Media Molecule sets sights on new ground

Media Molecule are a development team relatively small in number but considerably vast in originality. They’ve gone from being a fairly unknown studio to one of the most admired within the industry and created arguably Sony’s biggest new IP, LittelBigPlanet. It’s already graced the PS3, twice, as well as the PSP and will soon be available on the PSVita when that itself is released. In between these big titles are the numerous DLC packs with another added Move support to LBP2, the name Media Molecule could easily be a prefix for name LittleBigPlanet.

A gambling man could be tempted into betting the next game from the Guilford based studio would be another LBP but director Siobhan Reddy has been quoted by Edge saying “We’re stepping away from LittleBigPlanet to focus on some new ideas,” at Gamelab 2011 in Barcelona recently. Being a huge fan of the create-em-up, the idea that the minds behind such a creative franchise are broadening their portfolio is great news. Media Molecule took the idea of a sandbox experience, mixed it with platformer and then furthered that concept in LBP2 by adding pretty much every genre imaginable into the game. Some of the levels were steeped in traditional gameplay mechanics but felt fresh nonetheless so it’s clear they understand what makes a game good, regardless of genre.

Another reason why Media Molecule’s move away from LittleBigPlanet is a good one stems from one of the most problematic issues in gaming; over saturation. With Sony claiming the star of LBP, the Sackboy, as a part-time mascot for the company, it wouldn’t have been surprising to see a multitude of spin-off games and needless titles dirtying up an awesome franchise. The get out clause of course is how LBP2 can be used to create any kind of game so even if MM were asked to make, say, a Sackboy kart racer, they kind of already have or at least given others the tools to do so themselves. Right now, Sony and MM are treating the franchise respectfully and allowing it some breathing space while they go off and spread the talent onto something new is pretty much just what this fan (both thumbs are pointing towards myself right now) wants to see.

Of course that’s not to say Media Molecule are abandoning LittleBigPlanet. There is still the aforementioned Move support DLC as well as some undoubtably more unannounced packs but it’s with great anticipation that I’ll await the reveal of the next Media Molecule game. I’m sure whenever they do it’ll be rightly or wrongly compared the LBP and even expected to live up to its genius but the jump from LBP1 to 2 was really quite substantial so who says the leap to their next game won’t be just as impressive?

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Sony E3 press conference 2011: My highlights

Sony’s press conference wasn’t particularly kind to those of us who live in the UK. Not because it didn’t mention much about Europe but because it was on so freaking late! To top it off things were running late so what should have started at 1am instead began almost twenty minutes later. Not a massive amount of time unless of course it’s 1am…

Anyway, onwards and upwards and Sony began proceedings with an official apology from Jack Tretton regarding the PSN downtime recently. They couldn’t exactly ignore it and despite mumblings within the community that they would do just that, Sony have proved they are a humble company after all and do value their image and development studios dearly. It was classy and well done, almost as much as the segway between negativity and positivity regarding PSN; start by apologising and end with “isn’t it awesome? Well it’s going to get more awesome too!” referring to the many video and music streaming services either on or coming to the PS3.

Naughty Dog made an appearance with a playable demo of Uncharted 3 to wow the audience though after seeing the new Tomb Raider game, I wasn’t as wowed. Don’t get me wrong, Uncharted 3 looks good, very good with all the usual Nathan Drake stylings that make for a fantastic third person action adventure but, and it could very well have been the live feed, the demo didn’t feel like it came on leaps and bounds from Uncharted 2. Then again, said game was really quite special so perhaps it doesn’t have to and perhaps my incredibly tired eyes saw things differently. Still, the action looks superb with the demo showing Drake sneaking his way around a ship, taking out guards and being chased by a huge wave of water that did look incredible. Naughty Dog have done wonders with their water physics it seems. Another must have for this holiday season? It’s definitely looking that way.

Again Sony pushed their commitment to 3D entertainment as hard as they could with almost every demo and trailer in 3D – for anyone in the audience with 3D glasses of course. But they realise that not everyone has a 3D capable TV or even wants to upgrade to one seeing as they can be a tad pricey. The solution? Produce a 24 inch PlayStation branded monitor and two pairs of glasses for $499 plus throw in a copy of Resistance 3 for good measure. That should sort it right?

To keep with the whole 3D love, Sony also announced God of War Origins, a 3D and HD remastered version of the PSP God of War games which, to be honest, doesn’t do a whole lot for me though it’s a series with legions of fans so I’m sure it’ll sell well. What did tickle my fancy was the Ico and Shadow of Colossus HD collection that will also be in 3D. Team Ico’s legendary games were meant to come out not long ago but were pushed back until later this year. The inclusion of 3D is probably why.

Ken Levine of BioShock fame took to the stage to show off another dazzling trailer for BioShock Infinite, a game not out until next year but already looking amazing. He went on to say how in the past, he’s not been too kind towards motion controls particularly Sony’s Move. However they’ve some how made him change his mind (cough huge wads of cash cough) and now he loves the device because it isn’t just about waggling a HD wand but so much more. Levine spoke of enhanced interactions with Elizabeth, the female hero of BioShock Infinite, by using the Move controller. What ever could that be?

What I found quite bizarre about Sony’s conference was how their next handheld is meant to be coming out later this year but it didn’t seem to be shown with the gravitas that a new system deserves. The official name is now PSVita and all I can think of is Ryvita, the tasty health food snack. I’m sure that will dissipate soon much like the giggles after hearing the name Wii for the first time. It also has a price of $249 for standard Wifi models and $299 for ones that are both wifi and 3G capable. No doubt Sony are making a considerable loss for such a relatively low price but they need to match the 3DS in order to compete. Graphics and processing power be damned, if the 3DS is having a hard time selling a $349-$400 PSVita will definitely struggle. Expect prices of £220 and £250 here in the UK.

One PSVita title that really looked good was LittleBigPlanet. A series which has now graced all current gen PS systems with each one adding a little more magic. The PSVita version does so with its touchscreen controls utilising all the tools from the PS3 in a smaller, maybe even easier to control, pocket port, making good of all the features PSVita has. Take pictures with the camera and instantly import them into the game is one example. Graphically it looks lovely but could well have been faked so I’m taking the footage with a pinch of salt but still, LittleBigPlanet on PSVita may just be a the one game you need to make the system make sense. And with touch controls, the kinds of levels and experiences created by the users are likely to be similar to bite-sized iPhone games, adding another feather to LBP‘s already downy cap.

A good show from Sony but I wasn’t particularly blown away by anything. A few odd choices were made and the delay was a little annoying though handing out multiple 3D glasses and getting everyone to their seats must have been a pain. Next up however is Nintendo this afternoon at 4:30pm BST which is the conference I’m most excited about. Not long now!

Welcome back to PSN. Have some old games

The PlayStation Network is slowly coming back online with individual territories being drip fed its features until soon, all this nasty hacking business will be a distant memory. Good for Sony, I’m glad to see them back online and more so the users and dedicated fans who have been deprived of games, content and the confidence that their private data is still private.

To make good, Sony announced details of a Welcome Back programme where users affected by the outage are to be given two out of five PS3 games and two out of four PSP ones. If you have both PS3 and PSP, you’ll be in able to download four games altogether. Nice huh? But what are the titles available? I speculated that it could go either way with the generosity from having relatively new games to ones that have been around for years. Sadly, we’ve been given the latter. European PSN users can choose from LittleBigPlanet (2008), inFamous (2009), Wipeout HD/Fury (2008), Ratchet and Clank: Quest for Booty (2008) and the newest game on the PS3 list, Dead Nation (2010). For the PSP, you have LittleBigPlanet (2009), Pursuit Force (2005!!), Killzone Liberation (2006) and ModNation PSP (2010).

On top of those good but mighty old games non PS Plus member get a free 30 trial whereas existing members will be given 60 days extra for free. Music Unlimited subscribers will have an extra 30 days subscription and Home users are to be treated somehow in the future but those details are missing right now. You have 30 days in order to claim the games and must have been an account holder on 20th April 2011.

But seriously? I know it sounds incredibly ungrateful but most of the games have been kicking around for a fair amount of time. They’re great if you’ve never played them though I’d guess the likelihood is that many members will do. Commenters on the European PlayStation Blog, where the news broke, voiced their displeasure at the list to which a Sony representative responded by saying Sony put a lot of effort into compiling a list of quality Blu-Ray games instead of just PSN titles and the average Metacritic rating for all in question is 84%. It’s really hard to offer something for everyone who owns an account he said referencing the 77 million figure which is known to be grossly inaccurate. But fair point, coming out of such a travesty which is bound to have cost Sony a great deal of money and offering anything like this is commendable on their part however when you have games that date back to 2005 it’s hard not to scoff at Sony. And this is not about getting free content any more it’s about feeling valued as a customer. Old games don’t make me feel valued. Do you?

Sorry your details were nicked, here are some free games

Sony are in a whole heap of trouble with PSN being down. A growing number of authorities are asking questions as to why it happened and how the public got so royally screwed by having their identities stolen. Luckily for them, no reports of those taken identities being used by the hackers (or associates of) has come to light but with another attack allegedly planned today, who knows what else they’ll take – that is to say if there’s anything actually left.

One of the promises from Sony upon the return of PSN are a lengthened subscription to PlayStation Plus for subscribers and a free month for those not signed to the discount service. Sony have just announced on top of that, they’ll be offering two free PS3 games from a list of five and two free PSP games from a list if four depending on whether you’re a PS3 or PSN user. The names of said lists were absent from the post on the European PS blog as was what Sony Japan and Sony America will be giving their regions. Most likely it’ll be the same deal just with different lists to choose from.

In all honesty I didn’t expect this level of generosity. So far Sony have fumbled through the whole hacking mess pointing fingers and being uncomfortably secretive over important details. But this is a positive move to win back support when there’s an awful amount of hate circling the company and a pretty cool one at that. Though to play devil’s advocate, not supplying the titles of the games we’ll be offered could suggest they’re not all that exciting or ones most gamers are likely to already own. History shows it could go either way with Sony’s freebies. When PlayStation Plus launched last year, a free copy of LittleBigPlanet came with it (in Europe), a game that was already nearly two years old. But when Double Fine released the delightful Stacking a few months ago, PS Plus members were given that free of charge too so brand new games can’t necessarily be excluded, nor can third party titles for that matter.

Pessimistically I’d say we’ll be shown a list of first party games of last year at best but the optimist in me thinks that both third and first party titles will be included. Ones that really aren’t that old either. Here’s hoping PSN comes back in the very near future so we can find out what exactly are on those lists and more importantly, delete all credit card details play online.

The next generation in portables

Big news! Sony have announced the PSP2 is in development! But then we already knew that since for months, information has leaked about its existence and features. Today, or last night in America, Sony held a press conference in Tokyo to officially reveal their successor to the ill-fated PSP and the rumours where right; Wifi and 3G connectivity, dual analog stick, OLED touchscreen, tilt controls, touch sensitive back, flash memory for games and two cameras – one on the front and the other on the back of a machine larger than its competition. For now, Sony are calling it the NGP or Next Generation Portable which fits amply with their marketing techniques of latter years. Remember when the PS3 was launching and they said the next generation doesn’t start until they say so? It’s a similar deal with the PSP2 whose specs are sounding like a considerable leap into the next generation. Sony are claiming it’s capable of producing PS3 quality games and before attendees at the conference could scoff at such claims, they showed it doing just that. Hideo Kojima proudly displayed Metal Gear Solid 4: Guns of the Patriots which used direct art assets from the PS3 game and looked almost as good. Backwards compatibility is included so original PSP and PS1 games are via download (probably have to buy them again then) and a whole host of Sony franchises will also be headed to the portable. Such as:

Uncharted
LittleBigPlanet
Resistance
Killzone
WipeOut
Hustle Kings
Hot Shot Golf

With third party support from the likes of Konami, Activision and Capcom including:

Metal Gear Solid 4
Lost Planet
Yakuza 4
Call Of Duty

The next generation in portables? Where have we heard that before? The Nintendo 3DS. So who will win, who’ll be the next king of portables? Nintendo, Sony? From the type of games shown by both parties it looks like they’re again going after different audiences with some overlap to keep things interesting. Nintendo still have the family gamer in their sights with more hardcore titles backing up those aimed at a wider market. With the Street Fighter IV and Resident Evil there remains Nintendogs + Cats and Pilotwings Resort. Deals with movie studios have so far been focused on family film though of course, other 3D-centric flicks will no doubt be coming.

From the list of games revealed by Sony, the PSP2 looks to be, like its predecessor, all about the traditional gamer with experiences potentially found on home consoles. That may not have worked too well for the original PSP but then the PSP2 has something gamers have been begging for; a second analog stick. With it, titles won’t only look like those on the PS3 but play like them too. I can’t see the touchscreen being used for a great deal of things when the way you hold the PSP2 seems designed for two hands either side of it but its inclusion means nothing gets left out of the second PSP and all options are open to developers.

What is a little troubling is the way games appear to be distributed. It sounds like they’ll be download only with Sony saying “NGP adopts a new game medium, a small flash memory based card, dedicated for NGP software titles. Taking advantage of the flash memory feature, this innovative card can store the full software titles plus add-on game content or the game save data directly on to the card.” The concern is what kind of marketplace this would create. Less deals and no preowned games is good news for publishers but not so much for the consumer. Who knows, we could be surprised yet and nothing has been confirmed on that side so no need to worry. Early reports are suggesting a battery life of around five hours max (as they are with the 3DS) but no price or date has been mentioned other than Winter in Japan. It’s great to see a handheld like this with such promise and one that looks to offer something different and complimentary to the others. Colour me interested!

UPDATE: More reports are coming in about the ‘new memory card’ feature of the NGP which suggests it’ll be more like the DS with cards sold in stores. The PlayStation Store will of course be present but hopefully won’t be the only way to obtain titles.

Not so little ad campaign

Media Molecule’s craft-em-up treat, LittleBigPlanet 2 is currently on top of the UK charts and Sony intend to keep it that way with a huge marketing campaign reports MCV. Running for two weeks, channel Five and its subsidiaries will continue showing ads for the game with a two month sponsorship deal alongside. This is certainly a different approach from the first game. Not only were the ads fairly confusing to consumers but they started well after LittleBigPlanet came out. Having some guy explain a level he created in quite a random fashion did little to explain the brilliance of LBP, leaving out a robust single player mode. The new ads are not only better constructed but began before LittleBigPlanet 2 was released, while the hype remained high and plentiful.

Add to this a LittleBigPlanet online hub that Sony are launching giving every level its own web page and allowing users to queue up worlds for download. Every level gets its own page? Damn, that’s a lot of pages considering there’s about 3 million or so! The European PlayStation Blog and YouTube will host upcoming competitions, making sure LittleBigPlanet 2 stays in the limelight virally and competitively. Sony’s Marlene Fitzsimmons said LittleBigPlanet was and continues to be a massive success with the community consuming paid-for and free downloadable content. We anticipate the sequel to build on this past success and be bigger than ever.” With a superior marketing strategy, advanced level creation and improved story mode, I’m betting it will be.

Review: ilomilo (XBLA)

UPDATE: This review has been updated with purchase information to coincide with ilomilo‘s launch today.

Now then, what can be said about ilomilo? Breaking it down to its purest form, the game is a puzzle-platformer of sorts with fantastic graphics. Expanding on such simplicities, ilomilo is a divine creation filled with the kind of quirky madness and creativity that is sorely missing on the Xbox 360 of late. I won’t hide my shameless admiration for this game nor will I cover the few flaws if does contain but in this review, I’ll do my best to explain just why I think ilomilo is a wonderful triumph.

Read on!
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