Media Molecule show Nintendo how to make a platform game

After finally getting my hands on a beta key I quickly downloaded the 900 MB online download and jumped into Media Molecules pre-release of its much anticipated sandbox platformer. I apologise in advance for the grainyness of my screenshots, after hunting for a way to take some half-decent screenshots without rigging a computer into the PS3 I’ve linked to various online videos, at far higher quality than I’m able to take. So bear in mind that the custom levels in the video’s within this post are from people who have been able to spend more time in the game world than I have.

The first thing that struck me was the first-play intro credits (see video below), its a subtle tutorial on customisation, animation and use of the six-axis as you jump and run over sweeping platforms with images of the developers being the game. Before we go any further I must mention Stephen Fry, his fantastic narration and voice-overs really ease your learning and play within the game. I cannot think of a single more perfect person who epitomises the humor, or the British ‘soul’ that the game has to it. The voice-overs are done in a similar style to his role as the ‘book’ in ‘The Hitch Hikers Guide to the Galaxy’. Just playing with the initial tutorials had me grinning from ear-ear.

Once you’ve done the basic character customisation, of your rather unfortunately named avatar (Sackboy)  it’s time to visit your ‘pod’ a customizable selection screen that you can jazz up with collected game items. There’s plenty of choices here. You can jump straight into playing those standard levels that we’ve seen time and time again on demo’s or you can get started with building your own creation. If you’re feeling really adventurous you can jump into the online world and start playing other peoples creations right from the get-go. I really don’t recommend that though. If you’re planning to spend a long time within this world then it’s a place to be savoured and enjoyed like the finest 3 course meal. The perfect appetiser is the intro levels, they give you an idea of just what can be created while teaching you the basic jumping, swinging, grabbing, pushing, and pulling techniques as well as giving you a good overview of the physics and objects within the game. The other advantage of playing these initial levels is to collect items that can then be used within your own game world, It’s an attraction far greater than the normal ‘save the princess’ goals of traditional platformers (that’s not to say you couldn’t make one!). By playing the game you get actual in-game ‘stuff’ you can keep and use as much as you want. That’s one hell of an incentive to play.

Once I’d dabbled a bit with some of the starting levels I headed back the the pod for a bit of level creation on my own ‘Little Big Planet’ Levels can be created either as a series of levels, or as single one-off designs. There are pre-built templates (with canyons, valleys, tunnels and hazards) that you can add to, Or you can start with a completely blank template, something I’d recommend you to do in order not to get too overwhelmed with creation – It’s easy to jump into something big straight off, but starting small is the best way to get to grips with what you can do. Level creation and customization is handled through the poppit editing menu, easy to start with, and very intuitive, it’s obviously had an enormous amount of work put into it to make it as easy to use for the beginner as well as the expert. Initial level creation is assisted with the brilliant tutorials voiced by Stephen Fry and and just the right pace which means beginner get to grips with the powerful game engine at their own pace. The tutorials start with simple building blocks and go onto more advanced construction such as switches, gravity, and rockets.

The construction environment is unlimited, you can even hook up your eye-toy camera and grab still from it, you can include objects such as jetpacs, and of course skateboards, rocket propelled horses, pits of fire, and roller-coaster like sweeping levels. It’s all very well creating your level but thanks to PS3’s network you can share your dastardly creation with friends, and the entire world.

The beauty of this game is that it’s nowhere near a finished masterpiece, this game will always have content for it designed by the users, As of right now it’s missing some promised additions namely the ability to co-create levels with your friends online. While multiple people on the same console can work on creating levels together you will soon be able to jump in with other players to help them build their works of art before sharing them out to the world. Not so good at making the platforms? don’t worry – get your friend to help, want to show off your awesome statue design ability? Just hop on in and join your friends. Bored on a drunken night in? get some friends together and try and build the largest collapsible tower before running in and destroying it.

That’s not to say that online entertainment can’t bring with it faults of its own. Connection glitches can hamper simultaneous online play just like any other game. While i was joining some levels it seemed like some of the players had 2 tin cans and some garden twine for their Internet connection. The only other fault that I had was with the level creations rewind system, that allows you to undo recent items you’ve made. Sometimes this would get stuck in the rewind effect, and I had to swap out into ‘play’ mode to get rid of it. I hope that these glitches can be sorted out before the game goes gold. Media Molecule has already said that the public beta was a fairly old version.

Overall this is a Archetypal English approach to gaming, This is the love and energy of gaming experience from the 8-bit era refined and condensed into a single point. This is THE game that the platform generation has been waiting for. It re-defines the genre and sets a precedent for others to follow. This game is as important as Super Mario Bros, and as revolutionary as Mario 64. This IS platform gaming web 2.0 style.

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