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Featured Interview With Homes Creative Producer, Martijn Van Der Meulen

Discussion in 'Chit Chat' started by C.Birch, Aug 10, 2010.

  1. C.Birch

    C.Birch Site Owner
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    #1 C.Birch, Aug 10, 2010
    Last edited: Mar 4, 2015
    Hi Martijn, thank you for taking the time to do this interview, could you please tell us a little bit about yourself and your job within the PlayStation®Home Platform Group?

    Thanks. I am the Creative Producer within the Home Platform Group and operate from within Sony's London Studio. I have been involved with Home for several years now, in the past my main focus has been on growing the platform in the right direction by collaborating with other developers such as our friends within the MediaMolecule and SingStar teams so we could demonstrate what Home is capable of. The results of these collaborations have been very successful.
    Our biggest fans, the loyal Home community, have demonstrated that they do amazing things when they are able to interact creatively. I want to focus on these elements and build social games that demonstrate the power and flexibility of PlayStation Home as a gaming platform. I design and document game concepts that are centred around these principles, after which I push them forward as projects which I manage and direct until they are released to the community.


    PlayStation®Home has been in Open beta for one and half year now, how far do you feel it has come along as a platform within that time in terms of a community and also as a platform tool set?

    It goes without saying that I've been really impressed with how Home has evolved within that timeframe. We initially started with a small community in December '08 and only 19 months later we have over 14 million people in Home with 85% of our visitors being returning users. Those are enormous numbers. The community behind it are doing amazing things, they build numerous Home fansites, they upload YouTube videos of their favourite events and contribute to thousands of posts on the PlayStation forums.
    There are two sides to any platform, on one end we obviously have the community consuming the experience, but on the other end we have dozens of developers who are creating all the content in Home. The platform tool set, or Home Development Kit (HDK) as we call it, has evolved very rapidly. For example, the team that built the stunning LittleBigPlanet space had never developed Home content before. Looking at the stunning end result is testament to how easy it is for anyone to build gorgeous content with the HDK. It is very accessible and easy to use for anyone who is new to Home development.


    We have just seen the launch of the first global public Home space with the launch of the FevaArena. How do you feel about Home users from all regions being able to interact in a public space and can we look forward to more global spaces in the future?

    In all honesty I have different thoughts about this. I think it's very exciting if we can make Home a global community, but there are several things that need to be kept in mind. We can overcome cultural differences, but linguistic differences are much harder. Home loses some of its accessibility if people keep on walking into others that speak a different language. There are also a few other things that need to be kept in mind when we're talking about global spaces, such as legal complexities, art assets showing up containing words that not everyone understands and a few other things. I personally would like to build global spaces more often, but only if we can do it in a way that benefits the player the most.


    Sony have launched a new game genre that they call 'Play, Create, Share' with LittleBigPlanet & ModNation Racers leading the way, Is this something you would like to see make its way into PlayStation®Home and in what ways?

    This design philosophy already plays a major part in Home, players are creating the looks of their own Home avatar, the looks of their apartment and there are individual spaces that support this. A nice example is the Buzz: HQ space, people can create their own quizzes through MyBuzzQuiz.com and play them afterwards with their friends in Home. You can decorate your own apartment, have access to thousands of clothing items for your avatar and share great multiplayer experiences by using Game Launching which allows you to jump into any multiplayer game from Home.
    It’s a relatively open platform and I’m sure you will see more developers embracing play, create, share as their main design philosophy whilst working on new games in Home.


    Having worked on PlayStation®Home since 2008 what is your best memory of using the platform you helped to make with the community that it helps to form?

    In general I have fond memories of the community events that have been organised in the past and the ones we can expect in the future. I like to keep an eye on the PlayStation forums where people create invites for their events, I think the Hamsters dance-off that was done in the US is one of my all time favourites but it's also nice to see how many people use Game Launching and organise specific events for this in order to play the latest and most popular games. In the European version of Home the community organised a farewell party for the previous version of Home Square. It was fascinating to listen to everyone's personal memories about how relationships were formed there, skipping nights of sleep because they got involved in exciting conversations and how they enjoyed the area in general. On one end you have us, as developers, building the content. This is a very interesting, but complex and deep process. However, the content that comes out of that process doesn’t mean that much to me until I actually see people enjoying it and giving their own context to it, which is by far the most rewarding aspect of Home development.


    PlayStation®Home often comes under fire from hardcore gamers, in what ways do you hope to change that view and get more hardcore gamers using Home more and what benefits do you think it has for them in using it?

    This depends on what your definition of a hardcore gamer is, as well as how people view products and their target audiences. For obvious reasons it's very hard to build a product that appeals to everyone. I personally believe that, in the case of Home, the best method of making sure you satisfy all audiences is to have content that appeals to everyone. Home is very organic, the content within the virtual world grows at a massive rate, and I think there is much more content now that will impress hardcore gamers. There is a very large and enthusiastic Home community right now, every time you log in you can see how busy it is and everyone can have a great time. Looking at the fact that developers worldwide are building great games for the platform guarantees that there is something for everyone. If you connect to Home now and haven't been there for some time you will literally need days to see and try everything.


    PlayStation®Home has a lot of nice idea's - one being the clubs system, but this system has not seen any updates from its launch and lacks many key features that the community feel would make it far better. Can we look forward to future updates to this system and how would you like to see Home clubs being used in the future by the community?

    Home has a very broad range of content types, which are all largely a blend between what developers love to build and what users like to play with. That's the great thing about a platform that is as flexible as Home, often when there is demand for something you can see how it 'clicks' with developers who in turn are very excited about the idea of actually building it. There are many more apartments available in Home than there are clubs, and the apartments are currently the most popular, but it doesn't mean that the clubs are being neglected. The clubs currently are a very popular place for people to host bigger events, sometimes for Game Launching sessions, but also for stand-up comedy, fashion shows, singing and a wide range of other fun activities that the players come up with. A strong element of Home's community is their ability to come up with events, which is also how I think the clubs can be used in the best way possible. Similar to all of the other requests; we definitely listen to the feedback that comes back to us from the players and they form an important part of any new functionality that we develop.


    What 3rd party companies would you most like to see enter Home and why?

    There is a wide range of developers building content for Home, but I specifically think that it's an amazing platform for small independent developers. Indie developers have access to the free HDK, it's easy and efficient to develop for and there is a multi-million user install base. There is a built-in commerce system, it's an online multiplayer environment, there is a dedicated support team for Home developers and your games run on a reliable server infrastructure. These are all elements that are usually very complicated to organise for developers, but by developing for Home all of this is instantly accessible. Some time ago there was an announcement from Codename, an independent game label which works on bringing indie developers together to collaborate and create new and innovative games for Home. This strengthens Home as a gaming platform and it shows how Home keeps on attracting more and more developers.


    loonytoon1982 asks: From your own personal view, if you could have one space in Home of your choice. Be it games from the past or a homage to a console or an era of gaming that you felt was an inspiration, what would you as a developer choose?

    While not guaranteeing that there will ever be such a space it would be interesting to see what your inspiration for getting into the industry was and how you would express that through the current medium.


    It would be incredibly challenging to create a single space in Home that encompasses all the things that inspire me. In the eighties and early nineties I grew up with Sega game consoles and I used to play on them obsessively. I started drawing sprites and levelmaps in school because of that, and when I was 11 I programmed a 2D racing game on an MSX system. A bit later I made a 3D demo on the same hardware, only because I heard people saying that it would be impossible to do such a thing.

    Looking back on that you will spot several elements that inspired me, and which I still use in development today. I think the games from my childhood gave me a better understanding of building hi-adrenaline experiences that are easy to pick up and play. Building the 3D demo on the MSX was probably the first example of trying to do things which people didn't think were possible. If you believe that you can do something then it's important to just go out and try it, irrespective of preconceptions at the time.
    However, when I think about what inspires me I don’t just look at games but at a much wider range of elements that are part of our daily lives. I enjoy watching films, discovering new music, readings books and going out with friends. My phone is my closest companion, I often take photos with it and write down notes when I see objects or situations of which I think they would be interesting to explore within the context of a game. It’s my futuristic diary in a way. As usual, not everything ends up being used but I can easily pick my own projects apart and tell you what the inspirations were behind it.


    You have watched PlayStation®Home grow as a community from its start in open beta, what stands out the most to you in the way the community has grown (especially when looking how it shaped itself with groups of users forming clans such as the Homelings & NS1. Has this gone hope you hoped it would, and has any of it been a shock to you?)

    Any online community with the size of Home quickly forms a large amount of clans. The behaviour that is shown is quite similar to how we behave in the real world. When people enter Home for the first time they often are surrounded by strangers, but over time they start making friends. These groups slowly get bigger, after which a good bond exists between these people. In Home it’s often fun to create a clan with a specific theme, hence why many people in Home take this direction. Considering many clans in Home have a very positive vibe to them I think it makes Home more accessible to new people.


    Again we would like to thank Martijn for taking the time to do this interview but before we end, do you have a message to PlayStation users who are thinking about joining the Home community but have not yet done so?

    Now is the best time to go into Home - we update Home on a weekly basis and there are a ton of things to do. There are over 100 games to play, a large amount of them are free to play. And whilst playing them you will make a ton of friends. Our team here in London has also spent much time optimizing the platform as much as possible, so there’s hardly any waiting whilst you make your way into the world of Home. Sodium One and the Loco Roco Ship are good places to start if you’re new, just come in and check it out!
     
  2. PiaCarot

    PiaCarot Cat Ballyhoo

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    Great interview...

    I really like that Martijn is actively interested in the community and user interaction... I much prefer the interactive spaces... LBP wallpaper, Locoroco, Singstar etc so I hope we get to see much more of those!
     
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