Interview: LittleBigPlanet 2 lead artist Francis Payne

By Joe Anderson, Monday, 10 May 2010 14:00 GMT

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Media Molecule has created one of the most recognisable games of this console generation in LittleBigPlanet with Sackboy, the game’s cloth protagonist, becoming something of an emblem for PlayStation 3 as a format.

It doesn’t look like Mr Boy’s visibility is about to diminish any. LittleBigPlanet 2 is about to build on the original in every conceivable way, including the visual department. The man in charge of the game’s aesthetic is lead artist Francis Payne.

Payne spoke to us at LBP2’s reveal in London last week; get the chat below.

Hit this for impressions from the event, this for screens and this for another four Media Molecule interviews recorded on the day.

What is behind the inspiration from the art and animation in LittleBigPlanet 2?

Francis Payne: The game has been out for a long time now, with lots of DLC available. The challenge for LittleBigPlanet 2 was to create something new by combining various ideas.

Something we’re very aware of is that the games industry is always very visual in the way it presents games, and this has been very successful. We’ve drawn from thousands of years of art and taken that as our inspiration while adding our own twist.

Have any of the ideas behind the art style come from the community?

Francis Payne: Yeah, definitely. Players have in the past used different materials and made them really thin, making it look like they have vanished completely and giving a feeling that the platforms they’ve made from these are floating. This has inspired us to make things more translucent, allowing for things such as transparent pipes, glass and holographic materials to appear in the game, giving users a lot more options than they had before.

Can you explain what’s new in terms of art in a technical sense?

Francis Payne: We have an upgrade engine which has done an amazing job, and all the objects in the new game look really solid. There is now transparency and all sorts of new features, such as new fancy materials.

How many new materials are in the game?

Francis Payne: Loads, if you imagine that each theme is a DLC pack, you get loads of stickers, new building blocks. Every theme has new stickers, costumes and collectables for users to get their hands on.

How many levels are included in the new game?

Francis Payne: Well, there are six themes, each of which has a bunch of new mini-games and levels within them. I would say there are well over 50.

How difficult was it to upgrade user levels from LittleBigPlanet to LittleBigPlanet 2?

Francis Payne: Genius brainpower from the programming team, really. They didn’t touch any of the materials or textures, just the way the objects are rendered in the world. That’s the new part really. Asset-wise everything is the same, but because of the new shading and renders we have everything looking that much better.

How limited are the users in terms of time and space, when creating Cinematics for their levels?

Francis Payne: I am looking forward to seeing what users do with it; really it is only limited by the user’s imagination and the type of content they want to show. If you have lots of items then you will use up the space, though you have the concept of Level Links now, so you can go to different levels without returning to the pod. This means you can set up levels so it will make the experience feel a lot more seamless.

Can users actually make a level which is essentially just a movie, without them having to have gameplay in it?

Francis Payne: Totally. In fact, I really want the community to do that and I hope there is a part of the community out there that will use the game to tell stories. It will be good to see how they use the new cinematic tools in clever ways, like they did with the gameplay.

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