Little Big Planet

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  • 1. Introduction To Game Design 2009 Game Analysis: Author: Johan Hedberg E-mail: johhed-9@student.ltu.se 1
  • 2. Contents CONTENTS........................................................................................................................................................... 2 INTRODUCTION................................................................................................................................................. 3 THE GAME LITTLE BIG PLANET.................................................................................................................. 4 BACKGROUND AND HISTORY .............................................................................................................................. 4 TARGET AUDIENCE ............................................................................................................................................. 4 THE RETURN OF THE PLATFORMER ..................................................................................................................... 5 CONTROLLING THE CHARACTER ......................................................................................................................... 5 LEVEL DESIGN .................................................................................................................................................... 6 GAME OBJECTIVES .............................................................................................................................................. 6 Complete the story......................................................................................................................................... 7 Collect all prizes............................................................................................................................................ 7 Collect as many score point as possible ........................................................................................................ 7 Unlock hidden levels...................................................................................................................................... 7 THE GAMES WITHIN ........................................................................................................................................... 7 THE MAKERS: MEDIA MOLECULE ....................................................................................................................... 8 LITTLE BIG PLANET AND USER CREATED CONTENT .......................................................................... 9 CONCLUSIONS ................................................................................................................................................. 10 REFERENCES.................................................................................................................................................... 11 PHYSICAL MEDIA .............................................................................................................................................. 11 DIGITAL MEDIA ................................................................................................................................................ 11 2
  • 3. Introduction Little Big Assignment. This is my final task as part of the course Introduction To Game Design 2009. To choose a game for this analysis was very simple. When the course started off, I had recently bought myself a brand new Sony Play Station 3 console. With the package came the label Sing Star, but I was more interested in a game called Little Big Planet, a game I only had seen a short commercial add on TV about, and to my surprise I actually managed to persuade the salesperson at the game store to swap my Sing Star for it. Oh the joy! So I came home with my PS3 and ripped the box open, plugged in all the cables to my TV set and then finally gently put the little blu-ray disc into the console. The game started and I was hurled right into a short introduction showing cute images of my avatar presented as a “Sack person”, all narrated by a warm voice with a broad English accent. The graphics was stunning! Absolutely marvelous! This could have been any short movie from Pixar Studios, I thought to myself. Well, it is far from uncommon for computer games to use high quality CG (Computer Graphics) in FMVs to make them look great, but suddenly the middle of it all the narrator instructed me try a few moves using my controller. That was when it me. Holy cow! This is not an ordinary cut scene – this is the actual game! This is introduction I’m looking at is actually a tutorial about the game controls. And it looks great! What a game! And so I was in love at first sight… The reason why I chose this game, except for the obvious fact that I think it to be one of the heavier games released during the last year, is that I want to explore the differences between playing and gaming, and how the two point of views affects Little Big Planet. There are many factors about the game that would argue that it is not a game at all, but is more about playing around. And then there are ways to consider Little Big Planet just as much a game as any other. With this assignment I will examine and try to highlight some of these aspects. I will also have a brief look at the concept of having user created contents in the game. To support various theories and ideas I will mainly use the book Rules of Play: Game Design Fundamental as reference material. In some other cases I will also use various content such as articles found on the Internet, as well as other books that I find appropriate and relevant to the subject. For a complete list of references, see the end section of this document. 3
  • 4. The Game Little Big Planet Background and History Prepare yourself for one of the cutest and most delightful games to ever hit the market. The game was published November 2008 after being heavily delayed. So what is it about? Well, the commercial answer states: “what ever you want it to be”. And its more than true. The typographic byline of the game is: Play, Create, Share! Play the game in an as-is fashion, following a pre-set storyline that will take you around the globe exploring 8 different regions, each with it own settings and theme. Along the way, you will collect new items like clothes and costumes for your SackBoy (or SackGirl), stickers and material objects. All these things can then be used to create your own wacky worlds and levels that you can play or why not even share with your friends online? No there is simply no end to the possibilities of what you can do once you get the hang of it. The sky is the limit! Or perhaps your own imagination. Target Audience So what kind of player is addressed by the game? Merely by looking at the cover of the CD suggests that this is a typical children’s game, even though the recommended age stated on the back says 7+. But if you ignore the silly front picture, the baby blue colors outline with splashes of Barbie pink and go ahead and play it anyway you’ll soon notice that this is a marvelous game in every aspect. Every person with even the smallest touch of creativity will find the game attractive. Is the game then addressed to any particular gender? Well, I would have to say no. We might start off by having a look at the avatar itself. 4
  • 5. The little figure itself is quite androgynous without any clothes or accessories. But by simply adding some hair, putting on a dress and changing the base texture of the body, you’ll end up with a very cute little SackGirl instead. Or why limit yourself to only one or the other option when we can have both! Knock yourself out and explore, the games has tons of different materials and costumes that can be combined in any way the player fancies. There are for instance plenty of funny mustaches that would do the job splendidly if you want to take your SackGirl and create your own version of “the hairy lady”. The levels that come with the game are also all pretty well suited for boys and girls. And as if the levels weren’t good enough then you can create your very own specialized levels in any fashion you’d prefer. So in short, this game works just as well for younger players as well as for adults, for women equally well as for men. The Return of the Platformer Putting this game in a particular genre can prove quite difficult. It depends a bit on what you would consider a genre in the first place. Adams and Rollings (2006) only mentions a few different ones when listing what they consider to be the main onces: • Action Games • Strategy Games • Role-Playing Games • Sports Games • Vehicle Simulations • Construction and Management Simulations • Adventure Games • Artificial Life and Puzzle Games None of these are a perfect match. With these options I would have to go with calling Little Big Planet an action game. Their own definition read as follows: “An action game is one in which the majority of challenges presented are tests of the player’s physical skills. Puzzle-solving, tactical conflict, and exploration challenges are often present as well.” But calling this game an action game does not quite feel right either. Now, I’m not sure whether it is correct to call Platform games a genre of its own, but that is more the category I would chose for a game like Little Big Planet. Maybe the best way to categorize it all is to compare the game with another one similar to this one. In that case I can’t help but to think of Sonic the Hedgehog for the Sega Megadrive. These games are in many senses very much a like. They are both platform games, although Sonic is old fashion 2D while Little Big Planet makes use of full 3D graphics. You collect “scores” along the path through the levels. And the “enemies” also share the same characteristics, hey, they even look alike. There is also no blood or violence in any of the two games. When you defeat a boss, then he either escapes or runs away, or he asks the player for forgiveness in a very polite manner. So there is never any killing involved. Controlling the Character A lot of the game experience is avatar centric. That means that a whole lot of the fun and joy about playing Little Big Planet are directly connected to the little SackBoy itself. First of all 5
  • 6. we have the whole business of dressing and undressing the poor creature. It’s absolutely hilarious! I would dear to say that one of the big drivers of even wanting to proceed to the next levels is due to the fact that each level usually offers a few new items to add to your personalized wardrobe of sack clothing. The second big boost to enrich the experience is the actual controls. They are simple and they are easy to use. The SackBoy can walk, run and jump. Simple. Also, if a material in the game world is “grab- friendly”, like a sponge, then by holding the front controller button (R1) you can actually grab that object and move around with it. If you are playing with a friend then it is fully possible to grab the other player’s sack person. This feature can sometime be the cause of some very funny hugging and pulling-your-best- friend-around parties. Another feature that has been added and that has great impact on the game experience is the possibility to set your sack persons current mood. By using the direction cross on the game pad you also control your character’s facial expressions. Each direction represents a mood and each mood has three levels. So by pressing three times on your controller, your SackBoy will go from first being happy, then to even happier and then finally he will go crazy of joy, waggling his whole body back and forth and sticking his tongue out in a very silly and funny smile. If you instead would do the opposite and press the down button your SackBoy will start by sobbing, then become really sad and finally the poor thing will be crying with all his heart like if the world depended on it. The other two moods are sad and angry. These mood changes affect the whole body language of the character. If you are in a somewhat neutral mood and wave your arms around you will see that the little hands of the character are open. But if you but on a bigger smile then the SackBoy will be showing the “victory” sign with his fingers. If the SackBoy is angry then he will clamp his fist tightly as if being furious. Now obviously, changing the mood does not affect the game itself in any way. But it is an important feature that brings a lot of extra value to the overall game experience. Just to have the possibility to “act” while playing make the game itself much more fun to play. Level Design How are the levels in the game designed? Well, each level has an entry point which is represented by a barrel-looking wooden door. If the player dies somewhere in the level, he will reappear again through this door. To make things a bit more interesting, each door is limited and can only be used four times to resurrect dead players. When a door no longer can be used, the player will have to restart the level and begin all over from the beginning at the first entry point. If a level is a bit bigger in size, then it will most likely have multiple doors like this, all providing the player with four new “lives” as they are passed. You might say they work a bit in the same way as a Check Point would in a car racing game. At the end of each level you’ll find the goal and where you will be given your scores for the current play. Game Objectives We have come to what could be the most important subject of this assignment in order to answer my question whether Little Big Planet really is a game or not. What is the player expected to do? To be honest, it’s quite a lot actually. I have tried to put down a high-level list of the main objectives of the game. Let us also have a look at what Katie Salen and Eric Zimmerman (2003) consider as key aspects of games: 6
  • 7. “The descriptive definition of meaningful play: Meaningful play in a game emerges from the relationship between player action and system outcome; it is the process by which the player takes action within the designed system of a game and the system responds to the action. The meaning of an action in a game resides in the relationship between action and the outcome. The evaluative definition of meaningful play: Meaningful play is what occurs when the relationship between actions and outcomes in a game are both discernable and integrated into the larger context of the game.” So when looking at the objectives for the player we should try to evaluate whether the “outcome of an action is woven into the game system as a whole”. If not, then the activity is not the cause of meaningful play. Complete the story The player can try to complete all the storyline levels in the game. There are eight regions and each region consists of about three levels. At the end of the last level for each region, there is always some kind of “mini boss” that needs to be defeated. Finishing a level will award the player with new prizes like stickers and materials for building and creating own contents for the game. Well, by defeating a boss the player gets access to the next level. So this goal very much be considered as “gaming” activity that is an integrated part of the game’s core. Collect all prizes Every level is full of prize bubbles. These bubbles have collector’s items in them like materials and stickers. One goal for the player could be to try finding every prize bubble in the game! This is however optional and is not necessary to finish the game itself. You do not have touch a single bubble during the entire game unless you want to. The only consequence is that won’t be able to use the materials in the bubbles to build your own levels. But if building levels isn’t part of your intended use of the game, then collecting prizes does not add any meaning to the game. So depending of the intention of the player, collecting bubbles could prove very valuable or it can also be a total waste of time. Collect as many score point as possible Besides the prize bubbles there are an upload of smaller bubbles that only provides the user with score points. Collecting points are also optional and is only used for displaying “High Scores” on each level. Unless you count each level with its individual score settings as a “mini game” on its own, then collecting these scores are pointless since they doesn’t affect the game at large. Unlock hidden levels In some levels there are hidden keys to found. Finding such a key unlocks hidden “mini- level” that can be played. These mini-levels don’t have prize bubbles or anything else for that matter. They are simply there for the fun of it. The Games Within There are quite a few “mini games” within Little Big Planet. First we have the time races. They are the only moments on the game that are time critical. Once in a while you will see a race starting gate. When you come closer they will suddenly burst open and you hear the 7
  • 8. sound of a horn. This means that the race has started. Now, the rules are simple and there will be no actual consequence if the time runs up, except for the fact that you will not get any extra points for your score collecting. In the upper corner of the screen you will see a timer counting down to zero. When you cross the goal line you will get additional scores according to the time that is left in the counter. To put it more clearly – the faster you finish the race the higher score you’ll get when finished. Then we have the co operational puzzles. These are depending on the teamwork between several players playing together to solve a task. The most common puzzles are the “X2” that requires two persons helping each other out. But there are also some “X4” meaning you’ll have to be at least four players to complete the task. The makers: Media Molecule The company was founded 2006 by David Smith, Mark Healey, Kareem Ettouney and Alex Evans. The studio currently has 25 employees and has its office set up in Guildford, England. 8
  • 9. Little Big Planet And User Created Content Now, it seems that the user created contents play a big role in the world of Little Big Planet. But how important is this feature to the player? In what ways does it affect the game play? First of all I think we must define what we mean by “user created content”. From my point of view, this would concern any objects that the user has created during the “Create Mode”. It does not include the costumes, stickers and the other prizes that are collected during the storyline levels. If we would remove the whole aspect of user created content in Little Big Planet, what impact would it have on the game and the gaming experience? Well, I think to a certain extent it wouldn’t. Not while playing the storyline levels anyway. However, without the feature and when every level in the game have been played, then that would be it. There wouldn’t be much left to do and after a while the player would abandon the game entirely. So I consider the user created content to be an excellent way of extending the hours that can be spend on the game. It is also a handy way for the studio to use the online community as a channel to distribute new contents every now and then. 9
  • 10. Conclusions What might have seem to be a somewhat tricky question, whether Little Big Planet really could be called a game or not, became more and more clear during my research. I have come to the conclusion that yes, it would be most ridiculous not to call this label a genuine game. It meets the criteria of Katie Salen and Eric Zimmerman (2003) very well. However, I still consider the line between the two phenomenon very vague, especially when playing, or “toying”, with a game like this one. Many events in the game seems to work by their own means but does not add any value to the game as a whole. Little Big Planet can therefore be seen as many smaller games and fun activities compiled into one. Or you might say that the game as a whole is merely a platform that enables us consumers (players) to do the rest and create the games that we want to play. In regards to my other question, about what impact the user created contents have upon the overall game experience, I have come to the conclusion that although this content is not critical for the game itself (you could play the game perfectly fine without it) it would dramatically lower the game’s lifecycle. With the feature of making it possible for the player to create his own games, characters and stories, thousands of thousands of user created levels have been added to the community and is played by millions of players world wide. The user created content is therefore to be considered a huge success factor to the game’s ability of gaining new players and at the same time keeping the old ones. Also, due to the game and its way of letting the player do pretty much whatever he or she wants in terms of creativity, the player can have and use a Little Big Planet that looks and works in exactly the way the player wants it to, regardless of age or gender. And another key factor is the game’s simplicity to do so. Kareem Ettouney, Art Director and Co-Founder at Media Molecule, explains in the interview (Ettouney, Kareem. 2008) that the main ambition was to take all the complex tools and technology available, wrap it up in the game and then provide it all to the player. And even if you still think it is too hard or difficult to build objects of your own, then simply collect other existing items that you can assemble and put your own touch to them. If I were to continue my research on Little Big Planet, I would propably want to focus on what Media Molecule will do next, how will LBP be evolved? How will they manage the transition between current game and a sequel? Or will they perhaps only focus of extending the current version with new content in the same way they do today? These are some of the questions I would like to follow up on. Either way, Little Big Planet is a great game and I already consider it as one of the all time classics. Best regards, Johan Hedberg (Group 3) 10
  • 11. References Physical Media Salen, Katie and Zimmerman, Eric. 2003. Rules of Play: Game Design Fundamentals. Cambridge: MIT Press. Adams, Ernest and Rollings, Andrew. 2006. Game Design and Development: Fundamentals of Game Design. Pearson Prentice Hall. Morris, Dave and Rollings, Andrew. 2003. Game Architecture and Design: A New Edition. New Riders Publishing. Digital Media Ettouney, Kareem. 2008. BBC. http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/programmes/click_online/7729191.stm Healey, Mark. 2008. Company seeks BAFTA games success. BBC. http://www.littlebigplanetoid.com/tag/media_molecule 11