Live Blog: DICE 2009 - Alex Evans, Media Molecule


Posted February 20, 2009 - By Brian Leahy

Time to hear from Alex Evans, the co-founder of Media Molecule, about LittleBigPlanet. Alex snagged eight awards last night at the AIAS Awards. He'll be talking about what they did with LittleBigPlanet and the "experiment that continues."

He's upset that he has to follow Todd Howard's awesome talk.

12:17 PM - Alex was asked about how he pitched the game to Sony despite the fact that he couldn't explain the game. The member of the press suggested that they refer to it as an experiment.

Alex will cover the chaos of Media Molecule's origin, the lessons learned from shipping the game, and its experiences with user-generated content.

An early name for the studio was "Brain Fluff." Alex and his team didn't know if it could succeed, but they were arrogant enough to know that they had to try.

Alex will now show the original demo video that was presented to Phil Harrison. It's very rough with hand drawn graphics, but it's the essence of LittleBigPlanet.

Alex still finds it hard to explain the game to people that haven't yet played the game. At the end of development, the guys at marketing had to figure out how to sell the game to consumers. In Europe, they used the game itself to create the advertisements. The commercials work because people that aren't gamers are interested by the title.

12:24 PM - Now it's time to build the team to make the game. During early development, the team would film their experiences to chronicle the process. Time to watch a montage of this footage. Sorry guys, this is turning into another visual presentation.

During development, Alex found that they reinvented the wheel too much. Media Molecule refuses to use middleware and other technologies that are not built in-house. Alex believes that middleware integration is only as good as the quality of the team's organization. The reason that programmers keep re-coding things and re-inventing the wheel is that code is easier to write than to read. Interesting.

What went right with LittleBigPlanet? You have to remember that you're making a fun game. It's not enough to have the game be playful. The game has to be made in a fun and playful way. This comes across in the game and you feel like the team enjoyed playing the game.

Alex knew with a small team they couldn't compete with larger teams to make a epic, story-based narrative. The team decided to code everything from scratch and do it all themselves. This allowed the team to stay small and focused.

12:33 PM - Media Molecule segmented its team into aspects. One team was for the engine, another was character design, etc. Alex then decided to take something from Valve Software and made sub-teams to cross-pollinate ideas. This works with a team of 30 people, but not with larger teams. It gets very chaotic.

Alex doesn't consider UGC a new idea. This started back on arcade cabinets with spray paint. You have SimCity. You have the game creation kit on the Commodore 64. All these were big inspirations for Alex.

Alex saw themselves fitting in with games like Line Rider, Spore, and Boom Blox. Alex would swing between "Is LBP a game? Is LBP a tool?" Sony told them that there needed to be a core game experience before leaving it up to the users and their own content.

A big turning point really came with the creation of the Sackboy that is currently in the game. After Alex shipped the game, they received an e-mail from a children's hospital that was using the game to have children express their emotions with the in-game Sackboy (using the controllable facial expressions).

12:39 PM - Conclusion time:

  • Whatever you do, follow your instincts.
  • "The only way to motivate your team is through the project that you & they work on." - Christophe Balestra, President of Naughty Dog Studios.
  • Keep it simple. At points during development, there were several items for Sackboy to use, such as guns and similar things.
  • The stamping and Popit came about because testers really enjoyed the sticker mechanic in the early game.
  • The team developed the levels and content on the actual PS3. They had PC tools to help out, but they had a goal that any changes made on the PC in code, art, etc. had to update live to the PS3 in under a second. They kept it very simple.
  • During the hiring process, they wanted to hear potential employees critique games. During interviews, they were asked to pick a game off of the shelf at the office and destroy it or love it. They were judged on their understanding of that game.

What does user-generated content give you in the end? "Epic pain." Although Alex found that players put a lot of personal investment into their UGC. During the public beta, they saw high-quality levels within 24 hours. They always planned to ditch the content, but 89% of players wanted to keep the content.

In the end, "have powerful people who are willing to put their head on the block to take a risk on an idea that simply satisfies their instincts.

Alex's patent pending plan for guaranteed AIAS award winnage:

  1. Make a (hopefully) great game where all the judges of the academy play it with their kids.
  2. ??
  3. profit!
  4. ??

Replace those question marks with: DO SOMETHING YOU AND YOUR TEAM LOVE.


Live Blog: DICE 2009 - Alex Evans, Media Molecule


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