The Queen of Mirth and Magic
Interview conducted by MrsSpookyBuz
Many creators spend most of their time frantically juggling between their 'real lives' and LBP. xkappax is certainly no exception. She's a cartoonist, an animator, a puppet maker, an embroiderer, a jewelry maker, and an all-round pet-loving, story-telling, glitch-discovering guru! So how and when does she find time to play, create and share? Read on...
The Ghost is the key at the beginning of xkappax's
brilliant "The Crystal Cave in Autumn".
What video games did you enjoy playing before LBP was released?
Cheetahmen II and Big Rigs Over The Road Racing FTW! My favorite part about Big Rigs is that your speed increases exponentially if you drive backwards! Really adds to the gameplay! And the only game that offers better collision detection is ---
Sorry… should I be serious? I’ll be serious. I promise.
I’ve been playing video games since I was about four years old (started with an Atari 2600 in 1982). Growing up, I always tried to play games that fostered my creativity. When a game let you name a character or create something, ANYTHING, I jumped at the opportunity. Before LBP, I dabbled with Spore Creature Creator, played through Drawn to Life, and even tried to make an RPG several years ago with RPG Maker. All my life I’ve been making, creating, naming characters and I’ve never really had the proper venue (until now) to bring those creations to life.
I also used to play a whole lot of Dance Dance Revolution until a pretty bad rib injury forced me to give it up.
In addition to the stuff listed above, I really like Japanese-style RPGs (especially ones where you can name your characters), strategy games like Disgaea, Phantom Brave, and Makai Kingdom, Katamari, Phoenix Wright, Rock Band and many, many retro games (Atari, SNES and NES mainly).
My favorite game of all time, though, is Final Fantasy IV. I probably have logged more hours on that game than any other, including LBP!
What was the first full level you ever built? And what was it like?
I think it’s important to note, that as far as LBP goes, I don’t really work alone. My husband, Catiers, has made every level with me, with the exception of “What’s The Matter”, so if you see me saying “we” throughout, I don’t have multiple personalities, I’m just referring to the create team of xkappax and Catiers.
While Centralia – A Ghost Story was our first full level, published under my husband’s PSN, Catiers, there was another level that came before that, but I wouldn’t call it a “full level”, as it was created in less than two hours and took about one minute to complete.
This “creative masterpiece” was made by Catiers, VMethos and myself (all serious creators) and it was called Rocket Yr Sacks Off. It featured a rocket car glued to a skateboard which traveled down a ramp that was COVERED in my trademark ghosts. That’s actually the level those ghosts came from.
Oh, and did I mention that the skateboard jumped over a pit of Jigglypuffs made out of floaty material on wheels, and if you landed on Dratini’s nose to get the points that were glued to it, the nose fell off?
The point of the level was actually to get past the goal post, where very much more rocket powered fun awaited you.
Don’t believe me? Have a look on youtube, username albonshasta, if you’d like to see Rocket Yr Sacks Off in all of it’s… er… glory?
Rocket Yr Sacks Off was never published, though, nor was it complete, so Centralia – A Ghost Story was really our first proper level. It was an interesting experience building that level. We had gotten LBP more than a week before it’s initial release, because a certain online retailer apparently didn't care about the recall. It was quite nice having the game early, but the servers weren't online until the following week, so we had absolutely no online levels to reference. My husband and I tried to create an experience that was as close to the Media Molecule levels as possible. Truth told, it started out as a haunted house level. My husband couldn’t think of what to put after the haunted house, and I thought of a small ghost town in Pennsylvania called Centralia. A mine fire started in the mines below that town and caused everyone to have to be evacuated. Even though the area is very dangerous, a few stragglers still live there today for some unknown reason. I’ve never been there personally, but I’ve seen pictures, and it’s surreal. There are just abandoned buildings everywhere and smoke rising from the still flaming mine. I told my husband the idea and he got to building the mine section. We would work in shifts. He would make a mechanic, and then go in the other room and play Gears of War 2 or some other game. I would pick up where he left off and decorate the level. When I couldn’t go any farther, I would hand it back to him. We finished two weeks later and published Centralia – A Ghost Story. ^_^
What levels have you published to date?
In order, they are:
Centralia – A Ghost Story (November, 200
The Fall of Winter (Late November, 200
What’s The Matter (December, 200
The Crystal Cave in Autumn (February, 2009)
7 Days (May, 2009)
Which of these is your own favourite? And why?
I don’t think it’s any surprise to anyone when I say that The Crystal Cave in Autumn is my favorite.
Up until I started The Crystal Cave, the only levels I had published under my psn were two joke levels. After an extremely bad review of The Fall of Winter, I came to despise that level, and I wanted to prove to myself that I could replicate the feeling of Centralia in a sort of sequel. And so, the Crystal Cave in Autumn was born.
I think Crystal Cave is the only level of mine that I can play over and over again without getting bored. I tried to fill it with all the things that make me happy, and I think that is a huge part of my love affair with it! It’s pretty much a complete representation of everything I love – in level form! If you ever want to know all about me and only have ten minutes or so, go play that level. :P
Are there any other creators who inspire you?
Two words. H4H and Trophy. Oh, wait. You want CREATORS that inspire me. Right then.
I personally find myself more inspired by particular levels rather than specific creators.
In the beginning, I drew my inspiration from the media molecule levels because I didn’t have much else to go by. When all the beta levels were wiped off of cool levels, I started to find some gems out there. I think the level that inspired me more than anything is Marynor’s Tomb of Light, though. I had played that level right before making the Crystal Cave, and it changed the way I look at things in the game and forced me to push my lighting visuals harder and harder.
For my goofier levels, I am inspired by levels that one might consider “bad”. Sponge, dark matter, rocket cheetahs a plenty. I am going to say this out loud now for the first time, so don’t think any less of me: I LOVE THAT STUFF! Sponge Sackpeople crying out “Bubble Cheese!”? Untitled levels filled with rocket powered monstrosities?! BRING IT ON! Everything in 7 Days was based on something that HardSync, GruntosUK, Catiers and myself actually encountered in a level!. 7 Days could not have been made without drawing on the inspiration of levels like that. ^_^
And on the subject of my goofier levels, I don’t think any levels inspired me more than Hero Adventure by DoodleBats and The Crazy World of Mr. Chutes by Pirate-Hat. These levels are both hilarious for very different reasons. I see a lot of polished levels, but levels like this are rare. Both of these levels do not take themselves seriously at all, and I love that!
Also, I can’t really talk about this too much, but I worked with several creators in online create. I learned and was inspired by each and every one of them. You guys know who you are, so give yourselves a pat on the back!
What’s the worst thing that’s happened while creating?
In-game bug? Surely you jest! The programming in LittleBigPlanet is impeccable and completely bug fr---
Hang on, my whole level just unglued and disappeared. Oh great. Now all of my railing metal has become floaty for some reason. And now my profile’s erased itself.
What were we talking about again? Oh yeah. Things breaking. ^_^
Actually, I’ve been lucky so far. (knocks on wood) The worst thing that ever happened was that 2 hours before the Crystal Cave was ready to be published, I heard that awful breaking sound. I couldn’t find anything wrong, so I continued working on the level. When I went into play mode, the entire first part of the level had fallen. It broke everything, including my husband’s mine cart ride which he worked tirelessly on. This is the part where my obsessive compulsive disorder comes in handy, because 2 hours previous, I had published a locked version of the level. We lost two hours of work, but it could have been a lot worse.
What’s your pet hate in LBP?
I don’t hate pets, I love them and I’ve got tons of them!!! There’s Shady and Ghost, my cats, Fisch the Fish, Helvetica the Betta…
Oh, wait. Not that kind of pet.
There are a lot of little things that bother me about the game. Wobble Bolts are up there for me. They never, ever work correctly no matter what I do. I also hate that those rubber fish break the moment you even breathe on them.
The thing I hate the most doesn’t even have to do with creating, however. My biggest pet peeve – when I am creating or playing online levels and someone tries to join me continuously after being politely told that I am unable to play. I swear I’m not a mean person, but I do find spamming my psn rather rude.
If you worked for Media Molecule, what tool/object/material would you have liked to see developed?
1. A crystal material. I really don’t like that you can see the bottom of the crystal earrings when you place them down, and glass just doesn’t quite do it for me when making crystals.
2. Some sort of proper glowing material, similar to the secret lava material!
3. That secret green material from the islands template. I want that thing in my pop-it as a material and not just a community object!! That has got to be my favorite material for making grass, EVER.
4. Some sort of water material to fill small spaces. I’ve never liked making water out of glass.
5. An option to hide that ugly green dissolve material and dark matter.
6. This isn’t a tool, but I’d definitely like to see more emotions for Sackboy! Kind of like in Spore Creature Creator!
7. And finally - MORE ROCKET ANIMALS. Sure, the Cheetah is great, but let’s shoot for a rocket powered chicken in LBP2, shall we?
Any tips for new creators?
Yeah. Don’t do it! Run, don’t walk, away!
lol. Sorry. I’ll be good.
The biggest tip I can give anyone is that LBP is NOT serious business. I find myself getting stressed out to the point where I almost make myself sick over creating. I find myself doing my absolute best when I let myself go and just have fun, though. LBP is a fun game, and if creating isn’t fun for you, stop doing it immediately. That’s probably the soundest advice I can give. Well, that and: The Corner Editor is the BEST THING EVER. Use it.
Humour, fun and great gameplay await you
in xkappax's "What's the Matter?"
You are an established artist, and a creative guru! How much does your work background help you with your creations?
I think it helps tremendously. I don’t know that I could do the things I do if I didn’t know how to draw or write stories. That’s pretty much all I’ve got going for me.
On the other side of the coin, LBP has also made me better at my creative endeavors. Being forced to build things that obey physics has definitely improved the way I look at the world, and the things that I draw. I know that sounds silly, but it’s the absolute truth!
Before Online Create, you were involved in a collaboration with your 7 Days level. What was the experience like?
If I could tag the experience of making a level under lock and key with 4 people, I would definitely tag it as “Frustrating”, “Insane”, and “How is this ever going to work!??!!! what was I thinking” … However, although 7 days was quite an insane experience, I’d definitely tag the experience “Hoists”, because it was also an extremely fun and wild ride, and I’d do it again in a heartbeat.
It was born from Hardsync, GruntosUK, Catiers and I playing some hilarious sponge n’ dark matter cheetah levels. One Saturday morning, Grant and I were playing a level together and he said “We should totally make a level together” to which I replied “Let’s do it”. Since there was no online create, we organized the whole thing on Facebook. I wrote a story and we started coming up with stereotypical mechanics that we’d seen in those sort of levels. You know the ones I mean.
It took two months to do the level the way we did. We pretty much put it under lock and key and passed it to each other as locked and copyable. Sometimes it would just NOT get locked for no good reason. Sometimes it would be locked and copyable, but my key wouldn’t work. It was an absolute total mess. The Facebook method was really great though, because GruntosUK, HardSync and I had a 3 way conversation set up, so if I said “AAAAH! I MADE THE LEVEL FALL APART! HELP!” both of them would see that and see what they could do to help.
Even though this can be considered a very hard way to make a level, it was pretty much the only way. I think the thing we had going for us, though, was that Catiers and I are in America, GruntosUK and Hardsync are in England. They were able to work on it when I was at work, I was able to work when they were in bed. That was when I learned that I really don’t ever want to make a level alone again. Working with other people is just so much better, because if you find a team that is balanced, you can play on each team member’s strengths and get the very most out of the level editor. I seriously couldn’t have asked for a better team to work on that level with. It’s the only time I’ve ever had a level on page 1 of Cool Levels, and I could not have done it alone! ^_^
Humour doesn't always translate very well in LBP, but some of your levels are wonderfully hilarious. How do you do it?
My levels? Funny? That’s the most offensive thing I’ve ever heard. I mean, COME ON! Everyone knows that the Rocket Cheetah in 7 Days is an allegory for the atomic bomb!
I couldn’t even get through typing that without laughing. Yes, my levels are considered to be funny, and I thank you profusely for the really kind complement about the humor. I actually work very hard at it, believe it or not! To get the jokes to be what they are, I actually study comedy. I watch a lot of comedy movies and television shows. I also read a lot of silly Manga, like Dr. Slump and Ranma ½. When I am watching or reading these things, I study the jokes. I ask myself “why is this funny?” and then proceed to pick the joke apart until I understand why.
My main comedic inspirations are This is Spinal Tap, which I believe to be the perfect comedy, The Jerk, The Pink Panther movies (the peter sellers ones), Help! (the Beatles movie), The older seasons of the Simpsons and The Office (both versions). It also helps to have the friends that I have (Especially Vmethos, Catiers, and BarnabyJonez). They’re hilarious. We bounce ideas off of one another and if anything is particularly funny, I write it down for use at a later date.
You earned a well-deserved LBP Crown - was it a curse or a blessing for you?
Yeah, it was awesome! Box Ghost and I danced on a stage to celebrate! And then, hours later, I woke up and found out it was all a dream and that the dastardly Parasoldier had actually won the crown and not me! Curse you, PARASOLDIER! (shakes fist)
Sorry, Kitsune got hold of the keyboard. Ahem.
Right. The crown. It was, for the most part, a blessing, but not in the way you’d think. I’ve been struggling for a long time as an artist/animator. It’s frustrating, as many of you level creators know, when you make something and no one cares about it, even though you’ve poured your heart into it. That’s how I was about my animations and even more importantly, my comics. The animations had about 24 views on youtube. My comic website was hardly ever visited. Meanwhile, some of my animations took 6 months to make. When I made that crown animation, I didn’t quite expect what happened to happen. I had a feeling after a few people told me to send it to mm, that it might get noticed, but did I know that it would get on the playstation blog? Heck no! And I certainly never expected it to get more than like 200 views. As I’m writing this, the kitsune crown animation has 15,568 views. I couldn’t have seen that coming in a million years. People are watching my animations and reading my comics, and that, more than the crown itself, truly IS a blessing. I guess you could say, in the words of Kitsune, “I’m a Happy Gadder”.
The only downside to the crown: An inbox filled with messages like this: Hi, friend me so you can account share yr crown with me and then I can has crown too!!!! Kthxbye!
Crystal Cave in Autumn is one of the most brilliantly balanced levels. Did the level turn out the way you planned?
Planned? What’s that? lol.
Saying that level is balanced is quite a compliment, considering I don’t plan anything. I actually think that’s my biggest weakness. My levels are all just stream of consciousness. Anything that turns out good is probably because of Larry or just a happy accident, and that is the absolute truth. I start slapping down materials and see where it goes. My husband’s mind is much more analytical, and this drives him nuts. Centralia was planned, Crystal Cave was not.
It was derived from a line in a song called Crashing Down by Soul Asylum, where the singer says “ridin’ on an all night train through the crystal cave. Where the moonlight shines, prepare for a brighter day”
I started the Crystal Cave in Autumn on a snowy day in December when I was bored and very much bitten by the creative bug! I made the beginning and told my husband that it would still follow our original plan for our FIRST Crystal Cave level (the sunset caverns in autumn) which we had scrapped due to thermo issues.
The concept was simple enough: Travel through the colors of the rainbow until you reach the heart of the crystal cave.
I then went on to tell my husband I wanted a water section, Kappas, snakes you swing on, a mine cart ride, a skulldozer-esque chase, an autumn area, a cat, ghosts, a crazy vehicle ride, and a part where you fell down, got knocked out from the fall and then woke up in the heart of the crystal cave. Oh yeah, and a house. Gotta have a house.
That was the part where he told me I was out of my mind and that those things would never fit together in a level, nor did he know how to achieve half of that stuff, nor would it fit in the restraints of the thermometer.
I would stand there in front of the television and point to things and tell him where I was going to put the various areas. He would make outlines of the slope of the land and I would come in and draw the land masses, backgrounds, creatures, etc. He would come back and make the mechanics. I personally think the best thing he’s ever made is in that level. That mine cart ride is still one of the best I’ve played, and he really just slapped down railing and it worked. It was amazing! Being an electrical engineer, he’s got a really good eye for mechanics and making things work quickly and efficiently.
I think a big part of why that level seems as balanced as it is, too, is the fact that we playtest the living bejeepers out of a level. We gauge difficulty, and if something seems to hard, we just keep tweaking the heck out of it. We also try to break everything. Then we call our friend VMethos, and he and my husband then try to break things with two people, three people, four people. If there's an area in the level where we feel you might be able to break out and get outside of the bounds of the level, we throw a secret there for people who like to TRY to break levels. ^_^ We also play like we've never touched a video game before. We jump at things that shouldn't be jumped at, get stuck in things that no one in their right mind should get stuck in. I'm sure the Crystal Cave is not perfect as far as that goes, but we really try as hard as we can to make it as airtight as possible. You still can totally break those stupid fish right before the waterfall section, though. That's not a mistake, though. It's a... uh... feature. Yeah.
Anyway, back to the original question. No, the level wasn’t planned out, but yes, it came out EXACTLY how I wanted it. I was able to fit every single thing in there that I wanted to. My switch-work looks like an explosion and the thermometers are completely maxed, but it’s the only level of mine where can say that I am 100% happy with the final product.
And finally, if you didn't have LBP, what would you do with your spare time?
I’d probably look into getting some super powers. There’s a nuclear power plant not far from here, I figure that’d be enough radioactivity to give me some sort of ability. I’d probably call myself The Box Ghost or something. Y’know, wear a box on my head and go around and probably fight crime or get kittens out of trees. Maybe I'd haunt some houses. Stuff like that.
Actually, the power plant isn't as close as I thought and I don’t really like to drive, so instead, I’d probably just write my comics and animate. Also, I’d most likely make puppets and stuffed animals, and I would definitely still play video games. And of course, I would swim, walk, go bike riding, and spend time with my two cats. But heck, I do all those things now on top of LBP, and that’s why I DON’T have any spare time!
Rocket-powered cheetah alert! "7 Days" is a wonderfully
zany level which pokes fun at all things 'not good'!
xkappax has a reputation renowned on LBPC for her warmth and friendliness. I totally concur. Her creative talent yet modest demeanor is a breath of fresh air, and her sharp wit and sense of fun belies her artistic skills. I've been familiar with her superb Crystal Cave in Autumn level for a long time, but only on repeat plays of her other offerings did I completely understand how much great gameplay and laugh-out-loud humour were contained within. Also deserving of a mention is her outstanding contribution to the LBP community - she is a real gem. If you're unfamiliar with xkappax's levels, I have no hesitation in recommending them. But do remember, you're in the company of 'royalty', so don't forget to bow or curtsey!