This week, Sackboy makes the now obligatory mascot leap from platform hero to go-karting legend, with LittleBigPlanet Karting. Developed by ModNation Racers studio United Front, this new outing aims to bring all of the Play, Create, Share sensibilities of the original games together on the race track. Along with Media Molecule’s eccentric artistic vision, of course.
I had a chat with United Front producer Jen Timms to explore the design approaches the studio took, particular in transforming the 2D craft world into a fast-paced 3D affair.
SPOnG: It must have been a challenge, recreating the craft world in full 3D. We’re normally used to the 2D sidescrollers.
Yeah. It was kind of like.. it felt like a natural progression, because these are big, big worlds. They’re full of so many things, and it felt so natural to expand on that be driving through it.
At the same time, it was a challenge to keep the flavour of the original 2D elements. You can see the two-dimensional roots in the game’s art design... so we did try and keep that. There are some examples of that, where characters might have all of their features on one side of their 3D face. Little things like that.
SPOnG: How do you design around that, though? Do you look at how the original LittleBigPlanet had three levels of depth and took that as a guide? Obviously, Media Molecule must have given some guidance on how to make the transition too.
We just went back to the drawing board, really. For instance, we have a stage with a big open arena, with a huge monster in the middle, and the challenge was to think about what to place around it. The thing is, everything in craft world is made of household materials and bits and pieces.
This meant that we can use more objects from that universe and adapt it for 3D use. For example, a bucket in 2D can now be something like a tunnel in a 3D landscape.
SPOnG: I’m curious as to how you got to look after the LittleBigPlanet franchise. United Front has worked on ModNation Racers beforehand - so was this a natural progression for you guys? The two games are based on the same philosophy, right?
We’ve already worked with Media Molecule in the past, simply by the fact that we were under the same Sony banner. We both worked on games that were of the Play, Create, Share philosophy, so we’d speak with them about how they did things and how they worked their communities. We knew what each other was doing.
It really felt like a logical progression for Sackboy to go into a kart and do kart racing, because he was originally a platform game that was in itself a platform for games. We saw so many types of gameplay come out of that in LittleBigPlanet 1
. This was just the next step - Sackboy has never been seen in a kart before, so we wanted to establish a platform for games for this particular genre too.
SPOnG: The customisation options and charm of the franchise must help in avoiding the stigma of being “another Mario Kart clone”. Would you say that’s the case?
Yeah, absolutely. One really cool thing is that the worlds around Sackboy - the types of places he visits, and the way they are made - are all reminders of when we were children and we made racing tracks out of pots and pans in the kitchen.
I think that theme, the whole art style and stuff you can play with, really lends itself well to being in a 3D world - because now it’s not just about having a lot of trees on the side of the track, or mini-decorations and street signs. It’s about having whole worlds that you’re exploring at high speeds. So that was what I think we bring to the karting genre.
SPOnG: Are you guys looking at what XDEV is doing with LittleBigPlanet 2’s Cross-Controller capability? Do you think LittleBigPlanet Karting could be next to use Vita compatibility, perhaps in a future update?
We don’t have any set plans yet. We’ve been focused on making LittleBigPlanet Karting
the best game it can be on PS3. But there are so many possibilities now, like you said with the Vita and Cross-Controller. There’s much more we can do and we’re excited to see where we can go - especially once we get this out into the hands of the community, and we get their feedback. They tell us where they want it to go.
SPOnG: What’s the future of ModNation Racers, now that you’ve adopted the LittleBigPlanet franchise? Will ModNation Racers now get pushed out of the picture?
I don’t think so, because we have such a great community for ModNation Racers
. There’s so many people out there who still love it - they’re creating new tracks, and continuing to play together...
It’s a community that’s not going away, and we don’t want it to, because it’s a really great game for traditional core karting. We really took what we learned from that and expanded on it so that there’s more karting options available for people to play and enjoy.
SPOnG: So you think that ModNation Racers and LittleBigPlanet Karting are sufficiently different enough?
Absolutely. I think people who are fans of karting in general will love both. Also it means we get to bring in fans of platforming with LittleBigPlanet
, and get them involved with creation in a way they may not have done before.
SPOnG: Thank you very much for your time.