A Home From Home: nDreams’ Aurora

When Sony unleashed PlayStation Home on the world in late 2008 they hoped it would change the gaming landscape. However, despite Sony’s goals, it seems to have struggled to pick up an audience. For the uninitiated (and we wouldn’t scold you for not knowing anything about it), Home is a free to play virtual space in which players take control of their own three dimensional avatar to play games and converse with other players.

As well as offering voice and text chat, the avatars have a selection of poses and actions that they can use to communicate. Unfortunately, the mainstream games media’s coverage of Home has been substantially lacking, and some parts of the service have developed a reputation for being digital frat houses where players with female avatars are openly harassed.

Still, despite this unfair representation of Home, some developers are still giving the service the attention it deserves. One such developer is nDreams, a UK based team that has dedicated itself to expanding digital markets, and has invested a lot of time and energy in Home as a result.  We met online with Joe Dale, nDream’s Digital Product Manager, to get a guided tour and see what Aurora and Home itself has to offer.

The first thing to strike us about Aurora was the bold and vibrant art style that the team has used. It bares a strong resemblance to the psychedelic world of Alice and Wonderland, with a healthy dose of The Beatles’ Yellow Submarine and the works of Salvador Dali thrown in for good measure.

Aurora is home to many fine free to play games

As well as offering a space for players to get together and chat, Aurora is also home to a variety of free to play games. Most games can only be played a set number of times per day, however there is the option to purchase tokens for additional turn, recreating the feel of the Arcades of yesteryear.

Since its release in 2011 nDreams have updated Aurora a number of times, and we can see that they are planning to expand Aurora further, adding new games and experiences. One such area of the land has been closed off, hidden behind a curtain masking the sound of wood being sawed and nails being hammered, with a sign teasing the release of a new game “coming soon”. Obviously hammers and saws have very little to do with actual game design, but it’s a cute touch that adds to the overall pleasant atmosphere.

Speaking of games, there are several free to play titles available right from the start. These range from a simple orb hunting game, called OrbRunner, to a charming Penguin gliding game called Los Penguini Brothers, in which your main objective is to glide as far as you can and go through hoops to earn points. Completing any of the games in Aurora earns you experience points which contribute towards your overall level – handily displayed on your back for all to see.

Aurora offers exclusive unlockable outfits, each with their own character animations

The incentive for leveling up is unlocking new items for your apartment in Home as well as outfits for your Avatar. Some of these outfits have their own movement animations, such as Joe’s red ninja outfit that allows him to silently somersault around the environment. These can be used anywhere in PlayStation Home and not just the official nDreams areas of Home.

Hidden away in the furthest corner of Aurora is the Xi Museum, a space dedicated to the memory of nDreams’ original Home game Xi. Xi was an interesting experiment that blended online gaming with a real world treasure hunt that lasted for about twelve weeks. As well as preserving the original games released in the Xi space there is a short video that explains the history behind the game and a slideshow for players to watch.

Aurora's art style is wonderfully surreal

Although there may still be the odd problem with immature behavior in the main Sony branded sections of Home we found our time with Aurora to be an incredibly pleasant cosmopolitan experience that caters to both the casual player and the hardcore.  The first group of people we came across were conversing in French complimenting each other on their incredible fashion taste, while the next were frantically playing through OrbRunner in an effort to earn as much experience as possible.

Before writing this article we had spent very little time in Home, but after the overwhelmingly positive experience in Aurora we’re sure to return in the near future.

- Luke Mears

Mon, June 18 2012 » Articles

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