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Controller Freak

Chad Sapieha leads you deep into the world of games, covering gaming trends

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Journey steals the show at PlayStation preview event in NYC Add to ...

Plenty of attention-grabbing games were on display at Sony's annual December showcase of recent and upcoming PlayStation wares in New York City on Thursday.

The first thing visitors saw upon walking in the door was the next entry in Sony's MLB franchise, which will be in 3-D. Imagine watching pitches appear to speed out of your television at 100 miles per hour. Better still, imagine physically swinging at these stereoscopic balls with a PlayStation Move motion controller. Canadian baseball fans may actually have something to look forward to this spring.

Right beside it was the next Motorstorm game. It will have players driving through a wasted metropolis and using the outer walls of collapsed skyscrapers as long stretches of track. Its title- Motorstorm: Apocalypse-is fitting, perhaps in more ways than one.

But while these games and others did their best to attract my gaze, there were three games towards which I was inexorably drawn: Killzone 3, LittleBigPlanet 2, and Journey.

I had a lengthy chat with Journey's designer, Jenova Chen, whose studio, ThatGameCompany, made previous PlayStation Network games Flow and Flower . He gave me a rundown not just of his new game but also his game design philosophy. His goal is to create accessible games that are abstract and artistic; something that anyone can pick up in moments and which will deliver an emotional experience.

"I want there to be a game for every emotion we feel in life," he said. When it comes to Journey, he wants players feel wonder and awe.

The game begins with a lone, caped figure in a vast desert, the sands of which have a liquid quality. We don't know who this figure is, where we are, or what we are supposed to do. Most players will begin by doing what they would if they found themselves in a similar situation: trudge to the top of a dune to get a better view. Once at the top they will see a mountain in the far distance with a gleaming white light at its apex. This is our goal, though we have no idea what we must do to get there or what obstacles may lay in our path.

As Mr. Chen worked through several areas of the game it became clear that Journey depends on player curiosity; the drive to explore, learn, and try new things. By experimenting with navigation we learn how to slide down dunes and surf on waves of sand. By walking past tombstone-looking objects poking out of the sand we can make them light up. By running across swaths of cloth we discover that we can change their colour. By collecting smaller pieces of cloth we find that we can grow our character's cape. It's all about experimentation.

While Mr. Chen was playing he suddenly encountered another human-controlled character in the desert. "We can work together or I can ignore him," he said. The multiplayer experience in Journey is automatic and designed to be free of the sort of annoyances that keep much of the mainstream gaming public from playing online, he explained. "There are no lobbies, and no competition," he said. "And I don't have to play with anyone else if I don't want to. But if I do, then solving puzzles can go much faster-especially if the other player is a veteran. I can share his resources to do things I otherwise wouldn't be able to do yet."

Of course players won't know any of this until they discover it for themselves. Multiplayer, like everything else in the game, thrives on the player's need to know, to try new things. What happens when two players are in close proximity? What happens if one of you follows the other around? You'll need to experiment to find out.

ThatGameCompany producer Robin Hunicke hinted that a release date had been determined, but wasn't at liberty to disclose it. However, Sony did confirm that it's slated for 2011, which means our wait for this clever and beautiful looking game is now just a matter of months.

Another creative experience coming to the PlayStation 3 next year is LittleBigPlanet 2, the sequel to 2008's popular and shockingly robust build-your-own-game game, which gave players the power to create content every bit as sophisticated as that made by the people who designed the game. Alex Evans, co-founder of Media Molecule, the British studio at work on it, spent about 20 minutes giving me a guided tour.

He began by telling me that as they started building the new game his company actually went out and recruited designers from the community of gamers who were actively building content for the original LittleBigPlanet . "We've created our own talent pool," he said. "It's amazing."

While the first game in the franchise focused on platforming, the sequel provides for other game types. It offers players the tools to create shooters, racers, puzzle games, and more. "You can even build an RPG," said Mr. Evans, "though we haven't done that ourselves in the levels we've created. We're excited to see people try."

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