“You have to make games for someone you love,” says William, “because that way you can imagine who you're making it for.
“You can imagine the smiles the game will bring to their face; you can imagine the good times that people you care about can have with your game.”
William Ho, Design Director at United Front Games, is making LittleBigPlanet Karting for someone he loves.
We’re in the Penthouse at the Andaz Hotel in Los Angeles. William Ho is in the midst of introducing LittleBigPlanet Karting to the press. He says he loves three things: the first is Kart Racers, second is LittleBigPlanet and... the third, conveniently, is the combination of those two things.
But that’s just rhetoric – William Ho’s first real love was cars.
“I've always loved them,” he laughs. “Even when I was a kid I loved cars.”
And, of course, he loved video games. Video games about cars.
“I played every system when I was a kid, all the way back to the VIC 20,” says William. “I played all of the classic racing games — games like Spy Hunter, Jump and Bump — all of those games are part of my DNA. I really love that age, and I’m inspired by that age — when anyone could pick up and play a game, with no instructions at all, and enjoy it right away! There's something cool about that.”
It’s easy, especially in the wake of Sony’s PlayStation All-Stars announcement to treat the announcement of LittleBigPlanet Karting with cynicism. Sony, of course, has attempted to hijack this sub-genre with games in the past – but there’s something about LittleBigPlanet that works seamlessly with the idea of a kart racer.
It could be a strange type of nostalgia, the idea of reclaiming the lost memories of childhood – racing frantically on bicycles, trying to build your own Kart with pram wheels. Kart racers don’t have any claim to realism — they’re about surrendering to your own childlike imagination and accepting a primitive set of rules.
And the same could be said about LittleBigPlanet.
“I think Kart racers appeal to the kid in everyone,” says William. “There's a universality to driving around in a go kart in fantastic places — and there's a universality to the materials in LittleBigPlanet.
“Who, when they were a little kid, didn't play with construction paper, cardboard, felt and cloth — cutting it, piecing it together. Sticking things together, acting out scenarios – that’s LittleBigPlanet. To have that in a modern game taps into all those base memories and those base instincts, those notions of imaginations without boundaries. We didn't care when we were little kids; we weren't self conscious back then...”
“With LittleBigPlanet and LittleBigPlanet Karting, maybe we should be able to express ourselves like we did as children,” continues William. “It should feel like revisiting that childhood.”
When the young William Ho wasn’t dropping quarters into Jump and Bump, he was terrorising the streets with his buddy, pretending to be the highway patrol from CHiPs. His buddy was Jon, he was Ponch.
“When you’re a kid you imagine with your box cars, you imagine with your pedals,” he says.
“And there's no reason why we couldn't place the ChiPs scenario into LittleBigPlanet Karting! Everyone has their own vivid memories to be inspired by. I think there's going to be that common thread, people are going to be like, 'I recognise that. That rings true to me’."
William hopes that creation will be a huge part of the LittleBigPlanet Karting user experience. Much like UGC's last title, ModNation Racers, LittleBigPlanet Karting will allow players to customise their karts, their Sackboy and, of course, create their own tracks. LittleBigPlanet Karting will provide more options for creation than any other racer ever conceived.
And in many ways that makes sense – LittleBigPlanet is about appealing to our inner child, reinvigorating that creative spirit. It’s about abandoning our normal rules of what makes sense and letting our imaginations take control.
“When I was young I used to play with my Matchbox cars,” remembers William.
“My father was a cook in a kitchen, and I would hang out there — I would take the soup cans off the shelf and take my matchbox cars and drive them around. It was like a makeshift racecourse! That to me was so satisfying.”
William hopes LittleBigPlanet will embody that same spirit.
“I've been playing Kart games for decades now, literally decades,” says William. “It seems so long ago...”
William Ho is making LittleBigPlanet Karting to satisfy a lifetime of creative curiosity; he’s making it in the spirit of the kid who played CHiPs and made makeshift tracks with cans of crushed tomatoes – but most of all he’s making it for someone he loves.
William loves karting games, but his early memories of those first steps are intertwined with memories of his sister – who he played with constantly, competed with, threw green shells at. In a lot of ways LittleBigPlanet Karting is for her.
“When Kart racing came along I was like, wow, this is a game I can play over and over again,” says William. “This is a game I can play with my sister.
“And I'd be lying if I said there wasn't a part of me that was making this game for my sister and me to enjoy all over again, to help us relive those memories.”