1. Exquisite Tweets from @MaxKriegerVG, @nicoles, @jamescomins, @NormalMode, @MBridegam, @nchan

    blechCollected by blech

    If you're attending GDC, you're likely aware of the nice food court complex near Moscone.

    That very building is what remains of an urban entertainment center on a scale never attempted before - the crown jewel in Sony's entertainment empire.

    The Metreon, 1999 - a design thread.

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    MaxKriegerVG

    ganbarimax

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  16. The connected Night Kitchen area (a shame there aren't any higher-res photos) was a dining area styled after the book, with a beautifully painted dusky sky and "restaurants" in a kid-sized city where they could take their food and eat. (the food, allegedly, wasn't very good).

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    MaxKriegerVG

    ganbarimax

    These spaces focused on immersion and physical interaction, something that Sendak (right) insisted upon during development. He loved the finished result - but the ensuing feud he had with Sony over selling merchandise with his characters ended their working relationship.

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    MaxKriegerVG

    ganbarimax

    Sadly, images of the third Metreon entertainment attraction - an animatronic live show based on David Macaulay's "The Way Things Work" - are sparse. The show featured "Melvin 2000", who "talked" to audience members via a cast member controlling him. Here's some concept art.

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    MaxKriegerVG

    ganbarimax

    The first PlayStation Store debuted inside the Metreon, showcasing new games as well as in-dev previews (note the PS2 Reiko Nagase tech demo on the TV here).

    The glass floor showcasing sand below, the pod-like monitor stands, the neo-Space Age stools - THIS was a y2k space.

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    MaxKriegerVG

    ganbarimax

    Sony Style, a store showcasing Sony products and electronics, was also present on opening day. Again, sparse images - this will be a recurring theme, and I will talk about why that matters later.

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    MaxKriegerVG

    ganbarimax

    Non-Sony retailers were also a part of the space - one of the most notable was Hear Music, a music retailer who would later be acquired by Starbucks.

    Hear Music had an extensive library of albums for sale. Sony wanted them there, for guests to listen to. All of them.

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    MaxKriegerVG

    ganbarimax

    The solution? A CUSTOM-DEVELOPED LOCAL SERVER MUSIC DISTRIBUTION SYSTEM. Naturally!

    Called the Sony MediaServer by its engineers, this seemingly simple kiosk which allowed guests to listen to any song from Hear's catalog required a MASSIVE local server.

    Sony spared NO expense.

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    MaxKriegerVG

    ganbarimax

    Surprisingly, even Microsoft had a presence at the Metreon - their first ever retail space, a pilot store called microsoftSF. This store was used for product launches, as well as to demo new tech like mobile Windows; visually, it's an interesting bridge between 98 and XP era MS.

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    MaxKriegerVG

    ganbarimax

    This particular shot embodies those late 90s techno optimistic utopianism similar to DisneyQuest. How cool must it have been to build actual touch screen "windows" with Windows, with that sort of ephemeral luminescent lighting and 90s techno collage art?

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    MaxKriegerVG

    ganbarimax

    Bandai opened a space in the Metreon, coordinated with its early 2000s push to help Gundam succeed in America. Bandai and Sony even collaborated on several anime festivals and cosplay contests, making the Metreon a true fixture for the SF anime community.

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    MaxKriegerVG

    ganbarimax

    There were a couple of other retail spaces - a Discovery Store, a store called Digital Solutions with internet access, etc. - but this about rounds out its notable retail tenants.

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    MaxKriegerVG

    ganbarimax

    The true heart of the Metreon was its movie theater - initially, operated by Sony. Its lobby, paying tribute to classic film with colorful theming, led way to 16 screens and the first IMAX in SF. The IMAX theater got its own theming, dressed heavy in late 90s purple/teal/black.

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    MaxKriegerVG

    ganbarimax

    The Metreon was remarkable in that all of its tenants were thematically UNIFIED. Technology enabling discovery through education and media was omnipresent - whether it be books being brought to life, new tech making new things possible, or a film reaching several stories tall.

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    MaxKriegerVG

    ganbarimax

    This sort of theming was what Sony hoped would cement its brand as a cultural entity, similar to Disney, with its tech, electronics, and media divisions all united by a common vision.

    It was grand, almost romantic.

    It didn't work.

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    MaxKriegerVG

    ganbarimax

    The Metreon cost $85 MILLION - costs that Sony hoped to offset w/ retail purchases as the theater drew crowds. The foot traffic came, but sales didn't, due to high prices - a symptom of Sony's broader strategic failings throughout the 2000s.

    Tenants suffered and slowly closed.

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    MaxKriegerVG

    ganbarimax

  17. wow, how did you manage to find a photo of the ghost town it became?

    Reply Retweet Like

    nicoles

    Nicole Aptekar

  18. In an effort to keep the space profitable, Sony divested in its own spaces within the Metreon.

    Sony Style and the childrens areas were closed, and the arcade (Airtight Garage -> Portal 1 -> Tilt) changed hands several times (gutting its theming in the process) before it closed.

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    MaxKriegerVG

    ganbarimax

    Meanwhile, as Sony's ventures in the movie theater market struggled on the whole, Sony Theaters was spun down, and the Metreon theater was sold to Loews (later to AMC). This meant that the biggest revenue stream at the complex was no longer Sony owned, hastening its demise.

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    MaxKriegerVG

    ganbarimax

    In a floundering attempt to keep the now largely vacant but mammoth space occupied, Sony opened the "Walk of Game", an attempt at a Hollywood walk of fame for the games industry, in 2006. It was low budget, tiny, and dated looking at its reveal, and it never gained traction.

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    MaxKriegerVG

    ganbarimax

    The last blow came when Sony finally sold the Metreon complex itself in 2006, to mall behemoth The Westfield Group.

    The last holdout of Sony's vision was the PlayStation store, which served a relatively admirable tenure until it closed in early 2010.

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    MaxKriegerVG

    ganbarimax

  19. Aah I visited at the beginning of the Loews era and I remember thinking there was all this swoopy architecture and space for a coupla techbro stores and a good theater. It was really neat and pretty tho.

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    jamescomins

    Chicken Tender Shepherd 🔥

  20. Super minor correction: the first year of Walk of Fame was 2005. Unrelated, here's a TV feature I produced at a DDR tournament in one of the Metreon's smaller private event spaces youtube.com/watch?v=aHxRvE…

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    NormalMode

    Miguel Concepcion

  21. Sony's vision whimpered quietly into the night as the last traces of it vanished from its giant, beautifully designed home.

    So what's become of the Metreon today?

    The answer is, sadly, deep in the realm of the ordinary.

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    MaxKriegerVG

    ganbarimax

    In 2012, the vast majority of the building space was remodeled into a Target. The remaining space was turned into a large food court (with some places that are admittedly pretty good). Almost all of the original interior design has been replaced.

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    MaxKriegerVG

    ganbarimax

    The only true holdover from the halcyon days of the Metreon is the theater, now owned by AMC. Its original theming is still mostly intact, albiet decaying and out of context, making the particularly powerful IMAX theming feel a bit incongruous.

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    MaxKriegerVG

    ganbarimax

    One other ghost of the Metreon still remains - the ground floors and walls were filled with bits and pieces of old Sony devices, microchips, etc. Small patches, like this one inside Super Duper Burger, have survived.

    I like to think that somebody recognized them as artifacts.

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    MaxKriegerVG

    ganbarimax

    And with that, the tale of the Metreon closes in the present. Try to look for bits and pieces of what it used to be if you have any downtime between GDC panels!

    Thank you SO MUCH to @nicoles for additional photos! You really helped make this thread possible

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    MaxKriegerVG

    ganbarimax

    To truly wrap things up, please consider checking out my Kickstarter! It's the reason I've been delving so deep into late 90s design. We've only got ONE WEEK left!

    CROSSNIQ+ is a late 90s flavored arcade puzzle game hopefully coming to a Switch near you!

    kickstarter.com/projects/11131…

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    MaxKriegerVG

    ganbarimax

    The spirit of that era of the late 90s/early 2000s really grabbed my heart as a kid. I guess it stuck with me.

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    MaxKriegerVG

    ganbarimax

    Psst. Hey. Yeah you! Did you actually read my promo tweet and stick around after the credits?

    Good on you! You've earned some VIDEO BONUS CONTENT!

    For starters, here's a local news feature on the Metreon around the time of its opening.

    youtube.com/watch?v=YrrDSn…

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    MaxKriegerVG

    ganbarimax

    This marketing reel talks about Sony's marketing strategies regarding the Metreon. It's really amazing how wholeheartedly people believed in this sort of concept (and how the logic behind it seemed sound).

    youtube.com/watch?v=zgpOch…

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    MaxKriegerVG

    ganbarimax

    This is footage from the pre-launch party at the Airtight Garage, featuring Hyperbowl being demoed - a lot of EXCELLENT footage of the other games, too.

    youtube.com/watch?v=FAL_2k…

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    MaxKriegerVG

    ganbarimax

  22. Thank *YOU* for putting this all together! So happy to have helped, I just wish I'd had the presence of mind to take nice photos in the metreon so long ago.

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    nicoles

    Nicole Aptekar

  23. Wow, nostalgia for the Metreon is a new idea. So, OK, maybe we didn't respect what it was at the time. Going back a bit farther, the Metreon replaced the core of San Francisco's residential hotel district. bit.ly/2xlPisl

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    MBridegam

    Martha Bridegam

  24. fun fact: Ralph McQuarrie was commissioned by Sony to pitch designs for the Metreon.

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    nchan

    Norman Chan