Sony’s LittleBigPlanet multiplayer demo began with a quick sackboy customization session, where four onscreen players, including myself and a Sony PR rep, had a few minutes to deck out our stitched-up avatars. I pulled up a slick little menu that appeared in a sort of bubble beside my own sackboy’s head and had just enough time to equip my guy with a wooden sword, cape, and single eye. If I’d had more time I could have done better, but as it was I was stuck with a cyclops swordsman.
Next up was a brief tutorial on sackboy controls. LittleBigPlanet‘s two-dimensional playing field made basic movement and jumping a snap. The controller’s D-Pad cycled my sackboy through different degrees of cute facial expressions, from sadness to anger to glee. Holding down the L2 an R2 buttons allowed me to move my sackboy’s arms with the analog sticks, and even punch my cohorts. We learned we could also grab and drag each other around with the R1 button. Madness ensued as we pummeled and flung each other about until our host whisked us into a couple of minigames.
The first minigame had a trampoline-like surface that bounced our sackboys up and down a single screen while we collected bubble-like spheres that drifted by. The second sat us atop a topsy-turvy cow and challenged us to stay on as long as we could. From there, we jumped into a bonafide sidescrolling level where we raced to the right of the screen, dodging obstacles, while a goofy raging beast pursued us from the left. It soon became clear that sackboy customization was more than just a fun little diversion, as it was sometimes difficult to figure out exactly which of the four characters onscreen was my own.
It’s hard to overstate the appeal of LittleBigPlanet‘s overall presentation. It’s graphically impressive and irrepressibly charming. I’d seen plenty of screens and video of the game, but playing it for myself put a huge smile on my face. The hands-on part of the demo was over far too quickly, and unfortunately didn’t include any level-building. Sony’s PR rep did take us into the editing portion of the game, though, and fly his sackboy through a complete sidescrolling level. Even in level construction mode the game looks incredibly inviting and user-friendly.
Sony had time for a brief Q&A after the demo. Their PR rep told us players will be able to build their own levels right from the start. Playing the 50 developer-built single player levels included on the retail disc will gradually unlock new content, including themed building materials, enemies, vehicle components, and sackboy gear. At launch LittleBigPlanet will also feature plenty of downloadable content built by participants of the current closed beta.
Players will be able to set publishing rights for their own levels, and can limit the distribution of their content to friends or individual users. They’ll also be able to keep them solely on their hard disk, where they can invite online players to jump in and try them out. Sony described LittleBigPlanet‘s content sharing model as similar to YouTube’s, and said that although they’ll have built-in filters for mature or inappropriate content, they’ll also be depending on the community to flag questionable material as it gets uploaded for sharing.
Not surprisingly, Sony PR says developer Media Molecule’s plans for LittleBigPlanet include providing players with a steady stream of new content. They wouldn’t talk specifics, but said they’re partnering with other companies to bring third-party themed content into LittleBigPlanet. The Sony rep mentioned Disney, for example – being careful to note that it was just an example – as a company that LittleBigPlanet could conceivably partner up with to provide new content. He also mentioned that other Sony game-related IP would probably find its way into the game. Even so, Sony noted, they’re determined to keep LittleBigPlanet‘s unique style and presentation intact, so they won’t be replacing sackboy with other characters or introducing content that would weaken their own brand.
LittleBigPlanet appears no less appealing or intriguing than it did at the 2007 Game Developer’s Conference, where its debut stole the show. Due out for the PlayStation 3 on October 21, 2008, it’s looks like it’s on track to be the console’s next killer app.