wordimagesoundplay marks Tomato's first console release, a collaboration with Underworld, Johnny Conquest and Sony Music Japan. Tomato Interactive was born of ex-Antirom staff, famed for their CD-ROM work, forming part of British design agency Tomato. Whilst highly regarded, Tomato's interactive work is exceptionally basic compared to what video games can offer. To criticise their work in this way, though, may be missing the point; Tomato aim to provide 'interesting' interactive experiences rather than games. Which begs the question then, how much play does wordimagesoundplay contain?
Of four distinct elements, 'Miracles & Wonders' takes place in a spartan virtual gallery. Within this white void a series of pictures exist, each representing a chapter in a story. Visit a picture and text fragments slowly spin around you, while each chapter is read out. The audio experience is a deliberately monged one, but unlike Blue Jam there is no humour to be found here. Visually the unbounded 3D space is highly reminiscent of Paul Woakes' classic Encounter, but without the funs. Miracles & Wonders provides a dearth of experience beyond the initial fifteen minute distraction.
Mini game collection 'Sleeping Eye' proves that someone at Tomato does have a sense of humour, but sadly hasn't played Wario Ware. A trick sliding puzzle (the trick is - it doesn't work as a sliding puzzle) randomly takes you to 15 games that are unlocked over an hours play. To call them games is generous, but there are only so many times you can type 'interactive experience'. A narrative thread runs through some games, building a collage of wry references to the love between a horse and a rabbit, with some racy (though not explicit) text. There are two distinct visual styles here, basic monochromatics and shaky cam footage of Play-Doh. Playwise, the linking theme is linking. Each game can be exited to the slide puzzle menu, or to another mini game, and some of the game-invoking exits require a bit of exploration. Diverting, but once all the exits are found there is no reason to return here.
'Latlong' is far and away the best element of wordimagesoundplay, and the only section to even attempt taking advantage of the PS2 hardware. The rest of wordimagesoundplay could happily sit on a Director-authored CD-ROM, as long as you were prepared to welcome in the year 2000 again. Two text scrollers discuss experiences of Tokyo and London, placed vertically and horizontally on the screen. Behind these stories a personal camcorder montage of either Tokyo or London is played, switched between by cleverly using keywords in the scrolling text. Each video track is backed by a Johnny Conquest composition evocative of film soundtracks, adding breadth to the experience. Enjoyable then, but still jarringly simplistic.
Bizarre sequencer 'Phonology' allows you to build repeating audio-video patterns. Members of Tomato feature in short video clips, talking about themselves and Tomato, or making a strange movement, with occasional sound fx laid over the top. The player can cycle through different clips, and select an on screen arrangement for them. Each Tomatoan can be switched on or off, to layer the video clips into a looping whole. Endearing in a way, Phonology is a woefully limited toy, as the embarrassed-looking participants seem to confirm.
While interactive works generally attempt to provide an interesting experience, rather than an involving game or a test of skill, there is still a pretty big overlap. With Tomato releasing a title on the PS2, the grey area between these two disciplines becomes murkier still. The PS2 provides greater power and flexibility than interactive technologies normally offer, but that has been spectacularly underutilised here. While video games often demonstrate a brilliant marriage of design and technology, design-led new media so often barely scratches the technical surface.
A Tomato PS2 game should have been unusual, different, and exciting. wordimagesoundplay is just more of the same, if you include web technologies within the scope of comparison. By wasting what the PS2 (or any console) could have offered, Tomato only manages to disappoint. To answer the earlier question, there isn't much play on offer at all. Is it fair to judge wordimagesoundplay as a video game, though? Well, perhaps not, but it is fair to judge it as a console release, and as such it fails miserably. Tomato would argue that those who don't enjoy their work simply don't understand it, which is horribly arrogant and reminds of what The Emperor's New Clothes had to say. Regretfully, wordimagesoundplay is a title that Nathan Barley would be proud to own.
Review by: Richard Davies