LittleBigPlanet; a lovable handcrafted adventure
Updated: Feb 12
As a child, I was obsessed by two things; making stuff out of junk and video games. Twenty years later, both came in handy. I joined Media Molecule, at the time a small start-up, set up by a group of friends working in the games industry. The ambition was to make an industry-changing title with a small, but highly dedicated team. A few years on and we released LittleBigPlanet to huge critical and commercial success and with it, one of Sony Playstation’s best-loved franchises was born.
It was a fairy tale in the making. I remember first walking into the sweaty, cramped studio above a bathroom shop, with concept art covering the walls. I had a hunch they were onto something big and jumped straight in. Within a few months of starting, Sony boss Phil Harrison chose to show our demo at the Games Developers Conference Keynote and from then on, it was a meteoric rise into the spotlight.
I look back at those whirlwind times and wonder how it even came to be. In retrospect, I think it was like catching an enormous wave at exactly the right moment. Sony were in dire need of something fresh to launch their new console and in the wider world, there was a growing social movement towards personalisation, creative self-expression and social connectivity. These were at the heart of the project; it was not just a game, but a creative tool kit that enabled users to make their own games, or anything else for that matter.
This deeply excited me. As a child I had tried to make games, but became very quickly bogged down in the complicated code. LittleBigPlanet on the other hand, offered a tactile toolbox of cardboard, wood, stickers, bolts and electric switches to bang together a homemade adventure of our own. This, I had already mastered as a child and I gleefully built implausible contraptions and mystical worlds. I couldn’t believe this was my job.
When designing the tools, the main challenge was to keep things simple, whilst at the same time making sure they had enough depth. There were plenty of very powerful creative packages out there, but were often offputtingly technical. And there were many fun, simple tools but were too limited in scope. We were constantly walking that balance and found the only way to hit that perfect spot would be to use them ourselves to make a full game.
This was tasked to the Level Design Department where I became lead. It was the place where all parts of the game came together and was a hotbed of creativity, building worlds, requesting new tools and features to build yet more. We were rapid prototyping; quickly trying things out and iterating the design. I was keen for as much cross fertilisation as possible, collating the prototypes and making them visible to inspire the team to find unexpected uses and combinations. It was a primordial soup of ideas.
The game we made was collaborative to make and collaborative to play. Whilst it was fun to push the competitive edge, we built sections where players would have to work together to complete a task, sometimes four players at a time.
But at its core, the real purpose of the game was to inspire. To give a taste of what is possible to a global community of creators linked online through Craftworld. I remember the day the game launched and was put into the hands of the public. We had a Playstation set up in the studio and watched as people’s creations were published. They were popping up in Spain, Japan, even Antarctica. It was astonishing what people made, using the tools in ways we could never have imagined. This was by far the best part of the project so far, a community of millions across the globe playing, creating and sharing together.
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*All images copyright Sony Interactive Entertainment Inc