After playing with Sony's The PlayRoom at E3, what is essentially a collection of slick tech demos and mini-games, I wish the PlayStation 4 had included the PlayStation Camera in the box. The camera, when paired with the DualShock 4's lightbar and the gamepad's motion sensing tech, is capable of some amazing tricks.
Created by a team of 10, The PlayRoom is not planned as a retail product at this point, but it's a promising peek at new control schemes that could come to PS4.
Nicolas Doucet, a producer at Sony Computer Entertainment who works in Sony Japan Studio's internal development department, walked me through some of The PlayRoom's demos at E3. He started with an introduction to the character A5081, a floating robotic orb.
Doucet and I sat on a couch, a scene reflected on the television in front of us courtesy of the PlayStation 4's camera. Doucet then summoned a floating robotic orb named A5081 — or asobi, "to play" in Japanese — which floated around our heads, then scanned in my face. We tickled and swatted at the robot, angering it to the point where it set my hair on fire onscreen.
"Put your hands over your face," Doucet instructed, asking me to peek through my fingers at the TV. When he did the same, A5081's expression turned sad, thinking we'd disappeared.
In another demo, Doucet explained that A5081 had stuffed dozens of tiny robots inside the DualShock 4 controller itself. Tilting the controller from side-to-side, the DualShock rumbled in manner than made it felt like those robots were sliding from one side to the other, with the busy sound of mini-robots milling about pouring forth from the gamepad's speaker.
The PlayRoom then shifted the image onscreen from an image of the couch to — zooming in through the DualShock 4's lightbar — inside the controller itself. The virtual interior of the gamepad showed a plastic casing teeming with happy robots. When Doucet covered the lightbar of the controller with his hand, the lighting inside the DualShock 4 dimmed. Pressing on its touchpad caused a bright light to shine down, capturing the attention of the bots within. A rhythmic tapping of the controller's face buttons inspired the robots to dance.
Shifting the view back to the two of us on the couch, Doucet then used upward swipes of the touchpad to fling those dozens of robots onto the floor in front of us. Kicking them caused them to tumble. Waving at them with our hands cause them to wave back.
Doucet then pulled out a Sony tablet with the PlayStation App installed. In a drawing program, he quickly drew a mandarin orange. With an upward swipe of the tablet's touchscreen, he flicked the orange — now a rudimentary, textured 3D model — onto the floor for the bots to play with. Then he turned the controller into a vacuum, sucking up the bots, the orange and other toys into the DualShock.
The PlayRoom, in development for about six months, was designed to show what PlayStation 4 can do with the combination of the PlayStation Camera and the DualShock 4's light bar, touchpad, motion sensor, vibration motors and built-in speaker. Doucet said his team showed those demos to major third party developers and indie creators to inspire them. But based on the reaction to The PlayRoom at E3 2013, Doucet said its likely the game will be released to PS4 owners in some form.
"After the response at E3 I think its clear we need to do something," Doucet said. "When we came in we thought, 'These are just tech demos, it's not something you could sell,' but it's probably something we could give away for free."