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Home » Retrogaming, Technology

PlayStation — Sony becomes a contender

By: 14 January 2011 11 Comments

The incomparable 'Crash Team Racing.'

Remember when the original PlayStation was released in the United States back in 1995?

The system went from a new, shiny thing released by Sony — a relative newcomer to the video game industry — to the console that was all over the place, outselling the Sega Saturn, giving Nintendo fits and rendering the Atari Jaguar all but irrelevant. Sony didn’t just wind up as a major player in the video game industry because the PlayStation (also called the PS or PS1) had been under development for some time.

The story of the PlayStation goes back to 1988 when Nintendo contracted with Sony to develop a compact disc add-on for the forthcoming Super Nintendo Entertainment System (SNES). Those plans fell through by 1991, of course, leaving Sony with the choice of scrapping its development work or building a console of its own.

We know what happened next — Sony went on to develop the PlayStation, thus entering the competitive video game console market in a big way and laying the groundwork for the successful consoles that the company has sold since then. Bear in mind the original PlayStation was on the market in one form or another for 11 years (an eternity in the market) and thousands of games were developed for it.

The PlayStation was an innovative beast for a number of reasons. Sony banked heavily on the notion that the future was in three-dimensional gaming — something that required machines that could push a lot of polygons quickly. With that in mind, Sony put together a 32-bit console that was absolutely hyperactive by the standards at the time, allowed for very detailed graphics and could handle a lot of activity on the screen without too much slowdown (yes, there are some games such as Road Rash: Jailbreak where slowdown was evident, but that issue came into play later on in the console’s life).

The graphical prowess of the system and the hot CPU made the system ideal for racing games where the sense of speed was crucial to the action. Take, for example, Crash Team Racing (CTR). The “barely in control” nature of the game makes that one of the better kart racers out there. Also, the emphasis on 3D gaming and the ability to handle a lot of action at once made the system perfect for “busy” sports titles such as the Madden football franchise.

Also, let’s take a look about the innovations evident in the controller. The original controller came with four shoulder buttons, four action buttons, a direction pad a “select” button and a “start button.” In short, the controller was geared toward increasing complex games and was very comfortable. Sony didn’t stop with that digital controller, however — the company developed the DualShock controller which added a couple of analog sticks and a vibration feature.

So, you had a system capable of handling sophisticated graphics and a controller that could handle about anything a programmer might want to throw at it. Sony didn’t stop there — the company added slots for memory cards that could hold a considerable amount of save data and were portable. Indeed, gamers were attracted to the notion of being able to carry that save data around and use them in other machines (leading to more than a few late night gaming sessions).

The memory cards were essential, of course, as the system was completely disc based. The disc format became widely accepted, of course, and you’ll notice that the Nintendo 64 was the last system to use cartridges. Discs are cheap and can hold a lot of data, whereas cartridges are expensive and somewhat limited in terms of storage.

And, yes, let’s not forget about the multi-channel, CD-quality sound that was built into the PlayStation. Compared to 16- bit consoles, the PlayStation’s capabilities are simply mind boggling.

Yes, there are some people who will say that a lot of what was built into the PlayStation was nothing new and that is a good point. Sony wasn’t the first to adopt a CD-ROM system for games, nor was it the first company to provide an audio system that was outstanding. Furthermore, we’d seen some complex, comfortable controllers prior to the release of the PlayStation and speedy consoles that could handle three-dimensional graphics weren’t exactly new, either.

However, what made the PlayStation stand out was that everything was incorporated so well. Furthermore, Sony did a very good job of figuring out how gaming was evolving and producing a console that catered to the changing market very well. Want proof? Fire up that PlayStation 3 or Xbox 360 and it’s hard to escape the conclusion that a lot of what we take for granted in gaming now goes back to the 32-bit era that the PlayStation dominated.

The popularity and overall quality of the PS1 led to the development of that which is necessary to the success of any console — a bunch of games. Thousands of the blasted things, in fact, that cover any genre imaginable. Want a good role playing game? The Final Fantsay titles available for the PS1 were very successful, as were more than a few other RPGs. Sports titles ranging from the aforementioned Madden football series to soccer, basketball, obsessively comprehensive NASCAR simulators are out there for the system. The same is true of first-person shooters, fighters, button-mashing shoot ’em ups, board games, strategy games — just about any genre you can imagine.

Are there any drawbacks to the PS1? Of course — no system is perfect. For one thing, the disc mechanisms do tend to wear out over time (although I should mention I picked up a PS1 used over a decade ago and it still works fine). For another, the composite video output that’s standard on these things looks OK — but not great — on new HDTV sets. The video looks a lot better on new sets than most systems that came before the PS1, but this system was designed to be played on “old” televisions and it shows.

Also, those DualShock controllers are great, but they do tend to wear out over time. Another drawback is that those great Nintendo franchises are — obviously — not available for the PS1. Finally, discs are cheaper than cartridges and hold more data, but they’re generally not more durable.

Regardless, the complaints against the PS1 are minor. Sony sold over 100 million PlayStations and produced the system for 11 years. The company must have done something right.

The proliferation of the PlayStation, of course, is a boon for collectors. Finding games for the thing is an easy matter and most of the great titles are available for next to nothing. The same is true of systems (and, yes, newer PlayStation models play PS1 games and pipe them through video outputs better suited to HDTV sets, but that’s another matter).

If you want to get a good idea of what the 32-bit gaming era was like, you’d do well to study the matter through logging hours on your PS1. The only problem you’ll have is sorting through some bad games to get to the great ones, and that task is made easier through resources such as the capsule reviews on VideoGameCritic.net.

Stay tuned — more reviews to come in the “retrogaming” category here at First Arkansas News.

About: Ethan C. Nobles:
Benton resident. Rogue journalist. Recovering attorney. Email = Ethan@FirstArkansasNews.net.

11 Comments »

  • Daniel G said:

    Well written article. I feel like since the PS1 and PS2 days of market domination, Sony has fallen a bit. They launched the PS3 poorly, because even though at the time you got your moneys worth for a multimedia and gaming system, you could find cheaper alternatives geared just towards gaming. Now with the playing field more or less level, we can see how Sony really pushes the competition with superior first-party exclusive titles (and more of them I might add). I just feel like it took too long to get to this point.

  • joel said:

    Best console of all time, imo. Great article but calling Crash team Racing incomparable is certainly a joke, right?

  • Ethan C. Nobles (author) said:

    Daniel — I’ll agree with that, although I think the PS3 is a great piece of hardware with enough exclusive titles to make me a bit jealous as an Xbox 360/Nintendo Wii owner. I think what Sony is dealing with right now comes down to some major competition.

    Think about it. The PS1 simply blew everything else away in terms of the sheer number of titles available, hardware, etc. Furthermore, the PS1 was marketed toward “adult” gamers, whereas the Nintendo 64 was marketed as more of a family-friendly console. The two companies seemed to go after different markets, to a degree (yes, I know there were some “mature” games for the N64 and “kiddie” games for the PS1, but still).

    The PS2 showed up with a huge fanbase already installed, killed off the Dreamcast (a fact that still annoys me) and eventually wound up competing with the Xbox for the “mature” market (the Gamecube was out there, but was marketed to a different segment).

    That brings us to the current generation, which included (at the beginning) the motion-based Wii while the PS3 and Xbox 360 targeted the more “hardcore” gamer market. It took awhile to get to this point, but here it is — the PS3 and Xbox 360 both offer great hardware and exclusive titles. In the past, it often boiled down to mature gamers heading to Sony and family-friendly types going to Nintendo (yes, you did have some other players involved, but those were the major two until Microsoft showed up and offered a third, very strong competitor.

    Frankly, I love the state of the video game industry right now. The competition is intense, meaning we all benefit regardless of what system we own.

  • Ethan C. Nobles (author) said:

    Joel — not really a joke. Love that game, but that might be because my wife and I have played the heck out of it and haven’t found a kart racer we like better.

  • owl said:

    2 reasons that made Sony number 1 with the PS1 in my mind are:

    1: GTA
    2: Pirating games

  • Ethan C. Nobles (author) said:

    Owl — can’t disagree with any of that. And, the great thing about the PS1 is that it didn’t matter what genre you liked — you could find something that you wanted with that system.

  • Dr.Evil said:

    The reason im addicted playing games are mostly influenced by the PS1 and there’s no doubt about it….I have played every single game console came out and yet i really don’t remember most of ’ems names…But PS1 is different and its special…I mean very special!! I am so proud to say that my knowledge grew from the PS more than my schooling!! I am not a fan boy nor anything but the truth is Sony is a legendary company which should be honored with great respect….

  • Ethan C. Nobles (author) said:

    Dr. Evil — hey, I’m an Xbox 360 fans and I can’t argue a bit with that. It’s been said a time or two — what would gaming be like if Sony had never released the PS1? Not a comfortable thing to ponder at all.

    Sony’s a great company that has released some fantastic gaming hardware. Simple as that.

  • Dmemphis said:

    Games are good…it helps with the stress!

  • Dmemphis said:

    I remember the good old days 1981-1982 when ATARI came out and you hooked it up to the tv set and would play for hours!! I will have to buy one of these playstations!

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