Nintendo's Miis? Oversimplified stick figures. Microsoft's Achievement Points? Too abstract. Sony's finally unveiled its real online strategy, a free service called Home, and it's set to blow its competitors out of the water. Officially revealed during the Sony keynote speech at the 2007 Game Developers Conference, Home is a beautifully detailed network of public lobbies and private spaces that invites players to create a realistic avatar and interact with other players online. And also to fill their private apartments with a bunch of Sony-branded stuff, but we'll get to that shortly.
Our introduction to Home was with a huge, park-like public lobby called the Central Lounge, complete with giant Sony banners flapping in the wind. It's here that most players will start out, apparently, milling around, chatting and looking at whatever dynamic ads Sony decides to put on the shimmery banners when they aren't playing games. "Playing games" in this case isn't limited to "regular" PS3 games, as you'll be able to wander into public game rooms, casually pick up a cue or ball and jump into a quick round of pool or bowling. You'll even be able to walk up to arcade machines and play them, all without actually exiting the virtual Home world.
Public stuff aside, though, it's personalization that makes Home something to look forward to. Your avatar will be able to pull up a "virtual PSP" at any time, which enables you to quickly pop around to different areas, customize your avatar's appearance and rearrange your furniture, among other things. Reshaping your in-Home appearance can be simple, with players able to choose from pre-set face types, or it can be complex, with every facial feature carefully adjusted into something that weirdly resembles you. You'll also be able to wear assorted outfits, of course; you'll automatically get a small wardrobe, while other clothing will have to be downloaded separately. New PS3 games will also come with unique outfits for your avatar, which should add an extra dimension of novelty when you finally get your hands on Lair.
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