Sony's Home is one of the most highly anticipated titles on the PlayStation 3, and it has the potential to revolutionise the way users interact online. However, there's no doubt it's taken a long time to come to fruition.
At the Sony E3 2008 press conference, the company reiterated Home's importance to the platform and promised that it would release an open beta in the third quarter of 2008.
Home is designed to bring together Sony's three key interests: gaming, music, and movies. The home square is the embodiment of this intention and houses a gaming arcade, a movie theatre, a music zone, as well as shops and meeting areas.
The games arcade allows you to play simple games against other people from right inside Home. These include such games as chess, pool, and bowling - all of which could be described as simple but addictive mini-games. From our preliminary look at the pool game, the physics feel good, but they won't compete with a proper stand-alone pool sim.
In the music zone, you'll be able to listen to communal music and make your character dance along to the music. A menu system allows you to choose from different dancing styles, and we were shown a particularly funny robot dance. Sony hasn't confirmed whether you'll be able to buy music here, but we expect it's a feature that's being considered.
The cinema holds a lot of potential, especially because it will allow you to watch movies with friends. Sony is being coy about content and pricing at this stage, but with a movie division, as well as a new download service, it's likely that such a Sony title as Spider-Man is being lined up for an appearance.
Your living space will be the most personal aspect of Home because it will be viewable by invitation only. The demo apartment that we saw was small, but it overlooked a beautiful dock complete with expensive yachts and circling seagulls. We pressed Sony on the cost of owning such an apartment, but the reps wouldn't be drawn on prices - all they said was that you could own many different properties if you wanted.
Although Home is set to be a free download for PlayStation 3 owners, Sony will make money from paid downloads and sponsorship. Posters and video walls adorn the public areas, plus there will be specific zones sponsored by individual companies or products. Sony mentioned that Nike is involved, and we were told that Ubisoft broadcast its Ubidays event within the current beta version. Seeing next year's Sony E3 briefing through Home is just one of the possibilities opened up by the software.
One of the ways that products and brands will get involved in Home is through specific zones. Sony demonstrated zones with two games - Uncharted: Drake's Fortune and Warhawk. The Uncharted zone took the form of a bar where you could sit down and have a drink, play an arcade game, or even watch old movies on the black-and-white TV. There were also locked doors that could be opened by finding codes hidden around the bar. The Warhawk zone had a much more military feel and featured a sandpit where you could plan tactics before seamlessly jumping into a game.
With so many different areas to visit, getting around the world of Home could be difficult. However, the application uses a simple map system that allows you to move from zone to zone just by clicking on the maps. The same ease of use applies to communication because you'll be able to use a Bluetooth headset to talk or a USB keyboard to type messages.
Sony is keen on continually offering something new within Home and promises to update the system as often as possible. The application will also be tailored to individual territories, with the American home square looking bigger and grander than the European one we saw recently. However, the plan is that all PlayStation 3 owners will be able to download the open beta in Q3 2008, so we'll get to find out even more about it soon.
Screenshot below is of the Music Zone, and more screenshots can be seen at the link at the top of this story. More PlayStation 3 News...