Media Molecule's DIY Spirit
Play. Create. Share.
Three verbs made up the entirely of Media Molecule's succinct marketing pitch for the wildly successful LittleBigPlanet franchise upon its 2007 E3 debut. DIY culture at the the time was accessible only to the ardent PC mod community, but one cheerful game promised to expand its reach to the console market.
LittleBigPlanet largely fulfilled its promise, with over 8 million user created levels now available across its three main installments, but expressed its pitch through a distinctive choice. You could play a level, or you could make one.
For me, the choice was easy every time: play. Sure, I dabbled in the create mode, but if I really wanted to make a game I fired up Unity over LittleBigPlanet's clunky DualShock controlled editor, which grew increasingly complex with each installment. 8 million is undoubtedly a staggering number of levels, but I had a hard time finding many that did more than pay homage to other franchises. Media Molecule's levels were always the best, and always the ones that brought me back.
Although I mostly appreciated just the first part of the sales pitch, the single player mode contained a fair share of nods to the game's DIY spirit. Levels were sewn together with real world objects, rather than the abstract platforms usually found in the genre. I rode skateboards, pulled cloth, and rolled basketballs while progressing through its always inventive stages. The world felt beautifully hand crafted, but not by me.
Enter Tearaway, Media Molecule's first original property since LittleBigPlanet's breakout success. Tearaway never presents play and creation as competing elements, but as natural companions (sharing is presented as a tertiary feature). The single player story is the sole game mode, but while its world belongs to Media Molecule, this time its expression belongs to you.
I retrieve a pumpkin to complete a scarecrow, but am told that without a face he simply isn't scary enough. So I make one. I draw the eyes on white paper, the pupils on black, cut them out, stick them together, and slap them on the pumpkin. Later I am asked to draw a snowflake, but feeling creative and a little rebellious, I draw a duck instead. The game doesn't mind, and I smile uncontrollably while watching hundreds and hundreds of ducks fall gently from the sky. While most in-game editors focus on precision and detail (LittleBigPlanet's included), Tearaway's roots are much more analog. I am a kid playing with crayons again, and with each new creation, the world is a little more my own.
As I litter the papercraft levels with mustached pigs and terrible recreations of my alma mater's logo, I recognize that Tearaway is in fact the truest realization of its developer's original ambitions. Media Molecule delivers a finely crafted adventure, while fully embracing the spirit of DIY by inviting the player to freely affect its style. The studio no longer asks you to create a game from scratch, but to leave a distinctive mark on their own. You might even feel compelled to share it, too.