Coming Home Full Circle: A PlayStation Home Story

Irem

In 2008, I opened up my first business selling imported video games, swords and anime collectibles. It was an exciting and risky time in my life. Also, at that moment in time, I had a job working as a Field Specialist for the video game industry dealing with game launches, vending and kiosk repairs and maintenance in various stores depending on what the contract called for. Out of all my years on this planet (I was 28 at the time), this was my first time getting to work in the industry that I have been curious about since I first played Pac Man in the arcades in 1983.

My gaming life was very simple and straight forward: work, purchase a game, play it and enjoy it. If I wanted to socialize about my favorite hobby, I could either hit up a message board or I would just visit the local game shops and talk to the customers, sometimes getting in a friendly round on my PSP or DS. At that moment in time, the Xbox 360 was 3 years old and the Wii and PS3 were approaching their 2 year mark. LCD Televisions were beginning to replace the standard Tube Televisions that most of us were watching since we were born. Technology was changing in a way that hasn’t impacted the scene since the Color TV was released.

During that time, I thought about the previous console generation. I had the Dreamcast, Xbox, Game Cube and PS2 (and I still do till this day). Dreamcast was way ahead of its time and pushed online gaming on a console before most other companies even thought of using this feature. I was an avid Phantasy Star Online fan and was always amazed with how fast the game ran on a 56k Dial Up Modem. When Sega went under, I still purchased PSO for my Game Cube but most of my online console gaming at the time was spent playing Champions of Norrath on PS2 and various other online games on Xbox Live like Unreal Championship, Crimson Skies and Capcom vs. SNK 2 EO. Despite enjoying these games, when it came to communication, it was pretty much the same deal every single time. Either you spoke through a headset or you used a keyboard either in game or in a static chat room. Usually, when you tried to talk to someone, you couldn’t get to know them as well because as gamers, we tend to put our game face on when dodging virtual bullets and blocking pixelated attacks.

However, one exception to this rule was Phnatasy Star Online. Before you entered the game world, you and the other player joining your game entered a futuristic hub that was right on a mothership. while in the hub, you could easily chat with your friend for as long as you wanted before heading out on a quest. It was a nice change of pace to have a virtual atmosphere where you could enjoy a conversation that lasted longer than the battles that took place.

Heading back to 2008, during E3, Sony announced that they would start Beta Testing for a new type of experience they called a “Social Gaming Network”. It wasn’t quite a game and it wasn’t quite a glorified chatroom. Instead, it was a virtual world where participants were encouraged to relax, have fun and socialize. This service was called PlayStation Home. When I learned about the service, I was immediately intrigued and I wanted to try it out.

Finally, during the summer of 2009, I took the plunge and purchased a PS3. At the time, Street Fighter IV was just released and I had to have it. So after I got my system, I played the hell out of Resistance: Fall of Man, Motorstorm and Street Fighter IV. It was then that I realized the PlayStation Home Icon on my Cross Media Bar. I clicked on the icon and found myself in an apartment overlooking the ocean. Then I exited the apartment to find that there was a whole world outside of that building. I walked Central Plaza for the first time, just observing and taking in the atmosphere. Then after my little adventure, I turned off my system.

The next day, I logged in again and clicked on some odd graffiti outside of of my apartment in Central Plaza. Before I knew it, Home was sending me odd e-mails about some game called Xi. Interestingly enough, the real fun behind Xi was trying to solve the mysteries in a Meta-Game type environment. While I will admit that I was only in Xi for the last two weeks that it was running for, this whole way of pushing the game forward through e-mails was interesting because it bought the game outside of the world.

Pretty soon, I learned about Game Launching and I use to spend some time in the old Gamer’s Lounge. That is where I began to make friends in Home. The first friend I made sent me an invite through my e-mail to something called “Sodium”. I followed his invite and before I knew it, I was transported into the underground Mad Max style wasteland where its inhabitants fought for dominance in a futuristic sport involving hovercrafts and tons of heavy weaponry. Then my friend decided to start a club. The fact that you could actually start a virtual clubhouse and invite up to 32 people caught my attention because it was taking the hobby and conversation to a whole other level. Decorating lent a unique sense of style to each club, making the vibe feel different depending on which one you were in. It became about personal style. In a way, it was quite artistic to see the many different layouts a person could come up with.

Back in the real world, at was at an anime convention when I bumped into an old friend of mine from grammar school. She was selling her drawings in an artist alley while we caught up on old times. I told her about my business and invited her to come check out my shop. When I told her about how I got into the business, she said to me “Dave, you should get back into drawing again”. At the time, I didn’t see myself picking up a pencil again because over a decade has passed since I last drew something and I was focused on building my business. However, I was taken back by what she said to me. After all, back in grammar school, her and I were the only two people who were sent the Scholastic Olympics in the Art category and her telling me to get back into art bought back memories.

When I got back to the house, I logged into Home. I had a PSN Card and wanted to purchase a few things. So I downloaded a copy of Bionic Commando Rearmed and spent the leftover cash on a new costume, some furniture and Street Fighter statues for my Personal Space. At that point, I started decorating. When I was finished, despite the limited amount of furniture that I had, it felt quite accomplished. I actually took me some time to think of a layout that I was happy with. Afterwards, I hit up the Namco Arcade. That is when I found out that if I download the Namco Arcade demo, I can use it to unlock these really cool arcade cabinets for my Personal Space. So I played the hell out of that demo  and unlocked a bunch of cabinets that made my Personal Space look much nicer.

Ronin

At this point, I was hooked on Home and there was no turning back. I was certainly no Game Developer at the time but Home gave me a little more control and customization over the environment and that was enough to respark some of my creativity. Before I knew it, I was customizing everything from my avatar to my apartments and even the pictures that went into the frames. What added to the process even more was a little game called 3D Dot Game Heroes. In 3D Dot Game Heroes, I was able to create my own custom characters and animations pixel per pixel (or in this case, voxel per voxel). Then, I would play the game, take screenshots of my characters and then put them into the picture frames in Home. As my creative spark slowly continued to grow, using Home and playing 3D Dot Game Heroes got me interested in creating my own pixel animations in Photoshop. At this point, I also started my own club that was based on gaming.

While this secret creative boon was going on in the background, I started getting involved in conversations on the Official PlayStation Forums and Blog. This was the first time I had the opportunity to speak to actual game developers and other people who worked in the business beyond the sales aspect of things. It was great to pitch ideas and actually see the community talk about them, shape them and then eventually watching them become a reality. Sure, there were a lot of arguments and everybody wanted what they wanted but beyond the message board trolls, arguments and intellectual conversation were bound to happen among passionate, creative minds. Those times were crazy but it amazing watching all of this come to fruition. As a result, I have seen things like Pool Tables, The Konami Penthouse Space and Star Wars along with many other things come to Home based on what the community asked for. It was a massive, collaborative effort between members, community managers, developers and publishers which made Home such a rich and super diverse world. The best part was the fact that its inhabitants were just as unique as the world being created. Players added credibility and personality to their avatars though their sense of style and the personality they put forth during the meta game.

Penguin

Then, I got to the point where I started Bit-Journal. At one moment in time, it was actually a full blown Video Game Based Social Network similar to Facebook with well over 100 members. However, the idea was a bit ahead of its time and not too many people bit on the idea at the time.

In 2011, unfortunately, I had to close my shop because given the economy at the time combined with the lack of customers coming to the flea market I sold at, rent and insurance were beginning to take over my sales. Also, at the job, our hours were reduced and it was no longer economically viable to continue on this path. I had to make a change.

One night, I downloaded some software and attempted to build my own game using what I have learned from making pixel animations in Photoshop combined with the creative spark I gained back from spending time in PlayStation Home. Before I knew it, a month and a half passed by and while it certainly wasn’t perfect, I created a small, playable demo for a top down shooter I called Eternal Jupiter.

EternalJupiter

Now I always wanted to go to college for Game Development since I was 18. However, back then, there were no schools for Game Development in my state. After proving to myself that I had what it takes to create a video game, I decided to go back to school and devote myself full time to the industry, so I could learn more, develop better techniques and polish up my skills.

Less than a week before I started classes, my Grandmother died. While her death hit me hard, I knew that she always wanted to see me finish college along with my Grandfather who died a year before her. On my first day of classes, I had to travel to her wake, give a eulogy, get back to class, then travel back to the funeral home, then travel back to my second class. As difficult as this was, I knew she would want me to push forward, so that is exactly what I did.

When I first started my classes, I spent a lot less time on Home due to a heavy course load mixed with Coding, Art, Modeling and Writing. However, when I had some free time, I bought Bit-Journal back as the blog you are currently reading right now. I refocused the blog on occasional game reviews and reviews for PlayStation Home items as well as other articles. So as I began to get a handle for the course load, I started heading back into Home again.

Then one day in April of 2013, Game Mechanics was holding a competition. They wanted someone to design a mural for their new SeaClyff Retreat Personal Space. Game Mechanics would award three of these murals a spot in a selectable mural controller that was built into the space. During that time, I decided to start drawing. I asked John, the owner of Game Mechanics for the dimensions of the wall and if he had any themes in mind. He wanted something that merged worlds together and mentioned Alice and Wonderland and Lawrence of Arabia. That is how the concept for Laurence in Wonderland was born. So I drew up a couple of rough concept images. Afterwards, I scaled down the measurements of the wall onto 2 8 1/2″ x 11″ sheets of paper and drew the mural with the two pages connected with tape. Finally, I scanned in the two documents and colored them in Photoshop. Sometime around E3, John informed me by e-mail that I was one of the winners of the competition and that the space would be releasing in October. It was at that moment that I remembered having that conversation with my friend at the anime convention and her telling me to get back into drawing. Before and even during a part of Home, I didn’t see myself getting the creative bug again. However, Home was partially the reason why I started creating again. It helped me get back on track and find my purpose in life.

mural

In 2014, I developed a small demo for a game called Daisho Gaiden which utilized hand drawn sprites in a similar art style to what you may have seen in Laurence in Wonderland. This demo was a final capstone project that I needed to complete in order to finish the Game Development degree and walk in the Graduation Ceremony. When I created the demo, I dedicated it to my late Grandmother and Grandfather. Afterwards, I showed it to a group of people in the college’s Capstone Gallery. In May, I walked down the aisle in my cap and gown. Shortly afterwards, I took 2 more courses I needed to get my degree. Finally, in October, I received my AAS in Game Programming.

CapandTassel daishogaiden

Throughout this crazy journey, I never forgot the friends I made in Home, the people who worked hard and inspired me to do what I do today. While I am still relatively new and I’m always learning, I am forever thankful that this service has existed and I’m even more thankful for the teams and individuals who made PlayStation Home possible. I want to give a huge thanks to ALL of the developers that spent their nights and possibly weekends constantly coding, modeling, rigging, drawing, sound designing, net coding and testing to somehow make this kitchen with way too many chefs function as a whole. I know you all faced some serious challenges but when trying something new and setting a trend, while nothing is ever perfect, I respect all that you have done to make Home a bigger and better place.

To all of the machinima artists, writers, editors and bloggers, thank you for keeping the community together during its darkest times (especially during the PSN Outage of 2011). Its your writing that gets the community thinking and helps to improve and push things forward.

Finally, to the entire PlayStation Home Community, thanks for always keeping the conversation going. There will always be times when people agree or disagree but its these things that shape the community and the service as a whole. Home may be ending but the service has created a ripple effect in the industry. Its may be the end of Home but its the beginning of the dawn of the Social Gaming Network. I still believe the best is yet to come. And if you do not believe me, I’m sure Project Nebula, Atom Universe, Avakin, Hellfire Games and VeeMee have something to say about that 😉

When One Door Closes, Another Door Opens.

We are simply leaving Home and moving into a new one… or two… or…. you get the picture 🙂

This may be my last PlayStation Home Article but I will still be here. Thank you all for the inspiration. Keep the past close to your heart but look forward to the future. We are just getting started. See you all down the road folks.

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2 thoughts on “Coming Home Full Circle: A PlayStation Home Story

  1. i love your story i think we all have a story to be told about our beginning on home i think the world or gaming world would love these storys i know i loved yours thank you.

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