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Gamasutra recently had a chance to catch up with Alex Evans, co-founder of UK studio Media Molecule, at the recent DICE Summit 2009 in Las Vegas, shortly after he had accepted a multitude of awards for his company's debut PS3-exclusive title, LittleBigPlanet, at the AIAS Awards show.
The title was one of the highlights of 2008, both commercially and artistically, and its complex user-generated facets, carefully integrated physics and well-thought out art direction make it one of the chief titles that currently helps set Sony's PlayStation 3 apart from its competition.
In this in-depth interview, Lionhead Studios veteran Evans candidly discusses the hard-edged philosophies that enabled his team to create a successful and cute game like LBP, as well as his thoughts on his game's position with the PlayStation 3, and future prospects for the series and the company.
Where do you plan to go from here?
Alex Evans: I have no idea actually when we're going to make an announcement, but the whole team is full-on [working on] LBP, because there's so much stuff that we didn't get in the game and that we've learned from watching 3.5 months of user-made levels.
Quite recently actually, we were bouncing ideas around... and then at a certain point, we're like, "We're gonna just take a character, we're just gonna try this direction." And I can't say what it is, but it's really fucking cool.
It's a quite interesting thing because it was like a magnet. Everyone sort of [joined in] on that thing, then I suddenly saw these people kind of going, "Oh my god, far from being tired of LBP, I suddenly see this untapped potential."
And in ways that hopefully will still be fresh so when it comes back, people won't be like, "Yeah, they just exploited that thing, and it's really fucking obvious that they would do that." I think LBP is in their future, and hopefully in surprising ways.
[NOTE: Separately of Media Molecule's in-house work, a PSP version of LittleBigPlanet was confirmed shortly after AIAS, to be developed in association with Sony Cambridge.]
I was just wondering if you would ever enter the PC arena.
AE: I think our approach is going to be via online [if we do]. We have a PC build of [LittleBigPlanet] that we have produced internally, and it looks like a piece of shit. I don't, for example, see that going out there in the immediate future.
On the other hand, PC is an awesome platform. People spend a bunch of time on PCs. They have mobile PCs now, they have iPhones. And the web is just an assumption now. It's like, it exists and is a platform itself, and we have to go there.
Wasn't Rag Doll Kung-Fu [which Evans worked on with Media Molecule co-founder Mark Healey] one of the first Steam titles?
AE: Yeah, it was the first third-party title. It was such an opportunity. Regardless of the quality of the game, it was there first. People would be like, "Half-Life 2, CounterStrike, CounterStrike Source, and all that stuff." And then like, "Oh, what else is there? Oh, this weird game I've never heard of. I'll just go there."
It benefited from that, and we benefited from the experience of learning from Valve what it was like to distribute online. We were helping out with the SDK -- super easy to integrate. I've heard that Steam has evolved massively since then, but I thought it was pretty cool back then.
Before the interview, we talked about Resistance 2. It's nice that you've actually played another company's game because, in fact, most people are so busy developing games that they stop playing games. It seems like you could really lose perspective quite quickly on what is even going on in the consumer level.
AE: Yeah, absolutely. For example, I'm sort of more on the visual side, so I just consume games in a kind of a very deconstructing "what's the engine doing here?" [way]. It's kind of interesting, because different people on the team play games for such different reasons.
Some of the art direction styles coming out, like Prince of Persia's really nice take on toon shading and that sort of over-the-top thing. So, those are the kind of things that I'm consuming for.
And then you've got Dave [Smith], who sits there playing Yoshi's Island on an SNES emulator, and then he goes to the new games, Mario Galaxy and this and that; you can see him kind of absorbing.
I went into the game room -- we have a game room at work -- and he was playing through [Castle Crashers]. And he... did an all-nighter. I love the fact that he was just sitting there really enjoying the build-up and what they've done with it. It's actually pretty cool.
When you are developing, you have to be able to take some kind of flack. You have to be able to like really receive. I remember this epiphany I had during development -- I used to call things "shit", and that was my word for it. I wasn't very constructive.
I'd look at something and I would just say, "That's shit." And then Kareem [Ettouney], who's our art director, a lovely, lovely guy... I said that to him, he did some work, and he left. He walked out and slammed the door.
And I said, "What do I mean by 'shit'? How do I break this down?" The epiphany was that it means it's 95 percent cool. If it was really bad, then I probably would say why itwas really bad. And if it was really awesome, I'd say it was really awesome.
The "shit" is actually that little kind of uncanny valley, the trough before you get to perfection, the sort of, "God, that could be so good." It's the frustration, rather than it's awful. Like, "That's so close to being awesome, and I hate the fact that it isn't awesome."
That's the sort of emotion that I had to find the [words] to express. When you come across a mechanic that doesn't work, you're emailing and you're annoyed, because it should work and you believe it could work, and then it doesn't.
Yeah, because you see the promise in it, and you're like, "But you totally dropped the ball! You did it all wrong." And it's not all wrong.
AE: Yeah, exactly, exactly.You're not saying this is F-minus, you're saying this is like B-minus, and why isn't it fucking A-plus? That was a really simplistic thing, but...