Preview: LittleBigPlanet for PlayStation Vita

6 Jul 2012

Sackboy is going on a new adventure, and this time it’s handheld. The LittleBigPlanet franchise is coming to PlayStation Vita this autumn, and producer Tom O’Connor of XDev Studios Europe reveals what the new platform has to offer.

LittleBigPlanet for PlayStation Vita is not just a spin-off of the creative game series, but more so a whole new game taking advantage of what the handheld console can offer.

If you’re unfamiliar with the concept, LittleBigPlanet is a platform adventure game following Sackboy on his adventures through the cosmos, but, like ours, Sackboy’s universe is constantly expanding, as users create and share their own levels.

Since launching on the PlayStation 3 in 2008, LittleBigPlanet’s big community has created millions of levels for the game.

“On PlayStation 3 we’re at 7m levels,” says O’Connor. “We worked out that if you put all the levels side by side it would take 21 years to run through them – and by the time you’d run through them there’d be another 50m levels, and you’d be dead by the time you played them!”

Play, create and share are the cornerstones of LBP, as users can play the out-of-the-box experience, or levels they have created themselves, or levels that have been created by the community.

Little Big Planet gameplay

1,000 levels already created in beta

Now, with a new console to design for, this community’s output is set to increase dramatically.

The online beta version of the Vita game received so many requests from excited members of the community that it had to be cut off after just two days. “We couldn’t accommodate every single person, so we did get some really key people from past LBP games, as well as some new players for the LBP franchise.”

This select group of privileged LBP players have already created about 1,000 levels in a few weeks, and no two are the same.

“What we’ve found is about 90pc of them are non-platformer levels, and this is showing that people want to create new things that don’t look like LittleBigPlanet,” says O’Connor. “They love LittleBigPlanet as a story mode, but they want to take it further, they want to put their own stamp on it.”

New features to play with

The new game takes advantage of the unique combination of features of the Vita – the touchscreen, the rear touch-pad, the buttons and twin sticks, the microphone, and front and back cameras – offering a whole new experience for users, both as players and creators.

Users can import images they’ve stored on the Vita into their levels, create touchscreen elements and controls, add start menus and text, and they can also take advantage of multi-player functions, either online with up to four players, or using a single device between two players. 

The sacrifice for all this added functionality, though, is that LittleBigPlanet for Vita starts from scratch.

“The PlayStation 3 levels stay on PlayStation 3,” says O’Connor, who says his team didn’t want to just put a PS3 game on a handheld. “We built up the game from scratch on PlayStation Vita to utilise all the features and the compromise – which actually isn’t a compromise – is that those levels don’t come across.”

No limitations

With the advantages of the new controls, games designed by LBP users are becoming even more creative and the ability of users to create such a diverse collection of levels is down to the freedom afforded to users in creation mode.

“We basically want people to have the power to do whatever they want with the game, with no limitations,” explains O’Connor. “We use the same tools to create the game that you get when you buy the game – there’s no cheat. All our designers use the same tools that we then provide to the community.”

Little Big Planet PlayStation Vita

To inspire creation among its users, the Vita version comes with some additional, non-LBP-style games created by the team at XDev.

“One of the games that the game will ship with is called Tapling,” says O’Connor. “We showed this game at E3 and what was interesting is that media were almost reviewing it like it was a full stand-alone game. And this is created with the same tools that we used to create the story world.”

Tapling is a completely touchscreen game, showcasing how these simple games can appeal to Vita users on the go. “People are used to having devices like Kindles and smartphones and that – and when you look at people they’re using them all the time, and if they’ve got five minutes they’ll play a smartphone game,” says O’Connor.

“The fact that you’ve got a Vita that you can play around with, that’s got connectivity – it’s got 3G, it’s got Wi-Fi, it’s got the touchscreen – which means you can just jump in.”

And, with the Vita, accessing and downloading new levels has been made easy. “We’ve made all the levels really small, so we want people to be able to download levels really quickly, we want them to be able to find content really quickly,” enthuses O’Connor. “It’s like a free ticket to the biggest app store ever.”

Little Big Planet PlayStation Vita

A new planet for Sackboy to save

But let’s not forget Sackboy’s adventure, which has also been expanded on LBP for Vita with a new planet that needs saving, Carnivalia. “We’ve stayed true to a platform element, people love that side of the game,” says O’Connor. “This would probably be the most epic story in any LBP game we’ve done before.”

All in all, there will be five themes in the latest story mode, spread across 45 levels, and each theme will introduce new mechanics and new ways to play.

Previous LBP players will also be happy to know that any downloadable content that they bought or unlocked on previous games will carry over to the Vita version and vice versa.

Little Big Planet PlayStation Vita

Anyone can be a game developer

The great achievement of the LittleBigPlanet planet series is its ability to turn everyday people into game developers. “What’s great about LittleBigPlanet is you can create games but you do not need any programming experience,” says O’Connor. “If you look at the community and their background, some of them might be scientists or something, but some of them are builders, some of them are window cleaners – it doesn’t matter. It’s all about people’s imagination.

“I think the fact that we give people a tool to allow them to create games that are as good as games that are being created by teams of programmers, artists and everything else, that’s actually a really powerful message, and it means that you don’t need the traditional skills to be able to create really great games,” he adds.

And, O’Connor is not overstating how much the game’s creators value the input of the community. “We do take inspiration from our community, so much so that we’ve actually employed a lot of them!” he says with a laugh.

Elaine Burke is the host of For Tech’s Sake, a co-production from Silicon Republic and The HeadStuff Podcast Network. She was previously the editor of Silicon Republic.