Sony flounders then wows during GDC keynote

  • San Francisco (CA) - You generally don't see audience emotions change from boredom to adulation during a major convention keynote, but this exact thing happened during Sony's keynote today at the Game Developers Conference. Sony's Phil Harrison demonstrated its new PlayStation: Home, a curious mixture of the Sims and Xbox Live, to a mostly disinterested audience. Harrison then redeemed himself by showing off "LittleBigPlanet" a cute game featuring bouncing, grabbing and flying fabric-covered characters and a completely configurable world.

    Sony's Phil Harrison speaks during the GDC 2007 keynote

    Harrison started off the keynote talking about the different generations of game consoles. Generation 1.0 was were the disconnected consoles with stand-alone content from discs or cartridges. As consoles became more advanced in Generation 2.0 games became connected to the Internet, but the content was still basically coming from the disc. Harrison claims that Game 3.0 with dynamic content is just around the corner and he showed off PlayStation: Home and LittleBigPlanet to prove it.

    PlayStation: Home lets players talk and interact with other PlayStation 3 players through a virtual world. The service will be available for free later this year and will begin beta testing next month. Another Sony rep demonstrated character customization by changing hair color and even facial structures like the jaw line and forehead. You can even customize your avatar's shirt.

    Sitting on a virtual couch in PlayStation: Home

    But the most interesting thing wasn't the character customization, but popping in new furniture and appliances to your virtual apartment. Just like the Sims, you can pop in furniture to the walls, floors or even tabletops. Of course, Sony is making several real life electronics like the Bravia television set available in the virtual world. Premium content in better looking furniture or a larger apartment can also be purchased.

    PlayStation: Home uses physics and you can "throw" your television set down the stairs where it will tumble. Harrison remarked that the virtual Bravia was just as reliable as the real-life one.

    While PlayStation: Home did garner some applause during the presentation, the reaction from the crowd was muted at best. It's possible that Kotaku's early announcement of the service could have stolen the thunder from Sony, but we think that the concept tries to unsuccessfully copy the Sims. The character movements are quite limited and the speech combinations are limited by pre-set phrases. You can "type" in text with the virtual keyboard, but this requires selecting characters by moving your cursor and then hitting keys with your controller button - not a very elegant way of doing things.

    In contrast to PlayStation: Home, Harrison's demonstration of LittleBigPlanet stole the show and received roaring applause and cheers from the audience. In this game, cute, cuddly characters bounce around the screen and grab "sponge" which is the game's version of valuable currency. Motions and buttons on the PlayStation controller cause the on-screen characters to dance, wave and grab things. They can even look around and bow.

    Cute characters in LittleBigPlanet

    The characters can create their own levels by spawning objects, stickers and then placing them anywhere on the screen. You can even place weird objects like eyes and flowers on other characters just by clicking on them. The objects aren't a fixed size and you can scale them up or down.

    The real fun begins when you have multiple characters on the same screen. All the characters can create objects at the same time and you can vandalize your friend's stuff by adding graffiti or sticking on other objects. While there is no blood or guts in the game, you can virtually slap another character with a quick flick of the controller, often sending the victim flying across the screen.

    In-game physics is perhaps the most interesting thing in LittleBigPlanet. In the game cogs spin, oranges roll and characters bounce around. Complex levels can be made where tree branches have to be lowered by multiple players in order to progress to another level. At the end of the demonstration, Harrison and three developers of LittleBigPlanet rolled their characters down a steep hill on a skateboard and catapulted into the air. As Harrison took a virtual bow inside of his colorful in-game character, people in the audience loudly cheered and applauded. It looks like Sony will have a hit on its hands.