The Playroom 1

Expectations can be curious things. If you’re already extremely excited for something, it can be hard for that unfortunate entity to live up to the standards that you’ve assigned to it. As a consequence, it’s easier to be surprised when your anticipation at rock bottom. And that’s exactly what happened to us when we got hands-on time with The Playroom at a secret PlayStation 4 showcase in London this week.

The augmented reality technology demo is the product of Nicolas Douchet, the mastermind behind EyePet

The augmented reality technology demo is the product of Nicolas Douchet, the mastermind behind innovative products such as EyePet. Now working directly out of Sony’s primary Japanese offices, the luminary constructed the software as a showcase for the DualShock 4 and the enhanced PlayStation Eye that’s set to launch alongside the PS4. But while the pre-installed software is unlikely to offer much longevity, it is an impressive showcase of the next generation system’s potential.

Similarly to a classic EyeToy title, the release projects an image of you onto the screen. You can swipe up on the DualShock 4’s touchpad at any time to bring up a menu, which is projected out of the light bar on the controller. Much like the PlayStation Move, the coloured beam is tracked by the game, allowing you to reposition the user interface around the room by moving the unit. It also takes advantage of the device’s accelerometers, adopting a jaunty angle as you tilt the device. Swiping the touchpad allows you to cycle through a handful of activities, while pushing down on the surface allows you to confirm which one you want to play.

We started out with a session with Asobi, a flying robot that zips around the screen. You can interact with the cyborg by tickling it in a similar manner to EyePet, but the accuracy is vastly increased. For example, the cute character has a couple of dangling chains attached to its posterior, and reaching up to touch these causes them to ripple in a pretty convincing way. The more that you tickle him, the more that he’ll enjoy your company – prompting him to get sad if you cover your face or walk out of the room.

The Playroom 2

This is because the game is constantly tracking your mug. If you’re not paying Asobi enough attention, he’ll try to nudge you on the nose. Alternatively, if you play the bad guy and smack him around, he’ll get angry, opting to attack you with electricity, ice, or fire. The game’s merely layering an animation over your face during these moments, but the effect is incredibly impressive. A Sony representative informed us that the game is using one of the PlayStation Eye’s cameras for the standard augmented reality mechanics, while the second lens is being employed specifically for facial recognition.

The gyroscopes are incredibly advanced compared to the SIXAXIS, allowing the smallest of movements to be represented on screen

The dual cameras allow the device to judge depth, too, and this is apparent in the second activity that we got to sample. In this demo, Asobi is replaced by dozens of robots which are sucked directly into the DualShock 4. While you can’t see them, tilting the controller from side-to-side allows you to move them around the device. This evidences the advancements in rumble technology that have been implemented into the peripheral, allowing you to “feel” which side of the unit that the robots are currently residing. “The accelerometers are affecting the speed of the motors in the controller,” we’re informed.

By stroking the touchpad down, you’re able to get a good look at the insides of the DualShock 4, and see the impact of your movements in a more visual manner. The gyroscopes are incredibly advanced compared to the original SIXAXIS controller, allowing even the smallest of movements to be represented on screen. At this point, you can cover the light bar to block out the illumination inside the device, resulting in a nightclub scene. Pushing the face buttons prompts audio samples to be played, creating a disco-esque environment for the robots to dance in.

If jiving cyborgs isn’t your cup of tea, then you can pull back out of the internal view of the peripheral by swiping the touchpad, and repeat to flick the robots onto the carpet in front you. The standard augmented reality activities come into play once again here: you can wave at the characters to catch their attention, or simply give them a good kick to send them flying across the screen. What’s impressive is the sense of depth that the small machines appear to understand. Rather than merely shuffling left and right like in EyePet, the robots will also move backwards and forwards in the space that’s in front of you.

The Playroom 3

And this allows you to use the game’s companion application in some interesting ways. Using a Sony Xperia Z, we were able to draw some toys for the mechanical minions to play with. Penning a smiley face and flicking it towards the television screen prompted a chunky adaptation of our artwork to appear in the augmented reality world, encouraging the characters to rush towards it and take hold of the toy. We also flicked a fully interactive football into the environment, allowing us to play a game of kick-ups with the digital object.

Pushing the surface of the touchpad prompts a vacuum stream to shoot out of the light bar of the controller, enabling us to suck up all of the robots and items from the screen, and move into the most exciting portion of the demo. This, in essence, is Pong – but it’s arguably the best version of the arcade classic that we’ve ever played.

This next minigame, in essence, is Pong – but it’s arguably the best version of the arcade classic that we’ve played

Experienced with two controllers, a simultaneous swipe on each touchpad projects a connected arena out of each light bar. This allows you to play a simple round of Pong by moving the paddles with the touchpads – however, the real beauty of the minigame stems from the fact that you can manipulate your half of the environment by moving the controller. Twisting it, rotating it, and moving it up and down changes the shape of the arena, making it harder for your opponent to score points. This brings an aspect of physicality to the simple title.

Games are played in best of nine rounds, with the winner awarded a bottle of champagne. This is sucked into the DualShock 4, allowing you to swill the contents around your controller, before popping the cork with a swipe of the touchpad. Much like the vacuum, you can then direct the explosion of fluid by tilting the peripheral and changing its angle.

It’s all incredibly impressive stuff, marred only by the fact that it’s a tech demo with very limited replayability. Outside of the Pong game – which is excellent – we felt like we’d seen everything that the software had to offer within our twenty minute hands-on. Still, if it’s included for free, then it’s hard to get too agitated over the lack of longevity. And as something to boot up to show your friends and family what the PS4 is capable of, this is pretty unparalleled as far as we’re concerned.

Do you intend to purchase the new PlayStation Eye with your PS4? Are you looking forward to spending some time with The Playroom? Let us know in the comments section below.