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Reaching for the Sun: The Future of Sodium, Home’s Biggest Game

August 3, 2011 Written by Sebastian Moss

Since launching as an open beta in 2008, PlayStation Home has come a long way, evolving from a social hub into its very own games platform. Having developed hundreds of virtual goods, a whole host of Home spaces and the fantastic Sodium game series, Lockwood Publishing are easily the foremost developers for the service. To catch up with the developer after interviewing them last year, and to learn about Sodium2, the rise of social gaming and the perils of free-to-play, we talked to Jamie Riding, producer of  Sodium.

Hi Jamie, could you start by introducing yourselves and telling us a bit about your role at Lockwood Publishing?

Hi Seb, my name is Jamie Riding, and I’m the producer on the Sodium Project. It’s my job to make sure the team have everything they need to develop awesome new Sodium games and spaces for PlayStation Home.

Sodium2 is entirely free-to-play, and is supported by microtransactions – how risky was that as a business decision?

You’re right; the choice to go free-to-play was something of a risk. However, thankfully Home stands out as the perfect place on which to take this sort of risk on console. Home has native support for microtransactions and the Home community are very used to this way of acquiring content. Home is itself a free-to-play service.

Free-to-play gaming is something we’re really keen on also. The ability to update a build upon a game after it has been released is a really exciting prospect. Once it’s out there you get a whole host of new perspectives on what you should do next – and we feel that this can only serve to enhance the field of visible possibilities for the future of gaming. We also see free-to-play as giving players valuable choices in terms of how they want to enhance their gaming experience without being burdened with a large one-off price tag for features which they may never use.

How successful has Sodium 2’s launch been compared to the original?

We’re very happy with the way Sodium2 has been going. Since release the players have already raced over 75% of the way to the Sun! That’s 56 million miles!

Last year you told us SodiumOne took 6 months to develop – is that how much time you spent on Sodium2?

Sodium2 took a little longer due in part to the beta phase in which we tweaked and polished the game with the help of generous player feedback. Sodium2 was also developed with a smaller team than SodiumOne, so obviously this meant we had to take our time and be smart about which features we focused on.

You also said that you were surprised by the amount of people that “users clearly appreciate[d] the opportunity to role-play in a more meaningful way” and that it was something you were “looking at offering more of in the future.” Do you think you’ve done that in Sodium2?

Perhaps not quite yet. So far we’ve only really allowed for one role with Sodium2 – the Velocity Racer Pilot. But one of the areas we’re looking into for the future is support for team based gaming which serves a similar role of facilitating interaction between players in a unique context.

What plans are there to extend the life of Sodium2? Are there big plans for additional content?

We’re hard at work generating new content for Sodium2 right now! We have big plans for the game.

We’ve learnt a lot since we produced SodiumOne, and we’re hoping to be able to build upon Sodium2 in some very interesting ways over the coming months. We feel like we’ve produced a very strong core game with Sodium2, but what we’d like to do now is expand that into a host of interesting areas. The hard part now is deciding which idea to run with.

How did the extended PSN downtime impact the launch of Sodium2?

The release of Sodium2 was slightly delayed because of the downtime. The game launched on June 16th, shortly after PSN’s return. Since then PlayStation Home has seen record traffic numbers which has been of great benefit to Sodium2.

Banking on an exclusive digital platform means that you are put out of business whenever the platform goes offline, does this cause a problem when budgeting for projects?

Thankfully PlayStation Home has returned bigger than ever, and while the PSN downtime was difficult for both us and for Sony, we remain a supportive partner and will continue developing for PlayStation Home.

What can PlayStation Home games offer that PSN or retail games can’t?

What Home really has to offer over and above what else is available through the PlayStation Network is a social framework. That’s something incredibly compelling for a lot of people, but it’s not something you traditionally look to console gaming to provide. Sure you socialize in a way playing COD with other people, but exchanging remarks over head-shots is a very different social environment to that which Home has to offer.

More recently Home has an increasing numbers of fantastic games on offer too, many of them free to play. This works as a great way to meet and interact with a whole new bunch of people. You can be playing head to head with somebody in online multiplayer, then the next minute your avatar is next to theirs chatting in the Home environment. This is something we’re really excited to be offering at the moment with Sodium2. Thanks to the way Home has been developing toward supporting bigger and bigger gaming experiences, we’re now able to provide real-time fast-paced multiplayer which we hope Home users enjoy.

Will the Sodium IP ever leave Home?

With Lockwood Publishing we are talented, ambitious and we’d love to be in a position where we were publishing quality IP from other developers as well as our own.

But Home has been very, very good to us and we have no intention of forgetting where we came from or the support given to us by the PlayStation Home Community.

Lockwood developed the Uncharted 2, inFamous, Resistance 3 and Warhawk Home spaces, among others. Are there any plans to make an Uncharted 3, infamous 2, Resistance 3 or Starhawk Home space?

You would really need to speak to Sony or the various developers and publishers rather than us.

We’ve had some amazing fun working on various spaces for Home. Creating the inFamous Graffiti Wall and the chance to work with big names like Capcom and Ubisoft is always a pleasure. But it’s not something we’re in a position to comment on at the moment.

SOE said that the PlayStation Vita was the “perfect home” for MMOs, do you think it’d make a good platform for PlayStation Home?

We’d love to see integration between Home and Vita. Home’s a very social environment, and many players get a lot out of the relationships they maintain through Home.

Are you a fan of Sodium2? Stick around for a huge giveaway later today right here!.