The Playroom is the Coolest Tech Demo You Will Ever See

AJ Glasser | 13 Jun 2013 12:40
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The PlayStation 4 comes with a suite of features that augment your virtual reality experience with light, sound, motion and vibrations. Almost all of these are accomplished with the PS4 controller - and a few more are available through the PS4's dual camera (which is not sold with the PS4). Much like any new system, the first set of games available on the console likely won't tap all of these new and exciting features - so The Playroom showcases them all for you from day one.

Essentially a tech demo, The Playroom is an augmented reality simulator for whatever room your PS4 happens to be in. The dual camera tracks whoever is in the room and the light on the controller - offering a hologram-like menu that tilts and twists in sync with the first-player controller. The menu options for Playroom include Controller Setup, Play With Asobi, and AR Bots - three of the modes shown to me by a Sony rep in the private press area at the company's E3 booth.

In Controller Setup, players are treated to a theatrical "diagnostics" check of their PS4 controller that features a series of hologram popups that show images of the controller's interior (no way of knowing if these are realistic depictions without cracking one open - which understandably, Sony wouldn't let me do). Different parts of the controller interior light up as they are actually triggered by the mode - when sounds come out of the PS4 controller's speaker, when the controller vibrates or when the light sensor goes on and off. At the end of the "setup," the mode ends and players are back in the main menu.

Play with Asobi creates a virtual robot that appears on screen (Note: Asobi means "play" in Japanese - clever, huh?). Using the camera and motion sensors, the robot reacts to people in the environment - moving toward areas where it detects the most motion. Players can "touch" Asobi - either tickling its tentacles (which makes it glow yellow and make happy noises) or batting at it to move it around the screen. Players can also punch Asobi - but if they do that often enough, Asobi gets angry and "shocks" the offending player (which is really an animated effect where the player sees an images of a skeleton laid over their body while electricity effects radiate outward from it).

The last thing I saw before being ushered to another demo was the AR Bots mode - which takes place both as an augmented reality environment like Play With Asobi and a theatrical environment meant to be the inside of the PS4 controller. When the mode starts, the bots are "inside" the controller (and you can hear them through the controller speaker if you jiggle the controller). Pressing a button takes you to a stylized "interior" view of the controller where you can see about a dozen little white robot people moving around. Shaking the controller knocks them down. Pressing buttons causes them to react as though the buttons were caving in on them (though certain sequences cause them to dance). Holding your hand over the controller's light makes the environment dark.

The bots can be shaken out of the controller, switching the mode back to the AR view - where now the bots react to your motions like Asobi. You can wave at them (and they wave back). You can kick them (and they seem to love you for it). You can also give them more virtual content to interact with by using a companion PS4 app (to be available on iOS and Android devices). The app lets you choose from preset items (like a beach ball) or to draw and color items (like hearts) that then can be "flicked" from your tablet or smartphone into your AR environment where the bots will play with it. A "vacuum" button on the controller sucks all the AR items up into the controller and ends the mode.

All of these modes showcase what the various PS4 features can do - but beyond that, it's on the player and on game developers to decide what to make of them. Asobi and the AR bots are very, very cute and I think a lot of toddlers are going to love torturing fake robots while Mommy and Daddy Vine the heck out of them doing it. But the "point" of Playroom is an invitation - for players to play around with their environment and for developers to think about what these features can do for their PS4 games.

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