In this short series of posts, I'm taking a look at Little Big Planet from an experiential point of view. In other words, I'm interested in trying to describe the game as a set of real-time experiences from two gamers' points of view - mine and my wife's - rather than a systematic analysis of the game (graphics, gameplay, level design, replay value, etc.). You can read more about what I'm up to here.
Never underestimate the importance of presentation. The opening cinematic (see below) that greeted us when we first loaded up Little Big Planet hooked us immediately. It depicts a series of real-life people, all fast asleep in a variety of settings: at work, on a bus, at the breakfast table. All are dreaming, "their vast imaginations humming away, charged with creative energy." "Where does it all go?" asks the narrator. According to the world of Little Big Planet, all this collective imagination rises up through the heavens to form an "ethereal dreamscape of adventure and possibilities." A Little Big Planet.
Whimsical nonsense, of course; but the game so thoroughly commits to its vision that we both happily walked right through its looking glass. From the first moment you encounter it, Little Big Planet feels like a very warm place to be. Why?
I think it has to do with a certain strong impression LBP imparts: this game was lovingly crafted by human beings. Beyond the people featured in the opening cinematic, the game gently reminds us that regular (albeit highly talented) people made this game for us, and now it's our turn to play and create. It sets about communicating this right away.
After a few wryly humorous orienting instructions (delivered by Stephen Fry in his signature droll), we set off making our sackboy run and jump (from left to right, of course), and it was here that Jennifer asked me, "Who are these people?" It took me a moment to realize it, but then I understood. At the earliest possible moment the game can do so, your little Sackboy makes his way past the names and photographed faces of the game's creators, each affixed to a piece of scenery. "What a wonderful idea," Jennifer noted. "We never get to see the people who make the games."
Indeed. As trivial as it may seem, this simple gesture provoked the same affectionate reaction in both of us. These designers (always surprisingly young to me) are proud of their work, and they want us to know it. It occurred to me that, in a way, Media Molecule was also introducing me to my co-creators of Little Big Planet, but at this point Jennifer was unaware of the game's level design features.
Our sense of personal affinity with the game's design was enhanced by its overall visual aesthetic. Both of us felt a strong tactile connection with Little Big Planet. It's an extraordinary thing to see this game in all its hi-def glory. Having seen previews, I already knew what to expect - which is a shame, really, because I was denied Jennifer's startled first impression: "Wow. This is amazing. It looks like somebody's backyard." And so it does. The game provokes another familiar response.
Sackboy reminded us of a sewing project an aunt might take on for her nieces and nephews.The brick surfaces, the cardboard cutouts, the felt trees - everything suggests the hands of creators with (apparently) simple earnest skills. It absolutely begs to be explored, and we eagerly accepted that invitation.
Nearly everything I've described here could be classified as "presentation." I'm suggesting that part of Little Big Planet's genius, for us at least, is the way it encourages, even welcomes, the player to connect to its world - and its creators - on a personal, visceral level. In reality, Little Big Planet's offering is no less virtual than Killer 7's, for example. A player, a controller, and a screen. But Media Molecule is clearly attempting to establish a relationship with the player that feels like a warm and familiar embrace. For us, at least, it's working.
Next, we begin to play.