Development stories shared as the game joins PlayStation Plus.
PlayStation Plus gets a dose of colorful 3D-platforming fun this month in the form of Sackboy: A Big Adventure.
Originally released in 2020 and created by Sumo Digital, the UK-based developer tapped into its previous experiences across platformer and multiplayer genres (LittleBigPlanet 3, Team Sonic Racing) to craft a captivating yarn. Levels are imaginative and reward exploration, and occasionally stray into musically-led stages backed by pop hits. Collectibles are many and worth discovering – offering secret pathways and increasingly dazzling costumes to deck out your character. Co-op (up to four players local or online) is joyful in its continuous tandem of cooperative and competitive.
To mark its launch on PlayStation Plus, we talked about the game’s origins with XDEV Producer Mark O’Connor. O’Connor shares some early concept sketches and gives his insights into how the core gameplay pillars came to be.
A highly interactive 3D world
“The concept for Sackboy: A Big Adventure started way back in 2017. The original pitch was simple (to say the least): Sackboy: A Big Adventure at its heart was to be a brand-new platforming experience set in Sackboy’s familiar home of Craftworld; complete levels, battle bosses and save the world!
“We wanted to reimagine the LittleBigPlanet franchise within a vibrant, (and for the very first time) fully 3D environment, that had that familiar feel of physicality woven into the game’s DNA. Everything is physical, from the gameplay, to the world, through to the UI and beyond. Advanced real-time physical behaviors create a highly interactive 3D world: cloth stretches and tears, sponges squash and absorb, balloons inflate and burst, fluids ebb and flow.
Caption: These early concept sketches show how real world materials influenced the look and feel of the levels and their inhabitants. At the top, a Himalaya-like area built with carved foam and metallic paper, below, an enemy with a cardboard cylinder halo.
“We wanted to make certain that each level had a unique twist ensuring there’s something new and fresh around every corner. All whilst making sure it was responsive, had accessible controls and took advantage of what the PlayStation 5 had to offer.”
Levels tailored for both solo and multiplayer…
“The LittleBigPlanet titles were always designed as games that could be played solo or co-op and this is something that we didn’t want to change for Sackboy: A Big Adventure. It was always important to us that Sackboy’s very first 3D platforming adventure could still be played solo or with family and friends, with every player still being able to create and control their very own Sackperson.
“So, Sackboy: A Big Adventure was built from the ground up as a four-player co-op adventure with fun, physical character interactions that give players loads of ways to cooperate (and target each other). We wanted to encourage players to join forces to push, pull, slap and roll into objects (and each other).
“One great example of this is being able to stack Sackboys and Sackgirls to create a precarious “Sack Totem” and get to hard-to-reach places. These different ways to play make the game truly co-op. Players now have more meaningful interactions and are no longer just running through the same level side-by-side.
“Players of all abilities can join in the fun! Simple catch-up mechanics make sure that no one gets left behind. If one player can navigate an obstacle, then everyone can!”
…and enjoyably competitive co-op
“Players of all skill levels can enjoy the adventure together, as we wanted the co-op and competitive mechanics to create a rich social experience.
“Playful interactions and scoring mechanics introduce loads of opportunities for friendly competition. Trigger a flash event and be the first to grab the shower of prize bubbles. Slap their hard-earned Collectabells currency out of your friend’s pockets. Score the highest on a level to earn bragging rights and the winner’s trophy at the end of the level.
“We decided early on that we wanted to showcase the character customisation options that allow the player to express themselves and make their Sackperson their own… So what better way than adding a photo finish at the end of the level? This way you can bask in the glory and focus on what pose you want to display.
“Besides, have you really played a Sackboy game… if you have never slapped or thrown your friends off of some high platform? We know that you all do it!”
High-level play with rewards for exploration
“We wanted a level of difficulty which is welcoming to new players and scales as you progress and gain experience.
Having desirable unlockables and rewards encourages you to keep on playing. Some are on the general gameplay path, but others you must seek out, which means there are always new areas to explore and new experiences to enjoy with Sackboy and your friends.
“These are all brought together within a rich narrative that provides a sense of purpose and gives context to the gameplay.”
“The franchise has a history of using music in creative ways and we wanted to make sure that a range of music from upcoming, leftfield and world music artists soundtracked the many worlds in Sackboy: A Big Adventure.
“However, massive internationally-known pop hits had never really featured before – the challenge was what could we do with these well-known songs that would bring surprise and delight to the players. The answer was to design the levels around the songs – something the team at Sumo did brilliantly.
“There were some design considerations – the songs had to ideally run at a set tempo and have contained sections (verse, chorus, bridge etc). We would also look at where each level was set, to see if there might be some appropriate lyrical or thematic content – ‘Jungle Boogie’ in the jungle just made a whole lot of sense!
“Ultimately, the designers went to town synchronising the track to events in these levels. Every stage in Sackboy has a different approach to music design, with each track developing over the course of the level. For us, every level is a music level but these stand out as a wonderfully harmonious example.
Sackboy: A Big Adventure is available for PlayStation Plus members now. Find out more here.