by SealWyf, HSM editor
We’ve been given a mystery.
This past week a new feature entered the Casino. I almost said “a new attraction.” Except it isn’t an attraction yet, just the promise of one. What we have is a construction site, complete with warning cones and plastic sheeting, and a sign promising exciting things to come.
There’s been a lot of speculation about what those things might be, in Home and on the Forums. It’s reasonable to assume the new room will mimic something you would find in an actual casino. But that still leaves a wealth of possibilities. The most likely addition would be another game, expanding the already impressive array of casino game simulators: Slots and Video Poker, Casino War, Roulette, the Big Six wheel, Craps, Blackjack and Texas Hold’Em Poker. The full inventory is even larger than this list implies; there are two versions of blackjack, and several of the games are available in more expensive versions in the VIP Room.
So what new games could Paradise Springs add?
Looking at real casinos, I see a number of options. One of the most obvious is a more diverse slot inventory. Most of a casino’s floor and balance-sheet is occupied by spinning, flashing, chiming slots. There are literally thousands of choices, including old-fashioned reel-spinners, like the current Lucky Lines slot. But slot design has changed radically over the past few decades. Modern slots can have hexagonal or triangular symbol layouts, photo-realistic or animated symbols, multiple playing screens, frequent mini-bonuses, and elaborate, multi-stage main bonus rounds. Many also have network connections and massive regional progressive jackpots.
Real-world slots are rapidly moving toward becoming video games, with all the addiction potential that implies. Many lure their players in through tie-ins to licensed popular culture themes. When my gambling companion and I hear about a new “Star Trek” or “Star Wars” themed slot, we look at each other and groan, “I hope we never get that one here.” We know that we would play it, and it would devour our carefully-managed bankrolls.
Some of the newer slots have special gaming-style chairs, with built-in stereo speakers, vibration and motion. And they make sophisticated use of their network connections. The “Lord of the Rings” slots from Williams let you log into your account and map your progress through Middle Earth, unlocking new bonus rounds along the path to Mordor. This kind of linkage would work very well in Home, where the program already knows who you are, and can store your play history. I sort of hope Digital Leisure hasn’t been reading this, because I know I would play such a game heavily. But if I were in their accounting department, I would wave this concept at the programmers. It’s bound to be a win in the virtual world, as well as the real one.
So, a larger and more diverse slot parlor is one of the possibilities. What else might we see? There are still some table games that are not represented in Paradise Springs. One of them is Baccarat, the favorite pastime of high rollers in James Bond movies. Despite its reputation, Baccarat is a dead simple game with a low house edge and little volatility. It would be a great addition to Paradise Springs, especially given the role-play elements of Home. We could all be spies and celebrities in the Casino. Unless, of course, we’re being gangstas, dogs, bathing beauties, knights or lion-riding zombies. Monte Carlo never looked like this!
Perhaps Baccarat isn’t in the cards. But casinos have other gaming attractions. One that would work well in Home is a Bingo parlor, suitably automated so we don’t have to stamp our cards and wave our arms shouting “BINGO!” Although that might be kind of fun. For that game, Digital Leisure would have to produce a coordinated line of blue-haired little-old-lady costumes.
Another possibility is a race-and-sports betting parlor, commonly known as the “Sports Book”. It would have to be simulated races and sporting events, of course. Digital Leisure could create fictitious horses and teams, and give us enough information about their previous performance that we could have a chance to pick a winner. It would be like Dolphy races, without the Dolphies.
So there are a number of new gaming possibilities. But perhaps we are looking in the wrong direction. The new attraction in the Casino may not be a game, but some other kind of casino-themed content. There are interesting possibilities here as well, some more practical than others.
Every real-world casino worthy of the name has extensive dining opportunities. These usually include a lavish buffet restaurant, serving massive amounts of food at budget prices. I have been joking that what is being constructed behind the plastic is the Paradise Springs Buffet. This would be totally appropriate in a real casino, but how would it work in Home? Despite advances in virtual reality, eating and drinking remain exclusively non-virtual activities.
That’s not to say there are no bars and restaurants in Home. The best ones incorporate a game. Scorpio’s Bar in the Sodium Hub includes two games — you can play as a bartender or a customer. Could something like that work in a hypothetical Paradise Springs eatery? Perhaps. We shall just have to wait and see. I think it would be fun if I could wear my Cocktail Hostess dress and serve cocktails.
Another feature of real-world gambling properties is entertainment. The mega-casinos of the Las Vegas Strip host world-class shows: visiting singers and comedians, famous magicians, Elvis impersonators, costumed acrobatic spectacles and spangle-studded show-girl reviews. Could the new space under construction be a theater? If so, what would play there? The obvious choice would be simulated performers. But wouldn’t it be amazing if Home could license video performances by actual stars?
To all these questions and speculations, the only real answer is “wait and see.” And so we wait, as the construction zone whets our curiousity. It’s great that Digital Leisure keeps expanding the Casino. And I love the way they play with our expectations. Because the most interesting part of all of this is not what will soon be revealed, but the construction site itself.
To realize how remarkable this is, consider that what is being added is the sixth public space within the Casino. We are used to thinking of Paradise Springs as a single public space, and its design encourages that illusion. But computationally, it includes not only the central Casino Concourse, but the separate Poker, Blackjack / Craps, Roulette / Big Six and VIP Room spaces. All five spaces can be seen from each other, if only as distant signage and empty tables. But this means that a significant update of any of the spaces requires an update to all, to correct the view. And this is true even if the update is the addition of temporary construction barriers in the concourse. When they appeared, all five spaces were refreshed.
All this work, for what has been declared to be a fleeting condition. Once the new attraction appears, all five spaces must be updated again, so a sixth one can be added. Why go to this much trouble? Why not simply issue a press release: “New content coming soon!” And then add it.
And, while we are at it, why design the Casino in such a way that any significant update affects five (and soon six) public spaces? One might as well ask why Digital Leisure keeps updating the three private spaces that represent the rooms available in their fictional casino property. Which will soon include nine spaces in need of coordination, maintenance and periodic updates, with a possibility of more to come.
And so we get to the real mystery of the construction site: What are these people thinking?
What they are thinking, and what they are doing, is maintaining the illusion of reality — the carefully crafted fiction that we are in a single massive casino property, with interconnected gaming rooms and a range of hotel rooms up the elevator. Other Home offerings have created interlocking public and private spaces — the vast Hudson complex comes to mind. But the Casino has taken the game to a new level. When we are there, we can almost ignore the loading transitions as we move from room to room. The illusion of reality is as good as we are going to get, given the design of Home and the PS3 console’s memory budget. It’s not perfect, but it’s very good, especially if you have reasonable bandwidth or have pre-loaded the spaces.
Digital Leisure is building a world in Home — the world of a massive and slightly satirical casino. The construction barriers mark its next phase, and hint at more to come. What other rooms might be added? What other games might we play? And what other non-game role-plays might be incorporated? Paradise Springs is already one of my largest financial investments in Home, and it promises to get even bigger. But I don’t really see myself minding the expense, as long as I’m having this much fun.
There’s also the larger question of where this might lead, in spaces other than our sprawling Casino. Home is a big place, and it’s constantly growing. There are many developers, and they are certainly watching what Digital Leisure is up to. Will we start to see larger and larger collections of connected public and private spaces, creating distinct sub-worlds within the Home envelope? Will the transitions get even smoother? Mercia and Avalon Keep have already pushed the limits of what is possible without actual memory reloading. How much more of this will we see, and where will it take us?
It’s an exciting time to be in Home. We now have custom emotes and locomotions. We just got word that Xi is returning. Every week, the PSN blog brings new revelations. But, among the earthshaking announcements and high-profile content releases, I find this simple construction site to be equally exciting, because of what it implies about the growing depth of our virtual world, and the lengths to which a developer will go to maintain the illusion of an immersive, alternate reality.