Sony Computer Entertainment Europe's James Cox and Martijn Van Der Meulen gave a talk at GDC Europe on Monday updating the current status on Playstation Home development, recent successes of the Home platform, and what can be expected for developers looking to implement Home in the future.
Cox, head of development, and Van Der Meulen, creative producer, were also very keen to stress that Playstation Home is aimed at providing developers with a means for sharing "interactive content" with Playstation users, rather than being used mainly for "PR purposes".
Initially, says Van Der Meulen, developers on the whole were not convinced that Home was worth producing for. Sony provided an external developer with the SDK tools and within four or five weeks of development, the minigame Tri Sphere was created and deemed a success, pulling in more games companies to try out the development tools.
Sony wanted to push the boundaries further, however. "They wanted to have something that was like a 'proper' Playstation 3 title... not like Chess and Tri Sphere" says Van Der Meulen.
Red Bull were approached and development of Red Bull Air-Race began. The development time for the arcade flight simulator was around four months and was "far more engaging than anything we had in Home", Van Der Meulen states. "It was such a step forward and is still one of the most popular spaces in Home we've had."
Home is a Gaming Platform First
The next move was to create a space based on an existing PS3 title. Sony asked Relentless Software to develop a Buzz! space for their popular quiz-based PlayStation-only series. The idea was that user-created quizzes uploaded to the MyBuzz! site, could be accessed via the Buzz! Home space and played with up to 64 users simultaneously.
Van Der Meulen was quick to emphasize that the thought which goes into deciding what kind of interactive content to provide users in Home with is far more important than using Home spaces as a means of PR. He did, however, state that Home is a very useful tool for developers hoping to spread the coverage of their projects. Buzz!, for example, received a huge amount of interest after the Buzz! Home space was released.
Again, this point was made while discussing the benefits of the SDK tools for Playstation Home. Free to any PS3 developer, the tools can be used to experiment and build content, allowing developers to decide for themselves whether to implement the Home world into their games.
"Instant Online Infrastructure" and a "multimillion user base" are also huge benefits for any potential developers says Van Der Meulen. He reminded attendees that "Playstation Home is a gaming platform, not a PR mechanic".
The pair said 7 million PlayStation 3 owners "use" Home, although it was not stated whether this meant regular users who use the service constantly.
Another case study was discussed, namely PSN title Burn Zombie Burn. Developer DoubleSix downloaded the Playstation Home SDK tools and single-handedly built a Home space for Burn Zombie Burn, complete with a shop for users to purchase clothing featuring branding for the game. "Sales have gone up for Burn Zombie Burn because of this space", claims Van Der Meulen.
EA also began to produce content for Home around the same time, and have since developed a variety of different spaces and minigames, including poker, golf, racing and DJ games. They have told Sony they are "really happy with it", says Van Der Meulen.
James Cox discussed the future of Playstation Home, including the next HDK build 1.3, which he says will be "the biggest release we've had since 1.0".
The HDK tools are split into three parts - the development kit itself, the documents and user guides, and the 'Content Delivery System' for submitting projects to Sony. Home spaces submitted can be either "public spaces" which anyone can enter, or "personal spaces", which users can enter alone or invite friends to join them. Their personal spaces can also be decorated with items bought from the Home store and even sold to other users.
Cox's slide on the subject also contained the bulletpoint, "Future: Clubhouses", but Cox himself did not divulge any details on this.
Integration between Home and PS3 titles is important for the future of Home, says Cox, with two main methods available to developers. Sony is pushing developers to give users the ability to not onlhy launch their games through PlayStation Home (with multiple people if desired), but also to drop both themselves and their friends straight into a specific level of a game, skipping the title and loading screens.
Describing the Lua programming language support for HDK, Cox says that "Home is there for people who play games" but points out that "you don't have to make a game... you can make any interactive experience you want". Tools available to create worlds filled with audio, videos (and video streams), media-RSS and scoreboards mean developers can go beyond simply making a place to complement their PS3 release.
Among the additions to Home coming in build 1.3, Cox mentioned the Character Viewer Tool, which will allow devs to do a lot more with character creation, and custom animations for characters - up until now only the pre-set animations which come with Home are at a developer's disposal, but allowing animations built for specific purposes will mean "avatars will feel so much more involved", according to Cox.
There will also be more 'active items' -- i.e. furniture can be linked to a minigame -- and added restrictions on which clothing items can be worn simultaneously with others. For example, Cox explained that "Mortal Kombat components would not be available at the same time as Street Fighter [components]".