us. We couldn’t do it all ourselves, and the game’s been such a huge success – people are hungry for it all the time. We’re like – ‘we’d love to do that, we’d love to do that and we can only do a certain amount. That’s the trade – off you make. If you stay small you can’t do everything. Cambridge Studio did the PSP version, Tarsier did a lot of the DLC… and it’s all about picking your battles basically. I’m amazed by what a big team can do, I just don’t choose to do that.

They [the companies featured in the aforementioned blog post] are in the credits of the game as well, but I think they don’t get enough credit. Everyone loves to remember one name. It’s maybe my name, or it’s Media Molecule – but a lot of people put a lot of effort in. Tarsier, Fireproof… all these people have helped, and I think the story behind how the game is made is quite nice. You wouldn’t be telling the story as a whole unless you were including them.”

And how does he think the delay will affect sales?

If only I had a crystal ball!” he cries. “I’m actually really ignorant. You’re basically asking another gamer that question. When you decide to ship something, especially over Christmas… you don’t do that [delaying the game] lightly. Everyone was like ‘Holy shit, this is not an easy thing to do… but is it the right thing to do?’ and we decided it was the right thing to do. Now whether or not we lose sales… well if we do I’ll be ‘fuck it, that’s life’. The bottom line is, I really have no fucking clue. I’d love to hear people’s opinions. What I do know is, the right thing was to ship the game when it’s done. We had to make that call, and it was tough.

The nice thing about the industry, and I think you see it in all of the big publishers, Sony especially, is that they’re not in it for a quick buck. There’s no point, especially for a first party title, putting out something that’s nearly there, like 99% there. With a first party title, they’re taking a risk in the first place. They’re showcasing PlayStation, what PlayStation can do. That’s why I think they’re so behind us. Sony have been so amazingly supportive. It’s not easy to phone them up and go ‘Guys, we’re not there yet’. You know, they could have said ‘Fuck it, we don’t care’ and the point is, they didn’t. They said ‘Woah, that’s serious. Let’s think about it, let’s work it through’. So in a way, it’s a group decision. I have a lot of respect for external development, the people who look after us in Liverpool. Supporting us for quality; it’s quality first, and that’s great.”

With that, it is frustratingly I who must cut the interview off, and run like the wind to make another in the nick of time.

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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. Brian /

    No way I’d cancel my preorder of LBP2 over a delay. Now just don’t delay GT5.

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