Tuesday, 18 May 2010

Play. Create. Share.

Most gamers will think at some point during their digital lives 'I could have done this better' or 'what I would have done would have been', it's one of the unwritten rules of gaming. Of course for the majority of people who have these thoughts they will always remain thoughts only, programming requires both time and effort, something that games also require. Maybe this is why games that allow us to easily generate our own content are so popular, we can shape assets of an existing frame work, but retain the feeling of control over our creations. It is this spirit of freedom that Sony has plans on embracing with the games that fall under their 'Play. Create. Share.' banner, and currently features two of the most impressive titles on the PS3; Little Big Planet and Modnation Racers.

Little Big Planet currently features over two MILLION user created levels, that's the equivalent of over 55 thousand copies of Super Mario Bros (Ironically about a million of those LBP user generated levels are World 1-1 from Mario). It goes without saying that while that's an impressive figure for advertisers to throw around, the actual number of quality levels numbers in the thousands, which is still insanely impressive. The level of innovation that the community has shown is frankly astounding, from the offset there were levels that took the creation tools far beyond the games intended platform gameplay, such as The Little Big Computer with it's mind boggling mess of wires, magnets and switches that some how formed a fully working calculator. Every log in to the game will reveal hours of new content, the relative simplicity of the controls mean that LBP is in many ways the ideal party game, with four players even the worst levels can be insanely entertaining. The majority of the 'bad' levels are more a case of being unfinished and unrefined rather than being awful from conception, and this is in part due to the complexity of the tools. While it is possible to create basic levels fairly simply, mastering the provided tools requires a lot of time to be invested to create something that can stand along side the best levels.

Modnation Racers, the latest addition to the PCS series takes a far more user friendly approach to creation. The tools are deep enough to allow hours of time to be put into the creation of a single track, but the tracks made in a few seconds don't stand out as the game has some really clever auto population options to flesh them out. The scope for the variety of game types is limited strictly to racing, but this focus actually works in the favour of Modnation, allowing people to refine their own perfect racing experiences, and the wonderful thing about it being a racing game is that it severely limits the number of world 1-1 remakes we'll be seeing. Some prefer to make 'traditional' kart racer tracks with sweeping corners and shortcuts, some are recreating real world circuits, and others are making highly challenging twisty precision driving courses. The character editor is also being used in really creative ways already, there are some fantastic Helgast as well as other classic characters from gaming, even the least customisable element of the game, the Kart editor, has far more options than most racing games. 

While Little Big Planet is perfect for creating platformers and Modnation is perfect for creating racing games Little Big Planet 2 intends to be the best at both, and then some. In LBP2 the focus isn't on creating levels, it's on creating games, creations will be able to be packaged together and released online as uninterrupted coherent gaming experiences. An example of the games potential to be more than just a platformer are 'Sackbots'; programmable NPCs who can be tweaked and adjusted to fit into whatever style of game you'd like to make, they can act as bystanders, enemies or allies, with AI routines and actions designated by the creator, meaning no more cardboard cut-outs providing instructions or rolling menacingly towards you on wheels. The far more adjustable camera will also play a big role in how creations turn out, turn the camera on it's side and you've got the potential to make a vertical scrolling game, or maybe you fancy yourself as a bit of a director and want to create your own cutscenes, by combining Sackbots with customisable camera cuts you will be able to flesh out your creations with as many cutscenes as you like, or maybe you want to skip the game part entirely and just make movies? That's an option too! It's still fairly early days at the moment and there will no doubt be a lot more exciting features being revealed fairly soon, but even from the small amount Media Molecule have announced so far it looks like LPB2 is going to be an utterly amazing game.

It's not just official Play. Create. Share games that are getting in on the fun, initially the concept of a Toy Story 3 game reeks of a quick and cheap cash in, but when you hear that Pixar are working extremely closely in the development of the game it's hard not to be a little intrigued. Essentially Toy Story 3 is going to feature a LBP Lite mode called the toybox, that allows users to create and customise their game world in the same way that we see Andy playing with his toys in the movies. The tools aren't as deep as Little Big Planet or even Modnation, but they serve as a wonderful introduction into the world of user generated content. The 360 has an often over-looked indie game called Kodu, which offers a wealth of options for creating a variety of games with complex AI routines and objectives presented in a bold and easy to understand interface. There are many more games on the horizon that offer present a lot of customisation options no matter what your creative skill-set may be, and while they may not all fall under Sony's Play. Create. Share banner, it is a mantra that more and more developers are taking note of. It's an exciting time to be a gamer, its an even more exciting time to be a creative game.

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