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Old 11-10-2008, 09:07 AM   #1
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Little Big Planet - Please Rate This Review

Part 1:

High point - I'm sure that greater 'highs' are yet to come, as I explore more community levels, and my own creative power. So far though, I think that my highest point was when, after the loading had finished, I was transported directly from my ‘pod’ to the first level, with no in-between screens. This served to heighten the immediacy and impact of the triumphantly expositional atmosphere of the first area, as I waltz about, enjoying the ‘floaty’, but incredibly graceful movement of my sackboy.

Low point - Watching the ‘thermometer’, which indicates the amount of free ‘space’ available when in create mode, rise far faster than I had expected, considering the relatively small amount of ‘stuff’ I was creating.

WTF - I'm afraid i havn't spent enough time with the game to witness a WTF moment worth mentioning. Sorry.

The subject matter of focus in a videogame is often made clear in the games’ controls. In little big planet, the player can make their sack-person run, jump and grab, as well as move between the 3 planes. The first two of these commands, positions Little Big Planet firmly as a ‘platformer’ (the meaning of which we will explore later), while the ability to grab, and to move between 3 2D-ish planes, opens up a world of possibilities for new gameplay experiences, some directly integrated into the platforming, and others which could branch out in drastically different directions.

Given the wealth of potential for largely unexplored gameplay, it is surprising the extent to which Media Molecule stick to basic platforming in their levels. Platforming itself acts, at its core, as an abstract expression of human movement. It isolates elements including momentum and self projection (jumping), to present a focused experience on these elements which are of intrinsic interest to us, as humans. In keeping with the tradition maintained by countless other platforming games, the experience in Little Big Planet is shaped, most of the time, by a goal, which turns ‘hard’ jumps into challenges in which the player can succeed or fail. This brings into play the ideas of human mastery and reward, while at other times, also similarly to most other ‘platformers’, the play on movement is left in pure form; challenge reduced in favor of conveying the simple joy of this abstraction of human movement. Both of these elements of ‘platforming’ are directed by the assumption of rightward progression (and some times leftward); this is simply a practicality which Mediamolecule adopts in keeping with the tradition.

In spite of what has been said by other critics though, I think that Mediamolecule restates those same old concepts of abstract movement, mastery and reward, with considerable flair. The jumping is ‘floaty’ in that your sack person moves relatively slowly through the air, and in-air manipulation of horizontal direction is slow to accelerate, but the controls are very responsive nonetheless (while the manipulation takes time to ‘accelerate’, it begins accelerating the moment you move the stick). For this reason, these mechanics can’t be seen as ‘wrong’, or ‘not as good as Mario’, on the contrary, they are simply different design decisions, which have a different effect on the player. Aimless platforming is joyful, and platforming for the sake of mastery is master-able. Nevertheless, despite this small variance, the platforming side of the game doesn’t communicate much new, that is, to the player who has already played, say, 2D Super Mario and N.

The main progression to the platforming form of expression of movement is rooted in the ability to grab. The utilization of this ability, as far as platforming is concerned, is as you’d imagine. Many challenges involve swinging across gaps whilst holding onto a small object suspended on a rope or, ‘string’. Slightly more inventive ones involve rotating circles which your sack-person must grab onto before releasing at the right point on its circumference of rotation, so as to be propelled in the desired direction. Of course, similar mechanics have been used many times before, but not so much in a 2D platformer.

The ability to grab, though, could be used to set up challenges which require more careful thinking than quick judgment of momentum. Media Molecule do touch upon this, for example with a boss battle which requires you to drag explosives towards the boss to defeat it, along with a few puzzles which require some dragging around of blocks, but I feel they leave a vast amount of creative potential unexplored. In normal circumstances I may not have made a deal of this, but by emphasizing the inclusion of such a comprehensive level creator, the developers effectively challenged us to think as creatively as possible as to the possibilities within the given constraints, and so it comes as a surprise that they have done little to inspire with their carefully crafted levels.

Their creativity with platforming-related level design is slightly more inspiring. Large stretches of up-down-oscillating platforms, which throw your sack person about as you attempt to traverse from one side to the other come to mind. I also liked the use of rotating circular platforms. In these cases, media molecule has, arguably, innovated within the genre as a whole, but I still feel that more should be expected this far down the line. Certainly, I think that the community will be more creative at using the creation tools in this area.

I suppose that the main area of creativity that players will appreciate in Mediamolecules’ levels is in the visual design. Part of the visual appeal is in how ‘diagrammatic’ the graphics are. Since many of the textures and designs relate directly to the objects to which they refer, and in this case, the visuals essentially take on the value of the pure, gameplay-related level design; in the same way that many cars look good when their aesthetics correspond to their function, such as streamlined shapes, and engine-cooling vents.

The other part of the visual appeal though, is in the illusions which Mediamolecule create using only the basic, self-referential materials. Mediamolecule do a pretty good job here at skillfully creating meaningful visuals out of the primitive looking building blocks, and many people will appreciate the actual things which they create, but I personally find most of it a little tacky and cluttered.

Now I said at the beginning that a games’ subject of focus can often be figured out by looking what controls it gives you, and now we must consider whether the level creating tools should be included as an artistic subject, or simply as tools for creating an artistic subject. I would say, at this point in my writing, that they are essentially the latter, but Media Molecule are somewhat communicative in the restrictions implied by the tools. The restrictive qualities of the tools are far removed from a paintbrush and some colors (in which case the possibilities really are endless), in Little Big Planet, the artist is restricted to creating blocks of different materials on 3 parallel 2D-ish, planes. The biggest restriction of course though, is that as a game, the user created levels can only be interacted with by a sack person and must be designed accordingly (unless you simply design visually), in which case the restrictions wouldn’t be unrecognizably removed from those in painting.

Last edited by steamednotfried; 11-11-2008 at 05:57 AM. Reason: forgot to include high, low and WTF
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