GDC: Mm is "halfway through" LBP

Content creation is "least finished part".

In a candid Game Developers Conference session, Mark Healey and Alex Evans - leading lights of LittleBigPlanet developer Media Molecule - revealed that the studio wants to develop the game much further.

"We still feel like we're halfway through the development of LittleBigPlanet, to be honest," said Healey in response to a question from the floor.

"I claim that LittleBigPlanet is potentially a game creation package, which isn't finished if you like, but potentially," he'd said earlier.

"We want LittleBigPlanet to be something that enables people to make games, not platform game levels." Healey said the moment he'd got a working version of Tetris up and running in the game was when he'd proved to himself that the team was on the right track.

Evans said that active development continues on the game, which was a flagship PS3 release for Sony late last year. The team's focus is on improving the content creation side, and making it more accessible to a wider audience.

"That's the least finished part of the game, which both excites and terrifies me," Evans said. The priorities were "taking it outside the walled garden of PSN" and getting more players involved in making content.

"One of the things we have to do is taking that 0.1 per cent audience that can create things in LittleBigPlanet, and bring that to a wider audience - and that's what we want to do next," he said.

Since the game is efficiently and flexibly programmed, expanding it after launch in this manner will be easy to do, Evans said. "The code base for LittleBigPlanet is very tiny, it's still very easy to iterate and play and do stuff. One of our programmers just did a new feature that will become a key part of the game, and he did that in 2 days."

It wasn't discussed whether changes to the game from this point on would come in the form of free patches, downloadable content or a new box release. A member of the audience asked how the team divided its attention between support for LittleBigPlanet and its next major project, and Healey suggested that the two were fairly interchangeable.

"[Whatever] we're working on, we don't necessarily know if it's going to be in 'the next thing', or something we put out to the community in a month," he said.

The team considers that development of LBP is open-ended, and the community takes an active part. "When we released the game, we thought of it as, OK, we've now expanded our team size to two million people," Evans said.

Just as well. Evans said that the community's levels have been far superior to the ones that Media Molecule itself and its games industry contacts made in the early stages of testing. "The quality of levels produced were shocking, really, really awful," he said. "It was only when we went to a public beta trial, within 24 hours there were high quality levels appearing."

The developers were full of admiration - if slightly baffled admiration - for the feats of some community designers, such as the mechanical, switch-and-pulley computers that run a calculator, or early computing experiment The Game of Life.

"Seeing things like this was like, oh my god, there's some really f***ed up people out there, man," said Healey, shaking his head at the vast switch arrays of Little Big Computer.

Healey and Evans shared details and video of earlier versions of LittleBigPlanet with the audience, showing how much it had changed since it was greenlit by Sony, not long before its first unveiling at GDC two years ago.

"We actually started with a user-generated content system that bore no resemblance to what ended up in the final game," Evans said, showing how it was entirely physical, down to players using shotguns to blow away stuff they wanted to delete, paint rollers to apply colour, and even running around physical inventory and menu spaces.

"We originally wanted to have no distinction between creation and gameplay at all," Healey said. "But when we decided we wanted to make a full game creation tool, we realised there was no way anybody would want to do that in that interface."

Although it was always a 2D platformer, Evans said that he'd wanted the game to be more 3D, with levels that wrapped around or bended along a "ribbon". "I really wanted to have the game embedded in 3D space, because I'm a 3D graphics programmer," he said "I clung to that for months and months and months." But none of the other designers were using the tools for it he'd built.

In the end, he spent a "painful" day deleting the code that made his ribbon work. "As I was doing that deletion of the code, the code got cleaner, I cleaned up loads of bugs, deleted thousands of lines, and by the end of that deletion process I was convinced it was the right thing to do," Evans confessed.

The change to a non-physical content creation interface was initially difficult for the team to reconcile, Evans and Healey revealed; they felt like they were making two separate games. It wasn't until they decided that all the Story levels had to be made with the game's own editing tools - and "no cheating" - that it came together.

"That was the key point in the project," Healey said. "As a developer, you know ways of wowing people, and we couldn't use those any more, because we couldn't cheat," Evans added.

LittleBigPlanet is coming to PSP later this year.

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