E3 07: LittleBigPlanet Creation Tools Preview

When Sony unveiled Media Molecule's LittleBigPlanet during this year's Game Developers Conference, it seemed to be one of the first signs of the company getting its proverbial shit together with its current home console. Seeing the newly designed creation tools in the latest version of the title at Sony's setup in E3, I still think the game is the best thing Kaz and Co. have sponsored thus far.

In our previous coverage, we went hands on with LittleBigPlanet without any of the creative tomfoolery available to us. It was still heartwarmingly fun and unbearably cute, but didn't give a real glimpse of the PlayStation 3 game's full potential. The E3 build beautifully implemented a content creation system into the standard sidescrolling gameplay, making building custom contraptions as easy as frolicking through preformed levels.

Media Molecule put all the creation tools in an in-game pop-up menu aptly named the Popit system. Hitting the square button brings up the glowing Popit menu above your tiny potato sack character. Selecting items to place in the Popit menu puts the item inside the neon lasso border of the menu, allowing you to place your plucked piece anywhere on screen. Though the options weren't finalized, the build allowed you to select items to customize your character's appearance, world objects for adding physical structures, and stickers for changing the look of your world.

The character tools and stickers are fairly self-explanatory. You can give your avatar a skeleton outfit, a samurai hat, vampire teeth or any number of other smile-inducing outfits. Stickers of artsy ocean waves, flowers or other designs can be placed on any flat surface and scaled as big or small as you like.

The tools giving you the power to add physical elements to your LittleBigPlayplace are incredibly intuitive and user-friendly, and obviously the most exciting of the available options. I can easily see people who have never been into user-created content picking up this game and designing the hell out of level after level.

Beanbag-shaped cubes, cardboard boxes, and rounded objects of all shapes can be scaled to any size and placed anywhere in a stage. To make a staircase for you and your playmates, you can simply place successive square objects together, with each new object shifted up from the previous one. The items will magically meld together, creating one large structure. To make more complicated constructions, you can make use of the "antimatter" items, essentially eraser tools. These items allow you to take chunks out of pre-placed structures, so a large box might be hollowed out with a spherical antimatter shape to make a half-pipe-like structure. Custom shapes can be saved or copied to easily reproduce them later.

For expanding levels into the foreground, fastener items can be used to make your creations stick together with varying freedoms of movement. The glue tool melds objects together in the third dimension--the z-plane, if you prefer (and are a nerd). So if you already placed a big fat box in a level, you can place a glob of glue on it and a smaller object on top of the glue to make a platform jutting out from the box into the foreground. Remember, this game is a sidescroller, but levels still have some degree of depth.

The other fastener items I saw were bolts, which work the same as glue but allow free rotation around their axes. A sample level I played had a few dozen pinwheel-shaped objects on bolts that I could grab and swing around on--it was like a big pachinko machine with my floaty funbag as the ball.

As an example of what players can do with these tools, LittleBigPlanet executive producer Siobhan Reddy designed a tank for me from wood, glue, and spools attached by mechanical bolts. These bolts are the same as the normal ones, except that they rotate forward automatically. It was terribly fun, but as I watched our little explorers bravely riding atop the tank over increasingly rough terrain, I couldn't help but wonder where we were going. Still being an early build, Media Molecule hadn't yet designed a way to implement objectives into user-made levels. Not that just fooling around in created content wasn't fun, but the added dimension of having a set goal will certainly give players more options. Reddy told me a multifunctional system for keeping track of "scores" or just completing levels would be built into the creation system before long, and I'm eager to see what they have in store.

Media Molecule's LittleBigPlanet is expected as a retail release in early 2008, with a downloadable demo slated to be available from the online PlayStation Store this fall.

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