After what seemed like an eternity waiting, Sony has finally launched Home, their virtual world service for the PlayStation 3.
Although still only a prelaunch beta, Home has proved so incredibly popular that the many of the squillions of gamers trying it out have encountered server bottlenecks, making it tricky for many to log on.
The initial Home download was a mere 77Mb, however each of Home's four or so locations also required another 20-40Mb download (which could thankfully be set to happen in the background). Another trap for beginners (or those lacking PS3 hard drive space or bandwidth) was the additional 3077Mb required by Home.
My first impression of Home was that it felt a tad bare, however it had only been up and running for several hours at the time of writing, so this wasn't terribly surprising. Many of the features initially talked up by Sony have yet to be included, with some speculating that these will be added into the final version in early to mid 2009.
Having briefly played with the PC virtual world application, Second Life, I'm pleased to report that Home proved far easier to navigate about in using the PS3 controller compared to Second Life's arcane keyboard combinations.
About the only real drawback of Home compared to Second Life, is its lack of customisability. Whilst your own virtual apartment can be given new colour schemes and you also get to move the few pieces of supplied furniture around, getting extra accessories requires you head to the shopping mall to buy them.
Items such as clothing are cheaply available, as well additional property.
As well as your virtual apartment, there are also a bunch of other public spaces. The two coolest have to be the movie theatre where you can sit down to watch a movie (at the moment you're limited to watching a movie preview). Video quality is not exactly Blu-Ray, but considering it's streaming over to a virtual cinema with a worldwide virtual audience, video rendered remarkably smoothly.
As well as the cinema, Home also has an arcade bowling alley where you can do 10-pin bowling, play pool and arcade games. Walking my avatar up to an arcade machine I got to play Breakout. Unfortunately, the real world limitation of one avatar per arcade machine, bowling lane or pool table still applies.
Chatting with fellow PS3 gamers proved to be an interesting exercise. As with the real world, you see all conversation within virtual earshot. Using the PS3 controller and on-screen keyboard to chat proved somewhat clunky, so I switched to a Bluetooth keyboard which quickly remedied things.
A lack of a Bluetooth headset meant I was unable to try voice chats but a quick check of Homes setting menu revealed voice chats are indeed possible.
Based on the limited time I've already spent in Home, I can say that its an impressive feat, and feels pretty polished, even though it's only a beta.
Excitingly, the possibilities with Home are near endless. Sony could for instance bundle Home accessory download vouchers with real world products (e.g. buy a pair of Levi jeans for yourself and you get a download voucher for a pair for your Home avatar).
Hopefully more free customisation options will become available, and a kit to build your own accessories could really open things up.
This article originally appeared on the New Zealand Herald - http://www.nzherald.co.nz