One of the two playable games at Sony's CES booth this year was the "play, create, share" showpiece LittleBigPlanet piloted by producer Leo Cubbin. While the pre-built levels on hand were familiar to those of us who played the game at Games Convention and Tokyo Game Show, the editor has seen a few changes, with new materials, backgrounds and stickers plus an update to the level editor interface that sees less screen real estate.
While the game is still pre-alpha, with an Autumn release date planned—they wouldn't commit to September, specifically—there's a surprising amount of content to play around with, far more so than in previous builds.
Of the new materials now available—various stones, polystyrenes, sponges, all types of new cloths—I started building out a sandbox level with black rubber. Unfortunately, your little Sackboy can't hold onto the material, helpful for building more challenging levels, I'm sure, but not good for a tradeshow demo level. Also new were a handful of environments, including a graffiti splashed New York City style sidewalk and one with a mid-western feel, acres of corn fields spanning the background.
One of the other features that was seemingly new was the ability to dedicate an area, by way of a unique glowing material, as editable by those who play your level. That means, if you've built a level and shared it, you can limit what portions of the map a user can build upon. If they need to build a vehicle or a ramp to traverse an obstacle, editors can define where these lie.
Another change from previous versions was the "ring out" timer. If your Sackboy stays off camera for too long, you can be kicked off the level, even in the editor. This prevents those wide pan-outs from previous version, which showed the entire level if one player remained at the start while the other ran to the end. The ring out timer seemed pretty brief, so players will have to stay on their toes and cooperate.
Also, the popping collectible sponges from the original are out, pastel marshmallowy fluff now in.
While the game has seemed rather full featured at previous events, including its debut showing at GDC last year, the Media Molecule team is still in the alpha stages of development. The game did lock up a handful of times as we edited, but the game is many months away. Still, there's already plenty to do and the developer has been staffing up to get the game done. They've gone from a team of 9 last year, to one of 25 today, snatching up talent from Insomniac Games along the way.
We may see more of the game at GDC, but according to Cubbin, those plans are still up in the air. As far as a beta, one is still planned, but given that the Fall 2007 one never materialised, they're keeping dates unannounced.