Ever since BMX XXX I have paid particular attention to the music used in video games. I’ve got a lot of material in my collection that wouldn’t be there without a combination of video games and the likes of Pandora (I’m currently using Last.fm for the same purpose because UK users have been blocked from Pandora).
As you’ll have noticed, recently I’ve been spending a lot of time on Little Big Planet, and the playlist for LBP2 is excellent. My favourite, by far, is Ladytron’s Ghosts, to be found in the Death By Shockolate level:
Every so often a track has a shape that does something for me that I really need, for whatever reason, at that particular point in time. In the past I’ve developed obsessions over Massive Attack’s Angel, Pass the Hatchet by Yo La Tengo, Yeasayer’s Ambling Alp and many others, from Vivaldi to the Dandy Warhols via Murray Gold. Right now the track that’s doing it for me is Ladytron’s Ghosts.
So much did I like this track that I bought one of their albums, Witching Hour. I was blown away. It is rare that I buy an album and have to comment to Frood that it is just brilliant.
Ladytron’s sound is somewhere on a spectrum that includes Goldfrapp, the Sisters of Mercy, Gary Numan, Depeche Mode, Cibo Matto, the Cult, Jefferson Airplane and Shakespears Sister. The band comprises Liverpool producer and DJ Daniel Hunt, Reuben Wu and singers Glaswegian Helen Marnie and Bulgarian-born Israeli Mira Aroyo.
The two women have vocal styles that both complement and counterpoint one another, with Marnie’s soft but assertive lead underpinned by Aroyo’s more spoken style. The soft-rock electronica ranges from harsh, dark reverb (Soft Power) to the sort of gothic effervescence that belongs running across rooftops with a heavily made-up Brandon Lee (High Rise), with a couple of whimsical diversions (eg Cymk) for light relief. This is certainly not an album you could describe as homogenous. High Rise is a stonking opener while Fighting In Built Up Areas stands out for its relentless pounding and Aroyo taking the lead in Bulgarian, lending interesting architecture from the vocalised sibilants. One of my favourite tracks is Last Man Standing, which has the same shape as bluebells in a sudden downpour on an otherwise sunny day.
It is very rare for me to come across a band I like this much instantly. I expect I shall be acquiring the rest of their discography in due course.
And thank you, Media Molecule, for introducing me. Take note, music moguls: rather than charging a fortune for the rights to use tracks in video games, you should be considering just how many sales will result from people wanting to buy the music.
Is Little Big Planet 2 everything you expected? Have you been disappointed since getting your sticky, eager little paws on it? You have been terribly quiet about it and we thought maybe you were so heartbroken that you had consigned it to the oblivion of a mental oubliette, along with Highlander 2, Wolverine: Origins, X-Men 3: X-Men United and X-Men: the official game.
And sackbots! And grabinators! And robobuns! And caterpillars! And grappleguns!
It’s as awesome as an awesome thing
That has as a hobby
Being Made of Win
And Rocking like a Ninja
Who is also God and King!
I owe the world some game reviews, notably the recent Rabbids game, but I had to squee about Little Big Planet 2.
Unless you’ve never, ever, ever been here or met me or talked to me or had anything to do with me ever at all (in which case, hi!) you will know that I have an almost pathological obsession with Little Big Planet. So when Media Molecule released a demo for the forthcoming LBP2, I was all over it like a rash.
Frood and I have spent an inordinate amount of time playing it over the past couple of days. Yes. A demo. For the first time ever a game has me so enthralled that I’m going back to the demo over and over again because it’s so enormously, splendiferously fantastic that I can’t wait for the full release.
Robo-buns! Grapple Guns! The Tower of Whoop! THE BEST AND MOST AWSUM HATS EVAR!!!!
Dude, this is seriously going to rock so hard that it will be subject to tectonic drift.
I just read this.
LBP2 is not going to be released until January.
I haven’t been this excited since… since… Since the last time I was waiting for a new bike to show up!
Frood just said “If you write it, I’ll build it.”
Intelligent objects! Digital puppetry! Linked levels!
OMFG I’m so excited!
Little Big Planet may look like a game for kiddies, but I can assure you that grown-ups play it too, and are just as fond of mucking about with their sackpeople. No, that is not a euphemism.
Frood (AKA Alibarbarella) and I have played the story levels all the way through and a great many of the community levels, and here’s my short guide for level-makers to creating enjoyable levels that will result in these two picky customers giving you five stars and a heart.
#1 – Single player vs. co-op
You might think that this shouldn’t need to be said, but it does. If your level doesn’t work very well when more than one sackperson is on the field, say so in the description. It doesn’t mean we won’t play it — we’ll switch off one of the controllers and one of us will watch the other one play. The levels that play themselves are good examples. If two of you embark on one of those, a helpful NPC reminds you to switch off one of the controllers.
If your level is designed to work for co-op that’s fantastic. We love co-op games. Levels we can play together are the levels that keep us coming back for more. LBP is, after all, also a social game. That said, if you need more than one player to complete your level, you should say so. If your level can be played by two or more but you’re better off approaching the obstacles one at a time, it’s helpful if you explain that, too.
Remember that co-op sackpeople don’t like being separated. If your obstacles cover a lot of space, make sure that all players can complete each one together, otherwise there will be much peeping and someone will end up piffing.
The best levels have an economy such as would be found in a short story (I’ll talk more about telling stories with levels in a later post). There’s no point putting in a hellishly fiendish obstacle if the sackpeople can just go around it, and sticking a few points balls at the top isn’t incentive enough to waste valuable lives making the attempt unless you’re trying to ace the level.
Frankly, life’s too short.
A really neat sticker (especially one that becomes a switch trigger later) might induce me to tackle an obstacle that’s not vital to completing the level, but I don’t get a kick out of grabbing everything there is to grab. Not everyone does. If I reach the end and it says I’ve only managed to find 64% of the items, that doesn’t necessarily make me unhappy or want to play it again. A good story, with well thought-out obstacles — that makes me want to play it again.
Check out Innocent Cows… That’s a great level, and we’ve played it a few times. Note that it took two months of work and hand-drawn artwork. Good levels don’t come easily.
If you haven’t heard of beta testing, then you’re doing it wrong.
Sackpeople are like hamsters, or octopuses. When you want them to go through a gap they’ll stubbornly refuse and hop to either side of it like it’s the fourth wall. When you don’t want them to go through a gap, they’ll be straight through there and nothing you can do will stop them. Then they’ll get stuck.
They also break things. The players out there will take your level and turn it into so much useless junk, if you haven’t built it robustly. There’s very little worse in Little Big Planet land than getting halfway through a level and discovering you’ve broken it. A pretty typical flaw is when a level generates a vehicle as a one-off, it somehow gets broken or lost (sackpeople also let go when you least expect it) and then you can’t finish the level because the vehicle was necessary to get to the next area.
In addition, we don’t like it when we find ourselves behind the scenes, looking at the winches and pulleys, and can’t get out again.
In short, don’t give us a level we can break. That makes for sad, angry sackpeople.
#4 Number of lives
There’s something to be said for the infinite lives portals. A couple of community levels out there (I can’t look them up because Frood is hogging the machine for level building right now) are designed to be one trap after another. Relax, it tells you. You will die. It’s fine. You have infinite lives. Sit back and enjoy.
And we did.
Running out of lives halfway through a level and having to start again might be part of the fun for some — I own more than one version of R-Type, I get it, I really do — but personally I prefer not having to go all the way back and start again. If you’ve got a particularly tricky bit in your level, in which it’s necessary to get it right to within a hair’s breadth, or learn a complex pattern, consider using a double portal, at the very least. I don’t mind dying, but I don’t like getting frustrated. Gaming is supposed to be fun.
On the other hand, there are tags for “tricky” and “frustrating”, so if you like killing sackpeople go right ahead. It’s just that we’ll probably skip it.
Use these wisely, young sackperson! You can get away with almost anything if you explain it up front. There will be players out there who will enjoy whatever fiendish tricks you have to offer, so make your description count! For every player who wants to bring three friends there’s another who likes having levels all to himself. For every player who likes infinite lives there are more who like the challenge of having to do a level over and over to get it right. The important thing is to give us levels that work and are fun to play. If a description covers the important facts then we can choose the ones we are more likely to find enjoyable and you are more likely to get hearted.