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PAX 2008 Mini Previews 2: LittleBigPlanet, Dead Space, and Spore

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Penny Arcade Expo (PAX) has come to a close, and downtown Seattle slowly returns to normal. Gone are the flashy displays, the booth babes, the cosplayers, and the throngs of visitors. For three days we viewed, sampled, and drooled over many upcoming titles, some of which attracted more folks than others. Here are a few more games that deserve mentioning.

LitleBigPlanet
Imagine a platform game in which you can customize the levels. You can make them as simple or as challenging as you please. You’re free to add blocks, seesaws, cogs, and even a giant skateboard. When you’ve finished, give those levels a test drive with your friends. This is the basic premise of LittleBigPlanet, scheduled for release in the fall on the PS3. Players create an adorable “Sackboy” or “Sackgirl” avatar, which is also very customizable. In one demo, I saw a Sackboy with a large afro, and another that looked like it had feathers around its head. Choose a level for your character to play in, and let the fun begin!

Unlike some classic platform games, LittleBigPlanet is best played with others, whether locally or online. The game heavily supports cooperative and competitive gameplay, in fact simultaneously. For example, if you’re playing with another person, at times you need to help each other overcome an obstacle, like pushing a heavy block together or controlling a rocking horse. At the same time you’re still competing with that person in terms of getting the highest number of points.

It’s understandable why LittleBigPlanet has been generating a lot of buzz since last year. At PAX, two other journalists and I had a lot of fun jumping over pits, swinging on ropes, riding giant rocking horses, and outrunning giant mechanical bulls. I cannot wait for this game to come out.

Dead Space

Stop me if you’ve heard this science fiction tale. A ship encounters a strange alien craft during one of its travels. After reporting this discovery to their headquarters, the ship mysteriously vanishes. Someone is sent to investigate, but he ends up fighting for his survival. If this was all there was to Dead Space, I’d say that it was dead boring. Fortunately, this is no ordinary sci-fi, survival horror shooter. You aren’t a tough guy soldier with an arsenal of weapons. Instead, you’re an average Joe engineer with very limited resources.

In Dead Space, which will be available for the Xbox 360, PC, and PS3, you don’t just blast away at anything that moves. Since you have limited ammo, you have to be methodical in dispatching your enemies. In other words, practice some “strategic dismemberment”. Lop off a creature’s arms and legs, target its weak spot. For example, one enemy has an exploding appendage that can do severe damage to you. You can cut it off and throw it to him instead.

Solving puzzles are also a key feature in Dead Space. In the demo, you enter the mining deck and need to get to the other side. However, the anti-gravity controls are switched on, and everything – including enemies and giant rocks of raw ore — is floating around you. Since immediately turning off anti-gravity will cause the ore to fall and crush your fragile body, you need to get rid of them first. Use your specially modified weapon to grab and toss them into the incinerator. Once the room is cleared, you’re free to turn off anti-gravity… but watch out for those creatures!

Spore

Ah, Spore. How do I love thee? Let me count the ways. I love the concept of creating an entire civilization from scratch, down to the smallest cell. I love that this game brings out so much creativity and talent in people, even if it consists of some folks designing countless animals that resemble genitalia. I love that you can share your creations online with other folks, thus forming a sense of community among players.

For those who aren’t in the know, Spore is a life simulation game divided into five major stages: Cell, Creature, Tribal, Civilization, and Space. You start out as a single-celled organism struggling to survive in a cell-eat-cell world. Eventually you grow and evolve, and enter the Creature stage, where the Darwinian dance continues but you’re now a more complex animal and can now walk on land.

In Tribal stage, you learn the basics of developing a society and culture. Once your tribe is strong enough, it enters the Civilization stage, your goal is to control the whole planet, and if you succeed you gain access to the Space stage, where you set out to explore your universe. Spore is due out this Friday, and I’m sure I won’t be the only one spending her weekend tinkering with her creatures and plotting to take over the world.

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About Toni Schwartz