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Sony Keynote Offers Hope For PlayStation 3 Fans 361

Once again, the stage was set for Sony to try to get some good will directed towards its next-gen console. Recent weeks especially have seen PR frustrations and setbacks for the company. Today was Sony's day to deliver: and in my opinion they did with flying colours. By the end of the keynote attendees were laughing and clapping with glee at the goodies that the company is going to be bringing to the PlayStation 3. Finally, finally, there seems to be a light at the end of the tunnel for the console. Read on for my notes on the keynote, as well as links to other coverage of the event. Note the first: There may finally be a great reason to buy a PlayStation.
Taking a page from the PAX playbook, the first notable event of the Sony Keynote was the introduction of the huge soccer balls into the audience by gleeful PR wags. Front row attendees seemed to delight in targeting photographers, beaning several unobservant cameramen with the huge inflatable spheres.

Jamil Moledina introduced Sony's Harrison, saying that this was a 'great year' for the conference. With all three console out and the tools in place, GDC is focused on 'taking control' and charting the future of gaming. With words about SCEA's future being linked to the developers here, Jamil hands the keynote off to Phil.

Opening with talk of 'audience participation' (ala the big soccer balls), Phil launches into a discussion of Games 3.0. The Time magazine 'person of the year' last year was referenced, as was the Web 2.0 philosophy. The reality is that the concepts are worthless without actual products. So, Sony is now moving in the direction of a new '3.0 philosophy'.

Games 1.0 = disconnected consoles. 2.0 games are connected, but with static content on the disc. 3.0 games are all about social interactions, community, customization, emergent entertainment, with the audience members at the center of the entertainment experience. Open standards are mentioned as a definite possibility.

PlayStation Home will be launching from Sony later this year. (video clip) There's just a new icon on the media bar, allowing access to the new content. Phil introduces Scott Walgerman, producer of the service to do a demo. The service begins with the words 'entering the online world'. When you enter the service, you are in the central lounge. Your avatar is customizable, and extremely detailed. These is *not* Miis, these are better than Second Life quality digital characters. A virtual PSP allows you to teleport around and customize your character. Clothes are added to your wardrobe by buying games. Heavenly Sword being played on the console means you have a Sword t-shirt in your bag.

Dynamic advertising is pushed into the space via banners around the world, and in billboards. HD-quality video is running on the billboards. Users are communicating around the demonstrator, with chat, voice, and emotes.

Other public spaces exist to allow opportunities for social interaction. There's a games lounge with easy games like pool, bowling, and arcade titles. The pool and bowling titles are physics based in the world. The arcade games are customizable, and ... perhaps this is the venue for indie games?

Every avatar has a private apartment, an opportunity to make a statement in the world and a place to hang out with friends. Everything is customizable, and more furniture/wallpaper is downloadable. Unsurprisingly, some will be for-purchase. More interestingly, everything is physics based. Picture frames can be pinned to the wall, and any content on the PS3 is postable up there. Phil demonstrates the ability to do 'user created content' by taking a photo of the crowd, slotting the memory stick into the PS3, and then loading the picture into the picture frame.

Moving to another apartment, which can be purchased and is quite a bit larger. Premium items like the pool tables, arcades, can be put into place. Video can be put into place as well via televisions. Scott demonstrates by putting the Casino Royale trailer onto the display.

We teleport again, to the Home Movie Theater. There's a trailer running in the foyer, and dynamic posters on the walls. The avatar moves up to 'user customized spaces', where they introduce grouper content. By walking into theaters, you can watch the content and chat with friends. Not only Sony brands and big named movies, then, but YouTube like user-created content in this world.

Porting again, we head out to locations based around game publishers. We zoom to a 'sports lounge' with information and views of minigames. Harrison says it's very simple to make these spaces, and thinks that many developers will be happy to make such areas.

The final area they go to, the hall of fame, shows off Trophies that you'll earn through play. You can place them in cases, completely 3d and physics based. It's also possible to show off defining moments from your gaming experience on video screens. The avatar then walks out onto a balcony, revealing a Star Wars senate hall style area with hundreds of other user spaces and displaying hundreds of other trophies.

The whole thing is free. There's a large-scale Beta trial beginning in April of this year, with the service launching in Fall of this year.

Phil then moves on to Singstar. Sold 7 million units on PS2, and they're now looking forward to taking it to the PlayStation Network. He demonstrates the online capabilities of the game, showing recent song additions and what your friends have been singing lately. The store is also very easy, adding songs to a cart with the push of a button. Songs download in the background, which Phil notes is a 'good feature'. If you want to, you can videotape your performance and share it with your friends. They can then be rated. That sounds ominous. May/June release in Europe for the game, with a release 'later' for the states.

The next announcement: PlayStation Edge. A set of core tools and technologies that they've used on first party titles, and will now be shared with PS3 devs. Later today they'll be talking about it in a session. One is a graphics tool, allowing best use of the chipset. The other is an optimization set, allowing 'best of breed' technology use. To be shared via the support network after GDC.

And another announcement. LittleBigPlanet. (video clip) It's the guys who did RagDoll KungFu.. Mark Healy and Alex Evans are brought out, and show off the title, which is all about 'creativity.' Alex beings by saying they'll show how easy it is to make stuff in the game world. With just a few controller elements, they make a block, add a gear, and then set it moving with physics. It looks exactly like the toolset from Second Life, only useable. Everything is very intuitive, and the avatars are adorable. Little brown felt creatures. They then begin adding images to the walls with 'stickers'. There's all sorts of weird little things, and everything is completely customizable. Content on the HDD is addable to your space as well. The two demonstrators collaborate by adding elements to each other's creations. They're even able to add elements to each other's avatars.

They then drop down to show a much more customized area, where Phil and another demonstrator join them. The new demonstrator has a really excellent dragon scarf that flows realistically in the wind behind the character as he leaps through the air. This space is a game. It's a platformer, entirely within the gameworld. They all collect little oranges, knock over blocks, and generally chaos their way from left to right. They can also collaborate to help each other across puzzles by manipulating physical objects. It's amazing. The audience is laughing, clapping, and talking amongst themselves, and the entire thing looks fantastic. There's dynamic lighting, intuitive gameplay ... as interesting as the Home stuff is, if these elements are for real, this is the reason to buy PlayStation 3. The demo gets a huge ovation, and there's a decent amount of cheering. It's just crazy. They then show a quick video showing the way your creations can be shared. It's debuting sometime this year via PSN, on Blu-Ray next year.

"The industry is on the threshold of a new era of communication and innovation." An opportunity for the industry to expand the horizons of gaming. He wraps it up with a wish for good GDC, and the audience response is very positive.

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Sony Keynote Offers Hope For PlayStation 3 Fans

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