Multiplayer: Tossing People Into Billboards — And Maybe Paris Hilton, Too?

New downloadable PS3 game 'Pain' lets you laugh at character's expense.

SAN DIEGO — The big surprise at PlayStation Gamers Day this week was "Pain," a downloadable game for the PS3 that has you put a person in a giant slingshot and then launch them into buildings, off billboards and into traffic, all in a cartoonish style. Now what kind of Jackass would do that?

Sony producer Travis Williams introduced the game on Wednesday to reporters gathered at Sony's San Diego development studio. He said the developers on the project wanted to encapsulate a signature appetite of the modern young person: "humor that is happening at another person's expense." Then he talked about launching a spiky-haired guy out of a giant slingshot and into a mime that then ricocheted and hurtled through a plate-glass window. People laughed.

(What's a "Pain"-ful experience really like? See the game in action right here.)

The game's controls are simple: Aim the giant slingshot with the PS3 controller's thumbsticks, set the power level of the shot, then fire and watch the game's physics take over as your character gets knocked through the air. Little taps of the controller buttons or movements of the motion-sensitive controller will apply a little nudge to the hurled character's calamitous path. It might help get him to roll off a curb and into the path of a police car. But mostly the idea is to sit, watch and, if you're so inclined, laugh. The game, which is planned for release by year's end, will allow PS3 owners to trade videos of their maddest runs.

Jeff Litchford, the project manager at the game's developer Idol Minds, told me that his Louisville, Colorado, team pitched the game for Sony's PS3 network. They had made a series of snowboarding games and then some kids' stuff. Sony loved the pitch. I was interested in hearing about Litchford's pitch but even more interested in hearing about what I could pitch — with a giant slingshot. How about celebrities? Or President Bush? Litchford laughed but wouldn't reveal who his developers had already rendered as slingshot ammunition.

I found someone who would humor me. It was Scott Rohde, director of product development at the Sony San Diego studio. He oversees development of Sony's baseball and basketball series as well as a line of downloadable games that includes "Pain." I threw a celebrity name at him, figuratively, to see what he would think of letting me throw said celebrity virtually. How about Paris Hilton?

"What I want to do is listen to the community and see what they want," Rohde said. "All I can say is that if someone wants to throw a certain celebrity, we're going to try our hardest to get that celebrity to agree." He didn't want developers to make parody characters. I could forget about hurling an heiress named London Marriott, I guess.

I had a hard time picturing Paris going for it. I asked him how he would approach her and invited him to practice his pitch. He tried: "Ms. Hilton, would you like to be strapped into a giant slingshot and tossed into a subway?" He paused. He suddenly looked doubtful. "I don't know. That's a rough question, right? It has to be someone willing to make fun of themselves or it doesn't work."

The demo of the game being shown on Gamers Day only showed a small selection of characters getting hurled through a city. The finished game will include more characters and more environments, with even more being available for download.

Rohde told me that the "Pain" developers are expected to let loose and leave no wild idea out of the game. It was all fair game. If so, then I wanted to know if, instead of hurling people, I could put a PS3 in that giant slingshot. No. "We're going with humans," Rohde said. "A lot of times in the design sessions people talk about, 'Let's launch bricks,' or, 'Let's launch balls,' or something. One of the main things we're focusing on is we're going to be different. It's always going to be a human being that you launch."

If it has to be people, then how about Sony executives? "Trust me, we've thought about that and it is not out of the realm of possibility," he said.

Rohde said the game used to be more complex. They used to let players toss their victims with a toolbox full of crazy contraptions. "We had some crazy things that flung you around and you had to time the release, but we found that the slingshot worked the best." It's simpler that way. And, he admits, the fun isn't in the launch. It's what happens after: the bounces, the yelps, the catastrophe. That's the fun and funny part — if that's your sort of thing. Is it Ms. Hilton's?

For more coverage of titles shown at PlayStation Gamers Day, check out: "Multiplayer: Hunting Treasure, Stealing Tanks At PlayStation Gamers Day."

(Note: Regular Multiplayer readers may have expected today's installment to feature the weekly Stock Report. It will return next week, by which time the "Tomb Raider" cake I was sent this week will have been eaten.)

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