It’s a LittleBigPlanet after all as we found the Swedish developer Tarsier Studios – the people behind LittleBigPlanet Vita – right in our own backyard. We took the opportunity to ask them a few questions about the game.
PSM: Tell us about the planet Carnivalia and the story in the campaign of LittleBigPlanet Vita.
Tarsier Studios: Carnivalia is a travelling fairground planet. It wanders around the universe spreading joy and laughter, but the story in LBP Vita picks up at a point in Carnivalia’s history when things have gone bad. At the beginning of the story, all we know is that a mysterious character called The Puppeteer is responsible for Carnivalia’s ills, and it is up to Sackboy to stop him.
PSM: With touch controls you get a completely new dimension in both gameplay and creation mode. What does the camera and microphone add to the mix?
Tarsier Studios: Having a microphone built into the system can be very useful for players. There is no longer any need to go out and buy a headset, you can just start talking to your friends. It is still possible to communicate by waving your little Sackboy’s arms around, but it is definitely easier just to talk to your friends directly. And you can of course still record sound and play it back in game using the Magic Mouth players are familiar with from the previous LBP titles.
Making custom stickers is a lot easier thanks to the camera. Whenever you come across something that you think might work well in your level, you just need to point your Vita at it, take a picture of it using the in-game snapshot tool, and just like that it’s in your game and you can apply to any surface or even your Sackboy.
PSM: How will the game utilize the NEAR app?
Tarsier Studios: You will be able to challenge friends and other people close to you to beat your highscores or beat their challenges. You can also discover players close to you and check out their levels and highscores using the in-game NEAR search feature.
PSM: The Memorizer tool is an exciting new addition to the create part of LittleBigPlanet, can you tell us a bit about it?
Tarsier Studios: The Memoriser really is a powerful tool. It’s hard to come up with a good analogy for the Memoriser and how it works, but you could compare it to cookies in web browsers. Essentially what it does is save and recall data fed into it. This is very useful to creators because it remembers all inputs even when you leave the level. That means that you can use it to create save points that allow players to return to the level and start where they left off. But that’s not all! If you give multiple Memorisers the same label they will share data among themselves even if they are in different levels. Allowing you to build a system where actions in the first level can have an effect in a later level.
PSM: Will you be able to share costumes and other content between PlayStation Vita and PlayStation 3?
Tarsier Studios: Yes, any DLC you buy for LBP PS Vita will be compatible with LBP2 and vice versa. You won’t have to buy a costume twice, if you own on one system you can use it on the other system as well.
PSM: The franchise strives to be a “platform for games”, what are some of the different genres you’ll be able to create?
Tarsier Studios: If you set your mind to it you can create almost anything you want. In the beta alone the variety ranged from classic platformers, to iOS style games, real-time strategy games and completely unique experiences. Thanks to the Memoriser, creators will also be able to create longer, more story driven games or mini-games with multiple levels that only unlock after you completed the previous level.
PSM: Will you support asynchronous play, offline and online?
Tarsier Studios: The ethos of play, create, and share is obviously core to the LittleBigPlanet experience, and much of the functionality in this game dovetails perfectly with the concept of asynchronous play. For one, players will be able download community levels to their system and play them wherever they are and whenever they feel like it, even if they can’t connect to the Internet. Players can of course always try to beat highscores on any story and community levels, as well as beat score challenges they received over NEAR.
PSM: You recently won The Gazelle, an award for the fastest growing company in Sweden. How has this impacted Tarsier Studios and what kind of challenges have you faced so far?
Tarsier Studios: Haha, it hurts me to correct the facts slightly here as The Gazelle we received was for the fastest growing company in the state/region, which in itself however is an awesome achievement.
Growing a company like Tarsier Studios from scratch with only non-professionals without previous industry experience in such an incredibly demanding and tough industry has been an enormous challenge and if it wasn’t for the great talent and “never-give-up”- attitude within the team it would never have been possible.
A lot of people and organizations outside the company have also been contributing to the success of the company and The Gazelle was a great thing to in a sense be able to “give back” to them. The Gazelle not being a game industry award only appreciated by developers and gamers but rather a prestigious business award recognized by everyone in the business/financial sector gave many of our local financial backers and sponsors some great articles to slam on boardroom tables going “You remember those guys I made us bet on a few years back? How about them apples!”. Our story will hopefully be of help for other start-ups in the gaming industry as well as in others when it comes to getting financial aid and other forms of support until they too have had a chance to prove themselves.
To our dedicated staff the best recognition came earlier this year with the “Studio of the Year” award from the Swedish Games Industry that came with the motivation “Through hard work and high quality productions, they have grown from a small and unknown Studio to a large and proven one, all by themselves.”
PSM: You started out by doing costumes, DLC and the home space for PlayStation 3. How did the collaboration start and how did it lead up to you developing LittleBigPlanet Vita?
Tarsier Studios: As we were working on Rag Doll Kung Fu™: Fists of Plastic taking Mark Healey’s much appreciated PC game to PlayStation™Network in a completely new re-vamped version for the PlayStation audience we got in contact with him and the rest of Media Molecule.
As he liked what we were doing with Rag Doll and everyone appreciated the art style and quality of the visuals in the game we soon got an invitation to help out with art assets for LittleBigPlanet.
A few years later after getting more and more involved in the franchise a late evening call came through from SCEE XDev with the news that Mm wanted to pursue new ventures and that they as well as SCEE wanted the ones with the best understanding of the LBP Universe and brand to take over the reins. And as it were, it turned out to be us.
PSM: Was there anything from the development of ‘Rag Doll Kung Fu: Fists of Plastic‘ that had any impact on LittleBigPlanet Vita in terms of things you have learned?
Tarsier Studios: As RagDoll was our first game we shipped as a studio the knowledge of the different aspects of game development, the different phases during the production cycle, risks etc. were all things many of us brought with us into the development. But, the scopes of the games were extremely different, the platforms were different, many of the staff were new and had to learn some of the hard-earned first -timer lessons for themselves and even though I’d like to say that the rest of us had learnt from our lessons of RagDoll, we did still fall into a couple of familiar traps this time as well due to stress, pressure and ambition. All our previous work with the LittleBigPlanet franchise as well as that of our partners, subcontractors and last but not least the work of the community would however prove tremendous assets in the development of LittleBigPlanet™ PS VITA™.
PSM: How is the development divided between you and the UK studio Double Eleven Limited?
Tarsier Studios: We are responsible for the whole experience. Everything you see, hear and play in the game is designed and created by Tarsier. Double 11 are in charge of developing the technology to make all of this run on the PlayStation® Vita, which they have done masterfully!
PSM: LittleBigPlanet is a huge franchise, with huge expectations from the community. In what ways do you interact with the community and what have you learnt so far from the Beta?
Tarsier Studios: You are right, the community is one of the most important aspects of any LBP game. So we try to make it as easy as possible for them to reach us. Fans can always get in touch with us through e-mail or via Twitter (@TarsierStudios) and we will respond as soon as we can. Our Community Coordinator is visiting all major LBP fansites daily to check if there are any issues we need to take care of and to see what the community would like to see in LBP Vita in the future.
From our perspective, the Beta was a great success. We got a lot of valuable feedback and it was just amazing to see all the unique creations made by the community, mere days after the Beta started! It took less than four weeks for the community to create over 1000 levels! We really can’t wait to see what they will build once they have the full game in their hands.
PSM: Third party developers were having a difficult time getting to know the PlayStation 3 technology. Having experience on both platforms, how is the PlayStation Vita to work with?
Tarsier Studios: Most of the technical side of the game was handled by our co-developer, Double 11. The fact they have managed to squeeze the whole PS3 experience plus a whole lot more onto the PS Vita is a massive achievement and shows how powerful and flexible the platform is. From a design and art point of view, designing for a handheld definitely is different. With the smaller screen you have to pay more attention to details like shapes, camera zoom in levels, as well as the average play time and suchlike. We use the same tools to create levels as the ones that are available in the game, so that of course is also a difference from creating on the PlayStation® 3.
LittleBigPlanet Vita will see the light of day in Europe on September 19th and in North America on September 25th and we can’t wait to put our grubby hands on it!