PlayStation Studios Spotlight: Media Molecule

By Kes Eylers-Stephenson,
Sony has so many first-party studios that it can be hard to keep track of what they're all working on. Media Molecule takes centre stage for the eighth team in the Spotlight. The Guildford-based team are the mad scientists, the wacky inventors, the wildly creative bunch of PlayStation Studios, but how does the team fare? Once we have a few of these compiled, we'll collate them all together into a one-stop article (which we'll keep updated) where you'll easily be able to see what all of the big teams are up to.

Welcome to the PlayStation Studio panel. When you click the 'View Games' button, you will be able to see how your trophy collection stacks up against the developer's trophy lists. How many PlayStation Studios can you complete?

Media Molecule overview

media molecule carousel image

Media Molecule is undoubtedly the most auteur and creative studio under the PlayStation banner. Alex Evans, Kareem Ettouney, Mark Healey, and David Smith formed the British studio out of Peter Molyneux’s now-defunct Lionhead Studio. Media Molecule was acquired by Sony in 2010, two years after the success of the first LittleBigPlanet. This was a part of Sony’s “Game 3.0” plan, where a founding component of LBP would be the idea of ever-present user-generated content. Perhaps more so than that aspect of the game, the hemp-bag character Sackboy took the world by storm. The platformer became a bit of a social hub that was often less focused on the artistic projects that people could make, and more on a few core mini-game blueprints like Shark Attack, Bomb Survival, and Downhill Rampages. Indeed, the franchise was becoming so prevalent that the game received a Guerrilla Cambridge-developed PSP port.

Thanks to the first game's success, Media Molecule launched LittleBigPlanet 2 in 2011, and it improved on every detail of the first. With a much better story, best experienced in co-op, and more tools for creators to work with, the game cemented itself as a great place to stop and stay for a few nights every now and again between other games. LittleBigPlanet really proved there was something in the water at Media Molecule that heightened creativity and wanton loveliness.

tearaway unfolded

Media Molecule took on a contributing role while other teams tried to take on the burden of the LittleBigPlanet franchise. Double Eleven, Tarsier Studios, and PlayStation's XDEV Studio all jointly worked on the very good LittleBigPlanet PS Vita that brought the floaty platforming to the small screen in 2012. One can argue it is now a Vita staple. XDEV had previously taken on the development of Sackboy's Prehistoric Moves in 2010 for the Move motion controller peripheral. LittleBigPlanet Karting should have been much better, having been made by ModNation Racers developer United Front Games. Endless runner Run Sackboy! Run! was released on mobile and later on Vita. The brand was teeming with possibilities, all created on the back of Media Molecule's wild work in 2008.

In addition to the spin-offs, Sumo Digital made 2014's LBP 3. The first mainline LBP game developed by a team other than Media Molecule, it added several extra sack characters, included a story visiting the whimsical world of Bunkum, and had an expanded tool kit even further in. For the launch of the PS5 in 2020, Sony made a smart move and transitioned Sackboy from "Game 3.0" representative, into a simple mascot platformer with the Sumo Digital-developed Sackboy: A Big Adventure. With stripped back creation elements, the game really moved the cute sack into a new era. This long history goes to show that Media Molecule has the stones to build a solid and nearly endless brand that other studios can thrive off of.

Dreams 9

While Media Molecule contributed to most of the above projects, the true focus was on a new quirky IP. The team made Tearaway on Vita in 2013 and developed a PS4 follow-up called Tearaway: Unfolded in 2015 alongside Tarsier Studios. However, a passion project was brewing that we now know as Dreams. Released in 2020, the game allows you to make a game of your own and is ever-evolving in form. The team had to make its own engine for the game — called BubbleBath — that allows polygons to be rendered as flecks and seemingly took years to figure out. The game now hosts its own events for creators and players while also beginning to output "Media Molecule Original" titles made within Dreams. A PC port is long-awaited by the community.

Media Molecule's previous project: Dreams (2020)

Art's Dream Media Molecule

Dreams received a great response on release and landed with an 89 on Metacritic. However, while the game still has a wonderful hardcore community, it is both niche and small. The idea that anyone could make anything has mostly populated the community level picks with stuff based on other stuff. Without a proper Dreams hub on the PS Store or a PC release to help promote the original content, the road to getting Media Molecule’s darling in front of more gamers looks long.

Media Molecule's current project: Unknown

Dreams the impsider

We have absolutely no idea what Media Molecule is working on at the moment. The educated guess says that the team spent so long developing Dreams that the work will be put in to make sure it is a success. So, a port to the much more mod and casual-dev friendly PC environment would be the highest priority for us here at TT. Being able to open up level/design porting to spaces entirely outside of Dreams would be the other top priority.

Media Molecule in 2021

sackboy cropped

Job listings on the developer's website suggest that the next project from Media Molecule might be built with Dreams. However, one would assume that any kind of Dreams-related knowledge would be required for any position, such is the gravity of that game within the studio. Sony is undoubtedly investing in the studio and, according to a Kotaku article, the Japanese company is entirely on the same wavelength as the British developers. There was another Dreamscom announced, which just reiterates how hardy that core community is within Dreams. "Media Molecule Original" titles are beginning to roll out, with Tren and Ancient Dangers: A Bat's Tale ready to be added to the single-player portion of the game alongside the community developed MegaPenguin Rehatched. This boosts the 'game' aspect of Dreams. The Media Molecule team also put together The Impsider magazine, which is just too good not to put down as notable news.

Where does Media Molecule rank?

You are looking down below and you want to shout at us. We are huge LittleBigPlanet and Tearaway fans, don't get us wrong. The problem is how Media Molecule's success is now intertwined with that of Dreams. Let’s get this straight: Dreams is an absurdly good game. The idea was compelling and the execution proved that Media Molecule is probably the most underrated talent in Sony’s first-party. However, unlike most other studios under the PlayStation Studios label aside from Bend Studio, Media Molecule has felt mismanaged by Sony. Can you imagine if Dreams had been a multi-platform game on PC, Game Pass, and as a PS5 pack-in? It's possible that a larger game-dev community would have been more easily established with access to the broader gaming space. It would also have been nice to see Dreams grow beyond the remit of the game, perhaps a hub of some kind on the PlayStation Store that just allows you to download levels? Again, that might have seen more incentive for makers to create larger projects (or just denser efforts) for that broader audience. So, while we are sad about not recognising the talent residing in the knitting basket of Media Molecule, if Dreams makes the right changes or the next project plays the right hand, expect the team to grab a trophy.

Kes Eylers-Stephenson
Written by Kes Eylers-Stephenson
Editor Kes is our resident expert in PlayStation and Sony news. He writes about PS5 exclusives like Horizon, The Last of Us, God of War, and Death Stranding 2 using experience from years of playing PlayStation games. He also covers PS Plus and trophy news, as well as his favorite games — The Witcher 3, Assassin’s Creed, and some indie gems — before an evening swim.
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