LittleBigPlanet 2: Play, create, wait

I reviewed LittleBigPlanet 2 for Screenjabber yesterday and gave it a very clean three stars out of five. It was an enjoyable experience but one plagued by problems that were prevalent in the original. In some respects I was disappointed as the network infrastructure is still broken and some of the loading issues have grown even worse. I played through the story campaign in around 5 hours, hopped on to some community levels and then dived into create mode. Right now I’m playing a game like no other and I’m not sure if it’s beneficial or a big fat negative. I’m playing the waiting game.

LittleBigPlanet is centred around user-generated content. For around a few weeks or so, I played the same game I’m playing now, there was nothing note-worthy coming out of the community. It was a work in progress, the original never felt fully complete until every crevice of its create tools were exploited by the community. In my opinion, both LittleBigPlanet games have a philosophy that you never finish the game, but the game isn’t actually finished. It’s not lazy design or bad community but a matter of creation time. To make high quality levels akin to that of the story mode, it takes weeks and perhaps even months.

I’ve never encountered a community level in either game (so far) that challenges the actual story missions. The designers have months to conquer and control the new mechanics and goodies, changing and morphing them into a string of adventures held together by a surprisingly well written narrative. I’ve played levels that come dangerously close but fall at the last hurdle of keeping the aesthetics of the game intact. For me a story mode level has to be full of elements that exploit a core mechanic or a string of mechanics, kept in line with the same cutesy aesthetic design and be original content and not a homage to another game series.

I enjoy the game, don’t get me wrong, but after finishing the story mode I can’t really enjoy myself for a long while without friends. It’s the exact same case of what happened with the first game; I finished it, spent a few hours in create mode and then waited for something interesting to come along. Interesting things started popping up amongst the bad, bad levels and insta-trophy levels. I played a Dead Space homage that was actually very well designed. I played a few levels which used endless amounts of intricacies to construct entirely new games within a game.

I think I get it, LittleBigPlanet 2 is the Inception of video-games. The game has the potential to have games within it, of sprawling genres and makers. I remember watching a video a while ago detailing the behind the scenes and the studio behind it, Media Molecule, wished for one day a game to be created using the tools and be reviewed and given actual awards. That’s a very different dream to what we’re used to hearing and it really does have to be admired, that a studio of such high design calibre will stop making a game and start making tools to create them.

I’ve heard talks of the industry currently in the state of backdoor innovation, in that technology is merging together and that we are simply playing a waiting game. Given the massive budgets that games will soon gobble up, it’s logical to presume that one day we’ll be handed the tools to create our own fun and share it. Reaching out to the world around us, juggle and merge it around – creating on the fly. User-generated content will be king and the latest tools will be all we look forward to. Although I doubt we’ll ever fully shift to this original content creation place.

People will inevitably drag their favourite things into this world, as they have done with LittleBigPlanet, taking and tearing apart various ideas until the actually playing of them is only enjoyed by the creator. As a writer, I enjoy creating characters and situations and dotting them with my own ideas and themes I want to explore. I leave them wide open to audience interpretation but if the audience is creating their own world to play within, then there will be no new ideas, they’ll be faced only with what they perceive themselves to be rather than tested to see who they really are.

Video-games let you live the decisions you cannot make in real life, then carry them back through the game and into the real world into your headbox. I’ve learned a lot about myself in video-games, probably more than I even want to admit to. It’s why I get angry whenever player characters get in the way of a narrative with their own motivations or we’re asked to care for characters we have never met before. It blocks those great explorations of ourselves and I feel that perhaps the philosophy that LittleBigPlanet is trying to push is, unfortunately, a short-term idea.

People like to be entertained, not to be entertainers. It takes practice, patience and planning; stuff they already do in their normal jobs. In fact, it’s odd being a writer and jumping into this world as I can see quite widely the potential to tell my stories in different ways. Video-games excite me as a writer as not only can I push my ideas in new and interesting ways through the aesthetics of interactivity, but through also the massive fact I have to learn to write less. Once I start writing for games, my job is to facilitate the player’s projection of themselves and to make sure they have fun, learn a bit about themselves and return to the real world all happily. It is not my job to lay out a giant narrative and ask them to care about it, as if it relates to them.

I’m against LittleBigPlanet as a series because in a short-term aspect then it’s a fantastically good venture, but its long term philosophy goes against a lot of actual video-game thinking. Often our stories are emergent and we ourselves become the storyteller thanks to using the game’s mechanics in an interesting way. It’s what makes Minecraft so interesting to us, because our stories and worlds are unique. Having a world we create ourselves, but unable the share the creation process itself, that creates stagnation. That isn’t lovely at all.

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