Welcome to the third and final part of 'An Audience with Media Molecule'. If you haven't already done so, I highly recommend you quickly go back and check out Part One and Part Two, where our conversation with co-founder Alex Evans and Community Manager James Spafford began.
When conducting this interview at the Eurogamer Expo earlier this month, I wanted to try and make sure that the main focus wasn't solely the studio's forthcoming LittleBigPlanet 2. Each developer at Media Molecule has a clear, distinct personality that shines through in the studio's games -- I wanted to see who those people were, and what made them tick. I hope you enjoy this final segment.
GR: [If we head back] to the time of the 'Point n Click' adventure; it's a genre that has relatively died out now. It's still around of course, but in a much smaller capacity; to see how the industry has changed in such a small period of time is astonishing. As you said earlier Alex, [games are] a relatively young medium, but genres are being born and dying all the time. For the both of you, are there any genres that have died that you're particularly saddened by, or is there anything you'd like to see more of?
JS: "I think games have actually evolved to a much more refined point now. There's a lot more online, there's a lot more interactive..."
GR: But do you think that's a bad thing? That your old favorites are dying out?
JS: "I don't think it's a bad thing, necessarily. I mean, there's always going to be room for games like 'Heavy Rain', as an example. That's an evolution of the Point n Click adventure. It's a single-player experience and, although a couple people can sit there and watch it and digest it like a film..."
GR: What did you think of Heavy Rain?
JS: "I haven't actually completed it yet, so no spoilers!"
AE: "Siobhan, our producer, loves it! She's completed it like six times or something crazy."
GR:I admit, I loved it as well...
*At this point, a woman with biscuits walked past the table. Unfortunately, they were not for us.*
AE: "Ah, biscuits!....... Ah, fail!"
JS: "We just failed to get biscuits :("
AE: "*Sighs* So excited by biscuits."
GR: [Going back to Heavy Rain] I actually loved that game. You can tell, just by looking at that game, how different, how diverse, the gaming industry is now. David Cage (Creative Director of Heavy Rain)...
AE: "Oh I love you!"
*The biscuit lady has returned, bearing biscuits.*
AE: "Thank you very much!"
GR: We're getting biscuits!
AE: "Oh, you're the nicest person!"
Biscuit Lady: "These are for the speakers, you're a speaker, right?"
AE: "I was speaking earlier this morning!"
GR: I'm speaking now...
JS: "I organized our speakers!"
BL: "Oh, alright then. Don't tell anyone!"
AE: "Bless you, thank you so much."
*Biscuit Lady leaves*
GR: Anyway, biscuits aside, David Cage said that you should only play Heavy Rain once, because you've then experience the game he wanted you to experience. LittleBigPlanet, on the other hand, is a game where you can replay the levels infinite times; what do you think about the diversity in the games industry? Is it a good thing, is it a bad thing?
AE: "It's a very good thing!"
JS: "Diversity is the best thing! My favorite games here, at this show, are the ones over at the Indie Arcade. From one computer to the next, you just couldn't have more diversity. Every single one is completely different from all the other ones; some require running around and hitting your friends in real life, others are really close-up cerebral experiences, some are just plain hilarious. There's one where you're a goldfish in a bowl of water, and you have to traverse the level without losing the water or else you'll die! *Laughs* It's really, really hard! But it is awesome. There's also a really good 2D fencing game ('Nidhogg') and it's all just really good."
AE: "I've got to go there next. Indie Game Arcade, next! Actually, indie games are a really important thing because they are driving the diversity. I remember two years ago, at the Games Developer Conference, they announced the indie game festival winners, and, that year, it was where the throbbing, beating heart of the games industry was, clearly. All of the innovation was happening in the indie space and now I'm seeing it trickle into the big players. You know, in the end we're all gamers, we're all trying to make the best possible game, and the fact that it's now easier than ever to make and publish a game is just forcing innovation into the industry in a really good way. For me, that's the root of all the awesomeness -- not just the indie dudes who are just "Yeah, I'm so indie", but that mentality of "I can do this. I can make the game I want to make, I can push limits and I can make weird stuff!
"When Sony signed us up, we said to them, and this was back in '96, which was..."
AE: "Yeah, 2006, sorry. At that time, games were in a more traditional phase. The 'indie explosion' hadn't happened, the iPhone hadn't happened, and we said "We want to make a game about fluff, knitting and buttons, with no guns, no cars, no women, no shooting and no racing." and they were like "Brilliant, go for it!" They took a risk, and every time someone takes a risk -- sometimes it doesn't pay off -- but it's the risktakers that drive the diversity, and drive the industry forward. I'll forever be indebted to Phil Harrison, who was then at Sony, for taking that risk on us, and making a risky game like 'LittleBigPlanet'. Equally, people like Peter Molyneux, who I learnt so much from, is a constant risktaker! People beat him up sometimes for taking these risks, but for God's sake, he is out there, trying to do what he's trying to do. And you know, he's not a safe player, he does what he wants to do, and he believes in it. That leads to diversity, and that's what leads to great games."
GR: I think that's one of the biggest shames about Molyneux's representation in the some outlets of the press. I've always thought of him as someone who's quite fantastic, because he always has these wonderful ideas, and he's always trying to push his particular part [of the industry] forward. Then, what it seems to me that people don't grasp, it's the workings behind the industry that stops these ideas from coming to full fruition. Take 'Milo' for instance...
AE: "I think the thing about Peter is that he dares to take risks, and it's easy to shoot someone down from the sidelines. But that guy inspired me massively, got me into the industry, and I see that he believes what he's saying. Yeah, sometimes it doesn't pay off. Like, we just delayed 'LittleBigPlanet 2', because sometimes, you go for gold!... but you miss by a few weeks, and you have to slip the game from November to January. In his case, he's hit it repeatedly with 'Fable', and his team are amazing. I think people who shoot down risktakers are just small-minded idiots. *Laughs*
"Of course, you won't succeed every time you take a risk, but it's the sign of a really good character in the industry. You know, Tim Schafer takes risks; all the people we've talked about in this interview, they are the risktakers. They are the people who go out there, put their balls on the block, and most of the time, they succeed! That's why people love their games."
GR: Going back for a moment to Milo, and to Kinect, and Move; I know you said you're going to be looking at Move integration for LittleBigPlanet 2, but as people, not designers, what excites you about the current 3D/motion control evolution, or even revolution as the case may be? Personally, when I watch Milo, even if I don't believe it would work like that -- I don't believe I can show him a picture of a basketball, he'll then play with it, before throwing it back to me -- but it's the ideas going on behind it that interest me. What do you think can come from these new tech innovations? What should be we looking for in the next couple of years?
JS: "That's a toughie! *Laughs*"
AE: "There's a quote from John Carmack here; "Sometimes people ask me what the future of the industry is. That's above my pay grade. I've got no bloody clue.""
AE: "I love that quote! I mean, I don't know exactly what he said, but it was along those lines at Quakecon a year or so ago. That sort of question is totally beyond my paygrade; I don't know what's going to happen with Kinect and Move."
GR: OK, but what would you like to see happen?
AE: "I can answer your question, but it's not exactly how you'd expect it! 3D, Move, Kinect, and all those peripherals... They're all just colors in the palette. I can't predict how people are going to use those colors, but that's actually invigorating! For example, with the Move, one of the reasons we're putting it in DLC is because we don't just want to put out a bunch of levels and say "This is how you use Move." We want to give you, the creators/gamers, the opportunity to show us what can be done with it. What excites me is, that we make available, as an industry, these colors -- and by analogy, I don't mean Kinect is a color! -- Kinect allows people like Peter to do amazing things.
"I know nothing about 'Milo', but I know that someone who's a great game designer, like Peter and the people at Lionhead, who work on 'Milo' will do something amazing with Kinect; I've got no clue what they'll do with it! But I don't care! Because it's another color in the palette, and I'll see how it goes. I feel the same way about Move and 'LittleBigPlanet'. I know that when our designers, when our Danny's and John's and our whole community got hold of it, they are going to do things that blow me away. I don't want to predict, I don't want to know; I just want to make the building blocks, and give it to you."
JS: "I'd say the exact same thing. The thing that I'm excited about most is seeing what happens when we give a million people the ability to make stuff with Move. The stuff out there now has obviously gone through publishers and the like, and it's still early days yet. For a lot of it, it's just controls."
AE: "The way I think of it is this; reading a review of a game versus reading a review of a camera. I realize when people say "How do I write a review of 'LittleBigPlanet'?" And I say to them, "Think of it like you're reviewing a camera. You can talk about the features and you can talk about the lens, and all the new features that will allow people to take amazing photos, but you don't talk about what photos are going to be taken." You don't read a review of the latest SLR camera that says "What photos are going to be taken with this camera? I don't know!""
GR: "If you're taking a picture in the dark, forget it."
AE: "No, but perhaps you would say that. Perhaps you would say "This camera is awesome at taking pictures in the dark!" or "This camera's terrible in the dark." With Kinect, I look at it and I go "Wow, this is going to allow you to bring your whole body into the game." or with Move, it has such precision, it has really beautiful control and 360 degrees of freedom. Wow, that's going to expand the possibilities, and these are the technical details. But what people are going to do with it... I don't mind. I'm really looking forward to seeing what they do -- same way as, if I were reviewing a camera, I'd be like "Wow, the megapixels in this are amazing, the sharpness is astounding." and if you look at something like the Canon EOS... whatever it is, there's a really famous one that just has a lovely look to it. And it's inspired lots and lots of people to shoot amazing film and amazing photos with this camera. The dudes who are making that camera, they put their love into that feel, making the camera take really lovely photos, and that's what we do with 'LittleBigPlanet'. We put our feel into it, and then we let other people build on it."
GR: That's quite a good analogy actually, I like that! Personally, whenever I try and review a game -- for example the recent Lara Croft and the Guardian of Light -- I'm much more interested in how it makes me feel. I'm the romantic Coleridge-esque writer. I love the feeling and the way it makes me feel, rather than writing about specific features. When I was watching your presentation earlier today, as I said, I wasn't particularly fussed by all the menus.
AE: "Yeah, that's understandable."
GR: But at the same time, it made me think "Oh my God, that looks amazing!" Personally, I think it's something that more people should be doing. Say, if I played LittleBigPlanet 2 and I didn't like it -- I'm sure I would! -- but if I didn't, I'd still want to try and look for the good things. Because I think that this industry can get so bogged down in pessimism, and the main thing I really find refreshing about Media Molecule, while I don't want to blow up your egos too much, is that it seems to be almost a beacon of light in an otherwise dark space.
AE: "I think that's in the indie game space as well. We're inheriting a lot of the style from the indie people..."
JS: "And the ethos. It's great."
GR: And the indie games here, they really show that light, those ideas and creativity. But then, say, if I'm looking at a game like 'Killzone 3', some people will say "Yeah, but it just looks like Call of Duty 4." I just think, "Well, yeah, but there's differences. There's something that makes this unique and special." I think a lot of people just don't look at that aspect.
AE: "And that comes back to your 'human story'. I think the 'Killzone' guys, for example, are making a big-budget, triple-A, amazing title, but they still have a flavor to them. You know, if you interviewed the 'Killzone' guys, you can see their passion, their enthusiasm, and how they've shaped it. They're not going for that indie vibe, but they're in a big arms race. You know, they have to compete, and they are competing, with all these big boys -- and they are a big boy themselves -- but if you meet them, and start getting a feel for who it is that's making 'Killzone'. That 'human story'; why did they make this decision or that decision? Why is the jetpack the way it is?
"We should probably wrap up soon; go check out the indie games!"
GR: One last question then: How would you, James, ever try fitting that 'human story' into the community? How would you take these stories from the team and make them available? I saw recently that one of your team had a baby, and I saw that picture posted on your website...
JS: "We've actually had another one since! But they requested we didn't publish his photo *laughs*. Our players know more members of our development team that any fans of any game know devs of their favorite dev team. We try to make sure that everyone at Media Molecule has an individual voice; "Oh, Danny's doing this today!" or "Victor's doing this!""
AE: "Like you did the 'E-mails from the Molecules' series."
JS: "Yeah, it's so that you know everyone and their unique personalities. Even vice versa, we have three of our community down on the show floor today!"
AE: "I love getting to know some of the real characters in our community, and we love getting to know them as well."
JS: "Their character shines through on their levels. You can tell it's a certain person's level, or a 'Wexfordian' level."
AE: "Oh, 'Wexfordian' is hilarious. You know, you meet these people -- we had some of them come in on the community day -- and we'd love to meet more. James went over to PAX and met some of the American fans."
GR: Which I'm insanely jealous of, by the way.
AE: "It's inspiring to us. The idea that we can give something to people that they then connect with, you know? It's a lovely feeling.
"Are we finished? Fantastic, because I'm busting for a wee."
Finally, thanks again to both Alex Evans and James Spafford for taking the time to talk to us. Hope you have enjoyed reading this edition of 'An Audience with...', and if everyone liked it, then let us know in the comments below!
LittleBigPlanet 2 is a PlayStation 3 exclusive, and will be available to buy in January 2011. In the meantime, why not check out our impressions of the ongoing beta?