Bit of a preview: CES 2008: LittleBigPlanet Hands-On Media Molecule's marvel continues to impress. by Charles Onyett US, January 9, 2008 - At a show without much of a focus on gaming, it was surprising to see Sony show off one of their heavy hitters for 2008, Media Molecule's LittleBigPlanet (LBP). While Sony has published some great games for their system like Uncharted and Ratchet and Clank, neither of those games really seem to have the staying power that LBP is poised to offer. Such value in lasting appeal draws from the game's extensive and versatile user modding support, letting players create their own stages to pilot cutesy, fuzzy characters through with 2D platforming mechanics. This time around we got to see a few new things in LBP, mainly deadly traps and how the game handles death. In a stage titles Indian Hot Spice, we and a Sony rep hopped around in a sort of Wild West 2D environment, bounding over chasms and ducking under moving platforms riffed with searing hot coal. With one touch the coals kill your fluffy character, sending them hopping off the screen like a ringless Sonic the Hedgehog on spikes. The stage was decked out with frequent checkpoints, little rings of light, which allowed for the defeated character to return to the action. Hazards in the stage never got too complicated. It was basically just a bunch of moving platforms with coals on one side that you had to time jumps or runs to avoid. We did manage to die quite a bit, however, as did the Sony rep, which gave us time to check out the real-time clothing swapping options. Hitting square pops up a UI over your character's head that lists options for changing appearance and level modding. Since we were already in a level, we couldn't access any of the build tools, but could outfit our little avatar with bike helmets, sun dresses, different kinds of eyes, various glasses, shirts, and all sorts of other stuff. It didn't really affect any of the gameplay, but it was still fun to play around with. Overall it wasn't anything all that surprising – there weren't any really interesting kinds of physics-based puzzles or something like that. Anyway, the meat of the game seems to be with the creation tools, which seem to be very well designed. Basically, anything you think you should be able to do, you can. Well, that's probably not true, but many things you think you should be able to do, it seems you can. We didn't actually get to use the tools, but watched as the Sony rep built a forest out of nothing. When first entering into the creator you get to select a background, which you can apparently import your own pictures to. Then it's only a matter of what you want to create. By selecting the item from the build menu, things started off with a simple square on the ground, textured to look something like bark. But, as most people know, tree trunks aren't squarish in profile, they're more rectangular. Thankfully LBP has a handy erase tool that can be scaled to any size in quite a range of shapes to alter whatever shape you're working with, and easily cut the square down to a rectangle. Then with only a button press you can copy the shape and paste it, resize the pasted shape, then merge it with the original rectangle in whatever orientation you wish. For the purposes of the demo, the original rectangle was pasted twice, resized into smaller rectangles, and merged with the top of the vertically oriented original to form a shape something like that of a necktie as it disappears under a shirt collar. With this new shape it's yet again possible to resize it, reorient it, or even adjust it's depth. The 2D plane isn't strictly 2D, you see, there's a little bit of room to move back and forth, sort of like in a thin fishtank. This adds yet another layer into the puzzle / platforming elements of the game. Once the rectangle shape was pasted a few more times until the Y shape looked like it had fireworks shooting out its top. Then from menu list and leaf shapes were selected and pasted onto the tree, which could be inverted and oriented to whatever angle you wanted. The shape now resembled a rudimentary tree, and even this, with different kinds of objects and shapes all merged together, can be resized and flipped around however you want. Since a forest was being created, the tree was copied and pasted a few times and set end to end across the screen. The demo was running in a debug mode, but when the real game ships in the fall of 2008, there will apparently be a limiting factor when determining what you can put in your level. As of right now it's called fluff, which is collected by running over little glowing orbs in the stages included with the game. This shouldn't be a severely limiting factor, says Sony, as each item placed in your created stage should be fairly cheap. In fact, the currency known as fluff may not even be called that when the game eventually ships, so we'll have to wait and see how this system develops as the ship date approaches. You'll also need to complete the stages included with the game, which can be done with up to four players co-operative online or locally, to unlock new objects to place in your custom stages. This way the player is encouraged to explore what Media Molecule included with the game and through that experience expand their own range of possibilities in the level editor. When you finally complete a stage, it's time to publish it live so others can try it out. There are some limits on what can become available to the public, however. First, your stage actually has to have an ending. You can't create an impossible stage and make it available online, despite whatever devilish urge you may have to do so. Obscene or inappropriate pictures will also not be allowed into the online space After finally creating a stage that avoids those pitfalls, it goes online and can be tested out by others. One of the potential benefits of this, aside from expanding the range of user-generated content online for others to try, is that the people that play your modded stage can rank it. The better the rank, the higher it moves in the list of best user-generated content, and therefore its popularity grows. There's a visual representation for this as well, as a more popular stage will grow in physical size on a "planet browser," which is basically a sphere with discs all over it with each disc representing a stage. People who play these kinds of maps will be able to directly message the creator, which can lead to personal messages and friend requests; basically an easy means to grow your social network on PS3 and share building techniques with others. It'll also track how long a stage has been available, the total number of people who've played it, and how many of them reacted favorably. In terms of post-launch support, players can expect to be given free content, or will have to pay for larger updates. For instance, if an update includes a few new backgrounds, it would likely be free. If it includes an entirely new build kit, a few stages made from the build kit, and a variety of others items, it'll likely only be available after you've forked over some cash. Finally, there's the character emotes, triggered with the D-pad. Hitting up, down, left, or right will instill your fuzzy avatar with happiness, sadness, fear, and angry. These come in varying degrees, with slight smiles, beaming smiles, and a ridiculous display of joviality. The same goes for the rest of the emotions including sadness, the most extreme stage of which the Sony rep described as mimicking the emotion of "the end of Old Yeller." If you've been following this game you already know about its potential and appeal, but if this information is new to you, don't let this one out of your sight.