If Media Molecule starts a new studio and it's called Incredible Compound, we want some kind of fee. Well, at least a pat on the back. We didn't come up with the name but we encouraged it. Which is what LBP2 is all about, really: encouraging creativity. The user-generated platformer (should we still call it a platformer?) is at Eurogamer Expo 2010 right now, as is Media Molecule itself, fresh from a developer session which asks the question: what goes into a MM-made LBP2 level? Here, in an interview with community managers James "Spaff" Spafford and Tom "Tom" Kiss conducted beforehand, Eurogamer finds out.
Eurogamer: What have you brought to the Expo?
James Spafford: We've got 16 pods with LittleBigPlanet 2 on. They're all playable. Today Dan and John, a couple of our designers, are doing a session in the morning. They show off some of our levels and the background, and explain how they were made and put together with some of the new tools.
We're showing some beta levels as well. We'll show how people can improve and tweak them. We should have more Molecules here as well, maybe 10 of us. So we're having a bit of a fan meet and have people come build crazy things and hang out with us for the day.
Eurogamer: What do ten Molecules form?
James Spafford: Don't bog us down with the science! Some kind of incredible compound.
Eurogamer: What's actually playable at the Expo?
James Spafford: The most recent beta code. There are five playable levels from the story mode from different places – different tasters of the games. There are a couple of platform levels.
Tom Kiss: Tower of Whoop is on there. That's a racer from the first theme of the game, using the grapple hook to get up this enormous tower. You bounce all the way up with bounce pads, and you can get high score and chain combos going up. It's really good fun.
James Spafford: You can get all the way from the bottom to the top with one long combo of points if you're incredibly good. I'm not.
Tom Kiss: There are two versions of a mini-game called Block Race. That's a four-player mini-game with really simple gameplay, just blocks falling down and you hit the corresponding buttons as fast as you can within a minute. That's great fun – a great little game, that.
James Spafford: There's Pipe Dreams, which shows off the sackbots. That level is all about rescuing little sackbot fellas that are in love with you and chase you throughout the level. The last one is Lift Off. It's a spaceship level. There's anti-gravity with bouncing around and some sackbots.
Eurogamer: So they're all lifted from story mode and will be in the final game?
James Spafford: Yes. We also have the create mode unlocked in the build. People can sit there and start jamming if they want to. If they're already LBP fans and know what they're doing they can start playing with the new tools. We have two really good creators from the community, Jack and Grant, sitting there for the whole three days just making stuff. People can watch the progress of something being built up.
Tom Kiss: Jack worked with a company we worked with called Maverick Media to make all the tutorial levels in LBP2. It's quite good to use people in the community who are so enthusiastic and love the game.
Eurogamer: He's the best person if you've got questions about the create mode then?
James Spafford: Yeah. We would have designers sitting out there but they're busy finishing the game at the moment. They'll be here for a little bit and they'll be doing similar stuff. If people want to get hints and tips on, how on earth does this work, those creators and our designers are here to explain everything.
Eurogamer: What are you talking about during Media Molecule's developer session?
James Spafford: First of all we give some basic demonstrations of a couple of the new tools, probably the controllanator, which is the thing that allows you to wire up the buttons on the controller directly into contraptions and make your own spaceships and vehicles.
There's also a thing that allows you to make a mini-game where you just press X... I played a game yesterday where it was just who can tap X the most. A classic game.
James Spafford: Yeah.
Tom Kiss: We had the whole office sitting there going, ahhhh [mashes imaginary pad]!
James Spafford: Then they will take some of the levels from the story mode, hopefully some stuff no one's seen before. Then flip that into create mode and show how it was pieced together and what goes into making one of our levels.
Eurogamer: What does go into making one of your levels?
James Spafford: A lot of craziness. The main difference is most levels people make in the community they make on their own. Our levels, the designers build a lot of motifs, gameplay elements they think are fun, and they stick ones together they think will go well until they have a good level structure.
That will go over to an art team and the art team will make it look beautiful. Then it goes back to the design team so they can fix all the bugs the art team introduced. It's a back and forth. Then everyone will play it and feedback on it.
Eurogamer: It sounds like an organic process.
James Spafford: Sometimes a level will take a long time and no one really knows who built what. But sometimes someone will just sit down for four hours and make some incredible thing, and everyone will just say, I guess that's done. We might put that one in.
Eurogamer: Of the levels that are in the game that you know will make the final cut, what's your favourite? Is that a difficult question?
Tom Kiss: It is difficult because there are a lot of good levels. Tower of Whoop for me. It's always been good. The fact that Danny, who designed it, has a high score that is almost unbeatable makes it even more playable. It's out there. That's the one in the beta client, actually, so people are playing it. At some point in the beta trial we're going to have a score challenge to try and beat Danny's score.
James Spafford: For me, there's a level quite near the end of the game that people have seen a bit of in progress. It involves leading your army of sackbots – throughout the game you're collecting sackbots and rescuing them so you can have an army to take on the evil Negativatron. There's a little game where you have to guide your army while flying on a bumblebee. It's a side-scrolling shooter. Your army is on the ground and you have to blow up bridges so they can get across. It's really awesome. It's a really cool bumblebee that shoots honey at things. Things are really goopy.
Eurogamer: Despite Stephen Fry's wonderful voice, I'm quite daunted by LBP2's creation mode. It sounds like you're making it more complicated.
James Spafford: The things that make it more complicated also make it a lot easier. We're not level designers but we can knock together a spaceship in 60 seconds with the new stuff. We looked at what everyone was trying to build and said, well, there's a much easier way of doing that. If we just made a switch and put in stuff that would make it stay level or go forward, it would really make sense.
We've watched little kids come along and in half an hour they've built themselves a little tank top-down shooter game, which is really impressive. The people who know the game really well can push it to a whole new level using these things as well.
Tom Kiss: You can spend a lot of time getting really involved with the tools. But just out of the box you have the controllanator. The interface on that is easy to get to grips with. It brings up the physical DualShock. If you're familiar with connections in LBP then it's as simple as grabbing the button you want and connecting it to the thing you want.
I guess it's just learning some of the new items. If you want to make a car, for example, it's exactly the same as LBP1. You shove your wheels on, put the motor bolts on, as you would, and then you can wire in a button to the motor and you've got it. It's working.
But with the simple addition of one thing, the Mover, you put that on and you wire in the analogue stick to the axis, that will move that whole object in whatever direction you control in. That would just be so hard in the first game. You would have to play around with trying to get it floaty and take away its gravity and stuff. You just couldn't do that in an easy way.
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Eurogamer: So you have more tools, but it's easier to create stuff?
James Spafford: It's definitely a lot easier and quicker, absolutely. We can make stuff that we never thought we could make. Before people would make a side-scrolling shooter, but it would be a little bit naff. We would all be saying, look, that is amazing, but it's only amazing because they've managed to build it.
That would have taken them 10 hours, but now they can spend five minutes getting the spaceship working and they spend 10 hours making a really fun level that's actually playable and enjoyable, rather than just, look at my feat of engineering.
Eurogamer: You guys haven't been shy in hiring some of the people from the community.
James Spafford: We're the community team. We came in from the community as well. We built a fan site and that's how we got the attention. We worked in the industry previously to that, but that was part of our strategy to get in there and get our hands dirty.
Eurogamer: Well it worked.
James Spafford: John, who's here today, he's one of the guys we hired from the community. He was a builder from the age of 16 onwards. He'd never written a CV. He'd never had a job interview. Didn't even have a computer. But his levels were just absolutely mind-blowing.
We got him to come up into the office. It was a case of insta-hire. It was just like, look at this crazy thing.
Tom Kiss: He'd published these levels online that were really awesome. When he came in for his interview he brought his whole PS3 that had loads of stuff on his profile that no one had ever seen before. He was too afraid to publish it. It wasn't good enough yet. He showed off all his stuff and everyone was just like, ah, oh my God.
Eurogamer: I wonder how many people will do the same with LBP2?
Tom Kiss: Yeah. There will be a few.
James Spafford: Victor, he used to skin Rag Doll Kung-fu. Kristoff as well, he was hired from the community. He should be around. So yeah, quite a lot of people come in that way.
Eurogamer: What is the development team doing right now?
James Spafford: John, for instance, was up all night delivering levels. They're all still working their arses to the bone. That doesn't make sense, but yeah. Right now, what time is it? They might be having some doughnuts or something. They might have gone to the pub. But if they haven't gone to the pub, then they're working really hard to get this game finished.
Tom Kiss: Everyone is working so hard. It was disappointing about the delay, but it's all good because it's going to be so much better. We can polish it it the level we want it to be.
Eurogamer: That's the whole point of the delay, right? To make the game better.
James Spafford: Yes. We wouldn't slip a game to make it worse. It's unfortunate, but our community has been really understanding. It's great because we all feared we would get shouted at quite a lot. But everyone was just like, fair enough, I'd rather the game is better.
Eurogamer: Perhaps fans of other games might have reacted differently.
James Spafford: Yeah. Our community is really awesome. The core community is creative at heart. All of them have got a basic level of creativity, which makes them really interesting. There are obviously people there that...
Eurogamer: Are a bit special?
James Spafford: Yeah. But most of them are so wonderful. They're just really nice. They send us lots of art and make lots of cool things outside of the game even.
Eurogamer: Did they send you messages saying everything was okay after you delayed the game?
James Spafford: Yeah. They sent us biscuits, and they're like, I hope you're okay. Don't work too hard. Have some tea. We tweeted we'd run out of tea once, and loads of people sent us tea, which was nice.
Someone sent us a rice crispy cake in the shape of sackboy. We were like, that's brilliant. But you probably can't eat it. Company policy: don't eat weird cakes you get sent.
LittleBigPlanet 2 is due out in January 2011.