Today marks the day the original PlayStation released in Japan 22 years ago, and thus Sony is celebrating with the PlayStation Experience. So let’s take a step back in time and see what cool features Sony was bringing to the table in 1994.
For those that don’t know the long history of Sony’s PlayStation here is a quick, real quick, rundown. Originally the PlayStation was set to be a disc based style attachment to Nintendo’s consoles. However, an agreement signed between the companies granted rights to all properties utilizing the hardware to Sony, so Nintendo decided to back out. They instead went with Phillips, which is no longer a part of the industry. Sony then turned to Sega to see if maybe they would like to go on an adventure, which was originally accepted until the idea was presented to the board. At that point Sega lead executives laughed at Sony and told them to go away. Sony didn’t, instead they showed up at E3 and announced their very own console, the PlayStation.
Some key features of the PlayStation 1:
Obviously, the big thing PlayStation brought to the table was the ability to utilize discs to play games. At the time cartridges were still a mainstay in the industry and they were not as advanced as todays “cartridge” based technology. Discs allowed more room and better overall performance (though load times were an issue), but nobody wanted to trust Sony on the adventure. Sony had already been a solid leader in the music/audio industry and CD’s were being introduced across the board, and other console makers had already tried and failed to make a CD based unit. (Sega would try their own disc adventure with the Sega CD) DRM became a big issue as Sony’s wobble imprint had failed after a mod-chip was created to allow PlayStation units to bypass the protection.
Sony had success when cartridge limitations were hit hard as newer games attempted to become bigger and better than ever. Companies were ditching Nintendo and cartridge based consoles in favor of Sony’s PlayStation due to the expanded memory discs had provided. Discs also provided easier production, and it was cheaper to mass produce a title for PS1 than it was for cartridge consoles. This became a huge factor for PS1's success, and of course led to awesome demo discs!
Of course with the inclusion of discs came the idea that CD’s themselves would be used on the unit. At the time MP3 players and smart phones were not a thing, and instead we all carried around these big cases of CD’s that played our music. The PS1 had this cool feature where you could put in a CD and listen to it any way you wanted. Later in PS1’s lifecycle we would be introduced to a visual media player that would take over our screens with the music.
Many fans will remember that you could also boot up a game, get into a level, then remove the disc and put in a CD of your choosing. The PS1 would then play music from the disc while you played the game. Of course you would need to re-insert the disc anytime the game needed to load, but it was still “out of this world!”
At the time controllers were still very ugly and not very functional for extended periods of time. You had the rectangle simplistic Nintendo design, or the awkward Sega design that was all over the place. Competing console makers also utilized a “d-pad” style layout where the direction buttons was, well, a single button that moved in a certain direction. Sony instead introduced a revamped directional layout where each direction was a separate button.
Sony continued their success with their controllers by introducing the Dualshock controller. The controllers utilized twin motors to provide vibrating feedback based on what was happening on screen. The controller also introduced twin analog sticks for better movement and control within games. Both features were found elsewhere, but the idea of introducing two of each feature was original. Dualshock controllers continue to be used today in new variations, with a small except early in PS3’s life cycle.
Memory cards (peripherals) And VR?!
Sony was like other console makers of the 90’s trying to catch on with any gimmick that came down the road, but Sony’s big thing was the ability to allow third parties to make things instead of keeping everything proprietary. At the time making “gun” peripherals was a hot idea and Sony had a popular item “GunCon” introduced to their unit by Namco. It was a light gun just like Nintendo’s, but cooler, I suppose.
Sony also was already jumping into the VR world with the Sony Glasstron, which wasn’t even their first attempt at VR. This unit, however, included 2 LCD panels and a headset for audio. Sony would release 5 variations of the unit from 1996 to 1998 before ending support entirely for the project. That is, until PlayStation VR released for PS4 which can be considered a successor to the VR experience.
And who could forget the might memory cards of the PS1. This wasn’t a new idea, but it is a memory that all PS1 owners had. Memory cards were introduced to save game progress on them and we were very limited in how many units we could use. Memory cards would continue to be utilize through the PS2 era before hard drives became a main focus with the PS3.
Lastly the biggest thing Sony may have done for the entire industry is do exactly what Sega was already trying to do, take on Nintendo. Nintendo had been a major brand for several years leading to the PS1 release and with their success came a lot of restrictions. They had a throat hold over the industry and anyone that dared enter the arena was beaten. Sony, possibly inspired by their mistreatment by Nintendo, instead took them on head on.
This was so apparent that commercials featured the iconic Crash Bandicoot, a Sony exclusive at the time, featured Crash yelling at Nintendo HQ. Inspiring a true console war. We would of course end up losing the mighty Sega in the process though.
Sony had won the battle by allowing third parties to expand, and keeping doors open. Third parties were jumping ship on Nintendo and playing on PlayStation, leaving Nintendo to fight with their own properties. This meant games like Final Fantasy and Metal Gear Solid were PlayStation icons, and they remain so to this day even as they have become multi-console releases. Sony fought in the exclusive world as well with their own studios and their own licenses such as Spyro, Crash Bandicoot, and Gran Turismo.
Overall the first PlayStation was a huge battle for Sony that we are glad they won. They had so many chances to turn around and forget the project, but for some reason they kept going and to this day we can appreciate the achievements they made. The PS1 of course leads to the PS2 which became an even bigger success, but that is another article for another day. It’s a bit hard to imagine that just 22 years ago we were excited that our PlayStation could play a music disc, and today we can stream Spotify while playing online and streaming to the world, right after we got done watching Netflix. What a huge advancement!