I’ve been listening to game journalists at places like 1Up gush about Little Big Planet for what feels like years. And no matter how great they say it is, I’ve always had the same reaction: “Huh?” Is that it? A platformer that lets you make and share your own levels - that’s supposed to be new, original, and paradigm-breaking?
Games have come with content editors for years. Doom was one of the first games with mod support, 15 years ago. The most popular multiplayer shooter in the world, Counter-Strike, started as a mod. A lot of success can come from mods, but you can’t rely on that as your #1 selling point.
So you say Little Big Planet makes it easier than ever? Doesn’t matter. Anyone with the design skill and commitment needed to make a fun game is willing to use a more difficult, but more powerful and flexible, editor than Little Big Planet could deliver.
But then I changed my mind. Via Tales of The Rampant Coyote, I found Fantastic Contraption. It’s one of those physics-based games where you build a machine and let it run. I usually don’t like these games, but Fantastic Contraption is a nice combination of simplicity (there are only 5 objects to build with) and freedom (any puzzle can be solved using a variety of approaches). Once I started playing, I couldn’t stop. I haven’t been so entranced by a game in years.
And once I finished, I immediately bought the game and spent hours browsing through the user-made content and solutions. (And I have to mention, it was the most fluid game-buying experience I’ve had. Clicking Buy opens a PayPal window, and once you hit submit, you immediately get all the benefits without even closing the original game window.)
But what really surprised me about it is that it opened my eyes about Little Big Planet. It’s not just about making it easier to make and share stuff, it’s about the fun of the experience of actually making it. Things like the Spore Creature Creator, Line Rider, and Armadillo Run never appealed to me, so I didn’t believe any similar game would. But if Fantastic Contraption can do it, maybe Little Big Planet can too.
And it’s not just the design phase. Fantastic Contraption also showed me the power of a good community, which I’ve never really cared about. You can save and share your designs with a single click, and there’s plenty of activity in the forum. This is supposed to be another area where Little Big Planet excels.
Still, the games are very different in their goals. As far as I know, the actual “play” portion of Little Big Planet doesn’t involve any design - it’s basically just a platformer. And the design phase doesn’t have any real goal or direction. In my mind this is still a huge hurdle.