My LittleBig Game

We are now getting close to finishing LittleBigPlanet – it’s due for release in October so that doesn’t leave us much time. At the moment we’re basically making proper seat of the pants last minute changes and panicking about everything. There’s a lot of pressure to live up to but the game’s looking really good and it’s shaping into something that I know we’re going to be proud of here at Media Molecule, which is great because when we first pitched it we weren’t even quite sure of what we were going to create…

Editor’s Note: Quick interruption. If you’re a developer reading Mark’s Edge Keynote, and you’d like to tell your own story on the front page of Edge-Online, contact the editor or hassle your PR. Keynotes is an open platform for game industry professionals. Okay, back to Mark…

…We were working in a very ghetto office, just a handful of us in a fairly awful building that had no air conditioning and was about to be demolished. When we originally pitched LittleBigPlanet we just had this vague idea that we wanted to create something console-friendly that used a lot of user created content. We had a small demo of a 2D physics platforming type thing using very simple box graphics but it was already quite fun to play.

To be honest we didn’t know exactly what we were going to do with it or how it was going to turn out. It’s still difficult to describe. We’ve definitely had trouble coming up with a clean elevator pitch if you like but I think maybe that’s because it doesn’t neatly fit into an existing genre.

I’m sure the press will come up with something that describes it perfectly in one sentence and then we can just use that. A few different directors at Media Molecule would probably describe it in a different way but for me it’s definitely a creative tool. That’s the shortest description I can think of.

It’s a creative tool that lets users make very cute, very fun experiences for other people to play with. You can add optional gameplay if you like. There were a number of occasions when we wondered if anyone was ever going to really get it or like it, but things changed once the game was revealed at GDC 2007.

Leading up to GDC we were aware that Sony expected us to show the game, but it wasn’t until quite near the actual date that we knew it was going to be revealed as part of Phil Harrison’s keynote. It was only when we actually turned up in San Francisco and saw the stage that had been made with all the props and things, that it really hit us that Sony were very, very much behind the game, much more then we had previously thought.

That moment was a real milestone. I think it really confirmed to the whole team that we were working on something very cool and the reaction the game received really gave us a big boost. It also turned the pressure on us right up because we realized that we had a major task on our hands.

Almost a year and a half later and we’re approaching that October release date. Some people have wondered how we’ve gotten as far as we have with such a small team (there’s 28 of us). Well, an element of luck can’t be denied, and Sony has been incredibly supportive and tried not to be too demanding of us, but to be honest we’ve just worked really hard and we have some incredibly clever people here.

I really think that a team of about 30 people is a sweet spot in games development, at least for the way that we work anyway, which could be described as a little organic. By this I mean that we didn’t have a concrete plan from the beginning and the experience would have been a nightmare with a larger team. I think we picked our battles well – we would have been silly to try and make a content heavy game like GTA for example. In fact, one of the reasons we chose to do a game that’s kind of reliant on user created content was that we had a small team and were limited on how much content we could make ourselves, so in that respect it was perfect.

Some people have asked me how LBP should be judged, whether it is a game that can only accurately be assessed months (or perhaps years) after release, rather than by reviewers who’ve had a week with a copy prior to launch. Well, I know it has the potential to mature like a fine wine and I can’t wait to see what people make with the tools over time, but I think it will stand the test of being judged straight out of the box. A message that definitely needs to be put across to consumers to make the game seem less intimidating is that, even if you don’t want to create anything at all in LBP, there are still many hours of entertainment there to be had playing the levels that we’ve supplied in the story mode just as you’d expect from any game. Through these levels we hope to channel players that are more wary into the creation process.

I hope LBP will bridge the gap between casual and hardcore gamers and appeal to as wide an audience as possible. I’ve spoken to lots of people about this, ranging from my girlfriend, who doesn’t play games, to friends of mine that are the most hardcore gamers you could ever imagine, and across the spectrum they’ve had really positive experiences with the game, so there’s definitely something there that appeals to a wide range of people.

Ultimately though, with something like LittleBigPlanet fostering an online community around the game will be the lifeblood that makes or breaks it, so we will be putting huge amounts of effort into keeping people excited. We have a whole pile of cool little add on bits and bobs planned to release after the game launches, none of which I am allowed to announce right now unfortunately.

We’ve iterated, chopped and changed things all over the show too. For example, just recently we pulled a few things (including a whole set of levels we made) out of the game due to the time pressure of getting something in the hands of the community this year, knowing full well that we would put them back in later.

In the end some degree of commercial success would be nice because that would enable us to carry on doing cool and ambitious things, and critical acclaim is nice for the ego, but what I think is most important for the team is that we’re making a game that we’re really passionate about and that we really enjoy playing. If nobody else likes it then at least we’ll have created something that we like, and if other people do like it it’s a bonus. I think that’s probably the wrong way to think about it but I’ve never ever made a game in the past that has tried to please a certain demographic or something like that. Based on the above criteria I feel we’ve already succeeded – and I’m sure the rest of the team at Media Molecule feel the same way.