Interviews// LittleBigPlanet and the Cross-Controller

Posted 8 Oct 2012 18:10 by
Sony has been trying to build a compatible ecosystem for its portable devices and home consoles ever since the launch of the PlayStation Portable. But it wasn't until Gamescom 2012, months after the launch of the PlayStation Vita, that we all saw that cross-connectivity dream being realised.

LittleBigPlanet 2's upcoming Cross-Controller update is more important than you think. On top of a few new levels and tools for players to toy around with, it marks the first time that a Sony handheld has managed to interact with a PlayStation 3 game in a major way.

The process is being handled by XDEV, an internal development unit within Sony Computer Entertainment that helps build the framework and support for a lot of first-party titles. I spoke with senior producer Tom O'Connor to learn what the Cross-Controller means for Sony, and its timing with the Wii U...

SPOnG: Do you guys at XDEV look after the franchise as a whole? Curious as to your role, with Media Molecule as the developer?

Tom OíConnor: At XDEV, we work with external teams to help with new and interesting projects and publish them under the Sony banner as a first-party title. We worked with Media Molecule from the very beginning of LittleBigPlanet - helped them develop the premise and what should be in the game, that sort of thing. Now that weíve acquired the studio and the guys are working on new stuff like Tearaway, we continue with the franchise and take it forwards with different studios.

We donít just work with LittleBigPlanet though. Weíve worked on the Buzz series, interactive drama like Heavy Rain and Beyond, some of the Killzone games... even PSN titles like Crash Commando. All sorts of stuff.

SPOnG: What was the inspiration behind the new Cross-Controller feature?

Tom OíConnor: I think we noticed that the market was changing, in a sense that people wanted to use their multiple devices together. And every company has accomplished this in different ways. Appleís way is by downloading an App and having that same App be used across all your devices. Thereís Nintendo, with their new console strategy that is built on dual-screen gaming - an extension of the DS and 3DS philosophy. A bigger 3DS, so to speak.

With us, we had already focused on PlayStation Vita, and the plan was to get it talking to the PlayStation 3 in various ways. LittleBigPlanet 2 has been on the market for a while now, and so we decided to just explore new approaches to game design and control using two platforms.

In a way, we also approached it as kind of a Ďthank youí for those who had gone out of their way to buy both a PS3 and a PS Vita. We didnít make the expansion pack with the idea of forcing players to buy a Vita - it was more like, Ďif you have a Vita, and you want to interact with your PlayStation 3, you can do that.í

Getting the two devices to talk with one another was actually quite easy, with the help of Sony Japan. We had a lot of fun just playing around with it. I think the first thing we did was so basic that we laugh at it now - a light switch mechanism. The Vitaís touch screen was a little switch that when pressed would turn a bulb on in LBP2. It was a literal Eureka moment!

We then got the hardware talking in more interesting ways, and then the ideas just kept flowing. I think the great thing about this is that itís like a big consumer test. Weíre going to say, Ďhere are our ideas, what are you going to do?í and see what they come back with.

SPOnG: It must be interesting to test as well, because youíre dealing with wireless technology and all kinds of variables that go with the two platforms.

Tom OíConnor: Japan have helped us out a lot with that. We wanted the whole experience to be as seamless as possible. What we didnít want to do is release the expansion pack and find that players couldnít get it to work. The most important thing is that when the pack launches, the actual user experience to get it to work is going to have be really slick.

So when the gameís booted up, itís a case of selecting Cross-Controller, searching for Vita, finding the Vita, and youíre done. You can either use your own or your friendís Vita... we want to make it so that people can get into the game as quickly as possible.

SPOnG: You said that the update will include ways for people to make their own Cross-Controller levels too. How do you present those advanced creative controls and tools without overwhelming the player?

Tom OíConnor: The thing with LBP Create is that not everyone creates. Some people just either havenít got the ideas or just find it a little too overwhelming. But as youíve seen, we have seven million levels - so thereís enough people creating to keep everyone else entertained.

In terms of tools, we always try to make them as simple as possible. We also try to make them as raw as possible - even though we showcase them in a really polished way, if you want to take those tools and break them, thatís up to you. We donít want to put any limitations in place. Thatís what gets the best results.

SPOnG: Sony tried to do something similar with the PSP and the PS3, and that didnít really work out as expected. Does the extra power of the PS Vita help in realising the Cross-Controller dream?

Tom OíConnor: Well, power is always a factor in these sorts of things. Power certainly helps. I think with PSP we did Remote Play, and it was fine for that sort of thing... Itís more advanced now, for sure. But, we didnít think of Cross-Controller as a reaction to, say, Nintendo. All weíre doing is taking our existing technology and advancing it.

SPOnG: You did showcase the expansion pack at Gamescom though, and there were obvious references to Mario - with Sackboy trying to rescue a princess, that gets moved to another castle at the end of the demo? That was kind of a reaction to the Wii U really, wasnít it?

Tom OíConnor: It was funny actually, because I remember reading a comment or two online saying something along the lines of, Ďis this Sonyís way of [having a dig at Nintendo]... with the princess and all that?í We laughed about it because... I donít know if it was just because we were so focused on getting the demo to Gamescom, but we didnít even think of that!

Looking back, I wish we had thought of it and was actually that clever. But it wasnít - we just wanted to build a really nice beginning and end for the demo, and thought that would be a nice way to do it.

SPOnG: Itís a classic game trope to be fair, isnít it? The hero saving the princess...

Tom OíConnor: Yeah, absolutely. And the actual level we showed at Gamescom, that pretty much was just a showcase. So the actual game pack itself, that wonít feature a princess [laughs]. Yeah, but it was fun to do that, in hindsight.

SPOnG: You showed off a few features, like using the touchscreen as a radar and a secondary screen. How far can we expect to go with this, beyond those examples? What kind of other things could you do, potentially?

Tom OíConnor: Thereís going to be lots of possibilities within LittleBigPlanet. I think whatís really exciting, though, is the potential in other games. So I like to think - and these are just my ideas - what if we had an FPS and you had some kind of HUD on the Vita, or a map? Or if a developer decides that you could use the cameras to use the Vita as a voice chat device?

Imagine if you could use the on-screen keyboard to type messages to your friends. I think thereís so much you can do with it, because the Vitaís such a flexible device. The limit really is just down to the individual really, and the developerís imagination.

SPOnG: Thatís always been the sticking point in the past, hasnít it? Getting third parties on board with the idea. Half the time they donít adopt these new peripherals or features. Is there a risk of Cross-Controller running into a similar problem?

Tom OíConnor: With any hardware, you always have a bit more of a battle with things that donít come in the box. For example, if the PlayStation 3 had always come with a PlayStation Vita type device in the box, then everyone would support it. I think youíre right in that we always support these things with the first party, but itís getting third parties to join in thatís the key.

Whatís really exciting is that thereís another console about to come out which features two-screen play. Now from a commercial standpoint, if youíre a third-party publisher and you wanted to get your dual-screen HD game onto more platforms, thereís no reason why you couldnít do that on PlayStation 3 using the Vita.

SPOnG: Do you think you could see it in LBP Karting?

Tom OíConnor: Our focus has been on LBP2 for the time being. I definitely would like to look at other titles and see what we can do using this. I think whatís important, though, is that whatever we do doesnít feel like a one-off gimmick.

What Iíd like to do is see what other people want to do with the tools, in LBP2. And then we can learn from that feedback, and our experience. We can use that knowledge to implement Cross-Controller in other ways - rather than just shoving features in, do things in games that people will actually use and get value out of.

SPOnG: Cross-Controller wasnít the only thing announced at Gamescom. There was Cross-Buy, which works with a small number of games like PlayStation All-Stars Battle Royale. Do you think things like that will help build up a stronger userbase in the Vita?

Tom OíConnor: I think Cross-Buyís amazing. The fact that weíre actually letting people have two full-price games for the price of one is just... I think thatís a great reason to want to own a Vita. Being able to take that game, pick up where you left off, come home, have the full cinematic experience on your big 50Ē TV... thatís amazing.

We do have Cross-Buy in LittleBigPlanet now, in terms of the DLC you can get for it. Itís all about rewarding people who bought things like costumes - they can also use those same costumes in Karting and LittleBigPlanet Vita. So itís another reason to go out and invest your money in this other device, by rewarding people.

The idea behind these initiatives is that it might just make you think about the kind of value you can get out of this device. It might seem expensive but at first, but youíre going to get a lot of moneyís worth out of it.

SPOnG: Thank you very much for your time.

Tom OíConnor: Thank you.


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