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GAME REVIEW: PlayStation hands game development to users

"LittleBigPlanet"

Format: PlayStation 3

Style: 1 to 4-player action (up to 4-player via PlayStation Network)

Publisher: Sony Computer Entertainment

Developer: Media Molecule

Release: Early 2008

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"LittleBigPlanet," Sony's biggest game announcement coming out of the recent Game Developers Conference, supports the company's renewed focus on its online community. The game comes courtesy of Media Molecule, a new company founded by the team that made indie hit "Ragdoll Kung Fu." In this colorful platforming game, users will create custom stages using a streamlined level editor and upload them to the PlayStation Network, where other users can play and rate them.

Players start out with a cutesy character (dubbed "sackboy" by the developers) and can browse through a simple interface to select objects to place in the environment. The editing menu is tethered to your character by a neon rope. After you decide on a size and shape, you can drop the item anywhere you like. In the demo at Sony's keynote at the Game Developers Conference, the developers produced a simple wooden block, attached a metal cog to the front of it, and began running atop the spinning gear with their character to show how the physics are instantly implemented. Players can also make stickers out of any image file on their PlayStation 3 hard drive and slap them on any surface, whether it be hard, soft, textured or even a flowing piece of cloth.

After demonstrating the creation system, Media Molecule played through a fully completed level with four players. The characters, which are also customizable, had a variety of costumes ranging from an Evil Knievel daredevil jumpsuit to a Chinese dragon headdress. In this garden-themed level, players had to work together to clear physics-based puzzles but also competed to collect the most yellow sponges. The motley crew navigated seesaws, clambered through a pile of burlap sacks, and grabbed onto a giant, spinning gear to fling themselves over a high wall. At one point, they came across a soccer ball too big to jump over. Here the developers demonstrated three different methods for getting past it. One character rolled an orange over and used it as an extra platform to jump up. Another character pushed the soccer ball forward, grabbed onto the side of it while it was moving, and used the momentum to fling himself over the top of it. The last sackboy used a similar, yet more difficult, tactic on a smaller orange to launch himself completely over the soccer ball. In the next area, they had to put on jetpacks to snap up a heavy shell and drop it onto a lever, which opened a door. The icing on the cake was when the four of them jumped onto one large skateboard and caught some big air off a steep ramp.

Players can publish created levels and keep track of comments left by other users, play counts and rankings. When you check out the levels other people are making, you can search content by user rankings, tag words and length of time the level has been posted. Users who like each other's work can also be team up on created stages if they choose.

Let your creative juices flow this fall when a demo of "LittleBigPlanet" appears on the PlayStation Network. The boxed retail version should go on sale in early 2008.

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