Greetings again from Guns of the Helghast. Another Friday has come and gone and that means another set of awesome activities we’ve engaged in. Join us on our journey with eyes and ears, there’s plenty to read and some video to hear, to last week’s dandy destination.
May 3rd, 2013, Guns of the Helghast chose to visit one of the oldest locations in Home’s history, the Bowling Alley. Developed by Sony Computer Entertainment, Home’s Bowling Alley has been online since the service’s onset of its open beta*. To place that more precisely, December 11th, 2008, which means this space has persisted for over four years, a rare feat indeed. Throughout those years and Home’s multiple updates the Bowling Alley has remained largely unchanged. With its classic decor and assortment of activities the place still manages to draw a crowd.
Sporting a semi-circular design, a gradient color scheme, and pink neon lights the innards of the Bowling Alley are a call-back to yester-year. Nearly the entire location is covered in gradual blue to purple color coatings, from the bright blue of the ceiling and light blue carpeting to the blue-purple floor tiling and dark purple arcade alcoves towards the back. The atmosphere of the space gives off a late 80’s vibe, a time when the fad of neon lights like those wrapped around the arcade alcoves signalled cool and an era when bowling alleys weren’t just casual places to hang out but a hub of excitement and interactivity on multiple levels. Being left wide open, the center of the space provides easy access to all game areas and other items of interest lying along the periphery of the alley. The first items to catch the eye are likely the multiple displays set about the space.
Hanging from the ceiling just above the bowling lanes are three mid-sized display screens. Each of the screens appear to be unlinked in what they display, that is to say that each screen shows something apart from what the others do at any given time. Not limited to first-party products, the content displayed through these screens are advertisements from a wide range of Home’s developers, including Atom Republic, Code Glue, Dr. Pepper, Drey, Konami, Lockwood, nDreams, VeeMee, and more. These ads are delivered in a photo slide-show fashion, which is different from the displays along the wall. To either side of the entranceway is a large screen also showcasing ads, but these are done with full video and sound. Neither of these are an annoyance as their volume only extends to the immediate area of the screen and are more informative than just a cheap product push. These last two display screens are not the only items to either side of the entranceway.
Set to both sides of the Bowling Alley’s entranceway are this space’s first form of interactive entertainment, the Pool Tables. Atop and center short wooden platforms these six felt-top pool tables rest, three to either entry’s side, awaiting single-player practice or two-player competitive play. In single-player practice one has full control of the cue’s placement, using the square button to pickup and move the ball. This can allow for the setup of trick shots or specific situations one might normally encounter during multiplayer. R1 is used to re-rack the balls in this mode, effectively resetting the table. For those familiar with eight-ball pool the goal and rules of this multiplayer game are all the same. The game begins when one of the two players sends the cue ball crashing into the triangular pack of fifteen balls set upon the table, this is known as the break. Once a ball or balls are knocked into a hole, or pocket, the remainder of the balls are divided between the players according to design. The first player to sink either a striped or solid colored ball must spend the remainder of the game knocking the remainder of that set in, leaving the eight ball for last. Assuming all balls in a set have been sunk, one need only pocket the eight ball in order to win. Note that scratching, or pocketing the cue ball, on the break leads to an immediate loss. Should a foul be committed, such as scratching before coming into contact with an object ball or contacting the cue ball with an opponent’s object ball before a player’s own, the penalty is two consecutive turns by the opponent, a definite disadvantage to the offending player, beware. Beyond merely point and shoot the game’s control scheme is quite impressive. Pool can be played from either a first-person or over-the-table perspective; clicking the R3 button toggles views on the fly. The right analog stick can also manipulate the camera’s position slightly while in first-person view allowing for an assist in gauging distance between balls. There are also two different aim modes, alterable with the circle button, which aid in sending the cue towards its intended destination. Aim Mode is the default aiming mode. In this mode the left analog stick rotates the cue stick around the cue ball deciding the general destination the cue ball will go. Note that the image of a transparent cue ball will display itself against the destination it will arrive at if struck in this mode. This allows in determining with great accuracy the shot one wishes to make. Spin Mode can be just as important as the standard Aim Mode, but will likely only be utilized by expert players. This mode focuses the left analog stick’s movement into the cue stick’s tip. Marked by a small dark dot on the cue ball itself, a player can decide to move this dot (the cue stick’s striking point) in any direction across the cue ball. By striking the cue ball in certain spots the cue ball will react in certain ways. Striking the cue towards the bottom of the ball will cause the cue ball to roll backwards after coming into contact with an object ball; similarly, striking the ball towards the top, left, or right, will cause the cue to roll in that direction after an object ball connection. In professional pool this is known as “english,” and using english to have the ball cease movement in exact alignment with one’s next prefered shot is called “playing the cue.” When these two aiming modes are combined by a professional player, they can allow that player to pocket balls consistently while the other player just watches from the sidelines, this is known as “running the table.” Nice attention to ball physics, Sony. 😉 Striking the ball is simple enough. Pressing and holding the “X” button displays a meter in the upper right-hand corner of the screen which begins to fill with light. This meter is used to determine shot power, the more light within the meter the stronger the shot; a helpful gauge when delicacy is a necessity with certain shots. It seems Sony has thought of everything with its implementation of eight-ball pool, but this isn’t the Alley’s only activity. Tucked into two alcoves along the wall, one on either side of the bowling lanes and beyond the pool tables, are situated a series of arcade machines. These machines number ten in total, five per alcove, and are single-player experiences. Despite the quantity of machines the selection is limited to only two units, Echocrome and Ice Breaker; not a bad thing as both these games offer a delightful diversion.
Echocrome is a free arcade puzzler where the main objective is to “collect the echoes and avoid enemies in the optical illusion stages**.” Echoes are charcoal colored replicas bleeding an aura of blackness in semblance to the game’s white avatar. Enemies are exact replicas of the white avatar, only grey in color. When the game begins the player’s white avatar drops into the environment and begins walking in a set direction. There is no stopping the avatar or turning him about; the only way to navigate the avatar to where one wants it to go is using a combination of fans and holes along with the environment’s boundaries. Controls are limited in this game making for an easy way to work a game that can easily warp the mind. The D-Pad is used to navigate a red wire box about the level’s platforms, it is within this box the fans or holes are placed. Circle is used to place a fan, a white circle on the ground that will cause both the player and enemy avatar to bounce up and over some obstacles. X places a hole, a dark circle on the ground that will cause both player and enemy to sink to the platform below. Should the player’s avatar or enemy drop below the bottom of the game screen they’re taken to the top as if both the bottom and top of the level are linked. A combination of up to three fans or holes can be placed at a time. Should the player attempt to plant a fourth they will succeed, but in so doing will erase the first fan or hole that was placed. Echochrome offers three modes or stages of play marked A – C, each progressively more challenging than the last. Echocrome scores players on how many echoes acquired as well as the length of time one was able to survive before coming into contact with an enemy avatar. Free rewards are won from this game in the form of costume pieces allowing one to dress like the white avatar from Echocrome. For those not in the know this is also the source of the Homelings, a popular community group in PlayStation Home, uniform. Furniture items can also be won. Echocrome is a puzzler that starts off easy but can quickly escalate into madness, hurriedly placing fans and holes about the place while keeping track of an ever-moving protagonist along with multiple enemies; no doubt about it, Echocrome is a puzzler for multitaskers. For those wanting something a bit different there’s also Ice Breaker.
Ice Breaker is a free clone of Atari’s old arcade game “Breakout.” As in the original, the main goal here is to “keep the ball bouncing and smash all of the ice blocks**.” When the game begins, horizontal control of a paddle is assumed with a ball set atop. When ready the ball is launched from the paddle into a ceiling of brick, the compositions of which vary as the game progresses. As the ball touches brick, that brick is either weakened or destroyed; in either case the ball bounces back from the brick towards the bottom of the screen. It is then the player’s job to quickly move the paddle beneath the ball bouncing it back toward the bricks until all are destroyed. Should the paddle not make it beneath the ball in time to keep it from exiting the screen than a life is lost. Once all lives are lost the game comes to an end. After breaking certain bricks, droplets of color fall forth granting the paddle which catches them certain temporary power-ups. These power-ups can include the lengthening of the paddle or a sticky residue allowing the paddle to catch, rather than reflect the ball, among others. Beware as not all falling items are beneficial. On certain stages one will also encounter a penguin dropping snowballs. Should one of these snowballs touch the paddle it will slow significantly making it that much harder to intercept the ball. Like the power-ups however, this effect is only temporary. The controls here are even more simplistic than Echocrome. The D-Pad or left analog stick is used to control the horizontal movement of the paddle while the “X” button launches the ball. Points are gained from breaking bricks and knocking the penguin should the opportunity present itself. The higher one’s score the more rewards earned, such as clothing and furniture items. Ice Breaker can be very addicting and a lot of fun. Still, the Bowling Alley’s main attraction, as the its name implies, is Bowling.
Furthest from the entryway and centered between the arcade’s alcoves is the Bowling game. Separated into five bowling lanes for multiple games, each game can support up to four players, leading to a maximum of twenty bowlers. This is a game of standard 10-Pin Bowling where all real-world rules apply. The goal of bowling is simple enough, stand at the end of a long lane and roll a ball down said lane to knock down as many pins, white standing objects of wood, as possible in the fewest ball rolls. Each player is allowed two sequential ball rolls before the next player’s attempt. Once all players have had their try that turn, called a frame, ends. There are a total of ten frames per game and the player with the highest score at the end of frame ten is the winner. Points are earned by knocking down pins. Extra points are awarded for a “strike,” the act of knocking all pins down with a player’s first ball. The controls for bowling are fast and in-depth. The first option involves using the left analog stick to position the bowling ball to the left, center, right side, or anywhere in between of the lane. Pressing the “X” button sets the ball down confirming its place. Next a cylindrical beam of light extends from the ball outwards towards the pins, allowing one to set with the “X” button the ball’s trajectory of travel. Then that same cylinder of light begins shrinking and extending in sequence from the ball towards the pins; this represents the power behind the roll with a longer light beam linked to a harder push. Finally a white sphere smaller than the bowling ball appears along the ball’s upper hemisphere bouncing back and forth from side to side. This is bowling’s spin on english; should the dot settle close to the left then expect the bowling ball to curve left as it travels down the lane. An impressive note about Bowling is that this game also utilizes the Dual Shock 3’s force feedback feature. Should the ball slam into a number of pins it’s felt in the reverberations of the controller. Unfortunately bumpers are not available to new players but with a little play time one will be smashing those pins into smithereens. 😉 Overall, Bowling is a fun game to play with friends and a recommendation to all Home citizens. Bowling was also one of the main activities engaged in by Guns of the Helghast last Friday.
Under the guidance of 1st Division’s General Ventura, Guns of the Helghast entered into everyone’s favorite old-school hangout, the Bowling Alley. In celebration of Ventura’s love for motorcycles we themed the night thusly. As always a photo was the first order of the night, as pictured above. Each member perched atop their mighty motorized machine of mayhem we made it undeniably known to the alley’s other inhabitants that the premiere Helghast club had arrived. After the photo we whisked off for a few fun rounds around the alley. Following General Ventura we hopped on our hogs and proudly paraded them all about the place. The other occupants didn’t seem at all annoyed with some actually cheering us on. After our pack’s patrol we parked our bikes and decided to partake in the Alley’s offerings. First up was a billiard bash. We all came off so cool that no fool dared challenge us to a game of pool. Fine with us, we had our play; soldier vs soldier is the Helghan way. 😉 After we had our fill of banging balls about it was time to pulverize some pins. Yes, bowling was our next activity. Gathering in groups we scootered towards the lanes, to test our might and eyesight with blood boiling in our veins. Having good aim and a steady hand we sent those pins soaring to the promised land. After our games we stayed to chat, played some arcade games, and then head back. It was a nice night for us to ride wild, play some games, and socialize. Thanks go again to General Ventura of 1st Division for hosting the event. 🙂
So where shall Guns of the Helghast vroom off to next? Join us next Monday to find out. And if you see us before then, especially on a Friday, give us a shout and tag along as we’re always looking for new comrades to share in our throng. 🙂
*NOTE: Home’s Bowling Alley has likely been online since the Closed Beta but as no information from that era can be easily located, and I didn’t arrive on the scene till the onset of the Open Beta, this cannot be confirmed with 100% accuracy.
**Direct quotes taken from the About tab within PlayStation Home.