At GDC today, Mark Healy and Alex Evans, part of the core team behind Sony’s new LittleBigPlanet, talked about how their company, Media Molecule, became such a prominent Sony partner. They also said why the company chose to go with the PS3...
ImageEvans and Healy likened the founding of Media Molecule to “falling into an abyss.”
But it’s been a pretty impressive fall so far. The small studio today revealed its first project, the unique-looking LittleBigPlanet, during Phil Harrison’s keynote at GDC this week. That’s pretty good placement on Sony’s upcoming game lineup.
Media Molecule started in January 2006 with the idea to make the “most ambitious, fun, off-its-head game that we could [think of]--and most importantly, to get someone else to pay for it,” Healy laughed.
“The skill that you need as a lead designer isn’t coming up with ideas… it’s communicating those ideas to people."
The chance to bring that game to reality came when the company found out that it had the opportunity to meet with Sony—with a week’s time to prepare. Dave Smith, the other core team member of Media Molecule, put together a relatively crude (yet still very impressive) prototype that would eventually become LittleBigPlanet. Sony was “amazing” in its reception of the game, said Evans.
That relationship with Sony seems pretty tight-knit, so don’t expect the small team to bring its debut game to any other platforms any time soon. Evans said that Media Molecule went single platform “very consciously” because “it’s hard doing games anyway, and going cross-platform was more than I wanted to think about,” he explained.
They picked the PS3 because of the Cell’s complexity and the challenge that it presented. “Sticking those constraints on ourselves allowed us to focus,” he claimed.
The trials of starting a business
Healy is the brains behind Rag Doll Kung Fu, the indie hit that he designed in his spare time when he worked at Lionhead. Wanting to move onto something new, he left the security of a larger company and the leadership of Lionhead founder Peter Molyneux. He found that life at the head of a business was much different than putting on headphones and focusing on being an artist. Now he had to deal with team conflicts and fire alarms, for example.
Evans and Healy said that there are four things that got them through the first year of Media Molecule:
Have a great production staff. “Peter [Molyneux] was like a guru to us,” but there wasn’t anyone to lead them but themselves this time around. A competent production staff was key to success.
Total honesty and openness with the publisher. “We’re going to treat this [deal with Sony] like a partnership… We just told them absolutely everything… and we still do,” Evans said.
“We didn’t want this attitude of 'them and us'... so when anything goes wrong, we can blame them, basically,” Healy joked.
Concepting. “This is the biggest thing for us,” Evans said. Visuals are important. Put stuff on the screen, Evans insisted.
Communication. “It wasn’t all rosy in the land of Media Molecule. We were really bad communicators initially,” Evans said.
“The skill that you need as a lead designer isn’t coming up with ideas… it’s communicating those ideas to people,” said Healy.
All of these things culminate into milestones that should be clearly and openly communicated with your publisher, said Evans.
If a team works well together, the hardships are worth it, said Healy. “The joy that comes from a plan coming together and having a team love the thing that they’re working on is very rewarding. That far outweighs the nightmares” of game development.
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