I finished up Gears of War 2 for the Xbox 360 today. The game was a blast; I loved every second of it. It was also one of the easiest games I've played in a while. Which is odd considering that the first one was much harder.
Anyway, I decided to give the 360 a rest and boot up my PlayStation 3. And lo and behold I was greeted with a new addition in my icon list, as you can see from the pic above. Yup, Sony's much anticipated Home service has finally launched late this week!
And what is Home?
Well, it's a virtual live gathering place where gamers can meet, mingle, and do all sorts of cool things. It's a little bit like the Sims for those of you not in the know, or a lot more like Second Life for those of you who game on the PC. You basically create an avatar, get assigned an apartment, and then go forth and, er, multiply I guess. No, in actuality you can roam around the virtual world doing all sorts of things like chatting with other avatars, go bowling or play some pool, go shopping at the mall, dance, etc, etc. Right now the options available are very limited. Home is still in Beta testing, so it's going to be a while before we see the good stuff. For now, I suppose, you can go to the mall and buy some new duds and perhaps a lamp or chair for your apartment. I haven't done it yet, but I hear you have to use real world money to purchase some items. Like $5 or $10.
This is my avatar. I tried as best I could to get him to look like me, but even though there were quite a few sliders and options to toggle with, this was the best I could do. Dude doesn't look anything like me at all, but it's good enough for now. The clothing options are limited right from the start. Presumably we'll eventually be able to buy a variety of different clothes from the mall so that everyone can have their individualized identity. As it stands, I've ran into 20 or 30 near identical clones of myself in just 5 minutes of wandering around. Bleh!
After choosing my avatar, I was given a swanky studio apartment overlooking the harbor. This is pretty cool. I wish I could have this place in real life! It's a bit bare now as you can see, but eventually we'll have more decorating options to chose from. Furniture, wall art, color scheme -- the works.
And check out the view from my terrace! All these pics are taken off of my tv screen using a digital camera, btw, so pardon the low quality here. But I can assure you that the ocean water looks almost real on my HDTV--wow! I'm really impressed with the graphics on this service, which--like the PlayStation Network itself--is completely free. Eat that, Microsoft!
Anyway, I eventually wandered down from my loft to check out the lobby, which is called Central Plaza. This is an open-air rotunda in which everybody materializes literally out of thin air, and which leads you to other accessible areas like the Bowling Alley, the Mall, and the Theater. If you notice, there are even real-world ads up in the form of revolving billboards. I guess this will generate the revenue to run this place, among other sources. Right now, as you can see, the movie Twilight is being promo'ed.
I'm in the mall here. You can see for yourself that there isn't much diversity in terms of clothing style. But this will change. For now, everyone seems to be running around the place with their heads cut off. Like over-eager children let loose in a toy story. It's hilarious! We're also given many different options to play with in our actions. You can choose to interact with your surroundings in various ways, and even play music and dance. I spotted quite a few small gatherings of 4 or 5 gamers swaying and jamming to the beat of music you can't hear until you get close enough. I avoided these gatherings (naturally), and instead bid my time exploring.
A few people tried to chat me up, but I wasn't feeling the awkward typepad interface. Unlike with the PC, chatting here requires using your game controller to individually type each letter of your message one at a time at an agonizingly slow pace. Unless you happen to have a USB keyboard connected to your PS3, which I don't. I could use my PC one, but constantly changing it back and forth between systems would suck.
The other option is to use a bluetooth headset to voice-chat with people in real time. Sony's PS3 is cool in that it allows all types of third-party accessories to pair with it so long as they connect via bluetooth or USB. So I was able to use the same headset I use for my mobile to chat on Home. I didn't, of course, but I left it powered on in my ear so that I could eavesdrop on other people's conversations. That was seriously weird. I mean, really. Walking around the Plaza, you'll suddenly hear someone's real voice speaking inside your ear just out of the blue. As long as you're standing near enough, you can listen in as people carry on real conversations inside of this virtual environment. For those using the typepad to communicate, you can read their conversations above their heads.
I think this is beyond cool. Once I actually do start to interact, I don't see how I'll ever type my messages out though. But maybe not all people are comfortable with this? We'll see.
I can't wait until more people sign up and this place turns out to be a real haven for gamers. There is much skepticism on just how successful Sony's gamble will be. But judging from the amount of new people creating accounts and materializing into the Plaza just this afternoon, I think this is going to be HUGE. And I'm so glad I get to witness Home's humble beginnings from pretty much Day 1 here. It will be interesting to watch it expand and improve.
I'll keep ya'll updated.