Welcome to Part Two of ‘An Audience with Media Molecule.’ In case you haven’t done so already, I highly recommend you head over and check out Part One, where Alex Evans, James Spafford and I started our conversation.
The following interview was conducted at the recent Eurogamer Expo 2010, where Media Molecule held a ‘Developer Session’ showcasing the upcoming LittleBigPlanet 2. After the session was over, I tracked down Media Molecule co-founder Alex Evans, and Community Manager James Spafford, in order to find out more about their forthcoming release, and to find out a little bit more about the people behind the Sackboy. Enjoy Part Two.
GR: That’s the best thing about a community like [LittleBigPlanet’s] though, isn’t it? I bought LittleBigPlanet a long time after it came out, when I eventually bought my PlayStation 3 last Christmas. I mean, I played only a few of the online, community-made levels, but some of them were fantastic! Sure, you get a few ‘I’ll get you up to a million miles per hour to get the achievement’ levels, but when you find a good level, and look at the ‘If you like this, then you might also like…’ recommendation system — I mean, there are some like full games! I’ll play a level, and it’ll tell me “Click here for level two,” and I’ll say “Sweet! Level two! Yes!”
AE: “I know, they’ve done some amazing things. What I think is fun, is that we learnt a lot from our own community. Going into ‘LittleBigPlanet 2,’ especially on those kinds of things, like ‘How do you find the good stuff?’ There’s three million levels, and some of them you’re not going to want to play, but what’s interesting is that there’s maybe five thousand really good levels — which is an insane amount of levels! But my five thousand of choice will be different from [James’] five thousand, which will be different from your five thousand of choice.
“So how do you help people find what they want to play? I mean, we’ve worked quite hard with ‘LBP 2’ to make sure that’s sorted. It’s harder for us, because we’ve only got a few hundred levels to test with, so I can’t wait to see what will happen when it eventually releases, and…”
JS: “Seeing the madness. I mean, in the beta we have going at the moment, we’ve got maybe five thousand members, which is very small, but they’re building insane things. One of our guys rebuilt ‘flOw’! I mean, it’s ‘flOw’! I mean, with a little bit more work, it could be a little bit more floaty and a bit more fluid, but…”
AE: “But this is week two of the beta!”
JS: “So yeah, there’s all this stuff going on. They’re tending to, same as with ‘LittleBigPlanet,’ remake all the classics, and it’s like they’re learning the tools while doing that, because they don’t have to think about anything bar recreating the original. But then, the next step is…”
AE: “Is going to be original stuff.”
JS: “Yeah, it’s like “Now, I’m going to make a thing of my own now,” so you always see this little flux of Mario levels…”
AE: “That’s the way it works in the games industry, as well. I’d say that one of the best ways to learn to make games, is to take something you love and try to make it. Even in a simplified form, it’s one of the best ways to learn, because you begin to appreciate what the designers went through. You know, let’s say you’re making a Tim Schafer-esque point and click adventure, it doesn’t need to have super-duper tech, but it’ll really prove to you the difficulties; How do you balance it? How do you make the story right?”
GR: Something similar to ‘Ben There, Dan That,’ an indie PC game available on Steam. It’s a similar sort of game, with a great sense of humor.
JS: “There’s one down in the Indie arcade today, I’ve forgotten its name, but it’s an absolutely faithful early 90’s adventure game. It looks like ‘Beneath a Steel Sky,’ but with all the learning that’s happened since.”
AE: “And that’s the thing, the person who made that homage, not only does he love that stuff, but he’s learning by doing it.”
GR: In LittleBigPlanet 2, obviously it’s quite a humorous game, but are there any older games that you take inspiration from when creating the levels, or James, when you write your community posts on the official website, is there anything you try to tap into? What are your inspirations?
AE: “I call that the ‘thumbprint’ of a particular person. The funny thing about our team is — and this doesn’t apply to just Media Molecule, but it’s the team I know and love the best — everyone has their own inspiration. Kareem, our Art Director, is an architect, so he loves laying out buildings and the planning of things, or Shaun, one of the artists, is really into magic, witches and the occult, so he always tries to work in references to that!”
JS: “Then you also have Nathan, who loves ‘Lolcats,’ so they always appear in the game! In fact, one of the tools is called ‘LOLCAT FTW,’ which I think is something like ‘List Of Levels that Can be Added To From The Web’! So he’ll always imprint himself in that way.”
AE: “And I think, when you see that human-ness in a post, you connect with it more. It’s the same with our levels, the people at Media Molecule make that humor; it’s how we are, normally. That is our ‘normal’ vibe!”
JS: “What’s also really cool about [Media Molecule], unlike most studios, is that it’s not just one figurehead who’s always going around and doing all the press events. We have a whole team of magic people, and we push every single one of them to the front whenever we can.”
AE: “To the extent that we never really know what’s going on, until you come together and play the game! I’m sure that I’m going to get some surprises when I play through ‘LittleBigPlanet 2’ finally, on my sofa”
JS: “I haven’t even managed a single playthrough yet.”
AE: “I know! It’s a long game, as well. That’s one of the things that people forget; there’s a full game in there! We do playthroughs occasionally and it’s a bit traumatizing because it takes two days to get through it all! And that’s in the dedicated, pizza-eating, playthrough sessions. *Sighs* But it’s a good problem to have!”
GR: You know, I’ve completely forgotten what I was going to say next. *Laughs*
AE: “I’ve melted your brain! It’s a special tactic. *Laughs* But going back to the idea of the ‘human-story’ that you mentioned earlier… Brad Pitt is on the cover of TIME Magazine, because when you go to a movie with Brad Pitt in it, you spend two hours looking at Brad Pitt. Whereas, when you play ‘Fable,’ you don’t spend ten hours looking at Peter Molyneux.
“On the other hand, people like Peter… I love the fact that people like Cliffy B,or Peter, or David Jaffe, or Tim Schafer, all have distinct personalities. You like reading about them because they’re either hilarious, interesting, or… Will Wright is another example. I love listening to Will Wright talk, because he’s a very interesting man. The point is, all these people are different. And when you look at a game, I reckon you could work out what the team was like who made that game. You know: ‘Who are the geniuses behind ‘Dead Space?’ They’re probably amazing, and probably terrifying people as well.”