To wrap up, I want to discuss a few more repairs and then finish with what I consider to be some of the best/well designed sections in LittleBigPlanet's story mode.
Automatic Lane Changing
- There needs to be an option to turn on/off the automatic lane changing in LittleBigPlanet. Making Sackboy switch lanes to automatically land on platforms is nice in theory, but even in the story mode, there are moments where the computer can become confused. In LBP, when jumping or simply moving around, the game forces players to switch to the lane the game thinks you should be on. Unfortunately, because LBP is so customisable and emergent, the computer simply doesn't do a good enough job with the auto switching. I've found myself wresting with the auto lane switching often especially when platforming on complex structures. A simple remedy would be to allow players to turn off the automatic switching giving players the ability to change lanes manually by holing up or down on the left analog stick. This way, players can take lane switching upon themselves if they are so inclined.
- The point balls roll and slide around as if they are made out of glass. Unlike points in other games, players can set the LBP points so that they don't disappear after a short period of time. These two properties combined make points very dynamic. Instead of platforming to grab coins like in a Mario game, players can manipulate the environment to have points fall down from high places. Doing so is functionally similar to when kids find creative ways to tip candy/cookie jars off from high shelves meant to keep them away from the sweets.
- By grabbing points in rapid succession players can earn a multiplier for their score. This score bonus is an incentive that encourages players to strategise their point gathering and dissect the level in new ways. Instead of just grabbing all the points whenever one can. Score seeking players must figure out how to grab as many points as possible as quickly as possible. As I have previously mentioned, the co-op mechanic for multiplayer point gathering allows new strategies for getting the high score that dissects the level in new ways for 2, 3, and 4 player gameplay.
- One property of the points that could be changed is how players can grab points positioned in any lane from any lane. Some levels in the story mode have points in window sill like holes cut out of the background wall. From the way the structure looks, you would think that you had to jump into the window area to grab the points. But because the points can be grabbed from any lane, players can grab the points by simply jumping around the window sill. Forcing players to be in the same lane as a point would accentuate the physical level design of LBP. However, until the lane switching is perfected, it may be better to leave the points the way they are.
Fire and Dangerous Materials.
- The fire hazard is my favorite dangerous material in the game because players have to touch the burning surface twice before incinerating. The possibilities of interplay for fire hazards goes beyond that of gas or electricity. After touching a burning object once, Sackboy runs around in a bit of a frenzy trying to stop the burning. This momentary lapse in control puts pressure on the player not to touch anything that burns. By arranging multiple burning objects in close proximity to each other, the interplay and difficulty of fire hazards can be dynamically adjusted.
- When skipping over the top of a burning platform to attempt to touch it once and pass along safely to the other side, the same dynamics of momentum and forces apply. For example, of the burning hazard is attached to a rapidly moving piston and the player skips off the top, the force from the piston will cause Sackboy to fly away while burning. In this way, playing with fire takes on an added level of depth via the in game physics.
- If only the other materials were as deep or as dynamic as fire. It's neat that gas is only harmful to Sackpeople and that physical matter can pass through it. But the electricity is a little too dangerous and deadly the way hitboxes are drawn in LBP. I remember watching a video of LBP showcasing the different dangerous materials (skip to 3:30). The video showed a frozen material that freezes sackboy in a solid block of ice after making contact with the material for a short period of time. While frozen, players can travel across dangers areas like spikes. By shaking the Sixaxis controller, Sackpeople can break free. This freeze material sounds very interesting. Perhaps Media Molecule can include it and other transformative materials at a later date.
Tools & Objects
Change Material Object (Category: Special)
- The idea for this object is simple. Attach it to any piece of material and add a switch for control. Then hit the switch to change the material of the object much in the same way the material changer tool works in the editor. For a simple example, players can make a metal box that weighs down a heavy duty switch. By hitting the change material switch, the box changes into a sponge so players can drag it around to other switches and change it back to metal.
Grow & Shrink Object (Category: Special)
- The inspiration for this object comes from another ability available to players in the editor. By attaching this object to any individual or complex (many parts) object and adding a switch, players can control the size of the object. In the tweak menu player would be able to control the grow/shrink rate, whether an object grows/shrinks gradually or instantly, and the max/min size allowed for the object to change.
- The only issue I can see for creating this object is that, like in the editor, the game doesn't let you expand an object when another player or object is touching it. On the positive side, you can usually shrink an object without problem. Getting around issue may be very tricky.
- This object is also inspired from editor abilities. When I was thinking of the Velcro material, I also thought that it would be interesting to have the ability to glue and unglue objects by flipping switches. Likewise, I thought it would be neat to have an emitter spawn an object that's automatically attached to another object via glue. Unlike Velcro, this switch can be activated via switches from remote and it's strength doesn't depend on physics interactions.
- This switch/emitter would allow players to create more complex structures and obstacles. For example, it would be possible to emit a lot of blocks that are attached to elastic strings. These strings can be set so that they're glued/attached to another structure upon being spawned. The result, a structure that shoots of many blocks in the air that fly out and swing down together like sillystring streamers.
Internet Music Box
- Though Media Molecule are dealing with copyright issues with LBP content, perhaps there's a way to include custom music without adding to the file size of levels, running into additional copyright issues, and without providing an in game music editor of any kind. The PS3 already has the ability to listen to music from the internet via the browser. What if LBP could open a small browser in game so that music is streamed from the internet. If LBP could somehow store the data for a Youtube video in memory while running the game, players could use Youtube to add their own music to LBP. Perhaps this method could deflect copyright issues.
- The Jetpack is a pretty neat powerup. Though it adds mobility and speed, players initially lose the dynamic effects of gravity. In other words, the basic platforming is diminished because players have complete control of their flight. On the other hand, this powerup can be limited in a number of creative ways. The tether for the jetpacks can be shortened considerably limiting the range of flight. Also the jetpack can be glued to an object that is affected by gravity like normal. A lot of interesting interplay possibilities can be created with these two properties.
- Furthermore, when lifting objects, the jetpack allows players to lift heavy objects. By carrying different types of objects, the player is once again linked to the physical world of gravity and weight, which creates a aerial platfoming possibilities .
- On a side note, it would be better if the jetpack didn't release so much smoke. With multiple jetpacked players on the screen, the long smoke trails can become more than a little distracting.
Create Your Own Sackboy Power Up
- In Halo 3, players are able to create their own powerups by adjusting a number of factors about their a character's offense, defense and mobility. When done correctly, powerups can enhance gameplay while providing options for players to control their own difficulty. Just look at the powerups from the 2D Mario series. For an open game like LittleBigPlanet, it would be extremely liberating if players were able to create their own powerups and abilities for Sackboy.
- One way to organically create these powerups is to allow players to attach emitters, switches, and other objects to Sackboy's clothes/head gear. For an simple example, you could attach an emitter to a helmet so that it shoots off bombs in the direction Sackboy is facing. When players equip this helmet on a specific level, they get the ability to shoot bombs at will.
- In the tweak menu, players would be able to assign the a switch to an unused button, direction on the analog stick, or series of directions.
Examples from the Story Mode
Even without any of these repairs, the editor in LBP is more than capable of creating levels that are unlike anything we've played before. Though the levels in the story mode are excellent examples of highly polished gameplay, I felt that the majority of the gameplay was decent, only scratching the surface of what can truly be done in LBP. There are a few examples that I wanted to highlight that make up what I consider to be some of the best parts from the story mode.
- Hand down the best designed/executed platforming section in the entire story mode. Not only is this giant wheel structure fairly unique, but it accentuates many of LBP's most unique and solid platforming design facets; GRAB, MOMENTUM JUMP, and dynamic contrary motion. In this giant ring, players start in the center and make their way to the outer ring. As the entire structure rotates, the platforming design of the inner rings dynamically changes. Slowly, the platforms under Sackboy's feet turn into walls and then into a ceiling before coming around to become a wall and a floor again. Not to worry. Many of the surfaces are made out of grabable material so players can hang on until they understand how to safely move from one section to the next. But everything is dynamically changing in real time. The longer a player waits, the more the nature of their platforming destination will change as everything is constantly moving. As the ring moves outward, the platforming challenge increases due to the increased use of electrified elements and non grabable platforms. At any time in this giant ring, players can use the momentum of the rotation to augment their platforming prowess. In this way, the contrary motion for this section is simple and dynamic depending on the players positing in the ring. Genius.
- A simple yet effective use of space, gravity, and momentum. As the structure rotates, the player tends to fly up or drop down to their doom. By jumping at the right time, the player can catch enough hang time to land on the newly created "floor." Staying calm in this section is key to survival. But that never stopped me from flying out of the top end. The electrified outter layers keep the gameplay idea focused on where it's the most interseting. Players have to really grasp the concept of the wheel beacuse there are two of these structures placed back to back that spin in opposite directions.
- All three of these exampes use the 3 layers to create a clear and clean sense of space. In the last image, players can switch lanes to attempt to grab more points as they slide by at high speeds.
- This guy is just too clever. Using some combination of emitters and other tools, the magician in the background makes different objects appear inside his little box, which is more open ended and emergent than you might think. When the green grabable block is produced (see the right side of the image) the player can drag it out from the magic box. If it never gets covered up, it never "magically" goes away. Because the magician produces objects in a cycle, he'll eventually create another box. By grabbing the boxes when they appear, players can build a make shift tower. One of the best parts of LBP is that the design is open so that situations like this can emerge. Everything follows a few simple rules which, ironically, let our imaginations and possibilities go wild.
- I really like the organic tunnel design of this section. The low ceilings and the stubby jumps work to communicate restricted movement and the feeling of being underground. Going for a high score in this section is interesting because of how players must plan a path that moves up and down the tunnels while leaving behind and going back for points when necessary. Through the point placement and the platform structure, the design encourages the player to play like an ant or some other subterranean creature. Simple, clear, and effective.
- This part of the level is a simple example of folded level design. Players journey to the left to meet up with this animal friend only to drag him back to his mother. On the first layer, players pass sections they're unable to access. Once the animal friend is retrieved (the crease), access these areas open up (see image for an example). The folded level design and organically dragging the animal back to his mother is neat in and of itself. However, the part that I find most interesting is that a solo player can complete the 2x (co-op) section in the club by him/herself by throwing around the animal friend. Through the emergence of the folded organic level design, a player can use their animal buddy to activate the "jump pads" on the floor of the club and reach the so called co-op prizes. Folded, organic, emergence. It's design like this that's hard to come by.
LittleBigPlanet is a game with a lot of problems, potential, and promise. I patiently await updates for the game, and I can only hope that the issues raised in this review & repair are addressed before we hear anything conclusive about LittleBigPlanet2. I hope by this point, you understand LBP a little better. With the knowledge I've gained, I'm ready to start building the levels of my own. Stay tuned to the Designer's Workshop for detailed LBP lessons soon.