Media Molecule has said this morning that deciding not to do another LittleBigPlanet was similar to a child leaving home, adding its now added 1.5 million users since the PSN outage. Find a full report inside from the Develop keynote by Lewie Procter.
Founded in January 2006.
Co-founders are ex-Lionhead alumni Alex Evans, Mark Healey, Kareem Ettouney and Dave Smith.
Have since released two LittleBigPlanet titles, with cooperation on another two with Studio Cambridge and XDev.
Are now moving away from LittleBigPlanet onto something else.
Kicking off Develop conference in Brighton this year is the opening keynote from Media Molecule. Chaired by Phil Harrison, ex-president of Sony Computer Entertainment Worldwide Studios, and featuring Media Molecule staff Kareem Ettouney (Art Director), Alex Evans (Technical Director), and Mark Healey (Creative Director), “Living Inside A Molecule” is both a retrospective on the past few years of Media Molecule, and a look at what the future has in store for the Guildford based Sony studio.
Harrison started off by asking co-founder Alex Evans on the origins of the story, back at Lionhead. He said that it had “a great mentor” in the form of Peter Molyneux.
“I started making tea at Bullfrog, and wanted to work with Mark because I saw him change every single pixel on every single art asset. At the time Peter was a great mentor, and we worked on a GDC demo called “The Room”, which had things like Portal in it,” said Evans.
“Mark did Rag Doll Kung Fu in his spare time, so we built a relationship with Valve. It was a possibility that we were going to join Valve, but I wonder that if we had, maybe they wouldn’t have hired the Narbacular Drop team [Digipen, who worked on Portal before being picked up by Valve], and we would have screwed the world out of Portal.”
Mark Healey added: “Peter’s always been great like that. I was trying to give the programmers a hard time, I’m an artist, and programmers often say that the game design ideas you come up with can’t be done, and I wanted to prove them wrong. Taught myself C++ purely to annoy the programmers.”
When asked by Harrison if it annoyed the programmers, Healey only merely added he had “a lot more respect from some of them.”
He continued: “I then got invited to show it at GDC, and Valve were in the audience, and they were looking for games to put out on Steam. Back then, it was only CS and HL2 on there, so I was really lucky to have my game that I made in my pants at my kitchen table on there.”
Going back to the origins of Media Molecule, Evans said that it had begun with just four people at the time. That’s now since grown to 40 people.
“If you think of Sackboy as our child, it’s like it’s time for it to move out of home.”
“We needed a producer who didn’t have a creative hat on, but was creative,” he said. “I was always very anti-producer,” Healey added.
When asked by Harrison if both Evans and Healey were “anti-programmers,” the latter merely added: “Same time. I always wondered what the fuck do they do, I know they go to the best parties, but making RDKF, I realise the value of someone to be in-between the publisher and the developer.”
Evans continued: “11 coders, 11 designers, 11 make everything work people. Then studio heads, and I missed out audio. But we need those production people to help us get a game shipped.
Kareem Ettouney said that the studio felt “very empowered” when the studio was formed.
“From the beginning we had a very empowered attitude, because our producers made sure everyone always knew what was going on and where we were.”
Healey continued: “One of the reasons we’ve been successful is that the core founding members had all the skills we needed. If we wanted to, we could have made a game just by ourselves. It would have taken a lot longer, but we could do it.”
Ettouney insisted that LittleBigPlanet’s visual style had come from its physics.
“It was from the beginning inspired by the physics,” he said. “Because it’s a tactile feel, it was always in the forefront of our mind that it had a miniature world look. Coming up with visual styles can sometimes be indulgent.
“‘I like film noir, so lets make a noire game,’ but I think it’s better to let the visual style come from the nature of the game.
“We did go through a lot of trial and error, and when you tell the story after, you only remember the triumphs. There was a time when we were looking at fairytales, but that was more for inspiration for level designs.”
Video of LittleBigPlanet’s reveal at GDC 2007 during Harrison’s Game 3.0 keynote.
After that, Harrison touched upon what he had called “the best” meeting he had even seen: LBP’s greenlight pitch, adding further into the studio’s finest moment – the game’s unveil at GDC 2007 in San Francisco during Harrison’s Game 3.0 keynote.
The greenlight meeting you guys had back in that August for LBP. In my career I’ve seen over 1,000 meetings like that, and this is was the best one I’d seen,” said Harrison, before Evans asked if it was the reason it was included in the GDC demo.
Harrison said: “Two reasons. Let’s be honest, PS3 needed a boost at the time and I wanted something that tapped into the future of service games, games that keep developing over time, and the user is integrated into the creation. I wanted that GDC to be not just the future of Sony, but the future of the industry, and Home, Singstar and LBP were all part of that.”
Evans picked up on that, adding: “We decided to treat our publisher as an ally. Sony put us up on GDC, and have always put faith in us. That was a risk for Sony. One of the reasons the indie scene flourishes is that you can keep your risks small, so you can take lots of them.”
When asked about the community front, Evans dropped an interesting statistic. 1.5 million PSN users have joined the LittleBigPlanet community since April’s PSN outage.
LBP is not a static community, it’s always growing,” he said. “First two million LPB2 levels were done in half the time the first two million LBP levels. It seems like pretty much everyone publishes a level.”
Evans said that if MM was to be founded now back to when it was originally created in the mid-noughties, he’d still develop a triple-A title.
“iPhone didn’t exist, Twitter and Facebook hadn’t exploded, YouTube didn’t exist. It’s a different world now, but I would still go for a AAA game. I think it is interesting this risk idea, there is still room for big entertainment.”
When asked what games they were playing to bits right now, Healey said he was “totally addicted” to Flick Golf of iPhone
“I really love Journey, in the middle of AAA games, [thatgamecompany] are really special,” added Ettouney. “They have the xen-like experience, using interactive arts that is less about the kick of the achievement, and more about the journey itself.”
“I would say that UGC also shows us that really the players are far more talented that even the creators.”
“Peter [Molyneux] was a great mentor”
Last month, Molecule studio boss Siobhan Reddy had said that it was “moving on” from LBP. Healey put into context what it was like to not have the series as the studio’s main focus anymore.
“If you think of Sackboy as our child, it’s like it’s time for it to move out of home,” he said.
“So LBP is going to uni to live in a skqualored flat for 4 years,” jokingly quipped Harrison.
Evans said the move was made so it could “keep it fresh.” He continued: “If you keep doing the same thing again, it gets stale.”
“LBP involved us working with an extended family of other companies, like Tarsier Studios, Supermassive Games, Finegroove, and now we have established the language and the design style and criteria of what works and what doesn’t work is much more established now,” concluded Ettouney.