‘LittleBigPlanet Karting’ creators take Craftworld to new dimension

Nov. 06, 2012 | 1:08 p.m.

The “LittleBigPlanet” video games have built a devoted following around the franchise’s hallmark feature — allowing players to create their own games and share them with the “LBP” community. In “LittleBigPlanet Karting,” a PlayStation exclusive out today, gamers will be able to take their creativity to a new dimension. The game is the first in the franchise to introduce 3-D, allowing the characters from the previous puzzle-and-platformer games to face off on the racetrack. Hero Complex contributor Noelene Clark caught up with United Front Games designer Mark Riddell and producer Jen Timms to talk about the new game.

HC: Why bring karting to the “LittleBigPlanet” franchise?

JT: It just seems to work, these two ideas together, and it brings new things to each genre. So for karting, this is the first time that you have an endless amount of content. You don’t just finish the disc, and that’s the story mode done, and that’s it, that’s all the tracks there are, because we have the whole community aspect. People can be creating new content and publishing it and sharing it with the world. It’s endless content.

HC: The game brings “LittleBigPlanet” into 3-D for the first time. How does this change things?

Jen Timms, a producer for “LittleBigPlanet Karting,” poses with Sackboy, the hero of the “LittleBigPlanet” franchise. (United Front Games / PlayStation)

MR: That was definitely one of the big challenges for the game, bringing Craftworld and the “LBP” franchise into full 3-D, because it’s a 2-D physics engine, and even though it’s 3-D graphics, it’s still very much set in a 2-and-a-half-D world. Obviously, for karting, we wanted to have full 3-D, so the big challenges were keeping some of the iconic “LBP” things, such as the grappling hook or the gravity, or the jetpack, keeping the character of Sackboy and kind of infusing that in. And of course, even the whole of Craftworld itself had never really been imagined in 3-D. That was a big challenge, to really nail it.

JT: It’s kind of an iconic art style too, being in 2-D. Some of the characters, for example, you see the side of their face, but you see both eyes on that side of the face, like it’s kept in 2-D. So when we translated that into a 3-D world, we made big characters, but we kind of kept some of those 2-D elements.

HC: “LittleBigPlanet” is perhaps best known for allowing players to create their own games. Did you have to develop new creation tools for a 3-D karting game?

ML: On one hand, we needed to have a tool set that we could make all the different kind of karting adventures, like standard race and battle type things. But we wanted to expand into things that no one else has done, like bringing in whole new types of game modes, doing point-to-point races, doing boss battles. So we needed tools that could be both powerful and intuitive…. We wanted to be able to jump in, start with baby steps, and be like, “OK, well making a circuit, that was easy. Now I want to add some mountains. OK, that was easy enough, now I want to change the lighting.” You learn little bits at a time. There’s a ton of stuff in there, but we’re very specific about making it so you need only a tiny bit to actually produce stuff, and not just stuff that would impress your 4-year-old brother but stuff that you can make cool and upload, and people would actually want to play. But at the same time, you want it to be powerful enough. We have a whole bunch of levels that some of the level designers made, that they’re not even karting. Like someone made a memory game, where there are a bunch of cards, and you can flip them over. … Someone made a “Hunt for Red October”-style thing. Someone did Plinko.

JT: We have the [downloadable content] “Journey” costume that Sackboy can wear, and one of our level designers was inspired to re-create a “Journey level.” And it looks just like “Journey” and it’s actually in our game, and that kind of stuff is really fun, because when this gets out into the hands of the community, the people who are creators, who have been doing this for a long time and are familiar with it and playing with it, I’m just so excited to see what they’re going to make when they realize they’re not limited to 2-D anymore.

HC: Can you tell us about some other changes or additions for game-creators?

Mark Riddell is a designer for “LittleBigPlanet Karting.” (United Front Games / PlayStation)

JT: There’s a bunch of other things in the creation mode that we’ve added, like the ability to completely customize your own AI, completely customize the cameras, make cut scenes, which is completely new for a karting game. Anything you can think of, you can make, and you can turn it into a weapon somehow. It’s kind of fun like that, because you can kind of go a little crazy and do whatever you want, which is neat. On the flip side of that, people who aren’t creators, like me, it means that I get to look through my community, and I basically have all these other people making more games for me, so I get to enjoy the best of both worlds.

MR: We put a lot of effort into making sure the best of that community content gets handed to you on a silver platter. You can have millions of levels get uploaded, but if you have to sift through them to find the good ones, that’s going to be cumbersome.

JT: You can view the top-rated by peers, so everyone gets to rate and review, most popular, the newest, and also we have the team picks. it’s where we, as the development team and publisher, get to pick the ones that we really like. It’s like a showcase. The community remains supported.

HC: You used the same tools to create “LittleBigPlanet” as you provide to players. Did you find that limiting? Did you ever have to create new tools because you found you needed them?

JT: We did throughout the development, because we’re using the tools as soon as they’re made, basically. So not only does that give us the chance to iterate on them — our own artists are at the table, saying, “You know what? This doesn’t feel right to use. It’s really difficult.” So OK, let’s take that back to the drawing board and see how we can improve it. It also makes it a little tougher, too, because there are times when you need to fix something, and you can’t just throw a quick fix in that nobody’s going to see, behind the scenes. We have to expose everything we do.

MR: Yeah, but at the same time, I think obviously it’s a fixed set of tools that the end user gets, but we found that the community really likes doing problem solving with that kind of stuff, so it’s just like, “How far can we push it?” And they try to one-up each other.

HC: Who’s the target audience for “LittleBigPlanet Karting”?

JT: It’s completely universal, and we’ve seen that in our user testing too. We’ve seen kids obviously absolutely love it, embrace the world, and we’ve seen adults love the racing, competitive aspect of it. It’s all about competition. We often do our review meetings, where we go into one of our big rooms, we have a bunch of different TVs and monitors set up, and PlayStations, and it’s a meeting, right, we’re all playing online versus one another, and half an hour goes by, and we realize we haven’t done any work because we’re too busy trying to kick each other’s asses.

MR: We have a good mix in the office of people who are the hard-core gamer types and people who they’re artists, and they work in games, but they’re not really gamers. So we’ll say, “Oh, we’re having an online match, we want to test something new,” and they’re like, “Yeah,  I’m not really much of a gamer,” and we say, “Perfect.”

JT: That’s the thing about karting too is you pick up and you just play.  And then a couple of laps, you go, “I’ve got this,” and then there’s not a huge learning curve there. And once you’ve got that, and you’re a karting person, then you can start to learn a little bit more about tactics, and, “Ooh, if I hold onto this weapon until this part, I can drop it in time to get another one,” and that kind of thing comes with it. But to just pick up and play, it’s easy, and everyone can do it.

– Noelene Clark
Twitter.com/@NoeleneClark

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