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."
GR: To counteract that point, however, within a game like LittleBigPlanet, you can really feel the individual working on every level. Whereas in something like 'Fable', it really feels like Peter Molyneux's game. Or, say, 'The Secret of Monkey Island', it really feels like the baby of Tim Schafer and Ron Gilbert.
JS: "And Dave Grossman."
GR: "Yeah, and that other guy. *Laughs*"
AE: "*Laughs* That other guy! Poor guy."
JS: "*Leans into microphone* I'm sorry Dave, we love you!"
GR: I'm sorry, I forgot!
AE: "And there, you've actually answered your own question. People love a name. And I don't blame people for it, it's like, if you want to talk about 'Fable,' you want to talk about the human behind it. And Peter is, obviously, a massive influence on that game, and so he's the name you remember. People also remember my name associated with Media Molecule, but it's not me -- it's Media Molecule."
"I actually found it funny the other day; there was a quote in an online article that said, "'I hate how people always associate one person's name with making a game.' Says Warren Spector, Creator of Deus Ex." It's the same as what happened just now: "Tim Schafer, Ron Gilbert, and err..." But as long as you remember that it's a team of people creating this game, then that's OK. It's harder to write about, and it's hard to remember everyone's names, because ultimately, you're not looking at them for two hours! It's a nameless, but ultimately interesting and fascinating, human being creating that game. You won't always remember people's names, but that's the way the human brain works. That's life!"
JS: "It's also that some people have really strong personalities that will always shine through, no matter what company they're at, or what team they're with. Tim Schafer is a really good example of that; no matter who else is on the team, they will be something of Tim there."
AE: "When you meet Double Fine, they are the most amazing, charming team. I love that team! Tim is also an incredibly modest guy; if you talk to him, he's often like 'Oh, you should talk to the other team members, who did... ' And yet, the way it comes across in the press is that 'Tim Schafer says...'"
"Peter [Molyneux] is the same. He's an incredibly modest, lovely guy. People will ask him something about the game, and he'll answer 'Well, this person did this.' But, again, when it gets through to the other side, it's "Peter Molyneux says 'I did this'" and it's like... Oh. It's the same, unfortunately, for Media Molecule. You know, I would love to shout about Danny, Victor, and other members of the team -- and I do shout about them all the time -- because they are the people that make the game. Then that all gets lost with 'Media Molecule says X' or 'LittleBigPlanet team says Y.'"
GR: Perhaps then, it is worthwhile to try following a game from conception through its development. Personally, I've always been interested in writing a retrospective about a game, after it's been released. You know, for example, after LittleBigPlanet 2 is released, I would head over to the Media Molecule offices and say "Hey, Spaff! What was your role in the creation of LittleBigPlanet 2?"
AE: "That would be really awesome. We were actually going to set up a 'Diary room' [akin to the 'Diary Room' from Big Brother, a UK Reality TV show] at one point, but we never got around to it. That's something I wish we'd done though, just so that we could have all these old clips that you could go back to."
GR: As we've been going on, I think the main thing I'm beginning to realize is that you really do see every developer as vastly unique individuals. I have to ask then: what do you think defines you both as an individual person? What, effectively, taught you how to 'be?' Any literary texts, films, or other media that's shaped you as a person?
AE: "For me personally? Personally, it's all about music. For example, in LittleBigPlanet 2, the sequencer that allows you to write music, that was mine and Kenny's (our Audio designer) baby. We just had to get it in there. I taught myself to program, not actually so I could make games, but so that I could synthesizers and that sort of thing. I couldn't afford the real kit! Back... back when you were born..."
GR: *Laughs* Don't say that!
AE: "A synthesizer was very expensive. You know, these days you can do it all on a laptop, but back then you actually had to buy the stuff. So I taught myself how to program for music. For me, it's all about music, and I love the fact that I've been able to bring that into the games that I work on as well."
GR: What sort of music is that? Are you a Jazz man? Metalhead?
AE: "Ah, well, my mom's a Classical composer, so I was influenced by that, and I used to play the cello. And all through my days at Lionhead, I used to do visuals, so back in 2000/01, I used to do the visual for Warp Records, which is a big electronic music label, and in my spare time I'd go to parties and go gigging with them. Electronic music.. Anyone in your readership who knows Electronic music will know Warp. It's a bit past it now, a bit over the hill *laughs* but, years ago..."
GR: What about you, James?
AE: "Yeah, what ARE your cultural influences, Spaff?"
JS: "I think games have always been a huge part of my life. All of the Lucasarts stuff that I mentioned; since I was 12, it's been a gigantic influence. I guess, whilst I was growing up I loved Monty Python (a Classic British TV Comedy), and really silly movies like Bill and Ted's Excellent Adventure..." (Post interview edit: "I'd say the biggest non gaming influences I have are Damon Albarn, and Chris Morris :)")
AE: "You also do 'Crawl of the Dead', don't you?"
JS: "Crawl of the Dead's great! I don't know if that's an influence, but..."
GR: What is Crawl of the Dead, exactly?
JS: "It's when we all dress up as Zombies and go on a pub crawl every Halloween, man. *laughs*"
AE: "I was going to say, surely you're into Zombies then? You seem quite heavily into Zombies. *Laughs*"
JS: "I'm not heavily into zombies. I'd say Tom (Media Molecule's other Community Manager) is more heavily into zombies than I am."
AE: "Ah, so Tom's the one into all those old Romero and other 70's zombie films."
JS: "Because I spent so long doing all that old Lucasarts stuff, I've ended up with so much Tim Schafer-y art; if you come to my house, that's the only art!"
AE: "*Laughs* Yeah, that's true."
JS: "Sam and Max, Day of the Tentacle, a massive Monkey Island 2 thing..."
AE: "I love Day of the Tentacle."
JS: "I was walking around the other day thinking: "Yeah... Maybe I should get some other stuff!" *Laughs*"
GR: Actually, I bought Full Throttle (another Tim Schafer title) quite recently. I started it, and I got about... 5 minutes in? Then I stopped.
GR: Yeah, see, that's something that I've noticed recently. I mean, I started playing games when I was three/four years old...
JS: "So what's that, like '98 or something?"
JS: "Just in time for Quake, baby."
GR: I do remember Doom being played around my friend's house. I wasn't actually playing, but his dad was. That was sweet. But yeah, Christmas of '97, Goldeneye and Mario 64 were the games I got. My mom bought me Goldeneye when I was four! *Laughs*
AE: "*Leans into the microphone* Good on you, mom!"
That wraps up Part Two of 'An Audience With Media Molecule'. We hope you're enjoying this particular feature, and if you'd like to see more of these, let us know in the comments below. Be sure to check back tomorrow on Game Rant, where we'll be uploading Part Three, including a new guest speaker! And biscuits.
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?