Perhaps one of the most anticipated titles for the PS3, Little Big Planet has had both gamers and critics alike raving for the past year. Making use of the “user generated content” buzz, Little Big Planet allows for players to essentially develop their own platform style level making use of a library of tools, objects, and images, which are then shared with the world via the PS3 network. Announced at the 2007 Tokyo Game Show, and scheduled for release October 21, some players were granted the privilege of beta testing from Sept. 29 – Oct. 12.
Little Big Planet begins with you, or rather your poppet, “Sack Boy,” running through a world of tutorials. In the English version, Stephen Fry provides the narration, though the Japanese version I’d like to say was narrated with equal hilarity if not wisdom. It is through these lessons that you begin to grasp at first how to maneuver your poppet, moving along into how to create your own game.
In addition to basic platforming functions, such as running, jumping, and grabbing items, the sackmen are also equipped to emote – be it intentionally or otherwise. Holding the L1 or R1 buttons allows the player to control the character’s arm movement using the analog sticks, while the d-pad controls facial expression. Based on the positioning of the six-axis controller, your sackman can hold its head in a variety of poses. This was particularly useful for head-banging in the “Sweet Child O’ Mine” musical level someone created, and rolling your head wildly with tongue a-mast to entertain players you just met on the online network. The hilarious downside to controlling head positioning via the six-axis is that your poppet will incidentally reflect your gaming posture – in this player’s case, the poppet often looked downward and dejected.
Multi player in LBP can be incredibly fun when making use of these puppeteering functions. In addition to looking foolish, you can attempt to dance, smack other players across the screen, or bawl when you don’t get first place in the race to the finish. You can bawl when you get first place, too; why not. Sleeping gamers can be thrown into hazardous obstacles, or if none exist, simply dragged along for the ride. A variety of “stickers” can also be collected and used to decorate the scenery (and each other) as you wait for team members to catch up.
Level creation is fairly easy to grasp, and the tools themselves are incredibly vast. Musical levels, racing levels, puzzles, and classic platforming were some of the styles people created during the beta. Though in theory anyone could make a fun if not functional level, the serious downside to creation is time investment. Attempting to make a Lewis Carrol inspired game level, I chunked at least a full working day into the can, creating only 15 seconds of mildly entertaining play, albeit littered with original objects and art. However, inspiration seemed to be the primary theme, as most players made “Little Big” versions of Super Mario Brothers, Sonic, Metal Gear, God of War, Grand Theft Auto, and Shadow of the Colossus to name only a few. The cute rough-sewn and craft-like edge to many of the creation tools were also quite forgiving, softening need for perfection.
Overall, LBP seems like a decent game, surprisingly released in a timely manner. On this point, the developers deserve some credit, as unlike other PS3 titles, it will be released only just over a year since its initial announcement, and will look as cool as the demos promise. The product seems finished, and incorporates some moments of fun.
However, the cynic in me says that this is just the next step following You Tube, Myspace, 2ch, and Nico Nico Douga. User generated content, or UGC, has until this point been relatively limited to the hard old-fashioned internets. Taking the tools of the times and importing them into a platform gaming system, LBP is just opening the next can of worms. The propensity for beautiful creation is certainly out there, but the propensity for degenerate creation is even greater. If even in its beta stage, some creators plastered their levels with ads, just imagine when real advertisers start creating levels. Not to speak prematurely, but if you’ve ever wanted to play a panty-dance, LBP might be your big chance. Though I didn’t encounter any personally, there are already LB penis videos available, if that’s your thing.
Then again, perhaps I’m too pessimistic about the community. During the many hours of play, I may have encountered some sub-par creations, but only a few that were in bad taste. And levels that the player finds unsatisfactory can be left at any time.
To borrow some words from JD Salinger, “You can’t ever find a place that’s nice and peaceful, because there isn’t any. You may think that there is, but once you get there, when you’re not looking, somebody will sneak up and write ‘Fuck you’ right under your nose.” With fun and friendly as the catch words in LBP’s marketing scheme, there is some sense of childhood bliss that the creators are attempting to tap, but these memories are embellished. This would be fine if I were playing the game for free, like most other UGC systems, but personally, throwing 6,000 yen into pool I think people are going to pee in seems like a waste of my time.
Indeed, I’m going to hope that my predictions are wrong and that the goodness of humankind will police itself in seemingly lawless lands. Perhaps one day, LPB will show me the light and I will repent. Perhaps one day, Sack Boy himself will guide me to deliverance. But perhaps for now, I’m just going to sit back and enjoy the show, and put my savings toward another title. It will be a title where I’m paying the developers to make a game, and not paying to be a developer myself.