LittleBigPlanet 2 Hands-On Preview

   16/06/2010 at 22:48       Syrok       8 COMMENTS.
 - LittleBigPlanet2, MediaMolecule, Sony, Level Creator, Sackboy

As you may have heard by now, MediaMolecule recently invited a small number of community members to play a very early build of LittleBigPlanet 2. I was among the lucky few who had time to play with its new tools and experience the improvements and additions first-hand. There are so many awesome additions that I won’t be able to cover them all in this preview, but I will try my best and hope not to get lost in switches, Sackboys and gravity defying blocks of metal.

The most impressive part of the first teaser-trailer, at least in my opinion, were the top-down racing and the short Space Invaders-like levels. A lot of people have speculated about just how it'll be possible to create these levels. There isn’t a new create mode, for these sorts of levels, no it’s much simpler.

Take a certain kind of mover, a direct control seat and make use of the new camera options. I will explain movers and the direct control seat later; but let’s first look at the improved camera.

The standard camera is much more versatile in LittleBigPlanet 2. Not only can you zoom out much further but you can also rotate it 360 degrees. Upside-down bomb-survival anyone? And for the Space Invaders level the camera is simply moved almost directly behind the player and turned 90 degrees.

Additionally, you are also able to remove depth of field completely and play levels as though you were using the Front View option we have in the create mode right now in LBP1. An addition that will no doubt make many level creators happy, particularly those that tried to recreate classic 2D platforming games.

Cut-scene cameras have the same options as before but with a few new cool additions. You can now connect a number of them so that they can be activated consecutively one after the other. You can set the amount of time for which they are active, how long the transition between each camera takes, the way it transitions (fade/ zoom to give only two examples), the depth of field and last but not least, you can now make them shake. Some of these additions are of course possible in LBP1, but in LBP2 it is much easier to make complex cut-scenes as well as having the added benefit of being a lot less time consuming.

One other little big addition (Sorry!) is the recently used section in your pop-it. In it, all objects, materials, tools, etc. that you’ve used in your current level will be stored so that you do not have to go through pages and pages of your pop-it just to find the one sticker that you used once at the very beginning of your level. A very small addition, but one I’ve been hoping MediaMolecule would add for a long time. The other cool improvement to the pop-it is the fast scroll function. This allows you to quickly jump from section to section. 

You will also find two small additions in the start menu. Next to Front View, there is a Preview button. This will allow you to literally preview the level as it would look in play mode, so you don’t have to go into play mode just to see how the level looks without wires crossing the screen.

Secondly, there is a so called Snap to Angle option.  Here you can set the angle at which objects are rotated. You have full control over how large or small the increments are and this is obviously a great addition for anyone who ever tried to have a wall slope at a particular angle for example. Now you don’t need to push objects against walls to make sure they have the same slope.

It's also now possible to select multiple objects at once. In LBP 2 you can select multiple objects individually. Say for example when you have a placed a number of lights around a cardboard box, but you do not want to select the box as well than you simply press and hold the right button and select each light by clicking on it. And when you are done you can even tweak them all at once. Gone are the days of having to tweak the settings of each object individually!

Switches switches everywhere

Speaking of tweaking things, if you have made any levels in LittleBigPlanet before, you probably came across the problem that you’ve made a nice bit logic and hid it behind some great looking scenery only to find out that you need to tweak a timer a teeny tiny bit. Pretty much the only thing you could do in that case was to make a hole in your scenery or draw a square hoping you would only select the logic bit. In LittleBigPlanet 2 however you don’t need to do that anymore. With the press of a button you can turn a layer transparent and easily edit whatever is in the layer behind it. This another one of those features many people have wanted for a long, long time so it's a very welcome addition.

Soon, making logic gates out of pistons and pieces of dark matter will be a thing of the past too. Many (if not all) of the key logic components you had to make yourself can now be found as a simple switch in your pop-it. Be it an AND-gate (used to open doors only after two switches have been activated for example), OR-gates (switch A opens a door, switch B closes a door), NOT-gates or XOR gates. There are also more advanced pre-made logic gates such as a randomizer, a selector which you can use to turn on a number of lights in order with the press of a button for example, a toggle switch and a counter to name just a few. I could try to give you examples of what each of these switches does, but there is so much more to talk about that I'd rather move one to the awesome addition: Movers.

I like to move it, move it.

The movers are a really neat little addition. There are a few different variations of them and all of them will come in very handy. Simply stick one of them on any object and it will move on its own. No rockets or pistons required. You can set the speed and direction along the horizontal and vertical axis. Or use a rotator to, well, have an object spin endlessly without having to use a motorbolt. Though I haven’t tried it myself, it should be possible to attach two movers on one block and hook them up so that they alternate between each other, thus always moving the object from left to right, up and down or even in a wave pattern.

The best thing about these movers, however, is that you can set them to look at Sackboy, follow or even flee from him and they can react to magnetic switches in the same ways. Much like creature brains in the end, except much more versatile and they eliminate the need to use brains for creatures that move on their own.

If you combine movers with the direct control seat you can easily make top-down racing games or any other form of top-down game. If you were to set your mind to it you could even recreate The Legend of Zelda including free roaming chickens. You see, to create these top-down games you don’t have to use a special create mode. It’s all down with the help of two or three awesome switches.

While we are on the topic of direct control seats, these essentially let you remap almost all buttons of the controller to… whatever you want to really. For example you could hook the X button up to a sound object. Every time you are in the direct control seat and press X that sound effect will now be played. Or you could hook the sticks up to a certain type of mover and that way directly control the direction in which the objects the mover is on points. If you now also have a magic rocket (another new tool that in essence is an invisible rocket) on that object and map it to say R2 you have a spaceship/car/submarine or whatever you can imagine. Basically all objects that can be controlled with switches can be controlled with the direct control seat.

Another fantastic addition in relation to the direct control seat is that the player does not need to be on screen anymore. If you wanted to you could now build levels that don’t feature Sackboy at all and create your own heroes.

If you watched the announcement trailer carefully you're likely to have noticed that at one point a wheel appears to move forward one layer. This is done with the help of another switch. Simply stick it onto any object and it will move between the layers as you want it to. This allows you to make more interesting platforming sections for instance, or if you love making complex doors this will help you making them even more complex. 

Speaking of complex mechanisms, you will no doubt have tried to make a walker in LittleBigPlanet at some point. Even the most basic ones can be extremely challenging to make and more often than not you end up with a creature whose legs flail around aimlessly. Now you simply use the gyroscope tool. This tool will always try to orient objects in the same direction and allows you to set the speed and strength at which this should happen. It’s a great help and should allow even those who are not that experienced in walker-building to build one in a few minutes without much faffing around.

Of course, with so many switches to use you might eventually run out of space. To prevent that from happening you can put them all on one microchip. They essentially work as switch storage space, allowing you to place as many normal switch (or even more microchips) on them and hide everything in one tiny chip. Finally no more rooms full of logic gates unless you really want to.

One neat little addition in relation to this is little post-it notes on which you can write what the switches  do so that you don’t have to remember everything.

Also worth noting is that all switches on microchips work as if they were placed as usual on an object, i.e. proximity switches will still detect everything in their radius and gyroscopes retain their orientation.

The final new switch we're going to look at is the impact switch. A switch I wished for quite often in LittleBigPlanet. Previously the only objects that reacted to impact were sound objects, but now you can attach an impact switch to any object and connect it to lights, bolts or whatever you would like to trigger on impact. 

Sack the designer!

The biggest addition as far as materials go is holographic material. This allows you to more easily create custom HUDs since it is not solid and translucent. In fact they don't have any physical properties at all. They hang in space like dark-matter and can easily overlap each other. Furthermore, you can set the colour of them and you are not limited to eight or so colours anymore but have access to a much wider range of shades. When two differently coloured blocks of holographic material overlap, the colours mix. For example where a red and a yellow block overlap they turn orange.

What is very cool is that they can be activated via switches and the colour they have when they are “turned off” can also be set. This allows you to dramatically change the atmosphere in your level with the flick of a switch. Additionally, if you turn down the brightness of this material all the way down it is completely invisible. 

Next we have animated materials. Yes, animated materials. I can remember two, but there may have been more. One of them looked like flowing water and the other like a starry sky. These materials are particularly useful since you can change their speed and direction. You can also manipulate the texture and orientation of all other materials which means you don’t have to carefully line up different materials anymore so that the transition between them is smooth but can simply move and turn the texture until you are happy.

In LittleBigPlanet 2 you also have access to filter materials. There are at least three different materials of this kind. The first makes everything behind it look pixely, the second takes out some depth and colours the world in different shades of grey, the last only shows a green outline on a black background of the objects and players behind the material. The latter material is particularly useful when you want to recreate classic games like Asteroid.

You may have noticed that in one scene in the trailer a number of objects simply disappear after being hit by a rocket. The puzzling part is that these objects don’t look like they have been made out of dissolving material. So how can you do that? Easy, you just take the destroy switch MediaMolecule has included in LBP 2. Once activated, this switch will destroy anything it is attached to. What’s even better is that the switch only destroys the object it is attached to but does not affect materials around it. You can also change the way things are destroyed. If you love bombs you can make it explode, if you prefer things to just disappear quietly without any smoke or sound you can have them disappear like that. 

These destroyable effects have also been added to emitters. In this case you can set them to be destroyed as well as created.

The best addition to the emitters section is that you can dynamically change the object that is emitted. What does this mean? Well, put simply you don’t have recapture and re-set the emitter every time you want to change the emitted object. All you have to do is leave the original object somewhere in your level. When you edit it these changes will automatically be applied to the copy in the emitter!

Sometimes, however, you don’t want to destroy materials. Sometimes that is exactly what shouldn’t happen. Luckily, for this case another tool has been added which lets you tweak some material properties. You can tweak any material in at least four ways. There is the option to make them indestructible, have more friction, change the bounciness and you can turn off the sound effect materials make on impact with another solid object.

I’m sure some of you have noticed the gravity option on one of the screenshots of LBP 2 that were released a few weeks ago. You can set the gravity globally, change it via a switch during a level (just like you can change the brightness and fogginess right now), but it is also possible to stick an anti-gravity switch onto individual objects. Doing this allows you to alter the effect gravity has on one particular object or even completely disable gravity for this object.

If you are a particularly mean spirited creator you will love the lethalizer. There was a short glimpse of it in the trailer, but basically it allows you to lethalize or de-lethalize any object simply by activating the switch. While we are on the topic of giving players a deadly challenge, there is a new deadly hazard. No, it’s not ice, sadly. It is plasma. If you bought and played the MGS pack you will have noticed these colourful, deadly blobs. In LittleBigPlanet 2 you will be able to make a floor out of this, just like you can currently with fire, which has also been overhauled. It now looks much, much better and the smoke seems to be more volumetric.

Robo-boogie

Sackbots are another great addition. At the moment there is no limit on how many of them you can have in a level, but that may of course change and the more complex the Sackbots you have in a level, the higher the temperature will go.

As you know, you can change their size and look as you please, but you can also  set their behaviour to several different presets. If I were to guess, I would say the zombie preset will be a favoured among creators. If you are not keen on zombies than you could also set them to move like Sackboys or other characters you will meet in the game.

It is possible to have Sackbots follow or flee Sackboy and since their AI is significantly better than that of the creature brains, they can switch between layers and jump up steps themselves without being told to do so.

Machinima makers will be glad to hear that there is a new option to record behaviour. When you start recording, your every move will be recorded and can be looped infinitely or just the once. There's no obvious time limit on recordings, but it does take up a little bit of thermometer.

Full steam ahead

Finally, I've been saving the best for last. The new power-ups are awesome!

One of them, seasoned LBP players will already know about. The Grapple Hook allows you to grabble onto far away ledges if they are made out of a grabable material. You can use it swing along and save yourself from certain death at the last moment. Or you can make the lives of your friends hell and pull them back every time they try to jump away from you. Without giving anything away, there is a lot of fun to be had with this in multiplayer.

Next are the Power Gloves. With these you can literally pick up anything you can grab and carry it over your head. I have not tested the full extent of this strength, but it is nonetheless a great power-up. There are three great things you can do with it. First of all everything you carry switches layers with you, which should result in a few more interesting puzzle sections. Secondly you can throw objects, and thirdly all of the above also applies to other players. You can carry them around (even when they are carrying something else) and of course you can throw them into bottomless pits, if you are that way inclined.

The third power-up is the Creatornator.  This tool was previously known as the magic bag and may or may not have a different name in the final game (like everything else mentioned in this preview). To fully understand this, imagine an emitter attached to the paintinator. You can set what you want to emit like you can on normal emitters, but than carry it around with you and emit the object whenever you want. Oh, and did I mention that you can emit water droplets? Sadly they won’t extinguish fire, but I don’t doubt you can think of a workaround for that. The impact switches should make that very easy. 

And that’s that for now. Well it's not quite all that, but I could end up writing a whole book on the subject. If you were worrying that LittleBigPlanet 2 might not live up to the hype or might not be as good as you hoped, then rest assured because judging by this early version, it will easily meet your expectations and maybe even surpass them. If you combine all the little new features mentioned above you can make some truly great levels. But why stop at just building levels when you can easily create little games?

As you may have noticed I have hardly talked about the actualy play mechanics of the game. I could of course tell you a little bit about them, but then this preview would be even longer and I think at over 3000 words, it's already more than enough. I will say this though, the few story levels I have seen (many of them weren’t even finished) are easily as good as if not better than the ones in LBP1. 

So there you have it. Looks as if it really is shaping up to be a platform for games and not just a platformer. I for one can’t wait to see the final product.

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