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First Impressions: Home: Part 1

What do you want from an online social space? I’m not talking about Facebook, Linked-In or Friends Reunited but one hosted on the console of your choice. If you had an arena where you and your friends could just log on and shape, what would it look like? I ask because I’ve recently downloaded PlayStation’s Home. Originally touted as a great social tool, it left me cold.

One of the many reasons for this was your avatar. Before entering the community you are dropped in a fitting room, a model staring back at you begging you to shape it in your own image. And I don’t mean “model” solely in a technical term, I mean the kind of person you see who is trying to flog you aftershave from the pages of a glossy magazine.

I can assure you that I’m no chiseled specimen and so crafting the default features into my own was actually quite painful. There are no pleasing caricatures to be had from the world of sliders and colour bars governing your form, ala Miis and Avatars, just something that will yo-yo between an abomination and a bad photo fit.

Sony have gone too realistic with their users. Fitting in with the PlayStation’s brand image, they have attempted to populate Home with a multitude of young and pretty twenty-somethings. It feels like an application you can be refused entry to because you aren’t wearing the right shoes. Hardly the feeling a fledgling community should exude.

True, mischief can be had with Avatars and Miis but you can also get away with just throwing something together and have something passable. The amount of time needed in Home to craft a passing resemblance to yourself is large, and even then it’s only you in a certain light. It’s the uncanny valley issue in all its glory.

Avatars

When Avatars were first announced I did think it was a slightly odd choice of name for Xbox’s Mii equivalent. You see, in the code that we use at work an “avatar” is simply an in-game object. Spades, fence pieces, tiles, houses, totem poles, garden furniture, eggs and most other simple items are all classed as avatars. Even the slightly more fanciful characters like Cooper and Leafos have avatars constructs hidden within them. I couldn’t help but think it was quite a cold name.

Obviously, the rest of the world doesn’t have this hang up. Since they’re release this week these caricatured playthings spread across the Xbox community and are now grinning back to me in abundance from my friends list.

Personally, and I’m not just saying this I promise, I like them. I have always felt, as amusing as they were initially, the Miis just were a little too bland. The concept was amazing but I didn’t quite feel as attached to my Mii as I probably should have been due to the abstraction.

On the opposite end of the scale, the characters I’ve seen from Sony’s Home are too trendy. Every video of them has almost intimidated me into not wanting one of their’s. From a glance at their shots it seems that you have to live in an ultra trendy part of a fashion conscious town to be accepted in their beautiful people community. I could be completely wrong but I do not like the vibe that’s coming forth.

And so we have Avatars. They’re not perfect but they’re a nice middle ground. Support for them is rising forth from several Arcade games but it will be the full retail games where they make their mark.