Talking at their opening keynote at Game Developer Conference's Paris show (run by Think Services, as is Gamasutra), Media Molecule's Mark Healy and Alex Evans have been discussing the creation of the LittleBigPlanet developer and welcoming 'questionable' user-generated content for the upcoming PS3 title.
The talk from the UK-based duo, whose PlayStation 3 'physics playground' game is due out in October, started out with Alex Evans discussing the genesis of the firm, whose principals had worked together at both Bullfrog and Lionhead.
He explained of the team's start: "We were thinking about starting a game company in the era of the PS3, and... we thought we didn’t want to make a 200 person team."
As Evans noted, there are always tensions between people in development, even with two – but once you’ve got a massive amount of people, it’s like "a soap opera."
So, as Mark Healy explained: “We settled on a small team, maybe 30 at max, and decided to get everyone else in the world to make the content for us."
Alex noted: “We decided to blur the line between making and playing games.” The customization elements for LittleBigPlanet are available at any time in the game.
User Generation For The Win
The duo then went through the history of user-generated content in games, starting with the amusing example of people putting names in the high score tables of arcade machines.
From there, there were software programs released that let you create games - and then Will Wright and Peter Molyneux created god games, and they put those tools in the hands of the player in the game.
But in 1996, the essential element every previous creator was missing arrived - the Internet.
Constraints Are Good!
As for simplicity, Alex Evans pointed out that in many ways, the less tools you give to the player, the wider its appeal:
"We tried to figure out where we fell on the spectrum, and found that the more tools we included, the more hardcore it became, and the fewer people were interested in it. So we kept removing options, and found that the more we removed, the more people were willing to play."
Evans continued by noting: "We constrained the players to a narrow band (of play space) and we found that the quality of levels improved."
However, originally, they had it so that all the tools had to be picked up by the character, like hair dryers and things, so that the level would be created physically, with no 'god'-style manipulation.
But the team found that the difficult part was to quell the developer within when making levels themselves – the urge was too great to go into the true editor and tweak a few vertices.
So they realized the tools they were giving the player were actually tedious and not compelling enough - hence the genesis to the simple onscreen editor that LittleBigPlanet has today.
Evans concluded the duo's talk by noting: "User-generated content is going to be a very broad church. There are going to be lots of ways to do it. But for us it’s about the fun of making a game. You get that feeling of achievement and showing off to your friends, like ‘look what I’ve made.’ I think we can give more of that to players."
One question at the end of the lecture dealt with 'questionable' user-generated content, as seen in Spore with the release of its recent Creature Creator. To this, Healy quipped: "I can’t wait!"
Evans stepped in with a less flippant answer, though: "Obviously they will have to be moderated... but people are people. But we have to figure out how to make the best stuff rise to the top. We have to deal with that and we’ll do out best."