Littlebigplanet Retrospective

   20/04/2009 at 22:22       Syrok       8 COMMENTS.
The Past

When LittleBigPlanet was first announced, many doubted it would sell well, or that the so-called 'Game 3.0' aspect of it could really work on consoles. The idea behind 'Game 3.0' theory is to give players the ability to create their own levels and such, using an in-game tool and allowing them to share their creation and rate them.

That initial scepticism was warranted as this sort of thing hadn't really been tried on such a grand scale before. It was a big risk for MediaMolecule and Sony, since it all very much depended on whether users were going to embrace this aspect or if it would go down largely ignored.

But now, six month after the release of LBP it can be said that by and large it worked out exactly as planned.

It didn't all go smoothly, though. Back in November 2008 there was quite an outrage in the community over levels being taken down for no apparent reason. Some of those levels were already very popular, like Azure Palace. It was difficult to understand why those levels were taken down at that time, but it later turned out that they were automatically taken down after users wrongly complained about it via the in-game Good-grief system. Thankfully, it didn't take MM long to fix this and now hardly any levels are taken down wrongly.

The Present

Overall, surprisingly little moderating seems to be going on at the moment. It was first believed that levels based on popular games would be taken down, because they infringed on copyright, but you can now find a plethora of levels based on popular games.

There are levels that were inspired by Dead Space, Mirror's Edge, Portal and many other recent games. You won't have problems finding levels that recreate classic games either. There are levels based on the good, old Mario classics, an incredibly detailed re-make of Contra, the Spectrum classic Manic Miner or even games that you would think are impossible to re-create with LBPs jump-and-run mechanics, such as Gradius which was designed by some Japanese genius. None of these levels have been taken down, although they quite clearly copy other games. When it comes to games originally made by Sony this is not all that surprising, but that Dead Space has not been taken down is quite a shock.

Speaking of Japan, if you are looking for some well made, stylish levels with huge Mech-bosses, look out for levels with [JPN] in their title. For some reason many Japanese creators started using that suffix and it's now a good indicator as to what level of quality you should expect in the levels. Another theme that seems to be popular with Japanese creators is Rollercoaster levels, where all you have to do is get insight a little carriage and then hold on and enjoy the mad ride. There are also a load of museum levels which are not really levels which you play per se, but rather they are used to display and admire fantastic creations, some of which you can find in other levels, some that were specifically created for a museum level or couldn't be used in a real level but are too good to stay hidden from other players.

Not all user-made levels re-create popular games or house elaborate objects. There are many original levels, which show how creative some people are and what can be achieved with a little time (okay, a lot of time) and dedication. Yggdrasil, The Refinery and Trial of Seasons to name but a few great examples.

But not all is rosy on the LittleBigPlanet. There are many levels which are utter, utter crap. I'm not talking about simple levels or poorly executed ones. Those are excusable and just show that really everyone can make levels, not just people who have too much time at their disposal or work in the games industry. No, I'm talking about levels that cover you in prizes, overfilling your profile space (thankfully a recent patch made it possible to play these levels without collecting the prizes, not that they are worth playing, mind...) or are levels in which you spawn right above the finish and show nothing but a sign saying H4H. H4H stands for heart for heart, meaning that you should heart the author and his level and he will do the same do you, so that you both get the relavent trophies the quick and easy way. The players doing that are obviously disliked by the more serious creators, who recently adopted to replying to any heart request with a nice and moderation friendly "Go heart yourself!".

Thankfully, the search options and the way levels get selected for the Cool Pages (which is basically the front page of all the community levels) changed a while ago and now these sort of levels don't clutter the Cool Pages as much as they used to.

The downside of those changes is that it is now much harder for all to get on those pages and stay there, but that needn't necessarily be a bad thing because there are now many different levels on the front page and you won't find the same levels if you return to it a few days later - exactly like it used to be.

The Future

It will be interesting to see how MM will improve the community aspect of LBP in the coming months. One of the biggest recurring problems is the sometimes terribly laggy online play. It got better over the months but it can still ruin the game, especially if you are playing with people who have slow connections. Online is supposed to be fixed with the next patch, but no release date has been mentioned yet. I personally doubt that we will see the patch before June, but I'm happy to be proven wrong.

The very same patch is also supposed to include the Online create mode, which seemed to be one of the main selling points when the game was first announced. So it's a bit surprising that it is still not in the game. Today it's only possible to create levels on your own or with friends at home on one console. How that will turn out is very hard to say at the moment and there are many questions as to how it will work. Nonetheless, I'm looking forward to it.

Hopefully we will see many more improvements over the next month and a few more level packs like the Metal Gear Solid one. As of now I would say LBP is a resounding success, and while it may not appeal to all, no one can really complain that there is nothing to do once you are done with the Story mode. There are plenty of excellent community levels. Admittedly they can be hard to find if you just rely on the in-game search function, but if you search through hearted level lists of the creators you like, then you should be able to fine some more good ones and there are plenty of websites where you find tips and suggestion for good levels.
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