Interview conducted by amazingflyingpoo
There are many different types of creations in the world of LittleBigPlanet. There's grand-scale abstract art, gritty industrial machinery, cartoony landscapes, and somber gothic architecture, just to name a few. Creators are often quite easily identified by the types of things they create; most people tend to settle into one, maybe two comfortable styles and stick with them level after level. A few creators, however, just aren't satisfied with fitting into a pre-defined mold. They reject conformity and have the courage to try anything. They are daring, adventurous, and they surprise and excite the community with every new level they publish.
SalieriAAX is not one of those creators.
That's right. When you get down to the details, Salieri is actually quite predictable. For starters, every level of his is different from the one before it. So, if you're not sure what he's going to publish next, well, you can bet it won't be anything like what he's already put on the Community Moon. Additionally, every one of Salieri's creations contains an abundant amount of something called "quality". His levels reek of it in fact, and it's just no surprise when it shows up yet again in something he's made. Finally, and most annoyingly, Salieri's levels simply never fail to impress. Where's the thrill in that?
Let's meet one of LittleBigPlanet's most unsurprising creators and find out what makes him so... consistent.
Bubble, bubble, toil and... condiments?
All right, this one isn’t really a question, but if you would be so kind, please list the levels you’ve published to date and any statistics you’d like to share with us, i.e. plays, hearts, how many rocket animals per level, etc. Whatever you feel like sharing.
Colossal Calamity – Plays: 4076; Hearts: 434. My first level, and largely inspired by “Shadow of the Colossus” and my obsession at the time with playing about with the in-game mechanics and physics. I know you thought you were joking but this level actually has a rocket animal in it.
STAR WARS: TIE in the Sky – Plays: 16181; Hearts: 2328. This level started off as a little demo of a flying machine I had built based on a TIE fighter from Star Wars and snowballed uncontrollably from there. It won a ‘Sacky’ from Sony for Greatest Artistic Achievement.
Curses! – Plays: 7748; Hearts: 1268. Curses! is a dialogue-heavy adventure type level set in a crumbling castle with an assortment of eccentric skeletons as its cast. I was inspired by classic point-and-click adventures and most of the work went in to creating interesting and unique looking characters. Most people may not know that rather than using lots of different logic for this level, 90% of it is based around a block of glass sitting on top of a tower of dissolve that keeps track of the story context and stops the screen getting cluttered up with old dialogue bubbles.
Botafumeiro – Plays: 1345; Hearts: 146. An entry for the survival challenge sticker competition, and eventual winner of said sticker. It’s based on a real thing in Sanitago de Compostela. I put a lot of work into the visuals and, as anyone who has played it can probably tell you, very little work into the gameplay.
Sprocket Town – Plays: 2022; Hearts: 390. This is a level based on Victorian silhouette art with a fairly heavy steampunk influence with a few vehicles thrown-in. Mostly a sight-seeing exercise. An interesting thing about this level is that I had no idea when I built it that silhouette levels are a kind of whole sub-genre on PS3.
Crisis in Camelot – Plays: 53; Hearts: 17. Not many people will have any idea that this level was made largely thanks to a sudden passion for an extremely geeky board-game called “Shadows over Camelot”, which coincided nicely with Cambridge releasing the King Arthur DLC. I based the visual style quite literally on what was provided in the pack (which may or may not have been a cynical bid for Cambridge to feature it).
Now, tell me... of these levels, which is your favorite? And why?
This is a tough one. I see that jeffcu28 joked about how very easy he found this question – well I expect he’d make a terrible father. Me? I try to love all of my children the same. It’s very hard to say as I’ve changed styles a lot with each level. I’d say that Sprocket Town is the level I’m most satisfied with in terms of the fact that it’s more or less exactly what I wanted it to be, but my actual favourite is probably Curses! because it’s most like the level that I would want to play.*
How long have you been playing LBP?
Since January 2010. I noticed LBP on PS3 and thought ‘oh! That looks cool!’ but I don’t have a PS3. I then noticed they were making it on PSP and thought ‘oh! That looks cool, but it won’t be cool,’ because none of the ports that I own on PSP are at all cool. It was only after I noticed it getting really good reviews that I decided to check it out, although I wasn’t really hooked until I got into create mode. I haven’t played many other games since.
What was the first full level you ever built? And what was it like?
Colossal Calamity. Imagine “Shadow of the Colossus” had been made by Toyota. Actually, I am still quite proud of it. It’s still quite unlike anything else out there, and it works! (sort of). When amazingflyingpoo featured it in his level of the week blog I was really encouraged to keep creating.
What creators and levels (if any) have inspired you to create?
I’m enormously unoriginal, so more or less everything I’ve done is quite closely inspired by something that somebody else did. While I was inspired by the great early levels by the likes of amazingflyingpoo, Taffey, Lleonard, jeffcu28 etc, there was always, at that time, a kind of mental disconnect between what I was playing and what I was expecting to make. What I found really inspiring was actually interacting with other creators right here at LBPCentral, finding out that those hallowed creators actually thought what I made was cool. There are far too many amazing creators that I steal ideas from now to even begin to name.
Aside from drawing inspiration from other creators and levels, is there anything in the world outside of LittleBigPlanet that inspires you? This could be a hobby, profession, or even a particular movie or type of music. Pretty much it can be anything in your personal life that has contributed to your experiences as well as inspired you as a creator.
Oh, lots of things. I have to actually limit the amount that I allow art and literature to influence my creating, for fear of driving people off by coming across as some kind of crashing snob. It’s no joke that I actually came very close to making a level about Gilbert and Sullivan. You might notice some of my characters have names inspired by literature – Infeste, in Curses! for example, was named while I was rehearsing the part of Feste the jester in “Twelfth Night”. History and mythology, too – I did quite a bit of research into Arthurian Legend for Crisis in Camelot, which I hardly used. Part of my work involves having an extensive knowledge of Greek myths, which is on the cards for a future project once I can come up with a decent concept. The real world in general, though, is a big influence. When I’m really engaged in a project, I start seeing the world in terms of 2 thick layers and 3 thin.
What are some of your favorite video games (excluding LBP) - new and old?
As a child of the 16 bit era, Mario, Zelda and Sonic have been big favourites of mine in the past, as well as the aforementioned classic point-and-clicks like Monkey Island, Beneath a Steel Sky etc. Then, latterly, RPGs ranging from Final Fantasy to Baldur’s Gate and World of Warcraft. (Malchior in Curses! is named after my old WoW undead mage, and Putro after a friend’s undead Warrior. I’m a loser.)
If you could list your favorite things about LittleBigPlanet PSP, what would they be?
The sheer potential to create anything. I bought and played Modnation Racers for a bit, and the constraints to creating in that made me realise just how versatile LBP really is.
And your least favorite thing(s)?
Jeffcu28. Honestly, though, I would probably say the limited background and music choices. Sometimes you realise you just can’t do something you’d had your heart set on doing because there just isn’t the music to do it justice.
What’s the worst thing that’s happened while creating?
I regularly start new levels to quickly try out ideas to see if they will work. I’m extremely disorganised and my moon is filled, FILLED with unnamed levels that just contain a single bit of logic, or a vehicle. I am always losing the ones I want to find and then unintentionally deleting them thinking they were something else.
On a sort of similar subject, have there ever been any great ideas you had that failed or for any other reason you never implemented?
My Gilbert and Sullivan level. Actually, I have the first area of a level based on the Bayeux Tapestry that I’m really pleased with. I just can’t come up with any decent gameplay ideas. I made that just after I finished TIE in the Sky.
If you worked for Cambridge Studio, what would your first order of business be? This could be anything from adding materials or tools to fixing some of the nasty glitches in the game.
Visit Ely Cathedral and then relocate. I wouldn’t live in Cambridgeshire for anything. Shortly thereafter I would release the Agatha Christie DLC, including costumes for Poirot and Miss Marple.
*I don't have any actual children, thank goodness
Method of Sackboy death #5,692: Being walloped by a giant, swinging religious artifact full of burning incense.
While most authors stick with publishing only full blown levels, you've published a healthy dose of tech demos (e.g., your AT-AT) in addition to your "regular" levels. Do you make the tech demos simply to show off how smart you are? Or, are you just bored to death and want to pubish something... anything once it pops into your head? Or, are you just super nice and want to help out the community? Well, what do you have to say for yourself?
Ha! All three are pretty much spot on actually. The first couple of things I published were little flying machine test-levels, so I suppose it started there. Another factor to consider is that I'm too lazy to develop my ideas in to levels, but I still want to give the ideas a bit of closure by letting them run free on the community moon for a bit. The AT-AT in particular came at a time just after I'd published Colossal Calamity but before TIE in the Sky. I was still experimenting a lot with the mechanics of the game, and it came to me that I probably could make an AT-AT if I put my mind to it. I managed to build it but then thought "Well, this is far too big to use sensibly in a level, but I really want people to know how smart I am so I just published it as it was. I've actually made a slightly smaller, better version, but I haven't published it as I have for some time been hoping to build a level around it. Unfortunately it's really a shame that my genius doesn't stretch as far as convincing the AT-AT not to tear itself apart after a couple of edits.
I did follow it up with a 'super-nice' in-game tutorial on how to build simple walking mechanisms. Anything for one or two more creator hearts, y'know? I still can't believe that the game censors the word 'legs' - the title of that level now appears as "Simple Piston ****", which to the imaginative is far more potentially offensive than the reality.
Actually, the smiley dinosaur in that walking tutorial is my proudest creation, you're going to do a screenshot, right?
Conveniently, there's no way for anyone besides you to prove that the bleeped-out word is, in fact, "legs". Have you ever considered embracing the implicitly crude title of "Simple Piston ****" and using it to create more of a bad-boy image for yourself?
Bad-boy image? I think that's something that Sony is trying to force upon creators to make their otherwise innocent product seem a bit edgier. I mean, it was only when the word 'cockpit' got censored the first time I tried to publish TIE in Sky that I started considering the implications of what a 'cockpit' really might be and I certainly didn't want one in any of my TIE fighters. The original pioneering aviators may very well have been almighty perverts but not me, no matter what Sony tells you.
In my time on the PS3, I played many terrible Shadow of the Colossus levels. Seeing as no one could pull it off right on PS3, I would have never thought it to be possible to make an amazing one on PSP. Imagine my surprise when you asked me to check out Colossal Calamity and I ended up finding my very favorite level at the time!
What was it like trying to create a technical level like Colossal Calamity back when create mode was in its broken state on PSP, and how did you go about figuring out what aspects of Shadow of the Colossus you could transfer to LBP?
That's an interesting question, because I can only remember very vaguely. It all sort of happened in stages. To begin with, I had just worked out a sequence of wobble bolt and piston timings that would give me a walking motion, as well as a design for legs (I mean ****) that could support themselves and a fair bit more. At the time I was still experimenting so everything had to be fairly big so I could see very clearly what I was doing and where any problems were. I think the first time I thought of Shadow of the Colossus was when I was gleefully running around beneath the legs of my giant walking cardboard rectangle and realised that standing on a foot would result in you being flipped up into the air slightly when the foot was raised, and I suppose it all just rolled on from there.
I did struggle with create mode a fair bit at the time, as the pistons kept shifting ever so slightly, causing tension in the legs and the beast would start jumping and kicking like mad. This meant that I had to completely replace all of the legs from their captured prototypes every two or three edits. I can't believe I had the patience.I would not under any circumstances have ever actually set out to make a Colossus to begin with, especially as my first level, that would have seemed totally mad.
Although Colossal Calamity was an amazing level, it wasn't until Star Wars: TIE in the Sky that you really got noticed as a creator. TIE was different from CC in every way, from your well-known Star Wars character models (the best of which was Darth Vader with his flowing cape) to the platforming, flying, and an absolutely hilarious story.
In short, TIE really seems to have been the catalyst that helped define your creative style. Were you always hoping to make levels like TIE, or did you just start creating and then ended up with a winning forumla by chance?
Definitely more of the latter. I'm not trying to pretend that it all happened by accident, but I certainly didn't know what it was I was hoping to achieve when I started the level. As I mentioned before, I had originally just intended it to be a quick tutorial and showcase of a vehicle I was very pleased with, but I think it was creating the characters that made me realise that I wanted to make it into a full level. I don't think I really have much of a 'creative style', but after TIE I did take to creating detailed little characters in a big way and I supposed they've become something of a theme throughout my levels. It's become much easier now that stickers scale with materials if you shrink them, allowing one to make really big characters quite easily and then reduce them down to the desired size, but back then I was having to make them at their intended final size, which was a real challenge.
It's interesting that the TIE fighter, the original reason I started the level, is the one thing I look back on with the least satisfaction. There are things I would definitely change about it now if I were starting all over again. The level itself won a Sacky for 'Greatest Artistic Achievement' - confirming that it's a definite triumph of style over substance.
After TIE you published what I would consider to be one of the best levels on LittleBigPlanet PSP... or even PS3. Curses! is a timeless masterpiece that combines excellent gameplay, an incredible setting, and some of the best character models and set pieces that I have ever seen.
Of everything about the level, however, it was the brilliant and amusing story that really blew me away. What inspired this laugh-out-loud-worthy, totally unique tale of undead unrest?
Gosh, I could list tons of influences for this level. At the time I had been playing quite a lot of 'Dragon Age', which brought back a lot of old memories of my favourite all-time-ever game 'Baldur's Gate'. Curses! is nothing like either of those games but it was thinking of them that I decided to make a detailed fantasy world with characters that had a certain sense of depth about them. I had been re-reading 'Gormenghast' around then as well, which partly inspired the idea of having characters who were defined by their function, and who only tolerated each other because of their attachment to their home, though the actual design of the characters was based more on the Forsaken race from World of Warcraft. Finally, the gameplay is sort of based on classic point-and-click adventures. Oh, and at the risk of making everyone vomit into their handkerchiefs with the whole sick-making mutual congratulation of it, it was your adventure levels, poo, that convinced me that what I was hoping to do ought to be possible. As you can see, the level doesn't really have a single original idea behind it.
Despite the fact Curses! was the first level that I really set out to build from the start with a fairly solid idea of what I wanted the finished product to be like, I still fell into the same trap as I have with literally every single one of my levels, that I didn't actually put anything down on paper or have have any kind of plan for how I was going to do it until I started, so building and testing was a fairly chaotic process. I very nearly gave up on it entirely about 2/3 of the way through because I didn't know where I was going with it.
In an apparent bid to make exactly one of every type of level imaginable, the next creation you published was Botafumeiro - a survival challenge. I would say that it is probably the single most detailed and beautiful level on the PSP, as you were able to just pack everything you wanted into a single screen without fear of wasting thermo. And on top of the amazing looks, the gameplay is just fantastic and there's even a story to go with it.
The one aspect of Botafumeiro that sticks out the most for me is the huge quantity of details absolutely everywhere, from the swinging thurible to the Sackmonks to the cathedral itself. Can you give some advice to us poor authors who struggle with details? Exactly how do you come up with this stuff?
Advice? Hmmm. I think the only advice I can really give there is just create what's in your head and, failing that, do a Google image search (other image searches are available). Botafumeiro is loosely based on Santiago de Compostela Cathedral so I didn't have to use much imagination. I have absolutely no flair in visual arts at all so I won't accept anyone's excuse that they're simply not artistic. The corner editor can take a while to get used to, but it's an almost infinitely powerful tool for creating more or less as much detail as you can be bothered with. Similarly, don't think about stickers too literally. You can do a lot more with stickers if you look at their shapes and colours and think about how you can use parts of them to represent what you're trying to create. Above any of that, though, I would advise that, when creating a scene that you want to be visually appealing, keep going at it until you're satisfied with it. It's easy to get frustrated with it or anxious about your thermo, but it can really help to make your level stand out, and the player spending just a few seconds standing and gazing at something beautiful can be just as memorable as several minutes of gameplay.
I'm beginning to sound like an aesthete... the real truth of the matter is that I'm not artistic enough to make arresting visuals using simple, broad strokes. Instead, magpie-like, I hoard detail until people have no choice but to be a little bit impressed.
Sprocket Town was another complete change of style for you. Instead of having detailed characters with jaw-dropping sticker work, you went with jaw-dropping silhouettes and no sticker work at all. So, did you decide to go with this format out of an odd sense of laziness, or did you simply want to try something new? From a technical standpoint, how did you manage to avoid slowdown with all of those gears throughout the level?
My main incentive for taking Sprocket Town in the direction that I did artistically was the same as my conclusion to my previous answer. I felt that, even though my levels were getting good feedback for their visuals, I didn't feel like I'd done anything that was really 'stylish'. I'm quite keen on a bit of steampunk and after a fair bit of consideration, I landed on the idea of basing the visuals on 19th century silhouette art. When I came up with it, I was delighted as I thought to myself "Limited materials? Hardly any stickers? I can finally make a level that lasts more than 2 minutes!" Little did I know this would turn out to be one of my shortest levels. That was partly down to my thermo-devouring, trigger-happy copying of gears.
I had to be really careful with lag. Usually I can cope with a bit of lag, but the merest hint of it here ruined one selling point of the level, so all the moving parts are connected to sensor switches so that they switch off if they're out of shot. The eagle eyed among you will notice that some of the gears stop just before they go out of shot - I didn't want to run any risks. I ended up having lag issues in the final stages anyway, which turned out to be from horrible gas, but I managed to work around it with a little help from my friends. Another point of interest about Sprocket Town: Because I didn't plan the level at all, the airship ride had to be squashed into a very small space, so the airship only moves a very short distance, while scenery objects in the background are pushed past on pistons like a low budget village hall pantomime.
Your newest publish, Crisis in Camelot, takes questing to a whole new level on the PSP. Unlike Curses!, Camelot features selectable quests and more of a choose-it-yourself format. Is quest-based gameplay something you will continue to evolve or do you have something else in mind for your future levels?
I certainly wouldn't rule it out, but it's not on my immediate agenda. That's absolutely not to say that I wasn't pleased with how it worked, but I've got a few other ideas that need to be put to bed first. I really like the idea of non-linear gameplay, but when you're dealing with such limited thermo it's tempting to resign yourself to the belief that LBP PSP and optional content or branching paths are simply incompatible. That said, I'm not prepared to give up yet and I don't want to sound at all down-hearted about Camelot - one thing I was especially pleased about in that level was that, even though the quest selection was totally arbitrary, the rewards for the quests wre meaningful in the final battle and didn't function merely as keys to reach the boss.
My next level (out in just a few days) is a kind of simple platformer with some puzzle elements and a bit of story. No vehicles or complex mechanics, no sack characters, no jokes and not very many stickers. There are certainly no quests. When that's done I should probably concentrate on certain other projects rather than launching into yet another level.
If you were stranded on a desert island and the only way to call for help was to play Voodoo Juju in an endless, 24-hour loop for a month, what would you do?
It's hard to tell exactly what I'd do - that song has the potential to make me behave quite unpredictably. Best case scenario: I would simply give up my chance of escape by not listening to it. People have this major beef about Glockenpop but really all of the songs are terrible and I don't know why they're there. They absolutely kill atmosphere, have you ever played a really good level with Voodoo Juju in it? (apologies to anyone who actually has made a good level with Voodoo Juju in it, I've probably buried that aspect of my experience deep in the recesses of my memory)
I actually find Glockenpop quite funny, simply because its hubristic attempt at irony has made intridiculous - it's supposed to be satirically mocking the worst excesses of the modern music industry, but I'm not sure that the way to do that is to produce a song that absolutely nobody wants to listen to. You listen to it and you think "You're right, Spiderbait, some songs really are terrible and boring, and it's quite amazing that you've managed to put out a song that is the worst example of this." Unfortunately Voodoo Juju doesn't have any of this multilayered irony to commend it. It's just terrible.
Finally, is there anything you, as a creator, would like to add to this? Or any other experiences you’d like to share? If not, I’d like to ask one more question of you: If you could give any bit of advice to new creators out there who are thinking about entering the wonderful world of creating, what would it be?
Well, I hardly feel in a position to be dispensing advice as I don't in the least bit consider myself to be any kind of authority. For that reason, perhaps, I think it's worth stressing the point that there are no real secrets to creating good levels. I mean, by my example you don't even need original ideas, it's just a case of recognising that you need to take a fair amount of time to really familiarise yourself with create mode. It's only really by trial and error and generally messing around in create mode that you can really get the hang of it. What's more I find some of my best ideas have come not from having a great gameplay concept and then trying to recreate it in create mode, but rather starting from what I've discovered to be possible through directionless experimentation and working it into a level design. Every time that I've tried to execute some grand concept, the reality usually turns out to be a sort of shorthand solution - a kind of best guess, and that can occasionally be dissatisfying or even demoralising. I suppose my advice, then, is don't get downhearted if things don't end up how you first imagined them, play around and eventually you'll come up with something cool.
Aww, little Sack-Moff is so cute he just makes you want to force-squeeze him to death.
amazingflyingpoo pays Taffey a visit to discuss the next PSP Creator Spotlight... and the (muffled) hilarity ensues.
For those of you with fancy iPads and iPhones, here's the direct link to the video:
SalieriAAX has shown us time and again that, if there's one thing we can expect from LittleBigPlanet, it's that we have no idea what to expect at all. Salieri's unique brand of talent covers the entire spectrum, from mechanical know-how to stunning artwork to whip-smart writing and more. His creations have made us laugh, entertained us, amazed us, and kept us asking, "How did he DO that??" Salieri's style is so varied, so surprising, and so unlike anything else out there, it simply can't be defined. And for that, we are very glad to not be surprised at all.
Well, that's all, folks! We hope you have enjoyed this installment of the Creator Spotlight. For past spotlights, please visit this link. See you in two weeks!