Pre Launch: Sony?s HomeHome, is Sony Corporation's current answer to the phenomenon of virtual worlds. Running solely on their Playstation Three console. It is hoped that when Home launches in late 2007, it will provide a true attraction, and a basic snow crash styled VR system that can expand and grow.
The filmstrip below, is Sony's official release as to the capabilities of Home.
The first thing that hits you is the graphical quality. This, is likely to be one of the key selling points to console users. The clean lines, high detail polygons, ray traced lighting systems, and expansive environments all scream out high graphics processing power.
It undoubtedly helps that Sony know beforehand, exactly what spec to expect from Home users. It gives them, in essence, a high bar to build from in terms of polish.
The standard communication media are all present and accounted for. Crude body language from a list of pre-made sequence files. Chat in bubbles above user heads. Support for voice communications, and emotes.
Beyond the polish, we have the actual meat and bones of the virtual world. So how does it stand up?
Well, this is from a pre-release perspective, but already, there are disappointing signs.
The disappointment starts to creep in, at the phrase "Each person can customise their appearance." The following direct quote from the VR novel Snow Crash best sums up the issue here:
This quote is relevant because this is the way most social virtual worlds work. They allow a wide range of avatar types, and species. Some, like Second Life, allow practically anything the mind can imagine. Others, like Active Worlds, have support for wildly differing sizes - a two inch high pixie or 300 foot tall dragon - in the same environment.
Home does not, at least from previews. Home allows male human, and female human. You can choose from a wide, and likely expanding collection of skin tones, hair colours, head shapes, and clothing. However, you cannot depart from the pure human archetype. This means no furries, no adult avatars, no robots, cars, dragons, birds, push-a-poppers or other non-human avatars.
Sony's plan is for their world to be able to expand without end. Private rooms, and public rooms accessed off the main corridors. Whilst they do not say how they will store all the member created contrent, it seems logical that the doors exist in the corridors, and larger rooms, but the member rooms and sprawling complexes are probably stored on the individual playstation machines - and thus only available when those users are online, in rather the same way as the PC world Moove handles things.
Builiding in Home would seem to be limited. Rather than creating your own objects in world, as with Second Life, or creating your own models as with Moove or Active Worlds, Home only allows the purchase, download and addition of models made by Sony. This is of course a good way to recoup costs by the parent company, and the models do seem well made, and capable of supporting physics. However, there is a certain feeling of stifled creativity in only being able to be a consumer, and not a content provider.
Home looks to be a good attempt by console manufacturers to move into the creation of virtual worlds. Unlike most current social world systems, Home is fully compatible with external programs - although admittedly, only those made or approved by Sony.
There are plans to allow downloaded films to be shared with friends in a cinema, and public trophy rooms for bragging rights. All of these are features to reinforce, and support the sense of community and status within the world.
However, many features, like the avatars, and the way building is managed, feel a little too 'ma and pa' or 'big brother'. Perhaps this will change upon release, but if not, Home, which does show a lot of potential, will be unlikely to add anything of value to social VR, gaining audience more from walled garden net use on the PS3, than anything else.