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.
Preface: I'm writing this thread to promote CROSSNIQ+, my video game on Kickstarter.

CROSSNIQ+ is a late 90's flavored "y2k" puzzle game inspired by your PS1 and Dreamcast favs.

This is our LAST WEEK, so please support if you can! It would mean so much.

kickstarter.com/projects/11131…
In the late 1990's, Sony was unstoppable. Their stock was soaring, they sat on vast reserves of capital, they had made major moves in the music/film sectors, and Playstation was dominating video games.

This was the height of their brand power, and they wanted to show it.
Similar to concepts like DisneyQuest (the focus of my last design thread), there was a push in the 90s to bring theme park-like interactivity and theming to consumer spaces in major cities around the world. Sony wanted in.

Their concept - Metreon, nestled in the heart of SF.
The Metreon was a four-story goliath of a complex, designed to house retail, dining, tech showcases, entertainment, and a massive Sony Theater IMAX/multiplex - ultimately standing as a glittering showcase for a more "sophisticated" Sony brand.
The exterior of the building demonstrates a lot of the same design principles, showcased in the DisneyQuest building - utopian, gleaming, and designed to inspire both awe and a sense of playfulness with its contours and cool "digital" colors.
It wasn't until June 16, 1999 that the world would see what was inside, as the Metreon officially opened.

Celebs like George Lucas attended, as was live entertainment (sponsored by Metreon tenants). Sony, focused on elegance, even gave away bottles of commemorative wine.
The main hall of the Metreon was filled w/ massive swept tri/quad forms, channeling the eye to focus on the sheer size of the naturally-lit space. Huge "leaves", like clouds, hung overhead, and the light hardwood & metal created natural color contrast w/ blue light from outdoors
The leaves served as projection boards, showing logos and dynamic projected content. Sony stated that they were designed to eventually hold "ultra-thin HDTVs" once the tech was achievable.

These ATMs weren't typical, either - they dispensed "Metreon cards" (think Disney Dollars)
Perhaps the most impressive Metreon tenant was "The Airtight Garage" - an arcade named after the comic series by legendary French comic artist Jean Giraud (Moebius).

It looked like a Moebius comic, too. The theming and design of the arcade were absolutely breathtaking.
Similarly to DisneyQuest (and to showcase their tech muscle), Sony designed the featured large-scale games at The Airtight Garage in-house.

Badlands - a demolition derby "VR pod" and Quaternia - a networked TPS in space - looked the part, but failed to wow visitors.
One such original game - Hyperbowl - was a hit, becoming popular enough to spawn a small franchise. Its colorful and goofy aesthetic clashed with the rest of the arcade - ironic, as it outlived everything else inside it.
The theming was a loving tribute to Moebius's work - Malvina, the mysterious icon of the Airtight Garage graphic novel, was featured throughout art and signage, and electronic setpieces modeled after fantastic machinery brought the space to life.
The Airtight Garage wasn't the only place to play the Metreon offered - a similarly lavish area, dedicated to the work of children's author Maurice Sendak, let guests explore the worlds of Where The Wild Things Are and The Night Kitchen.
The Wild Things section was an indoor playground, full of swings, bridges, and slides to let kids have their own wild rumpus.

The art and design captured the spirit of Sendak's illustrations, as did the the large scale of the wild thing statues (w features like rolling eyes).
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).
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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?
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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…
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.

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).

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.

Extensive footage of Where The Wild Things Are

here you go my dude, Fresh Content for you
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