The purpose of this article is to highlight 4 examples of (p)layered level design in a LittleBigPlanet level I made: Improvisation #1.
- Section #1: In this section a "moon" orbits around an "earth." The moon can be grabbed and a nearby spring pad encourages players to shoot for it. After grabbing onto the moon, the player will be pulled up to the top of the world where they can progress to the right side of the level by platforming off of the square blocks. What's interesting about all levels in LBP is the physicality of all elements. Objects have weight, friction, and grab-ability. Furthermore, motors have strength. If you weigh down a motor with too much pressure, it'll fail to rotate completely or even break! Such is the case with the mechanism that rotates the moon.
- For just one player, the moon motor has enough strength to continue rotating. Any more than that and the motor will struggle and fail. Getting two or more players to the square boxes and across from the earth & moon section is much more challenging than just one player. This is compounded with LBP's camera problems. In general, for each player you add to an LBP game you add more stress to the camera system. I talk about LBP's camera issues in greater detail in my review & repair.
- Section #2: In this area, there are two main ways to progress to the center of the stage (the spinning triangle structure). Players can either use the spinning "watch arms" to go clockwise or counterclockwise. If a solo player decides to go counterclockwise, they must jump and grab onto the tip of the watch arm as it swings by. As the watch arm nearly finishes swinging up, the player can let go and land on a stable structure.
- From this simple set up, things get a lot more challenging with more players. The rotating watch arm is designed so that one and only one player can easily grab the tip as it swings by. To get up, the 2nd player must grab the feet of the first player and hold on for the ride. With 3 - 4 players, a chain of Sackpeople can be made. Because this platforming challenge is physics based, the longer the chain of players, the more rotational inertia the player at the end of the chain will have. On top of this physics based dynamic, players can hit "X" to throw their weight around. So, with increasing skill it's possible for players to make a chain, use the momentum, throw their weight around, and coordinate when they release so that all 4 players can ascend like a group of acrobats.
- Section #3: To finish off the level, players must make it to this area. The goal is somewhere in the sky, and player must ride floaty bubbles to fly. The bubbles are only emitted if the circles under the "#3" are lined up correctly. To spin the circles, players must grab the circle to start and release to stop. Things get interesting when you consider that the platforms players are standing on is what's being spun. If you're not careful, you'll be spun off the side of the platform. Not to worry though, if you keep holding on you'll eventually come back around on top.
- Playing solo, this challenge is pretty simple. The player can do all the grabbing, spinning, and fine tuning to get the job done. But with 2-4 players, the challenge turns into an exercise of "don't rock the boat." As players attempt to steady themselves, they might grab ahold of circle. Doing so activates the spin action. If one player tries to line up the circles by spinning the circle, they might throw another player off the side whom might then grab onto the circle to keep from falling. Without coordination, chaos will ensue.
- Finally, with the circles lined up the floaty bubbles will be emitted. A solo player needs only to grab on to a large bubble and ride it to victory. If 2 players try to ride the same large bubble, they'll soon realize that their combined weight is too much. However, if the 2 players get on top of the bubble, they can jump repeatedly to get the job done. You can imagine that with 3-4 players, the team would need to coordinate using at least 2 large bubbles. What's interesting still is that the circles can emit large and small bubbles. The small bubbles don't have enough lifting power to carry even a single Sackperson. But, if you leave a small bubble alone for a few seconds, it'll gain enough upward momentum to rise with great speed. With the added momentum, even the small bubbles can provide a serious, short term lift to a Sackperson. So while rising, groups of 3-4 can orchestrate a sort of aerial ballet of bubbles as they rise higher than the sun.
(P)layered level design is wonderful. Though the sound design of Improvisation #1 is unrelated to the level's challenges, it's shaped by emergent gameplay and (p)layered gameplay. With more players, more notes are played. And at each gameplay section, the more the players work together, the more complete the emergent song will sound. This is a level of sound design you'd be hardpressed to find elsewhere.