I don't mean to brag when I say that I had already played "Little Big Planet" a few times before trying out the malleable PlayStation 3 platformer again last week.
Instead, I mean to convince you that I had good reason to think I knew about the coolest stuff in the game. I'd run through levels. I had used the game's mighty content editor to create all sorts of wild costumes and level props.
And yet I was floored five times during my brief opportunity to play the game with "LBP" technical director Alex Evans. Here's what impressed me:
1) How Enemies Work -- I kept hearing that each new "LBP" press demo would finally reveal the game's enemies. But in each demo -- including the one I went through last week -- they were not in there. I asked Evans about this; what he told me made me realize I had been expecting the wrong thing. The developers at Media Molecule aren't focusing on giving players pre-made enemies.
Instead, Evans said the game will ship with five or six artificial intelligence brains. He wouldn't tell me what the AI behaviors would be, but explained that a "LBP" user would be able to apply them to their creations in the game's editor. Whether or not the AI brains will drive your creations effectively depends on your designs. For example… did you put wheels on the giant attack-llama?
2) Gaming's Most Impressive Screenshot Tool -- You can take in-game screenshots in "Little Big Planet." Hooray. You can then take those screenshots and apply them to objects. That's actually… promising. While using the game's content editor I made a few beams and struts. Then I hopped my character on top of them to pose for a screenshot. I took that shot and applied it as a sticker to one of the beams or struts. I had created an optical illusion, my character standing on top of a beam that looked like an image of him standing atop a beam. Think about how you could use this feature to mess with people: making solid walls look like empty space and fooling them to crash right into them.
3) How "LBP" Music Can Turn Levels Into Rhythm Games -- "Little Big Planet" users can place sound objects in the levels they create. The object Evans showed me was a little speaker. We were able to attach it to a block that was resting at the beginning of a level we were making. You can assign music that will play from that speaker when a user's character walks past it. The music from that speaker can be set to play from any point in the track. I proposed an idea to Evans that he said was 100% do-able: I could line a level with speakers, one set up every few steps -- and set them all to play the same song, but queued up from different parts. Doing this, I could make it so that if a player ran through my level at a certain pace, he or she would hear the song play perfectly. Running at the wrong pace would cause the player to hear the song play in a choppy fashion.
4) Just Add Water -- The game features an impressive content editor. It integrates all its objects within a certain style of calculated physics. Objects teeter and roll with mathematical precision. But there's one element that's not in the game yet -- liquids. I can't flood a level with water and watch how that affects everything I generated. Instant non-purchase? No way. Evans told me liquids are possible: "If people want that, we can do it."
5) The Gifts That You Can Give -- Not only can you use "Little Big Planet" to create any imaginable gaming object that would fit in a 2D playing field, but you can also make the blueprints for any such object. Those blueprints -- really, the object itself -- can be uploaded to other gamers. Better than that: you can make the blueprints a collectible item in the levels you create. Better still: you can associate such objects with leaderboard requirements. So I can challenge the world to score a certain number of points in a level I've made and then automatically reward anyone who achieves that mark with a trophy object that I made myself. I wonder what I could force people to receive if they play my level poorly...
I learned all of the above at the demo last week. I should point out that I had a chance to play "LBP" again this week in New York City. But I turned down the Sony reps offering me that chance. I didn't think I could handle anything more -- not this soon.
"Little Big Planet" will be available for PS3s this fall.