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Fresh LittleBigPlanet interview: Media Molecule’s Mark Healey

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Last week, we invaded Media Molecule’s Guildford-based office for an extensive chat with two of the studio’s key figures – creative director Mark Healey and technical director David Smith. Next month, we’re doing a huge Making Of LittleBigPlanet feature, but here’s a sample of the Healey interview to pass the time…

When it came to creating levels for LittleBigPlanet, how conscious were you of the whole user-creation aspect?

We knew that the ‘create’ aspect of LittleBigPlanet would be a huge part of the experience, so we wanted these levels to fulfil two roles: one, to entertain people out of the box, if you like, so people have a standard-meeting game to play if the level creation doesn’t grab them. Secondly, we wanted to inspire people with ‘create’ by showing how the mechanics of the levels worked.

Have you seen any children making levels for LittleBigPlanet? How do they handle it?

A friend of mine has an eight-year-old kid and, for his birthday, we let them use the office space. We fired up LittleBigPlanet as it was a year ago and we had a pack of screaming kids, just loving it. They were doing silly things with the creation tools, like making blocks fall to crush each other. And the stickers are very easy to use, so I’d like to think we’ve catered for quite a wide range of capabilities.

Are there any themes you personally want to see people exploring in the community?

The thing that excites me most is people doing new types of game with the tools. A lot of the levels in the main game are traditional platforming scenarios, really. It’s essentially a run-and-jump-type game, but using the physics and the sets of switches, it’s actually possible to make different types of game. I’ve already managed to make Space Invaders, a Breakout-type game, something that’s similar to Tetris… so that’s the area that excites me. If someone creates a new kind of game using our tools, then I reckon we’ve achieved something.

Do you see LBP as a party game?

There was actually, ironically, a little bit of an internal struggle there. Some of us believed it should be completely co-operative, and there was another school of thought that wanted it to be completely competitive. Dave, for example, was much more on the co-op side – we managed to meet somewhere in the middle. I find competing more fun that co-operating at times, though. We definitely knew there had to be a fun multiplayer aspect; when everyone started using the beta, we began to get an idea about what it’s like to play online. That’s given us a heap of ideas as to how we can improve the online side of things.

Were you excited by the feedback to the beta?

Totally. I haven’t seen anything negative, actually. Personally, I try to avoid trawling forums because I know how painful this can be from past experiences, but when I have done that, it’s been surprisingly positive… even some forums that, I’m told, are notoriously hard to please. The amount of levels that were made so quickly… I mean, you could already see people feeding off of each other’s ideas. Somebody works out how to do something, and you see different iterations of that in other levels. It’s really cool.

Will you feature certain user-created levels after release?

Hopefully, the best ones will sort of bubble to the top. It’s hugely addictive to just surf around looking for interesting levels. It’d be nice to have a Media Molecule hot pick. The cool thing is, we can keep updating and refining the online aspect as we go.

Do you think what you’ve created now is as far as the LittleBigPlanet idea can go?

No, not all. It’s just the beginning.

Read the rest in Play #173, available 27 November!




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