First of all, I would like to briefly revisit some of the fears I had for LittleBigPlanet that I gathered from watching videos and reading impressions before the release of the game. The link to the original post can be found here.
- The loose and floaty physics: As I have feared, the way Sackboy interacts with physical objects in the world is a little too loose. If you compare the way Sackboy moves to Mario, Sonic, Samus, and even Peach or Kirby in their 2D platforming games, Sackboy is a little slow, unresponsive, and unreliable.
- Playstation Eye: According to a recent rumor, an update to LBP due out later this year will allow players to upload pictures into the game thus bypassing the need for this camera peripheral. Hopefully the rumor is true.
- Camera: The camera needs some work and could use a lot more versatility.
- The multiplayer looks a bit goofy and strained: LBP features a few nice co op mechanics. Utilizing these mechanics through focused level design can make a big different in the quality of co op gameplay. However, the multiplayer camera needs work, and the core design could use some additional co op mechanics. More on that later.
- Music: Though the provided music is wonderful, the options for user generated tunes are very limited. Designing a system that will give players musical freedom without running into copyright issues may not be as farfetched as it may originally seem for a game that's always connected to the internet.
Making any suggestion about the core mechanics of a game is always an tricky issue. My approach is to consider the genre, style, and spirit of the game first, and then come of with suggestions that make the mechanics more intuitive, individual, dynamic, direct. In general, game mechanic suggestions should be made to create a well-rounded set of core mechanics and/or bring a richer definion of interaction and function to the game world.
With that said, there are many ways these goals that will push the game in different directions. As always, it's important to consider how my suggestions change the design and potential of a game. Keep in mind that all the suggestions aren't necessarily meant to be implemented entirely.
- Better JUMP: Mario needs a jump that is fast ascending several times his own height. Because his JUMP was tuned so, the spacing (distance) between platforms both vertically and horizontally could be positioned a fairly large distance apart relative to Mario's size. In LBP the JUMP height and speed is dwarfed compared to Mario's . This isn't an issue in and of itself. With a smaller jump, the platform spacing is much shorter. Since the platforms must be positions so close together, the camera can zoom in to make Sackboy take up much more of the screen than Mario. With the view zoomed in so, more minute interaction can be placed in a smaller space than in a 2D Mario platfomer.
- Other than changing the JUMP height and speed, there are other small details that would improve how the JUMP mechanic defines the world of LBP. Sackboy could take a bit of stun time after landing from very high falls. Sackboy shouldn't take damage from falling, but having some brief impact stun will better communicate the momentum that exists in the world of LBP.
- The 8-bit Mega Man and Mario as well as Peach from Super Princess Peach, do a great job communicating exactly what part of the character model needs to clear a ledge to land on a platform. Mega Man's front leg (the bent leg) must clear a platform. Mario's legs stick out making a clear line that must travel up and over platforms to clear them. Peach's dress also makes a clear cut line. Clear any platform by a pixel of these parts and you'll safely and reliably land on the platform every time. In LBP, landing on platforms is much less reliable. With the unquantified game world, platforms can come in any shape and size. With each JUMP, the game has to determine if Sackboy clears the platform, hits the edge and slides off, or falls short of it all. Often times the physics engine throws a bunch of factors into the equation that make Sackboy's interactions more unpredictable. To compensate, Sackboy must be equipped with mechanics and abilities that will make the player a master over the environment. Having an improved JUMP that can land on platforms more easily as well as the CLIMB and PULL UP mechanics would go a long way in creating a reliable player platforming experience.
- When moving down slanted surfaces (hills) Sackboy doesn't accelerate. This property severly detracts from the potential of diagonal platforms. While walking up a slant, Sackboy's movement is slowed. To keep things consistent, Sackboy should accelerate as he moves down hill. On the other hand, when JUMPing off of a slanted surface, I suggest that the JUMP should be less realistic/physics based. The JUMP in these cases should either be like Sonic's or Mario's . Sonic jumps at the angle that's normal to the surface. So on a slanted surface, Sonic quickly jumps back. Mario, on the other hand, always jumps straight up with the same speed and height as if jumping off of a flat surface. Either say,Sackboy's JUMP speed, height, and effectivess shouldn't be hindered the way that it is. Diagonal and curved platforms are still very unique to 2D paltformers. Discouraging their use would be a diservice to the creative platforming potential of LBP.
- WALLKICK: The wallkick is a mechanic that allows players to platform vertically. By transforming walls from verticle obstacles into platformable objects, the traversable space and level variation opens significantly. The difference in level design between SMB3 to NSMB reflects the addition of the wallkick. With the wall kick, environments can be created in very tight boxy spaces without needing to include as many platforms to help the player get around. To balance this mechanic in LittleBigPlanet, the developers can make it to where only specific materials can be wallkicked off of. Another option is to only allow players to wall kick off vertical or near verticle surfaces. The N+ Ninja, Mega Man X, Samus, and Mario all have unique WALLKICK mechanics.
- CLIMB and PULL-UP: The emergent climbing abilities by repeating grab is excellent. With enough skill, Sackboy can CLIMB along any grabable surface as long as it's not completely vertical or very close to being vertical. The one addition to Sackboy's CLIMBing ability Media Molecule could add is the ability to grab on to ledges and pull one's self up and over. This ability would add a bit of leeway for the platforming in LBP which would be particularly helpful considering how the game isn't quantified and controlling Sackboy has a degree of uncertainly due to the physics based game world. This mechanic can be balance by only letting players PULL-UP on grabable materials, or make it to where players can only PULL-UP on edges that are 90 degree angles or very close to 90 degrees.
- THROW: Players have a fairly large amount of control over Sackboy's arms/hands. Players can grab and hold on to objects or other Sackpeople, control both arms independently with the analog sticks, and even BACKHAND other Sackpeople. Surprisingly, Sackboy cannot throw or even lightly toss objects. By adding a THROW mechanic, players have a way of manipulating objects in the game world in a new dynamic way. In the same way that kids roll balls and throw toys to knock around their other toys, Sackboy could use a slightly destructive mechanic to interact with the game world. Such a mechanic would naturally be balanced by the size and weight of grabable objects.
- BACKHAND: In the same way that the THROW mechanic would allow players to manipulate objects in the environment in a new way, modifying the BACKHAND attack to affect all physical objects would also help define Sackboy's action and function with in the game world of LBP. Adhering to form fits function means the BACKHAND attack should affect Sackpeople and all other objects. Also, the hitbox for the move needs to a lot clearer. Sometimes I can hit players standing several "Sackboy feet" away from me, while at other times I can't hit the person standing at my "Sackboy shoulder". Sometimes I can hit players even when they're not in the same lane as I am. Other times I can hit players on my left when I attack to my right.
- By expanding the range of affects for the BACKHAND, players have more variety for designing dynamic obstacles and enemies. Though it's not necessary to add a bunch of fighting moves to LBP, I am often reminded of Smash Brothers and Rag Doll Kung Fu when playing. Just something interesting to think about.
- TECH/UKEMI: Unlike many other platformers, Sackboy can be knocked, blasted, and swept around at high speeds by elements in the environment. The speed at which Sackboy gets knocked around is more like Smash Brothers than Mario. Adding the ability for players to tech or stop themselves on walls or other solid surfaces only matters when the player characters would otherwise bounce off of the surfaces out of control. By TECHing players stop their movement thus regaining control. Because Sackboy doesn't bounce, there's no need to TECH. Also, Sackboy can already stop himself by GRABing onto grabable material. This is functionally like a tech. However it would be interesting if Sackboy did bounce off of objects in the environment. The more Sackboy reacts to the environment especially in a way as dynamic as bouncing that depends on the density of the material, angle of the surface, and force of the impact, the more players will feel like a part of the world instead of simply moving through it. This idea is along the same lines as taking a bit of falling stun from large falls.
- SEARCH: In the 2D Sonic and Yoshi platformers, players can scope out areas of the level that are off the screen by holding up or down. Because the design of LBP is so open, it would be extremely beneficial to have a mechanic that allows players to get a better view of their surroundings.
- DOWN HILL SLIDE: One interesting change in level design from Super Mario Brothers to SMB3 is the addition of hills/slanted platforms. This innovation is not only refreshing to the eyes weaned on the blocky design of the original, but hills offer new ways for Mario to move and preserve momentum. By holding down, Mario slides downhill gathering speed and knocking out all enemies in his path. At any time, Mario can JUMP from his slide in complete vertical control. Sonic, on the other hand, is able to smoothly run up and down hills on foot or by rolling in ball form. Either way, Sonic can gather speed and still be in control of his jumps. In these ways, these classic platformers tightly designed slanted/curved surfaces to enhance gameplay.
- LittleBigPlanet shares some basic level design features with PixelJunkEden. As I've detailed in my Review & Repair of the demo for PJE, the design of the plant like level elements is very artistic and organic. Unfortunately, the mechanics of the game didn't accentuate the natural curves of the level. Sackboy's interaction with slanted and curved surfaces is very similar to PJE. Sackboy definitely needs to accelerate while moving downhill. But it would be interesting if he had a similar DOWN HILL SLIDE mechanic as Mario.
Here are two ideas for materials that I feel would make great additions to LBP.
- Magnet: Everyone understands how magnets work. In LBP, players could attach color coded magnets to objects similarly to the magnetic switches. Aside from the color coded category, each magnet can bet set as a North or South pole. Opposites attract. Similar poles repel each other. In the tweak menu, player can set the range of influence for each magnet as well as the strength of the pull/repulsion.
- Velcro: Another common household item, this invention is a must have for easily fastening and unfastening objects. Unlike the glue in LBP, the stickiness of Velcro can be set in the tweak menu or determined by contact surface area. Because everything is physics based, whether an objects can stick to a surface and how much force it would take to break it free can all be determined through calculations.
- Compass: This tool can be set to orient itself and whatever it's attached to relative to a specific direction, another object, or the nearest player. In the tweak menu, how quickly the "compass needle" orients itself to the target can be set. This is a great way to have cannon barrels auto aim at players. It's also a great tool to attach to sleds and skateboards so they don't flip over too easily in midair. The wheels and legs of enemies already have this property. In a physics based game like LBP, objects tend to rotate when launched in mid air. Even when objects are suspended by string, standing on them usually adds a rotational force. With the compass tool, these effects can be minimized and directed.
- Touch Switch: This tool idea is pretty straight forward. A switch that is turned on or off when Sackboy (or multiple Sackpeople) make contact with whatever it's attached to.
- Improved Camera Control: The maximum zoom out limit for the camera tool needs to be expanded by several times at least. The limited view in LBP is too small for levels designed with large vehicles, obstacles, and other objects. It's absolutely important that the player is able to see what they're interacting with. Beyond this option, the camera should zoom out as the player gains speed. By doing this, the player will be able to see more of the upcoming level giving them a better chance to react accordingly. Also, when playing online, there could be an optional type of camera that allows each PS3 to have their own camera view. In this way, players can have the freedom to separate without being forced to play on the same screen view all the time.
I have only a bit more to say about LittleBigPlanet. My favorite parts of the story mode coming up next.