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  1. Monday Musings is a feature where every Monday, I'll shoot the breeze about what I've been playing and what my thoughts are on various news and events in the game industry. In today's edition of Monday Musings, I'll be taking a look at one of Sony Interactive Entertainment's studios, Media Molecule, and examining their current project Dreams and whether or not it could be in for some major challenges down the road. The Curious Case of Media Molecule Remember how groundbreaking LittleBigPlanet was when it first released? Media Molecule was running on a high during that time period -- both as a business and creatively-speaking -- leading up to the release of its sequel, LittleBigPlanet 2. Like the first game, both critical and sales reception of LBP2 was great, but the experience left the studio with the urge to move on and work on something else for a change. In the year or two following, Media Molecule decided to focus their efforts on developing brand new ideas. Meanwhile, a smaller team within the studio was hard at work creating a new experience for the PlayStation Vita. The result was Tearaway, a title that was considered one of the best and most creative games for the handheld. However, the game did not soar on the sales charts like the LittleBigPlanet series had. Hopefully their other project would turn things around. In 2013, Sony's PlayStation 4 was finally revealed to the world, and Media Molecule pulled back the curtain to reveal what they had been working on in the interim -- a then unnamed project that allowed players to create and mold 3D objects and animate them with the help of the PlayStation Move controller. Later on, this project was revealed to be Dreams. However, the game's ambitious nature meant that it wouldn't be releasing anytime soon. In order to deliver something earlier, Media Molecule decided to create an enhanced port of Tearaway for PS4, resulting in Tearaway: Unfolded. Although it garnered critical praise like the original, it too failed to deliver in sales and became a commercial disappointment. Development on Dreams would continue on unabated. Despite the immense creativity behind Dreams, some PlayStation fans were a bit taken aback by what it was. With LittleBigPlanet, the player creation aspect was a bit more straightforward in what you could do with it, or at least what the player expected out of it. With Dreams, the idea sounded neat on paper, but in reality was almost too open of a concept for many to fully understand without experiencing it firsthand. Is Dreams just an outlet for pure creativity? Is there a more focused experience within, possibly some sort of single-player game campaign not unlike what LittleBigPlanet had? Or is it more akin to Microsoft's Project Spark? Because if it's the latter, Dreams could be in more trouble than Media Molecule and SIE realize. Dream a little dream Once upon a time, Microsoft was betting big on Project Spark to develop an interest in creativity with level design in Xbox One fans. But despite their best efforts, Project Spark never took off with the Xbox community. It was, perhaps, too ambitious for its time, or it just didn't have the right audience. If Dreams is attempting the same open sandbox approach, Media Molecule could be at risk of receiving the same reaction of indifference once Dreams finally releases. The good news is that Media Molecule at least has some proof of concept behind their ambitions -- after all, there was a very active community of players that created levels in LittleBigPlanet and its sequel. Surely the same will happen for Dreams as well? It's too early to say for sure, but one very different thing about this scenario is the fact that Dreams is said to be a much larger and likely complex experience. Dreams' success will depend greatly on how simple it is for players to create and animate, because if it's too convoluted in any sense, most players will skip out right away. Additionally, a single-player or co-op campaign of some sort designed with the game's tools will be needed. This will not only help give the game a sense of cohesiveness but also give the player a certain amount of value out of the game if said player does not click with the creative aspects (as was the case for many who played LittleBigPlanet). While information on Dreams' current progress seems to be rather sparse, Media Molecule have been publicly active on their website and showing the game off at different trade shows over the last few years. We're also supposed to be getting new information about the game as soon as this Spring, so perhaps we'll have a much better idea about what will be included in the final version. Honestly, I hope Media Molecule succeeds; the whole project looks and sounds incredibly ambitious and I'd love for them to see their efforts over the last few years pay off in a big way. But, like any other business, there's a point where SIE can't ignore the fact that Media Molecule has been producing diminishing returns for the company as far as bankable games go -- at least as far as the public eye can see. If Dreams -- or whatever the final title becomes -- doesn't take off the way SIE and Media Molecule are hoping, this could put them in a bad position. If Dreams are dashed SIE certainly hasn't been shy about closing underperforming studios left and right over the past few years, and there's no reason to believe that Media Molecule would have complete immunity from potential shuttering. If there's one thing that saves them, it's the fact that it's an immensely talented studio that is well-versed in creating new tools and known for creativity. So what happens if Dreams releases and undersells? It likely depends to what extent the game doesn't perform. If it just breaks even or sells only slightly better than that, SIE could end up reexamining Media Molecule's development focus, possibly steering them away from the more creative art games and endeavors they're known for in order to concentrate on something new and different. But... if Dreams completely bombs and undersells by a significant amount, a number of different scenarios are possible. The first scenario is that Media Molecule could be restructured into a tools developer. There's too much talent among the staff to totally dissolve the studio, and their work on LittleBigPlanet has earned them at least some leeway, although it is quickly disappearing as the years go on without another big hit. Remember Evolution Studios? World Rally Championship and Motorstorm titles kept them going for a number of years, and while Sony gave them a pass for Motorstorm: Apocalypse's disappointing sales (partly due to bad timing with the 2011 Earthquake/Tsunami in Japan), DriveClub's immense issues and failure sunk the entire studio in the end. Despite its ambitious nature, DriveClub was an unmitigated disaster that ultimately sunk Evolution Studios The second scenario that could happen involves SIE shuttering Media Molecule but keeping the talent intact and reassigning them to different studios as needed -- such as Studio Liverpool. Considering the latter's recent redundancies and SIE's penchant for reorganizing resources to where they can best be utilized, this isn't such a farfetched idea. Of course, the third scenario is that the studio is completely shut down and everyone goes their separate ways (and hopefully reforms as another studio sometime later). Personally, I don't see SIE letting the talent walk away without trying to keep them around first, which is why I think the second scenario is more likely. However, Media Molecule was created with the intent of making creative games. If you take that away from the equation and relegate the staff to standard positions elsewhere, is that the path they'll want to take? They may rather take the indie route in the end. But enough doomsaying. Media Molecule could be plenty stable in the end -- we simply don't know enough currently about what's going on behind the scenes to say for sure, but the situation with Dreams certainly appears to be complex from the outside. Currently, Dreams is not confirmed for 2017 release at this point, so hopefully we'll have a better idea of where it's at come E3 or Gamescom. I look forward to getting my hands on it eventually, and if it really is everything Media Molecule makes it out to be, we may have our next generation of LittleBigPlanet creativity for some years to come. What are your thoughts on the current state of Media Molecule and its upcoming game Dreams?
  2. Jonathan Higgins

    E3 2015 Hands-On: Tearaway Unfolded

    When Tearaway came to the PlayStation Vita in late 2013, I had no idea how hard I would fall in love with it. It“s a game I hold to such high standards, a game that means so much to me that I wrote a lengthy piece quite some time ago that tries to get to the bottom of why I feel it“s so special. The world Media Molecule created felt like it was mine. In fact, I remember the game asking me to take a picture of my world. Rather than take a picture of my living room or the outside, I answered that request by taking a picture of my girlfriend. That picture of her started showing up in books devoted to the study of the sun — of what Tearaway considered my world! That“s the kind of experience that brings people closer to you to watch and see the crazy things Media Molecule is capable of. I feel like that“s one of many reasons why I“m excited about Tearaway Unfolded. It delivers the same “message” as the Vita version (plus brand new content, too), but it does so in different ways — ways much easier to share with people thanks to it being on PlayStation 4. Before I discuss these console-specific features, here“s a bit for those completely unfamiliar with Tearaway. This is a game created by the folks who made Little Big Planet, so you can expect the same care and attention to detail, in terms of its overall presentation. It tells the story of a message — Iota or Atoi — an actual letter given form and motivation thanks to You, an omniscient force helping it along. It“s a platforming game that“s built on “breaking the fourth wall”, so to speak. Interactions between the world of Tearaway Unfolded and You, the player, are absolutely vital. I was worried those interactions, which rely heavily on the Vita“s hardware specifically, wouldn“t translate so well on PlayStation 4. But, by the end of the E3 2015 demo, I“m confident the game will leave everyone who played the original game on Vita feeling just as happy as they did before, despite some different approaches. And if this is your first time ever playing Tearaway? I“m honestly all the more excited for you. There are three main components that stood out in the demo, and all three of them heavily involved the PlayStation 4 controller. The first involved a platform that seemed beyond my reach, so I swiped the touch-screen on the controller and made a gust of wind blow the paper down towards me. After the wind left, the platform returned back the way it was, and I could access a new area. When I was ambushed by a group of enemies that Atoi wasn“t strong enough to defeat on her own, the game prompted her to throw a rock at me — which ended up in my controller (there were indeed sounds of a crumpled up rock to add immersion, too) — so I could aim and then chuck it back at the enemies with much more force than Atoi could manage herself. After adventuring for a while, Atoi reached an ice cave where my Guiding Light — the LED light on the controller, mind you — had the power to melt the ice blocking her path forward. Those are just three features specific to the PlayStation 4. Others are indeed faithfully translated from the Vita, like drawing and cutting out shapes upon a citizen“s request. When an elk asked me to make it snow, I obliged by drawing a snowflake using the controller's touch-pad, then using the Guiding Light to pick it up and show the world what I could do. The one thing I was curious about was how the game would feel without the use of the Vita“s camera, but the game does indeed use the PlayStation Eye (which was available to me for the demo), so I“m not able to accurately assess how the world would feel without a camera for further immersion. Still, even without some of the hardware-specific details that made the Vita version so special to me, I am now fully confident that Tearaway Unfolded will show both new and returning fans how much fun the PlayStation 4“s world can be. It will be available on September 8th. If you want to hear even more before then, be sure to check out the game's official website.
  3. barrel

    Review: Tearaway

    Developer: Media Molecule Publisher: Sony Platform: PS Vita Release Date: November 22, 2013 ESRB: E for Everyone Media Molecule has always been a developer I respected, but never one where I was particularly invested in their actual games. Their first IP, LittleBigPlanet, left me of two minds: in raw creativity it allowed for something incredibly distinct and made headway for a vast amount of community-generated content on consoles; but as a game, it was mainly a toolset to make content that was arguably mediocre on its own with so-so platforming mechanics. Tearaway is their second foray at a new IP, with a very clearly inspired origami presentation and an ambitious design specific to the Vita hardware. With little respect to such ambition, and like many first-party Sony properties in 2013, Tearaway had the extremely unfortunate luck of not only being torn aside by having virtually no marketing, but it was also released in an incredibly brutal November time-frame. Whether or not it be out of pity, or being a self-proclaimed handheld fanboy, I decide to not leave Tearaway crumbled up or forgotten. I“ll answer the questions in advance: The silly headband-looking thing are actually a pair of headphones you can wear when you are resting. And yes, I“m always angry. The narrative initially unfolds with “You” (yes, the player in real life) quite literally shaking up both the real world and Tearaway“s imaginative papercraft world. By doing so, "You" somehow create a connection to both worlds. This spurs a curious papercraft avatar character, either Iota or Atoi, to go on an adventure to deliver a message to “You”. Having your face firmly embedded in the sun of their world, you help guide Iota/Atoi, with your otherworldly and seemingly omnipotent prowess, on their pilgrimage. For what would normally seem like a pretty basic and easy-going platformer (I'm using that term very loosely), Tearaway absolutely thrives off of its presentation, however shallow that may initially sound. In general, traversing through the world will never really be taxing or a test of reflexive skill; the experience is meant to be absorbed with a childish wonderment and be a vent for creativity. The origami aesthetic feels almost tangible on the OLED screen and the audio design is brimming to complement it in its immersive qualities. In motion, Tearaway is absolutely mesmerizing to behold and, as cliche as this phrasing is, its world feels truly alive. However stilted papercraft may inherently be in real life, the game truly goes above and beyond with its visual theme. It really feels like you can go right out and touch stuff in its world, which in some instances, you can outright do so, whether it be in the specified sequences or through casual discovery. You can also seriously tell there is a real genuine passion and commitment to the origami theme, where the title even goes as far as to give you instructions on how to create the individual characters in real-life through actual papercraft. Another treat with how the title is presented is in regards to its audio. The musical tracks play on a celtic musical theme for the most part, and despite being sparse in number count, they are quite well-done and stand out in the instances where they do make an appearance. But the more impressive works with the audio are in its more subtle atmospheric material, such as the sound of scissors serving as percussion in a background song when drawing/cutting stuff to the natural ebb and flow of paper environments wrestling back and forth; things that may very well slip past you since it is so seamlessly captivating. It's hard to not simply gush with enthusiasm about how much it gets it right in its presentational grandeur. Beyond that, though, what makes Tearaway memorable past being a stunning visual showcase is how immaculately it pulls personalized interactivity with its controls and the player's seemingly passive influence to its setting during gameplay. Like the intro implies, Tearaway is distinctly an adventure for “You” to play around within its world. While the end destination is the same for all players due to its structure, it goes out of its way to get you to contribute, and by doing so, integrates nearly every unorthodox feature on the Vita system in surprisingly cohesive ways (except “Near”; let“s be real…). The various system uses range from asking you draw a crown via touchscreen for a squirrel king, or taking a real-life photo to give a deer a new fur coat, or recording an audio clip to give a scarecrow an intimidating scream, and many more unique scenarios later on. There is also something that is stupidly charming, and probably partially narcissistic in my case, when it uses Vita's camera to place your face upon on the sun throughout the story, or when you poke your hands via the rear-pad into the world, and seeing the characters being taken aback by your "power" and constantly captivated by your presence. What is more impressive is how often it changes things up, despite how gimmicky most of these things are by themselves, so it feels so consistently fresh and appealing. What I think I like the most about playing through the game, though, is how much it encourages creativity. Iota/Atoi are fully customizable for the most part and with enough time and effort you can truly do some amazing stuff. It is especially impressive that I felt comfortable using my fingers to draw, despite owning a capacitive stylus, because the controls were so spot-on. Admittedly, I've never had a lot of confidence in myself as an artist, so I never did too much to customize Iota look beyond placing preset accessories (plus I like the character designs enough already), but it still manages to make it fun regardless of your artistic talent. One early game example is that it casually asks you to draw a snowflake. It certainly doesn“t have to be a snowflake, it can be anything you want to draw using the touchscreen. So, naturally, I just drew a crude-looking starfish face... thing. However, that crude, seemingly irrelevant one-time joke, helped pave the visual theme for that entire level where every-single-“snowflake” in the sky was that goofy looking drawing of mine flowing to and fro with the wind, just because - Tearaway is full of little moments like that. Still, for as one-sidedly positive as I may seems towards the experience, that doesn't mean it is free of criticisms. Perhaps Tearaway“s greatest flaw is how much it relies on its first time charm and novelty. The core gameplay is hardly indicative of reliving the experience again because of its carefree structure, simple mechanics, and focus on things that are only likely captivate the first-time you see them. It may have worked nearly flawlessly on myself playing through, but it“s still a short-game at the end of the day lasting on average 5-6 hours with very little replay value and not very noteworthy overall collectibles (aside from the papercraft sheets). Also, it isn't free of technical issues, where I encountered two bugs that were close to game-breaking and almost significantly dimmed my overall experience and progress. Also, the combat in particular definitely wears out its welcome and is easily the weakest portion. Even if the game does try to introduce new things as it progresses to the combat, it simply isn“t enough to make it not feel like an out-of-place chore most of time, especially when the title's best moments are without a doubt in its calmer sequences. I think the advantage that Nintendo has always had with their recent handheld hardware is that they have always lent it better to creativity and a lot of releases reflected that. Ironically, Tearaway managed to ignore that memo entirely, and was by far the most creative title that was released on handhelds in 2013. Even if Tearaway is by no means perfect, the moments it does excel at are outright brilliant and can easily overshadow most of its minor issues. While there are certainly plenty of better games (from a mechanical standpoint) that came out in 2013, you“d have a tough argument to say that few others are as ridiculously endearing, immersive, memorable, and downright creative as Tearaway. Pros: + Stellar, captivating presentation that uses origami aesthetic in striking ways + Vita system features are utilized very cleverly throughout + Creates a personalized adventure that is ridiculously charming + Well-done musical score and great audio design Cons: - Short and doesn“t have much replay value - Combat sequences don“t add much to the game - Some bugs Overall Score: 9.0 (out of 10) Fantastic Proving to be more than just a system showcase, Tearaway delightfully molds itself into one of the most memorable, creative, and downright charming titles you can find on any system from 2013.
  4. barrel

    2013 12 08 180452

    From the album: Tearaway

  5. barrel

    2013 12 07 233816

    From the album: Tearaway

  6. barrel

    2013 12 07 230242

    From the album: Tearaway

  7. barrel

    2013 12 07 210841

    From the album: Tearaway

  8. barrel

    2013 12 07 210300

    From the album: Tearaway

  9. barrel

    2013 12 06 155353

    From the album: Tearaway

  10. Marcus Estrada

    Media Molecule Announces Delay for Tearaway

    Ever since E3, Sony fans have been aware that a whole host of new, creative games are going to be released across Vita, PS3, and PS4. One of these interesting endeavors is Tearaway. Media Molecule, the group behind the game, is of course best known for the LittleBigPlanet series. Tearaway is looking to use the Vita in a great deal of unusual ways. For one, the player can use the rear touch pad to manipulate the environment or even stick their finger "into" the world. Of course, that's only the first of many features that the team designed to make this the defacto Vita experience. In working so hard to create a stand-out Vita game it makes sense that things would take longer than expected. That's why Tearaway's team made a post on the PS Blog to announce a delay. The game had been initially slated for October but was just given the new date of November 22nd. Hopefully it will not get caught up between other game releases in that timeframe!
  11. Jason Clement

    Tearaway Coming To A Vita Near You This Fall

    Tearaway was first revealed at Gamescom last year as Media Molecule's next project; their first new project since LittleBigPlanet 2 released some two years ago now, in fact. While we haven't heard a whole lot about the game since, Sony has revealed a solid release date for the Vita game: North America will be getting it on October 22nd; continental Europe on the 23rd; Australia and New Zealand on the 24th; and the UK and Ireland on the 25th. The game, while not terribly far removed from LittleBigPlanet's whimsical aesthetic, is based on a world that is entirely constructed from paper, and its gameplay focuses on manipulating the world and its levels by using the Vita's unique features (the touchscreen and touch pad on the back) to cut, paste, fold, and more. Are you looking forward to playing Tearaway this Fall?
  12. Jason Clement

    Media Molecule

  13. When we first heard about Tearaway, it was fairly unexpected. Developer Media Molecule has made a name for themselves over the past few years as the team behind LittleBigPlanet so it seemed that we should expect more of that. Of course, making a brand new IP doesn't mean they won't do more LBP games, but seeing the developer turning to new ideas is at least a little exciting. Tearaway has been designed to be a game which will only work on the Vita, which is why it is exclusive to the handheld. It uses the touchscreen, rear touchpad, camera, tilting, and microphone controls. Although the 3DS can certainly do some of those as well, it would be unable to offer other facets of the game (such as anything having to do with the rear touchpad). The game world itself is themed around paper which lends itself to manipulation. The game is set in an open world which will be traversed with a fair bit of platforming. Puzzles will also scatter the landscape in an attempt to change up the gameplay. Because the game takes place in a paper landscape, players will also collect papercraft as they explore, which they can later make in real life if they have the skill. Official PlayStation Magazine has all the in-depth details about Tearaway as well as a brand new gameplay video: