LittleBigPlanet was a monumental achievement. Technically, artistically, socially unlike anything that had gone before. But with great power comes great complexity and not as many people spent the time they should have with the game. LittleBigPlanet 2 promises to put this right with its simpler design tools and more varied style of play.
I spent some time with Media Molecule to see just what they had in store for us with LittleBigPlanet 2. There was a lot of ground to cover and a lot to take in, in a short space of time. But the main story here was their departure from being a pure platforming game.
Alex Evans, Technical Director at Media Molecule, made this clear from the start of the day. "Our hope", he said while the opening video rolled, "is to turn LittleBigPlanet from 'a platform game' to 'a platform for games". Expect to hear that little phrase a lot over the next few days. But this isn't marketing hype, they really have broadened the score of what LittleBigPlanet can do.
This expansion of horizons has been matched with an equal amount of common sense and strong design decisions. What could have swamped the player in complexity actually works to make things a lot simpler. The main game starts much like the original, but then slowly adds in new tricks as it ping pongs around from platformer to shooter to racer to puzzler and back to platformer again.
The real advances in simplicity are found when you dig into the creation mode though. Not only is there now a whole ecosystem build around the publishing and discovery of content, but there are some new tools in the toolbox.
A new central web site offers a place for players to view content between games via any browser. You can see what your friends have been playing and creating, then add those levels to your own play list. Next time you load the game your play list is automatically updated and ready to go.
The creation tools are where we find the real genius. And this is as much in their restraint as their innovation. The Grapple hook is a new toy for players that extends the reach of their grab. It is shot out and attaches to points in the scenery - or, and much more amusingly, other players. A little like the Jet pack this creates all sorts of new ways to play.
Perhaps the biggest addition on the creation side are Sackbots. These look like a square headed Sackboy, but have to be programmed to bring them to life. Dress them as you would a Sackboy, tell them how to move, and maybe electrify them and viola - your very own video game bad guy in a matter of seconds.
As Mark Healey, Media Molecules Creative Director, demonstrated there was no need for one he had prepared earlier. In a matter of seconds he had created, dressed and programmed his Sackbot and was being chased around his level.
The brain of each Sackbot reveals another innovation - Circuit boards. Now, rather than having to hide the switches that control the triggers and movement of your levels they can be stored neatly away in a shrinkable Circuit Board. This isn't limited to Sackbots either, you can also add a Microchip to any object and add Circuit board logic to control it.
My favourite new toy though was the Direct Control Seat though. At first this sounds like a rather nondescript addition. Essentially, it lets you control any object in LittleBigPlanet, rather than Sackboy. After adding the Control Seat you simply sit your Sackboy in it and then take control of the attached object.
This one simple move turns LittleBigPlanet 2 from a platform game into any type of game you want. I loved the examples on offer - shooting games with Sackboy sat on-board a hoover powered craft, or a racing game with Sackboy controlling a furry racing caterpillar. But the real genius is in adding a Direct Control Seat to a Sackbot. This enables you to create a platform game where you can specify the physics.
Those who wanted to create a Mario or Sonic game in LittleBigPlanet, but were hampered by the locked in jump mechanic, can now tweak this to their delight. Genius!
Add to all this, that LittleBigPlanet 2 will support all your content from the first game, and make it look that little bit better, and you have an impressive package. Not only that but you will also have access to all those precious materials, stickers and download content you have squirreled away from the first game.
I had a little bit of time to both play and create in LittleBigPlanet 2, and it already felt as slick as you would imagine. If it wasnt for the placeholder icon art and slightly over complex names of things, Id have thought this was almost ready for release. Of course, there is still a long way to go for LittleBigPlanet 2, but I like where it is starting from a lot.
As someone pretty technical who simply didn't have the time to really invest in my LittleBigPlanet levels, I left excited about how quickly these new tools could turn my imagined games into reality. That, along with the broader canvass means that I can't wait to get my hands on LittleBigPlanet 2 and see what I can make.
It's still early days, then. But on this initial showing things are looking very promising for LittleBigPlanet 2.
Paul Govan also reviews games for Game People.