Sony’s PlayStation, through its many different faces, has really been through the mill.
The PlayStation has had a long list of rivalries (such as Nintendo and Microsoft), has had more than its fair share of success (such as rebooting the video gaming industry and helping it become a powerhouse industry worth over $100 billion in revenue per year, as well as having two of its consoles – the PlayStation and the PlayStation 2, make up the top three of the highest selling consoles of all time) and it’s fair share of failures (such as the financial disaster that was the sales of the PS3, which despite selling 80 million units worldwide, still managed to lose just over $3 billion due to a ridiculous price-tag and outrageous R&D costs). But with all the ups and downs, there are certain little titbits of information that some fans might not know about the console’s history.
The Sony PlayStation was first introduced at the end of 1994 in Japan as the brainchild of Ken Kutaragi, who wanted to rival other popular gaming consoles at the time. The PlayStation became the first video game console to ship 100 million units, and the PS2 is the best-selling home console of all time.
With numbers like that, industry-leaders start to notice. And video gaming has since become one of the most financially lucrative industries in entertainment. That’s all fine, and most people know all of that, but here are 10 facts about the PlayStation that you might not know.
10.PlayStation started as a partnership with Nintendo
In the early 90s, there was a changing of the guard on the horizon. Cartridges were on the way out, and CD’s were set to replace them. At about the same time, Nintendo wanted to get in on the CD-quality video and audio aspects of the new emerging CD market – the power of which cartridges could not match. PlayStation boss Ken Kutaragi, who helped design the SNES’s sound chip, helped create…get this…the Nintendo Play Station, the prototype of which is pictured above. The console would play SNES titles, and new SNES-CD games.
Nintendo chairman Hiroshi Yamauchi wanted control of the licensing, and of course neither company could decide on how to split the market-profits for the games console, which led to the dissolution of the partnership.
Nintendo announced their planned change at the CES (Consumer Electronics Show) in 1991 where the PlayStation was revealed, a slight which Sony would not soon forget, and which would serve as the catalyst for the biggest gaming rivalry in history, and as the old saying goes: hatred burns much deeper if it rises from the ashes of friendship and trust.
9.The first PlayStation mascot was replaced
Before PlayStation was even released in the US, they had gone through a multitude of mascots in Japan. One they ended up settling on was the aptly named Polygon Man: a head shape with purple polygons that endeavoured to showcase the PlayStation’s cutting edge graphics. Well, as it turned out, PlayStation boss Ken Kutaragi hated the character when he saw it at E3 1995, and dropped the mascot as a result.
That mascot was replaced by Crash Bandicoot, who had years of success as the PlayStations official mascot before disappearing into anonymity. Even then, Kutaragi hated Crash (he seems like a hard man to please), saying that he looked too ‘kid-friendly’, which Kutaragi was trying to avoid. He even confronted Naughty Dog developers saying that he thought their “game was crap! (sic)” Really? Really Ken?
Eventually, Naughty Dog Studies was acquired by Sony in 2001.
8.The U.S Air Force built a secret computer using 1,760 PlayStation 3s
This was somewhat big news at the time, and made headlines, but what some people may forget is just how powerful the PlayStation 3 at the time in which it was released. Specifically, people may forget that the PlayStation 3 was powerful enough to be used by none other than the US government.
In 2010, the US Air Force created a Supercomputer using a cluster of 1,760 PS3 units into what they called the ‘Condor Cluster.’ At the time, it was the 33rd largest Supercomputer in the world – and the fastest computer in the whole US Defense Department – and could process billions of pixels a second.
7.The PlayStation logo revisions
The PlayStation logo is quite possibly the most iconic logo of any games console, and when designer Manabu Sakamoto sat down to put together the first selection of drafts that would eventually become the iconic logo, it didn’t just come to him overnight, which makes sense when one considers the fact that Sony wanted the PlayStation to dominate the gaming world. Care and time was needed to find the perfect logo for what would become the most iconic games console of all time.
Such a feat takes pinpoint accurate marketing and promotion, which the PlayStation succeeded at with its brilliantly simple and sleep logo and amazing TV ads. Sakamoto came up with a long-list of over 20 logo designs, finally ending with the four-coloured ‘P’ and ‘S’ symbols which any gamer (and most non-gamers for that matter) would now instantly recognise.
Things like what the logo looks like may not seem like much, but could you imagine anything different now? The logo they finally decided on was so perfect, and it would be interesting to consider how the PlayStation would have sold had they gone for one of the other logos.
6.The PlayStation button controls had a purpose
If you want the full story on this fascinating titbit of insider information then you should check out our recent article on the subject. But if you want the short-hand version, then it goes like this: the PlayStation’s distinctive controller was designed by Sony’s Teiyu Goto, and became a hallmark in video game controller designs due to its lustrous and futuristic look. It was a far cry from the clunky, cumbersome controllers of the past. And rather than have to remember letters, he wanted to use symbols instead.
The four symbols he opted for were chosen in consideration of each button’s function in gameplay.
Triangle represented a player’s perspective, square symbolised an option menu or a map, because a square looks like a map, and the X and O represented ‘no’ and ‘yes’ symbols respectively.
Eventually, however, American developers scrapped the symbols functions because American gamers were used to the lowest button being the ‘ok’ button, but many Japanese games still use the ‘O’ button to mean ‘yes’ or ‘ok’ and the ‘X’ button to mean ‘no’ or ‘cancel’
5.PlayStation’s hidden soundtrack
Back at a time when Easter Eggs and hidden gems were a big deal in many video games (mainly because without the internet to easily find them, a great deal of pride went into finally tracking them down or spotting them), it made us feel like the designers had slipped something into the game just for us to find. Almost like a private joke. And to show how much time was spent on making these great games, Sony pulled a genius move by releasing hidden soundtracks on many of their titles.
In a move that is somewhat akin to playing Pink Floyd’s Dark Side of the Moon against Wizard of Oz or playing an album backwards to de-code some hidden messages, many games like Castlevania or Cool Boarders could be thrown into a CD-player, could be read, and then hidden tracks could be heard from the stereo.
On a personal note, I tried this with Coolboarders 2 (the UK version with proper old-school jungle drum and bass as the soundtrack) and it made me feel like I was in Human Traffic.
4.Final Fantasy VII started out as a detective story
Final Fantasy VII became the RPG that set into motion the RPG-craze that swept over the PlayStation 1, with 3D graphics, story and design features that, for its time, were completely unparalleled and completely without peer. Originally designed in 1994 for the SNES – and subsequently the Nintendo 64 – designers realised that only the PlayStation’s CD-ROMs had the storage capacity to fully render the game, and even then it still took three discs.
What many fans of the iconic game and series might not know was that Final Fantasy creator Hironobu Sakaguchi originally envisioned the game as a detective story, not starring Cloud Strife, but rather a detective named “Hot-Blooded Detective Joe”.
Some of the game’s original plans and ideas can still be seen in the opening area of Midgar. If the plans would have gone ahead as they were originally intended to, then there’s no doubt that the original version of FF VII would have almost certainly missed the entire RPG industry, if it even made a splash at all.
3.The PlayStation 2 design was borrowed from Atari
At approximately 155 million units, the PlayStation 2 is the best-selling games console of all time. Though many thought that the PS2 had a space-age, hyper-modern design (for 2001 at least) – with its vertical approach and black paint job – it was actually one of the more old-school designs out there.
When designing the PS2, Sony heavily borrowed (aka pretty much stole) from Atari’s 1993 model of the Falcon030 Microbox, after they acquired Atari Inc. Okay, so you can’t exactly steal from yourself, but it’s ironic to think that one of the games consoles best features – which was its futuristic, cutting-edge design – was actually borrowed, almost inch by inch, from a much older model, which proves the old saying true: everything old is new again.
2.Secret hidden demo games
Continuing on with hidden stuff, it’s no secret that many game demos were released with big-name releases in order to pre-publicise a separate game’s release. The modern equivalent would be buying a PS4 and buying one of the launch-games with it, and finding a demo for another game that is scheduled to come out in six months or so.
For instance, Sony released many demos with its PlayStation magazine, while other games like Final Fantasy VII and Twisted Metal were first released as demos inside other games.
That was common knowledge, as well as common practice. But what you may not have realised is that there are even more hidden gems that first came out for PS1. Gamers found that if you popped underneath the disk in the original VHS-shaped game box, where the game’s disk was stored, you could find other demos and cases below that disk.
Even just the site of one of those old-school VHS-style boxes for the PlayStation 1 games feels like uncovering an ancient Roman sandal or something.
1.Net Yaroze helped create a generation of indie game developers
Although it’s not that big of a deal nowadays, as we inhabit a world with soaring, Metropolis-esque technology that allows practically any person with a bit of know-how to develop their own indie games, back in the 1990s, a system called Net Yaroze had one thing in common with Ron Burgundy – it was kind of a big deal.
Sony wanted to get in contact with “garage developers”, so they developed a $750 black PlayStation in 199 that could interface with a user’s computer.
Most of the designed games never made their way past the bundled demo disk stage, but the Yaroze coding kits allowed a generation of would-be coders to get their first crack at making video games. Some success stories live on, such as Mitsuru Kamiyama, the developer of Final Fantasy: Crystal Chronicles, who first began coding with the Net Yaroze system.