Home: prepare to be a bit bored
Play was invited to the Home beta, earlier in the summer
Play was invited to the Home beta, earlier in the summer. After much analysis of the PS3’s long-awaited social networking tool, here are our thoughts…
After entering our secret login from Sony, downloading the 200MB file and its 89MB update, we finally had access to Home on the PS3. The expectations are ridiculously high for this virtual, Second Life-esque social space. Prior to sampling Home, we didn’t really know what to expect, despite our months of writing news pieces on the service and interpreting Sony’s idealistic spiel. What were we dreaming of? GT5 garages? Trophy cases showcasing our Uncharted skills? Whorehouses? If not these things, we were hoping for a fresh, vibrant and innovative way of networking on the PS3; this, though, is not the first opinion that strikes you, upon entering Home.
At the beginning, the outlook is much more depressing. The initial process of designing your character is fun, given that everything from lips, head size and build can be adjusted to your satisfaction, but it’s those first moments of aimlessly walking around that can be quite alienating. You begin in your empty apartment, with a door leading to the outside world and a seaside view from the windows in your room. Upon walking through the door, we were greeted with a sight that is unfortunately indicative of the Home experience: a download screen. For every new building that we entered, a 30-50MB additional update was needed, which was a little bit frustrating– why not condense everything into one 500MB download, and cut out the middleman? Perhaps this is something the company will work on before it’s unveiled to the public.
Once we’d overcome this process, we were in Home Square. Eerily, this hub of Home activity was 100% deserted. Around us, tons of advertising posters for Sony products were hanging on the walls, while huge video screens donned trailers of the latest Sony products. In all honesty, it was like walking into some kind of nightmarish, Sony-generated Dystopia. Home seemed a bit… Orwellian. Hardly an image you want to provide, when users are discovering it for the first time.
From Home Square, you can access a theatre full of game/movie trailers, a mall containing different stores and a games zone, for leisure activities. With all being completely devoid of people, though, Home was terribly off-putting. A better experience came that very night, however, during an organised Sony press event that showcased two of their biggest titles, inFamous and Resistance 2, as well as smaller title Ratchet & Clank: Quest For Booty. To mark the occasion, developers Insomniac and Sucker Punch were dragged out to answer the numerous, mostly banal questions of the gaming press.
Stepping into Home Square was different, this time. Now populated with upwards of 30 users, we finally engaged in some relaxed and non-terrifying conversations with other people. Our scheduled time with Insomniac and Sucker Punch was coming up, however, so we had to visit a place in Home called the Events Space. This is something of a showroom; Sony had big bits of inFamous artwork sprawled across the walls, and trailers playing in the background. The space is wide open, with a fountain in view. Podiums were dotted around where the developers stood, as users queued up to ask questions.
These were, as a matter of fact, the most relaxed conversations we’ve ever had with games developers. The speech bubbles make Home feeling like a moving comic book, of sorts, while the different expressions of each avatar almost distract from the conversation itself. Sucker Punch’s Darren Bridges put it best: “It’s hard to ask someone difficult questions when they’re doing the flamenco dance.” Quite. Were we hanging around with friends, rather than folk we’ve never met, the Home experience would surely be richer and more fulfilling.
We asked Insomniac’s Ryan Schneider about the potential of Home for developers, and he answered enthusiastically: “I think the main opportunity for Home is expanding the game into a larger universe, so people can experience the game for themselves in their own way”. Presumably, Schneider was referencing the availability of downloadable content related to each product. The Mall in Home Square only contains a few items, at present (all with names like ‘summer lamp’), but the service will be exponentially updated in the time it takes to finish Home, as well as the extensive period after release. Schneider, though, stated that Home content is “not bundled” with Resistance 2.
Technically speaking, the service is quite impressive, but then they have been working on Home since 2005. “Each room can hold 50 people before it makes a copy of itself, but people can still visit their friends [with ease],” said the_e3_mc, who hosted the event. To visit any of your online friends at any time, all you have to do is bring up the in-game PSP, choose a friend off your Network list, and click ‘Go To’. That creates the instantaneous link that people require, in order to streamline the process to its very basic social function.
As the service became populated, we saw how it all came together. Home, when brimming with life, excitement and conversation is something that you’ll want to be a part of, and it could genuinely work as a social tool. The PS3 lacks a decent community aspect, and Home, if implemented properly, could very well bring the Network to a higher standard. It could be worth the wait.