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Leipzig diary – far from Home

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I may have been far from New York last week at the Games Convention (i’m still in Germany, too), but for the first time i was very close to PlayStation’s Home.

It was my first stab at actual videogame journalism. The first thing i did when my girl and i arrived was look for the Hall that had the Sony stuff. I’ve been PS-fiendin’ since last summer, and Nintendo, at Intendo’s expense, could not reignite my Ninterest. Sony’s presence at Leipzig was felt in the earth, while Nintendo chose to cut class. Sorry Intendo, but it had to be done. This was my chance to rub elbows with industry people i actually wanted to rub elbows with.

The first hall, the Glasshalle, had SCE’s Deustchland subdivision listed in the day planner and we were already there. It consisted of a Gran Turismo car; we kept walking. Eventually we made it to the primary hall, Halle 3, which had EA, some others i forget, and a massive section all for Sony. It was themed like the event squares in Home, which was a nice, conscious touch. Each pillar of the PS3’s future had its own dedicated little island (aka booth), with three primary islands. Of those, one was showcasing the best of the PSN.

The PSN island went vertical. It was a glorified staircase with LCDs and PS3s playing a different PSN game on each level, and a summit reserved for Europe’s currently exclusive PlayTV service and something called Home. I didn’t expect to see Home at this event. The extended beta just started sending out invites the other week — where’s mine?! — but i guess that should’ve told me it was ready to be shown to a wider audience. While there, on my first day, i didn’t actually get to play it. I wanted to, believe me, but german people were hogging that thing like there’s no tomorrow. Since it’s not a game, there was no time limit or end goal and they just sat there for hours. What could i do?

Instead, i roped in a Home producer, Martijn Van der Meulen, and talked to him for quite a bit of time. It was pretty casual, same impression i got with all the Sony devs i spoke to, but i had to give myself a little sense of being official so i whipped out the iPhone and asked him for an on-the-record interview. He agreed, and spoke at le(eeeee)ngth about PS Home and its development.

This tale’s in two parts: i used YouNote to record the audio, an iPhone app that’s free and terrible. The first part of our interview was long, and at some point i had to segment it so i paused to stop it and create a new recording. I stopped the second recording a little while later, but we talked on and on. Afterwards, i checked to see if the recordings were intact and found that the first had been overwritten by the second. Fuck up #1. It was hard losing the 1st part, being the longest. But hey, i’ll live, i still have the second one and that should be interesting enough. However, fuck up #2: i just checked YouNote again for the first time since last week and there’s not one recording left in there. The thing completely swallowed up the files and acted like they never happened. And even if i still had them, there’s no way to seek in YouNote, nor transfer files to a computer, nor pause, rewind, or fast forward. All it can do is play, stop, and eat shit.

Anyway, Martijn was very enthusiastic about Home (that’s his knee). He seemed to be pretty involved in gathering community feedback and such data. He (or his team) patrols the PS forums and listens to what the beeta testers say about the service, and he generally wanted me to know that they’re very open to what the community thinks should be implemented in Home. He had a lot to say about it, and i’d love to give it to you verbatim, but… you know(te). Let’s see what i can remember, and keep in mind that anything listed that denies something always carried the disclaimer “we will look into it for future updates”:

Home’s open “beeta” (he’s from the Netherlands i think) will be out this year. Regions will be locked due to market-specific ads. There’s a limit of roughly 64 players in each space, and when that limit is reached Home will create another “instance” of that area and fill it up with more players (players can invite each other if in different areas or different instances of the same area). In the current beta, each user has one apartment and one ‘vacation pad,’ and the developers are assessing whether you’ll get just one or both free at launch. Your Home space can be expanded by going to a real estate office kinda thing and buying new property. It wasn’t clear if it was possible to add a floor to your existing place, all he said was that you could buy extra apartments through real estate. Everyone will start with a basic set of furniture and clothing, and extra items will be “appropriately priced” for the PSN. There are no current plans to sell outfits or furniture sets as add-on content packs, but the devs are looking into that possibility.

Voice chat isn’t available in the current beeta, but will be at the open one’s launch. There are no plans to utilize your Home avatar in other games, only in the mini-games found in the Home arcade space. There are also no plans to let you use your Home avatar as your PSN ID avatar. The Home Event square is something the devs are big on, but when i asked if there were plans to show other content rather than just game show keynotes and PS-related video, such as a Sony music artist or movie trailers or possibly even sporting events, Martijn said that it was possible with Sony sponsored events but a little more unlikely with other events due to licensing. Game launching seems to be Home’s most important draw, and several studios in and outside of Sony are already creating their game-themed Home rooms.

I talked with Martijn for almost an hour or more, seemed like, but that are all the interesting details i can remember. He was a little weirded out by me at times, and who isn’t, such as when i asked him if i could take a picture of his ID card so i wouldn’t have to write his name down. Then i came back later to ask for a picture, which prompted another weird face, and he asked if i came to Germany specifically for the show or not. I said no, but later wondered why the hell he asked me that. Should’ve asked. I could take him if any beef goes down. But yea, he took the picture and all was well. He even said hi to me the next day, on which i finally got to touch Home.

I had a good time with it, using a pre-made female character called PS_Home4. The loading times are a little lengthy, but nothing unusual for an MMO-like structure. The in-game PSP is a very cool way to navigate your settings, adjust your appearance and just do whatever tweaking you need to. The avatar animations can be really funny during chat, some guy named Timski was giving me the chuckles (add him to your PSN list and say Linteria sent you). He freed me of my Sony slave chains. I think the male and female characters dance differently, cause i couldn’t step with him and his friends. Felt left out, but i still had fun. Too bad i won’t be able to dance with him and his red fro wig later, region lock and all. 😦

Me being someone who likes to fuck around in PSN chats, i’d download Home just for this. And maybe one of those new snap-on chatpads to go with it. I don’t think there’s much of a point to Home besides just that: convening in a public space and hooking up before and after a game. Let’s face it, those 6-person limited chatrooms don’t cut it when we’re playing with 12 or more people at a time. Home is nothing more/less than a game forum in full 3D. To me, that’s the selling point. Winter with a PS3’s gonna be fun.

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