LittleBigPlanet

I jump up and down on top of Cory's head.

He doesn't seem to be getting the point. So instead, I smile and wave my hands. Finally he stops his random wandering around about the small cardboard box we inhabit and seems to pay attention. I point to the collection of user generated worlds to explore. He nods. Smiles. And he starts scrolling through the options. On finding one that looks interesting he pauses for a moment and waggles his head back and forth. I smile more broadly, nod up and down, and jump up with cartoon glee.

My rabbit ears are exceptionally floppy.

Like visiting demigods we descend into this ersatz Eden. We step gently, knowing that a misstep as often as not leads to dissolution. Ahead of us looms our clockwork dragon. Rearing and pawing at the ground, it ejects a ball of bile at us. It lands on Cory, who disappears in an explosion of black smoke.

I run back to the entrance, where his blue-stitched sack body re-emerges from the god-chute. We tread more carefully this time, approaching what we now understand to be a cannon, clearly placed to defeat the dragon. We instinctively divide the tasks: I jump up and down on the trigger, launching the canon balls. Cory controls the angle of elevation.

The dragon is toast before our display of mad skills.

Returning to our cardboard box, we do a little dance, decorating each other with flowers and donkey tails. Cory returns to the controls and selects another world to explore.

We spend the next hour in this same silent exploration. We journey from world to world. We speak not a word, but communicate solely through body language, actions, and changes in appearance. We could, of course, be speaking - if we owned headsets for the PS3, an extravagance I'd never seen the point of until now. But really, there's no need for speech. I can communicate just as effectively with a wave of my Raggedy Andy head, or the flailing of my articulated stuffed fingers.

He takes the role of controller, and I act as the arbiter of good and bad, exciting and boring, clever and obvious. More than anything, I am filled over and over again with a sense of wonder. Wonder at the simplicity of the worlds, the complexity of the ideas, and the occasional startling beauty of the experience.

And the silence.

Some 20 hours later, Lindsay sits on the couch.

"What's this?" she asks, looking at my rabbit-eared sack-boy standing lonely in his cardboard box.

"Just play with it," I suggest, returning to the kitchen.

Five minutes later, I run back into the living room. The laughter from Lindsay and my wife is so intense that I'm afraid that a flock of chickens has errupted from the carpeting. They're curled up in tears on the couch.

I look at the screen. Two sack-people now, still standing in their cardboard box.

"It's just so funny!" Lindsay exclaims.

They're just running around the box. Jumping, waving, smiling, frowning, dancing. I explain to them that there are actually worlds they can explore, and they're gone. With no instruction, they've discovered everything there is to understand about the worlds of LittleBigPlanet. And they never, ever stop laughing. Not because someone was telling jokes, or because they were playing "funny levels," but because they were simply exploring like children in a garden, making up their own games and testing limits.

---

LittleBigPlanet lived in my house for two short days. In that time I became convinced that it's important. Yes, it's fun, and it's extraordinarily polished and well-realized. Yes, it oozes super-hot cuteness from every pore. It's Lego-games cute with a side order of puppies. And yes, it will succeed or fail based on how well the community content system is implemented, and on the quality of the levels from developer MediaMolecule -- two enormous unknowns.

But that's not why it's important.

It's important because it's a breakthrough in forming connective tissue. With both Lindsay and Cory, the LittleBigPlanet experience wasn't a game experience. It was a social play experience. In one case, I had a completely satisfying, social, interpersonal play experience entirely without vocabulary. In the other, while the two players sat talking, side by side on the couch, their interaction with the virtual environment was so well crafted that the most complex activities were instinctive within seconds, allowing them to simply play - play in the childhood sense of the word. The seams between players in real time, and between the player and the designer (who in this case is just another player who has gone before) are so smooth that it's easy to overlook how different this really is.

There are two great fundamental challenges of game design in the 21st century. The first is to break the wall between the experiencer and the experience. That's the point of all the fancy graphics and 5.1 audio. It's the first premise of the Wii. It's the reason designers spend agonizing evenings deciding whether to put "jump" on the A button or the X button.

The second great challenge is to bring groups of people - both living rooms and communities - into game spaces in a meaningful way. The entire MMO industry is predicated on the need to make these connections. The second premise of the Wii is to get people playing together. It's the reason designers spend agonizing evenings tweaking multiplayer levels.

LittleBigPlanet splits these challenges with a cute-sharpened axe.

I'm a terrible fortune teller. LBP could be the smash hit of the holiday season or go down in history as a game that pulls Okami and Psychonauts down a notch off the Billboard chart for Bankrupt Critical Darlings. The game-as-shipped might be riddled with unforeseen bugs. All of the user created content could be bland. But I feel safe in predicting this:

In 5 years, we'll still be talking about what LittleBigPlanet taught us about games.

Comments

wordsmythe wrote:
Elliottx wrote:
Nyles wrote:

Fun fact: did you know that if you put a male rabbit in with a female, she won't mate with him. Instead, she will tear out the male's stomach with her powerful hind feet? He'll look like he's been carved open with a melon baller. It's gruesome!
So you put the female in the male's cage, then she'll be submissive.

"No, I don't want to come upstairs for a cup of coffee. I like my stomach fully intact, thank you very much!"

And that is the reason I always invite the woman back to my place.

You have much to learn, young one.

No he just has to date some crazies.

boogle wrote:
wordsmythe wrote:
Elliottx wrote:
Nyles wrote:

Fun fact: did you know that if you put a male rabbit in with a female, she won't mate with him. Instead, she will tear out the male's stomach with her powerful hind feet? He'll look like he's been carved open with a melon baller. It's gruesome!
So you put the female in the male's cage, then she'll be submissive.

"No, I don't want to come upstairs for a cup of coffee. I like my stomach fully intact, thank you very much!"

And that is the reason I always invite the woman back to my place.

You have much to learn, young one.

No he just has to date some crazies.

Yeah, you don't realize until it's too late that there is little point in jumping out the window of your own home. Evisceration is a moderate risk.

I've been anticipating this game for a couple years now. I finally caved and bought a PS3 just for this. And now it's almost here. I would bet on us talking about this game for years, honestly. I would bet on us playing this game off and on 5 years from now.

On the issue of the game having an impact, the install base is irrelevant. Sharing your gaming experiences with the larger community is a trend that isn't going away. Social networking isn't a "fad". It's a new way of connecting. There's a reason MP and online games are so popular. Humans want to play games with other humans. Or humans want to play games and compare high scores with other humans. It's the way things are headed. It started with MP games. It's grown even stronger with things like Forge and saved films, saved highlights in various games. It's a growing trend and LBP is poised to ride the wave as the first game designed with that concept at the forefront.

My guess is that LBP will move consoles. I would be happy to predict right now that it will not only move consoles, but it will have a long tail. It will move consoles and define what the PS3 is and what this generation really is about. This generation is about people connecting and LBP looks to represent the best of that trend and thus I think it will define this generation.

I'm not at all sure how the buying masses will take on LBP. The charm goes a long way, but to me it feels like Sony itself only really started believing in LBP after the specialist press really took up on it. We'll see how it's treated in the mainstream.

DSGamer wrote:

On the issue of the game having an impact, the install base is irrelevant ... I would be happy to predict right now that it will not only move consoles, but it will have a long tail. It will move consol.

Obviously I agree, but as I mentioned on this weeks podcast, I do worry about the games legs. I'd love something like LBP to have a REALLY REALLY long tail. The kind of tail that the first Half Life did, which spawned a million mods, many so good they became real games on their own. I'll still be happy if it doesn't. Heck, I'd go so far as to say I probably would pay retail just for the version I've already played, if I knew the community support would still be there.

I don't know how long a tail it will have for most people, but I can see it being a staple of my library for a long time.

It's a twitch game, but with depth. You can get as deep into it as you want, whenever you want. It's the perfect game for playing when you feel like playing a game, but don't feel like playing whatever epic-story game you're currently playing. And it's the perfect game for sinking hours upon hours into.

Games like that only come along once or twice a generation.

That said, I'm aware it's not the best thing since cooked mastadon, or whatever was the best thing before sliced bread. If you don't like side-scrolling platformers, this game probably won't change your mind. Or maybe it will-- I seem to recall multiple podcasts where Rabbit tells us how much he hates side-scrolling platformers (usually to illustrate an exception to that rule).

Some people will like it, some people won't. In that respect it's no different from anything else that's ever been sold in stores. Will it define this console generation? I don't know.

All I know is I haven't been this excited about a game ever. Even my very favorite games never ignited my imagination like the beta for LBP. I've never in my life gotten home from work or school and said "Oh boy! I get to fire up this game right now!"

I feel like a toddler seeing soap bubbles for the first time.

It may be a while before you fire up the retail version...

http://threespeech.com/blog/2008/10/littlebigplanet-scees-official-statement/

There's a rumor that it's being delayed (although I'm positive there are copies in the wild) so that the game can be recalled and a song that contains words from the Qur’an can be removed.

As for this games tail, that will depend on how well they can sell the community elements. If people just buy it for the single player and never dive into the creation and sharing then I can see it being returned after a weekend. As for me, even after I tire of creating levels of my own I will keep this game on my shelf, all the while knowing that a month or so down the line I will be able to fire it up and have a brand new experience. That could keep the game from being re-sold and if there is a lot of strong word of mouth keep the game selling new copies for quite a while. I would definitely suggest it as a 'must have' for anyone buying a PS3 for the first time.

DSGamer wrote:

It may be a while before you fire up the retail version...

http://threespeech.com/blog/2008/10/littlebigplanet-scees-official-statement/

There's a rumor that it's being delayed (although I'm positive there are copies in the wild) so that the game can be recalled and a song that contains words from the Qur’an can be removed.

I don't know the whole situation, but that seems like a whole 'nother level of political correctness gone crazy. It's now offensive to use phrases found in religious texts? I'll be sure to sue the next person to utter "am I my brother's keeper?"

And couldn't they just remove the offending music with a day 1 patch?

Frak! It's true.

We learnt yesterday that there is a lyric in one of the licensed tracks which some people may find offensive, and which slipped through the usual screening processes. Obviously MM and Sony together took this very seriously. LBP should be enjoyable by all. So within 12 hours of hearing about this issue involving a lyric (in Somalian, I believe!), we prepared an automatic day 0 patch and had a new disk image ready; however a decision was made within Sony that the right thing to do for quality and support of people with no on-line was to replace existing disks. They assure us that they are doing everything in their power to get things straightened out as fast as possible, and will announce dates soon.

Because, I guess, there's a big LBP community in Somalia, and they're worth delaying the game for the entire world over.

I have a number of comments about this that I could serve up, but they'd be better suited to P&C so I won't mention them here.

Grr!

EDIT:

Wow, a lot of commenters at the developer's blog are talking about boycotting the game over this.

Man, Sony sure knows how to shoot itself in the foot.

EDIT #2:

Amazon still shows the ship date as being October 21. I've sent an email asking them if that date will be honored. I'll report back when I hear something.