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‘The real power is going to come from the community;’ an interview with the people behind LittleBigPlanet Karting

Little Big Planet KartingRecently, Sony announced that two of its biggest PlayStation 3 franchises would be joined in blessed union. It was a chocolate meets peanut butter sort of moment, as LittleBigPlanet and ModNation Racers merged into the kart racing title, LittleBigPlanet Karting.

We recently had the chance to preview the game, and there were a few things that stood out about it. The title is very much the merger of the two franchises, and blends the customization and creation of LittleBigPlanet with the karting fun of ModNation. That joining will also bring together two of the most active and imaginative online communities on the PS3. Because of that, we may be able to get a general idea of the game now, but it won’t even come close to hitting its full potential until after it has been released–possibly months or years after its release–when the communities have had the chance to really stretch their design muscle.

We had the chance to talk about the potential of the game with Erich Waas, Director of Development of Sony San Diego, as well as the creation tools, a few more details about the game itself, and throwing eggs at dinosaurs.

Erich WaasSo, how long has Little Big Planet Karting been in development?

It has been a couple of years that we’ve really been focusing on the game. United Front Games did a really good game in ModNation Racers, and we were looking at what’s the next big thing we can do. We happened to have a conversation with Media Molecule. They’ve always had that dialog between the two camps, and it just seemed like a really good fit to go “hey, what can we do in the LittleBigPlanet ethos.” And so that’s kind of how it got started.

Do you have a release window in mind?

We’re saying Fall 2012.

Are you saving the goods for E3?

We have more plans for the events we have coming up, and we have more reveals as the next few months come along. And of course we’ll have an open beta.

Will you be able to use any saved game data from LittleBigPlanet or LittleBigPlanet 2?

There will be some things you will expect out of a LittleBigPlanet game, and a game in the LittleBigPlanet universe, but I’m not prepared to say much more at this time…

Could we see a Vita port of LittleBigPlanet Karting?

I would love to see that, I think it would be a lot of fun. When we set out to do this, we were setting out for this to be a PS3 exclusive. So we don’t have any other plans at this time. But I think it would be fun.

What are you most excited for people to see and experience in this game?

I think seeing what the guys at United Front Games have done, from making a really good party game in ModNation and encapsulating that LBP ethos, to create all sorts of gaming and karting experiences that go beyond that traditional kart circuit racing. From things that are more common, but not as—like battle mode to brand new game karting experiences where you can take the tools set that you’d expect from a LittleBigPlanet game and create your own games.

Little Big Planet KartingSo, just to confirm, everything you create can be shared with others?

Absolutely, yeah. You want that LittleBigPlanet community, and you’ll be able to get to it from the website, LBP.me, like you’d expect from a LittleBigPlanet game. It’s not a create-and-share game without the share.

How many people will be able to play online?

There’s going to be different ways you can play multiplayer. It’ll be a total of eight in any given track or battle mode or game experience. From playing four player splitscreen on the couch with friends in the same room to eight players online, and you can do two player splitscreen from the couch, while you play against others online.

We also got the chance to try out the game. How complete were the levels you are showing off?

They’re a work in progress. We still have months of polish and a little more functionality to put in, and optimization, honing—like the weapon icons, which is its own system. You’re going to be able to create your own weapons in the game. What you aren’t seeing right now that’ll be there in the end is a lot of that honing and tuning and focus group testing, and making sure we’re creating a game for our audience and not just for ourselves. From the drifting and the steering and the physics and the play control, to ease of use of the creation tool.

What can you tell us about the creation tool?

We are going to talk a lot more about that in coming months. It’s got a ton of strength. We can’t wait for it to come out in open beta, because we know people are going to create things are going to come out that we hadn’t anticipated. But it is really strong, and it’s capable of a lot of interesting things that go way beyond that traditional karting experience.

Little Big Planet KartingSo that creation tool includes designing weapons?

You can design your own weapons, you’re going to be able to tweak physics, you’ll be able to tweak AI. You’re’ going to be able to make your own rule sets for wind conditions in the game and even be able to create your own HUD elements to put on the screen to help, not just for yourself, but for those that play your creation so they better understand how the game works, and they get some kind of visual cues as to what is going on.

We’ve seen the racing and the battle mode, but can you talk about any of the other modes?

Waypoint races, which really allows you to utilize an environment, whether you want to make it a track or a battle arena environment. There are some game modes that are less traditional, like one that I think you’ll see a little bit of in the trailer here, which is this egg dash, where you’re trying to use the grapple hook that you can use form more traditional levels, latch onto the egg, sling them into these target areas, while this dinosaur that’s been constructed with props is spitting fireballs at you. And that’s all done within the level editor.

One of the coolest things that helps give you a unique set of game experiences is tweaking the camera angle. You can go top down and create something that might be more akin to the old arcade games like Super Off Road, or side view and do something like Moon Patrol. All sorts of different game experiences. And they don’t have to go from Point A to Point A, you can script something that goes from one side to another. There’s just a lot. Whatever you want to do. We’re going to give you a lot of different game experiences with the blu-ray, but I think the real power is going to come from the community and all of their creations.

Aside from the LittleBigPlanet license, how is this game different from ModNation?

ModNation was a really good circuit karting game. This takes circuit karting and makes it more accessible, makes the weapons more playful, puts it in the LBP ethos, and then in addition, does all this other stuff. Battle arenas to waypoint races to some of these other mini-games, or full games that we’ve talked about that can be really big hybrids of things that we know some of,and then taking that user creativity and making all sorts of different kinds of game experiences. It’s doing all that, enriching the community, the share—even out of game at LBP.me connectivity so you can still interact with your game.

Little Big Planet KartingWhat kind of game engine will you be using?

It’s developed by United Front Games. They’ve got strong DNA for karting. So we started with that engine. Now we did a lot of stripping down and re-architecting, because there were some things. We were really proud of ModNation, but with any game there are going to be some things like “hey, I wish we had done this better, or that better. So let’s re-architect and solve these things that we didn’t do as well as we wanted to do.” So I think load time is probably one of the best examples of really getting those streamlined.

So we’ve taken that recent technology from United Front Games. They’ve got a powerhouse team up there.

What are you personally most excited about?

Just the fact that this is an LBP game. This is LittleBigPlanet Karting. It is everything you would expect form a LittleBigPlanet game, but it is putting it in these new game experiences, and it’s making it 3D. If you played LittleBigPlanet, you are going to completely go “oh, I get this game.” It’s LittleBigPlanet, and you’re going to know how to navigate everything. Of course the gameplay is different.

If you are a karting fan, you’re going to really love this game because it has addictively fun karting, in the traditional sense of circuit racing, and this just unbelievable amount of other type of game experiences that we’re going to both give to you on blu-ray, and then the community is going to give to you in their creations.