Page last updated at 08:45 GMT, Friday, 25 July 2008 09:45 UK

Media Molecule hits little big time

By Darren Waters
Technology editor, BBC News


Sony has very high hopes for LittleBigPlanet

Game developer Media Molecule have gone from promising start-up to one of the pillars of the PlayStation empire in two years - and all before ever releasing a game.

Its first blockbuster title, LittleBigPlanet, has become the poster child of the PlayStation 3, and Sony is pinning its hopes on the game becoming a breakthrough hit for the console when it is released in October - attracting hard core gamers and more casual players.

The expectations for the game are huge, something of which Media Molecule's co-founder Alex Evans is all too aware.

He has had to develop a one of the biggest games of 2008, while at the same time building a game studio from scratch.

"I code by night and manage by day," he explained to BBC News.

Despite the seeming inexperience of the team, the founding members are veterans of Peter Molyneux's Lionhead studio, with more than 25 years of games industry experience.

The team first found fame when founding members Mark Healey and Alex Evans developed Rag Doll Kung Fu in their own time while at Lionhead.

LittleBigPlanet lets PS3 owners make their own games from scratch

The game, with its emphasis on simplicity and character, became a calling card which got them through the door to meet with Sony, which immediately threw its backing behind the project.

Sony is certainly taking Media Molecule and the game itself very seriously. Alex Evans was invited on to the stage at E3 in Los Angeles with Sony Computer Entertainment America boss Jack Tretton to use the game as a backdrop for a media presentation.

It certainly signalled Sony's ambitions for the game, which is being developed by 27 people in Guildford.

"I have no idea," says Mr Evans, when asked how Media Molecule had become an overnight sensation in the games industry.

"It has been a lot of hard work and support from Sony. When we first announced the game two years ago the reaction was so incredible.

"That support was what drove us forward. Sony really got behind it and gave us lots of opportunities to really show the game off.

"That's what has really motivated us to work through the night, on Saturdays and Sundays."

So what is LittleBigPlanet?

"It is to gaming what YouTube is to video," explains Mr Evans.

"It's a platform game that anyone can play. You might get into it playing with your friends, your kid, your family but then every level is inspiration for you to be able to create."

Everything that can be seen in LittleBigPlanet can also be created by gamers - from textures, characters, to objects and levels. And these creations can be shared with other gamers around the world.

"It's a game about making games," says Mr Evans.

LittleBigPlanet is Media Molecule's first major release

Media Molecule is hoping to exploit the user generated content phenomenon that has enveloped the web in recent years, with the increasing ubiquity of digital tools to create video, music or write.

Giving tools to gamers is not a new idea - it has been done before but the simplicity has not always been there.

Media Molecule want to replace complex in-game editors and complicated screens in favour of one-button menus.

Mr Evans says: "A lot of other games have tried user generated content and it tends to be for a very geeky minority.

"In LittleBigPlanet rich textures are just one button press away. You can literally just draw out a shape and then add in the texture, be it wood, fabric, or anything else.

"We don't want the barrier to entry to be high at all."

Gamers can also import images using a PlayStation Eye camera.

The aim is to create a vibrant community around gaming, playing, creating and sharing.

"It's about the carrot - we want to reward people so that the good content bubbles up.

"You don't have to just create; you can contribute by recommending new levels."

Mr Evans adds: "We don't quite know what the game is going to be until we release it to the community."

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