Updated: Nov 20, 2021
Before we begin, it is more important than ever for me to stress that the LBP Union is not affiliated with Sony Group Corporation (collectively referred to as “Sony”) and its subordinate entities and studios. We are not the official developers of the game. By using our website you release Sony, as well as any employees or agents of Sony, from any and all liability, corporate, or personal loss caused to you or others by the use of our website or any features we provide.
Since the LittleBigPlanet servers are now permanently shut down for PlayStation 3 and Vita consoles, online features have been unavailable for these aging games. For many, these titles were the last online games that they would play on PS3 and Vita. A lot of people assumed that this was the end of the story and that the future would only be with LittleBigPlanet 3, Sackboy: a Big Adventure, and wherever Sony decided to take the Sackboy brand next.
However, that's not necessarily true anymore. Although LittleBigPlanet 1, 2, 3, and Vita are no longer supported on these older consoles, private servers for these games are becoming more advanced and accessible than ever before. Read on to learn about Project Lighthouse, a LittleBigPlanet private server developed by the LBP Union Ministry of Technology.
A Quick Look
There is a lot I need to cover before we get into the meat of things. However, here are a few key takeaways that you should look out for,
The LBP Union Research and Development Team has made significant progress on ‘Project Lighthouse’, a private server that will allow real PlayStation 3 consoles and RPCS3 emulators to use online features for LittleBigPlanet
Project Lighthouse is being spearheaded by our lead developer Jvyden.
The project aims to be open source, but security is still a priority.
In the current stage of development, many core online features of the game are functioning, such as profiles and most importantly level publishing.
An official server is not yet open and more work is needed to develop the security and features of the project before any kind of open release or test is possible.
You will need either an emulator like RPCS3 with RPCN or a PlayStation 3 with Custom Firmware (CFW) or Hybrid Firmware (HFW). This is not just for the current stage of development. Without one of these requirements, you will not be able to use a private server.
On September 13th, the developers of LittleBigPlanet officially shut down the game servers for PlayStation 3 and Vita. This restricted all online features for every game except LBP3 PS4. It’s also worth noting that it’s impossible to use multiplayer in LBP3 PS4 without paying for a PlayStation Plus subscription. Porting user generated content over from a previous title onto the PS4 without modification of the console is also impossible.
This result was disappointing to many, but many veterans saw it coming eventually. We just never knew when.
The server shutdown is the end of an era, but it’s also the start of a new one. Now that the developers have ended support for these older titles, it has become a bit more acceptable (more on that later) to modify the game and the console to enable private servers.
Enter Project Lighthouse
The idea for Project Lighthouse came to me earlier this year when I imagined that the official servers might shut down soon. I imagined a space elevator referred to as the Lighthouse from Ace Combat 7, a megastructure that could propel humanity to the stars to do what was never thought possible.
I like to imagine that our project is like a space elevator. We aren’t just preserving LittleBigPlanet’s online features: we’re propelling the community into a new future of possibility and creativity.
When Jvyden joined our R&D team, things really kicked off. In a matter of a few weeks, Project Lighthouse was ready for private testing with level loading and other features. Various other members of our R&D team have tested and used the server which has led to a great deal of progress on the project.
What Can Project Lighthouse Do?
Project Lighthouse can do a lot of interesting things right now, such as,
You can edit your own Earth and publish levels.
Online player counts are supported.
Hearting and queuing levels.
We’ve even had multiplayer sessions on real hardware!
Can I Connect to Project Lighthouse Right Now?
Unfortunately at the time of writing, Project Lighthouse’s development server is not currently open to the public. It is in private testing mainly due to privacy/security concerns.
When Will it Be Available?
We aren’t sure when Project Lighthouse will be available to the public.
When Lighthouse is available, it will be open source. However, there are some concerns to be addressed related to this, like security.
As development continues, a public beta will eventually be available to help test the stability and functionality of the server.
How Secure is Project Lighthouse?
At the moment? Not very. It’s currently using HTTP, an unsecure protocol that the official servers used to use. At the moment the servers on PS4 are using HTTPS, a more secure connection type. Project Lighthouse will eventually use HTTPS.
Although the software will be open source, our primary goal is to make it as secure as possible so that users on the client side cannot exploit the software to perform malicious actions in the game.
We also don’t want them to be able to unreasonably gain information about other players if at all possible. Naturally, it would be more secure if you were to use only trustworthy private servers than if you were to connect to a random server hosted by someone you didn’t know.
Do I Have to Jailbreak my PlayStation 3?
Yes. To use any kind of private server for LittleBigPlanet, you will need either Custom Firmware (CFW) or Hybrid Firmware (HFW). This is commonly known as jailbreaking. However, if you’ve got a beefy enough computer, you could also use an emulator like RPCS3, which we will talk more about later in the article.
It's important to note that while this may seem complicated and impossible at the moment, rest assured we plan to simplify the process to make it more accessible to the average user.
Custom Firmware (CFW)
According to the lead developer of Project Lighthouse, Jvyden, “Custom Firmware (CFW) is typically modification of Sony’s official firmware on the PS3. It can release restrictions such as the one that only lets you run code verified by Sony, or introduce new features like having a built-in file browser. More importantly for Project Lighthouse, it can even run modified games like LittleBigPlanet 2 so that they can connect to a private server.”
In order to use a private server, your game’s binary must be patched to use a different server. To do this, Jvyden created ‘Union Patcher’, a simple utility that patches your own game’s EBOOT file to use the new server.
But what is an EBOOT? Well, Jvyden explains that “An EBOOT is an encrypted ELF binary file that a PS3 uses to launch and run games and other software. This is comparable to a .exe file on Windows or a .app file on MacOS.” He goes on to explain that “It’s possible to decrypt this file, modify its contents, and even re-encrypt the file. However, modification will make it unable to run on an unmodified PlayStation.”
While Union Patcher is simple right now, Jvyden says he has more plans for it. Jvyden goes on, "Ideally you point Union Patcher to a PS3 running CFW and Union Patcher automatically downloads the EBOOT from the PS3, modifies it, and then re-uploads it to the PS3. There's a lot of manual work that needs to be done right now, especially for a digital copy, and I think that can easily be improved."
Unfortunately, we can not and will not be distributing any EBOOT files. This is strictly forbidden and illegal, since this file is proprietary to Sony. You must modify your own EBOOT file from a copy of the game that you have purchased legally in order to connect to Lighthouse. DO NOT illegally download the game. If you have pirated your game we will not lend you any assistance or help. However, (if you obtained the game legitimately) this does not mean you will be entirely on your own! There will be guides coming closer to Project Lighthouse’s release on how to dump your own game files.
However, there may be a way in the future to play online while avoiding the danger. Jvyden proposes the following: "Lighthouse can not and will not verify PSN authentication tickets. But that's not a bad thing. In fact, it could work in our favor. By removing PSN from the equation entirely and having a different authentication method entirely, it increases cross play compatibility between RPCS3 and PS3 significantly. Furthermore, it becomes possible to be able to log in without PSN at all, reducing the risk of playing on a private server to none. The only problem would be P2P multiplayer, which LBP requires PSN for."
But wait, what is RPCS3, and how does it tie into PSN?
RPCS3 is a PlayStation 3 emulator. With RPCS3, you can connect to a private server like Project Lighthouse without ever having to even touch a PS3. However, there are definitely some limitations with this approach. System requirements are the biggest example. The second biggest would easily be the fact that the PS3 is simply just a strange piece of hardware. Reproducing its functionality on other hardware can be a difficult task to handle, especially for older computers.
Another issue is that RPCS3, as an emulator, cannot connect to the official PlayStation Network servers. Jvyden explains, “Emulators such as RPCS3 cannot connect to real PSN servers. However, they can attempt to mimic PSN! This is what RPCS3's RPCN does. It will essentially replace the code that would normally be in the PS3's firmware that talks to PSN to talk to RPCN. However, RPCN is still a work in progress. You can connect to private servers on LittleBigPlanet with RPCN, but multiplayer isn't possible at this time.”
It might be possible for an emulator to allow for online P2P multiplayer in LittleBigPlanet in the future without actually connecting to the PlayStation network. Jvyden describes the issue, “the problem is specifically because of a protocol that LBP uses that RPCS3 does not yet support.” Once the developers of the emulator can support the protocol, online multiplayer will be possible.
Even considering all that, RPCS3 is a very good emulator for an emulator in alpha. RPCS3 has had surprising compatibility with LittleBigPlanet 2 in particular according to Jvyden. In fact, most of the development of Lighthouse was done with RPCS3!
Is This Legal?
In short, yes. It is legal. Project Lighthouse's code does not use any proprietary code to function on the server side. However, there is a LOT more to talk about that I would like to address in a separate article coming soon. In that piece, I’ll write all about how we got to this point, some landmark examples of private servers for other games, and how we aim to avoid infringing on Sony’s copyright and intellectual property. You bought your PlayStation, you have every right to open up the console and modify it. In the same vein we can make custom software that lets you do what you’d like with your game for free. We will never charge money for any kind of service related to Sony’s IP or copyright. This is entirely a non-profit and fan-made project that has no relationship with Sony.
Now, the interesting stuff comes into play when we consider a larger private server, a more centralized entity like an official LBP Union private server. We will need to take a lot of precautions to avoid the threat of litigation from Sony. We will never ask for compensation to run the server. There’s much more to talk about there that will be addressed in a future article.
Lighthouse: The Future of LittleBigPlanet
LittleBigPlanet definitely isn’t going away anytime soon. So long as the community cares about the franchise, it will always live on. Private servers like Project Lighthouse will enable things that weren’t possible before. There are a number of interesting possibilities on our mind for the future, such as,
Federation: Bringing together multiple private servers with a shared database of levels and user profiles. Your profile would sync between multiple different servers, and you would be able to switch between them freely. This is the concept that Matrix/Element operates on.
Integration: Bots would be able to access information from private servers to give you information about your profile, level stats, and comments on Discord, Twitter, and other web-based solutions, like perhaps an LBP.me clone.
Special features: New online features could be incorporated into the game alongside other non-server related innovations. For example, custom content utilizing model import, image import, and more.
Project Lighthouse will move forward into the future with a strong emphasis on security while retaining openness. Without the limitations imposed by Sony, Sumo Digital, or Media Molecule, anything is possible.
We plan to continue providing regular updates about the progress of Project Lighthouse. If you would like to stay up to date on development progress and are interested in participating in future public betas, make sure to follow us on social media and join our Discord server to be the first to know. Thank you so much for reading, and be sure to share the news with friends that you’re looking forward to playing online with again!