Monday, October 6, 2008

Little Big Planet

I know this is supposed to be an MMO site or whatever, but I’ve basically just begun to think of it as my personal blog since I’m the only one who posts with any regularity, so suck it up, buttercup. I wanna talk about Little Big Planet, because frankly, that shit be off the heezy, yo.

I was apparently in media blackout mode or a week or so while I was all caught up in Warhammer, and must have missed that beta codes were flying around the intertubes. After being suspended from Warhammer for 5 days for being a little too liberal with keyboard macros, I looked around and realized people were playing LBP, and went into full frenzy MUSTPLAYNOW mode. I basically bought a Playstation 3 for this game specifically, way back when I first saw footage of the game in action in the paleo-jurassic 1987. Seriously, when you think about how long the world has known about LBP, that’s how ling I’ve owned (and not used) my PS3. I bought Motorstorm with the system, and never played it, then got Grand Theft Whatever when that came out, and didn’t play that either. I download demos from time to time just to peek in on progressing technology, but really don’t use consoles like I used to. I finally got a beta invite for reading some Playstation Underground story (I guess?), and have spent the last few days slaving over my opus of an LBP level, tentatively named “10 Rooms”.

There are already a bunch of levels that have been pushed out the door by other people, and while a few of them are pretty interesting, a bunch kind of feel like half baked slop. This is to be expected, and isn’t a horrible thing. People are still getting their feet wet with the editor, but a bunch of levels just feel like the little guy started walking, and threw down a ramp. Then walked up the ramp, and threw down some fire. Then jumped over the fire, and threw down whatever. They don’t really have any premeditation to them. While I was somewhat eager to just shove something out the door myself, I’ve exercised my ultimate restraint, and have instead sat down and actually drew up what I thought would make for an interesting level.


I knew I wanted to have typical ‘left to right’ and ‘right to left’ play, but also wanted some vertical layout as well, so I went ahead and settled on the ten room layout where you start in the lower left hand corner, work your way up rooms 1 thru 4, fall down 5, jetpack up 6, work your way down 7 thru 10, and finally reach the end. It was pretty ambitious, I think, to dive stright into a ten subzone level, but it’s really been a chance to explore a bunch of different mechanics.

Room 2 has rotating platforms over poisonous gas, 3 is a ‘get to the exit while avoiding the mobs’ type room, 4 is ‘work your way along the catwalks while avoiding a bunch of bullets (you can even see I wrote Ikaruga on the notes), 5 is the vertical fall while moving left and right to avoid the deadly obstacles (made more interesting that you can grab and hold a ‘floaty’ piece of material before you leap to slow your fall a bit), 6 is jetpacking vertically thru a maze, 7 is the ‘ride the car’ room, 8 a basic platform room, 9 is yet undecided, and 10 will be a ‘drag the blocks to various switch locations to open the final door’ kinda thing. While none of this is ground breaking or revolutionary gameplay, it’s a ton of fun to just pop back and forth between ‘play’ and ‘create’ mode and adjust things like jump gaps or platform rotation speed. Figuring things out like making a functional rotating platform:


… was a breakthrough. I know it seems stupid, but I had bolted the outer cogs into place, and when the whole thing spun around all kooky, it took me a sec to realize I needed the outer cogs spinning also, but in the opposite direction. The sense of ‘AH!’ is rewarding unto itself. At my age, the act of rescuing the princess isn’t really the driving force behind gaming. It’s little moments like this, when you figure out the puzzle. Everything you see in the included levels uses the exact same toolset as you have, so there’s nothing you can see that Media Molecule created that’s off limits. Some of the fun is even figuring out how they went about setting something up. There are ghosts in an early level that fly in a circular pattern, but nothing really ‘flies’ in the game (unless it’s hurled into the air, and arcing towards the ground), they all hang by strings. By using two different machines together (a winch chain moving vertically, and piston rod horizontally) they produced the circular arc.


Theoretically, you could throw another two short winches and pistons into the mix moving faster, and produce a curly ‘telephone wire’ path. It’s up to you how far you want to go with it.


The deeper you dive into a problem, the more interesting it gets. I wanted my Room 3 to be a ‘monster room’, but it took me a little while to iron out how to go about that. My monsters that were statically placed to begin with ended up eventually clumping up together in the corner, or tripping over themselves in an effort to chase the player. I needed to find a way to ‘refresh them’ every few seconds. There are ‘emitters’ that you can place that will shoot specified objects out into the level at designated intervals, but I didn’t just want tennis balls rolling down a hill. I finally figured out that I could create a monster with a basic AI, and then bookmark that entire complex object as one unit in my inventory. Afterwards I created my emitter, but instead of golf balls, it emitted my monster with its AI all wrapped up inside. I set the monsters to die every 7 seconds, and a fresh one to take its place, and was in business. There are layers upon layers of deepness you can achieve. I imagine if I wanted to, I could create an emitter that emitted an object that contained its own emitters. I may have to try that when I get home, actually! The AI routines are pretty basic… things like ‘chase, flee, or ignore the player’, ‘jump or don’t jump’, and the strength of the jump itself… it’s pretty standard Koopa AI from the Mario games at the very least.

The actual ‘playing’ aspect of the game, where you’re running around Media Molecule’s pre-packaged levels, or ones found in the online portion of the game created by users, isn’t horrifically deep. That’s probably the game’s one big let down. Your actions are limited to running, jumping, and grabbing. And that’s it. You can grab levers, blocks of material, or each other, but in the end that’s really all there is to do. I can dig that they’re trying to keep it simple, but simple extra moves (mario’s triple jump, long jump, butt stomp, etc) would have opened up the level building dynamic that much further.

I have to see if I can get a YouTube going of my level creation at various stages of development so I can show you guys. I’d say I’m probably about 50% done with it at this point, and the urge to shove it out there with a “work in progress” tag is tempting, but I really want to wait and polish it up, and be the first one up there that people are like OH DAMN, HE ACTUALLY MADE A LEVEL, FUCK! ...and raises the bar a bit for everyone else ;)

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