Teach a sackboy to make a level and he'll play for... well, an additional day. Or so it seems.
I'll be honest. This post is apt to be all over the map. There's so much that could be said and yet so little that has been said about LittleBigPlanet that I'm at a loss for where to begin. I've been trying to hone my thoughts on the game into something bloggable for more than a month now, but a recent post by Michael Abbott got me teary-eyed at the thought of little neglected sackpersons crying from loneliness. I even had a
So for the sake of some kind of organization let me break down this discussion into three open ended questions:
#1: Why has LBP seemingly fallen off the radar?
#2: Is it possible to have truly "community made" levels?
#3: Should we think of LBP as more "toy" than "game"?
This is the meta question, if you will. By asking this question I'm really asking "why is no one tackling the other questions I pose, and the many more that a game like LBP has the potential to ask?"
Of course the easy explanation is just bad timing. The glut of high profile, pre-holiday releases buried LBP and many other good titles. But this begs another question: Why is the games industry one in which players, journalists, and critics only talk about what's current? If anything a game with as much promised longevity as LBP should, in theory, provide fertile ground for play and discussion for months or years down the line. With any luck the weekly costume updates (hadoken!) should keep it on most people's radar if only peripherally (a strategy that seems to work with Burnout Paradise and even for something as obviously a novelty as PAIN).
Then there are the logistical problems. The negative press surrounding the heavy-handed and opaque moderation system as well as the archaic search engine have frightened some away from level publishing entirely, myself included. Even this site's planned weekly spotlight is still getting off the ground while our writers engage in a snipe hunt for the levels you've recommended. Perhaps these hiccups are preventing LBP from riding the post-release afterglow it deserves.
Or is the game just not fun? Its metacritic score is 95; Time Magazine considered it one of the top 10 games of year! Unless you want to punt some snoggy conspiracy story our way it's pretty hard to ignore that kind of reception. So what gives? This is supposed to be our flagship game/franchise, why aren't you out in the street singing Sackboy's praises?
Question #2: Is it possible to have truly "community-made" levels?
I've wondered about this since I first started making and playing community content. Without doubt there are a number of fantastically inspired and talented level designs out there. I'll refrain from naming my personal favs, leaving that up to the inevitable comment hijackers and their arguments for best
We are given the option of publishing our levels in an "open" way so others can download and tweak them. But no one does this (I've yet to play a single such level) because, as it plainly warns you when you chose the option, others could download your level and republish it as their own. I wonder why the option even exists when such an unfriendly (if true) disclaimer keeps 99.9% of the populace from using it. No one wants their hours of work simply copied and passed of as someone else's.
But the visionary potential here is quite grand. A marvelously clever level could be made even better by a few tweaks from an outsider. Call it open source level design. Of course the current system makes such a possibility impractical, but there are many ways it could be improved. I don't have room in this scattershot post to go into specific ideas, but for starters imagine a sort of wiki-level, one which no one in particular "owns" and everyone can tweak, with the community voting on the best snapshots from its history.
The social challenge with such an idea is whether individuals would be willing to invest much time in an uncredited endeavor (though there could be credit for specific contributions). I imagine that most level designers have a vague goal of creating a well-known level, something that gets their username on the map, with only a secondary goal of making a truly unique, visionary level. Media Molecule is only contributing to this attitude of individualism with their trophies for popularity, lack of online level creation, and hints at career opportunities for top developers.
What's more important to you, the (limited) ability to achieve community fame for a painstakingly crafted level, or having a wide variety of content with the potential to only get better as the community makes adjustments? Would you be as or more willing to make uncredited contributions, wiki-style, to a community level as you are to spend 20+ hours making a level you can put your PSN ID on?
Question #3: Should we think of LBP as more "toy" than "game"?
This is a discussion that the gaming blogosphere loves to rant about ad nauseum about video games in general, so I've no desire to rehash it. However it is particularly relevant to LBP. When I first booted it up I sat in awe at the extreme cuteness and creativity of the levels. I spent hours just playing in them, not necessarily concerned with beating them or collecting bubbles. At a certain point, though, I stopped just experiencing the game in a state of zen-cuteness and started looking at it with an eye towards completing goals or trying to understand the technical prowess that went into creating levels (a distinction I've written about before).
But a recent experience reminded me of that initial awe. I brought a player I'd met earlier back to my pod to show her the couple of levels I'd been working on but never finished. While I was very self-conscious of their rough-around-the-edges state, she had a blast just playing around in these unfinished worlds without a goal or purpose. She was playing as you would with a toy rather than playing with a goal as you do with a game.
Is that sort of basic, child-like play sustainable in LBP, or must we necessarily move on to something more goal-oriented? Are you more interested in community levels that re-capture those initial feelings, or ones that convey technical prowess, set goals, and veiled references to other games and media?