In the late 80’s there were really just two major players in the console space: Nintendo and SEGA. As We’ve explained before, Sony was contracted to create a CD add-on for Nintendo’s cartridge-based Super Nintendo, but soured relations and an 11th hour bit of treachery halted what could have been a beautiful relationship.
It’s probably for the best; Sony went on to develop the PlayStation, arguably one of the most important, influential, and awesome consoles ever created.
After being burnt by the failed Nintendo partnership, Sony’s Ken Kutaragi wanted to keep at it, caught by the allure of videogames and convinced Sony to take the risk. After a few years of development, Sony brought the world the PlayStation. They used technology, like the fancy sound chips from the cancelled Super Disc/Play Station, upgraded it and developed a console that gave Nintendo and SEGA a run for their money.
Developers were intrigued by the console thanks to the CD-ROM drive that would carry its games. It gave them far more space, at a significantly reduced cost. It also, thanks to the 33mhz SGI-powered chip and whopping 2mb of system memory, allowed developers to use 3D graphics, an alien thing compared to the Atari Jaguar and rather underpowered 3DO of the time.
The PlayStation was released in December of 1994 in Japan, within weeks of the competing Saturn from SEGA. It sold considerably better than SEGA’s machine though, thanks to the 3D graphics that SEGA’s decidedly 2D console just couldn’t pull off.
It saw release in North America on September 9, 1995 and in Europe on September 29, 1995 – debuting on South African shores just a few weeks later in November that year. 5000 units were imported to South Africa, but just half of them actually sold through from the initial shipment.
Sony’s new gaming division went on to become the company’s most profitable, with the PlayStation selling 102 million units in the ten years it was on shelves before being discontinued in 2005.
The X, Square, Circle and Triangle buttons that are on the face of the PlayStation controller have become a symbol for videogames. Though the PlayStation originally launched without any analogue sticks, it soon, after iteration, became the very first console to have twin-analogue sticks. The controller was indeed very iterative; starting with just a d-pad, the controller soon (and briefly) got a model that had just one analogue stick, then later a dual analogue, before finally getting rumble motors as well and becoming the Dualshock that’s served as a template for Sony’s controllers since.
The PlayStation was home to some rather incredible games, and was the birthplace of many of the gaming franchises you know and love today. Thanks to some lax third-party licencing and the relative low cost of production, the PlayStation is also home to some of the worst examples of shovelware. We’re not worried about those though.
Some of the games that helped defined the console include:
Final Fantasy VII
Right up until final Fantasy 6, Square and Nintendo were bedfellows, but the move to CD (and the full-motion video that allowed) let Square take the reigns off of its creativity and wallow in its recently acquired love for Silicon Graphics workstations and 3D polygons.
We’re glad, because what we got is one of the finest games and some of the biggest swords the JRPG genre has produced.
Jill, here's a lockpick. It might come in handy if you, the master of unlocking, take it with you.
Capcom’s Resident Evil was Shinji Mikami’s take on Alone in the Dark, and he managed to created a survival horror masterpiece that’s still one of the benchmarks of the genre. Playing as a member of the Special Tactics And Rescue Service (S.T.A.R.S.) Alpha Team law enforcement task force trapped within a creepy, puzzle-filled mansion, Resident Evil had you killing zombies, conserving ammo and using herbs to heal yourself. It also had you frequently change your underwear.
Metal Gear Solid
Snaaaaaaaake! Hideo Kojima took his convoluted, incredibly successful MSX game series Metal Gear and breathed 3D life into it on the PlayStation. Sited as one of the games that popularised the stealth genre, Metal Gear Solid had Snake liberating hostages from the clutches of FOXHOUND, confronting nasty terrorists and hiding in boxes.
Sony had a great console, but it didn’t have a Mascot like Nintendo did with Mario, and SEGA had with Sonic. Naughty Dog’s Crash Bandicoot became, for a while at least, that mascot. That crazy, wombat-looking bandicoot smashed boxes, collected apples and spun about like a maniac, showing Cortex who’s boss.
Symphony of the Night
Featuring a pretty expansive (mirrored!) expansive map, RPG elements, unlockable skills, and the sort of backtracking found in Metroid, Konami’s Castlevania: Symphony of the Night essentially created the “Metroidvania” sub-genre. Unlike many games of the era, Konami avoided the temptation to go 3D, instead using the PlayStation’s power to make it a damned sexy 2D game – meaning it still holds up pretty well today.
Parappa the Rapper
Kick! Punch! It’s all in the mind! Parappa The Rapper paved the way for rhythm games, giving us inventive characters, wacky songs and timed-to-music button presses, presaging games like Bust-a-groove, Guitar Hero and Rockband. Plus, it had an onion teach you Karate.
Sony purchased developer Psygnosis, later Studio Liverpool, who brought us the futuristic, techno-infused, anti-gravity pod-racer Wipeout that was Sony’s answer to Nintendo’s popular F-Zero. With weapons. With a real-sense of speed, Wipeout was an adrenaline-fuelled frenzy.
Oddworld: Abe's Oddysee
Abe’s Oddyssey, a game about a mute factory worker leading a revolt to free workers from a meat-processing plant is one of the most cerebral, and tightly designed puzzle-platformers ever created. Featuring a beautiful, strange world and enemies with genuine personality, Oddworld certainly lived up to its name. Follow me? Ok!
Though it looks a bit silly by today’s standards, Gran Turismo blew minds when it was released in 1999, after five years of development. Infusing his genuine passion for cars with video games, Polyphony Digital’s Kazunori Yamauchi created one of, if not the most influential driving sim on the planet. To this day, Gran Turismo is the PlayStation’s biggest selling bit of software, having shipped nearly 11 million copies.
Though it was preceded by two months by Battle Arena Toshinden, arcade port Tekken really pushed the PlayStation’s graphical capability, especially with its sequels, which were very damned close to their arcade counterparts. And though it’s now on other platforms, if there’s one fighting game that’s synonymous with PlayStation, it’s got to be Tekken.
When it came to videogames, in 1994 Sony Computer Entertainment was nothing, a sapling. Until then the gaming world was dominated by Nintendo and Sega. Nintendo’s impending Nintendo 64 was expected to maintain the status quo, but Sony’s focuse on a wider audience and darker, more adult games paved the way for gaming’s mainstream revolution.
By the late 1990s, Sony’s PlayStation was synonymous with gaming, relegating Nintendo and Sega to second and third place. The incredible, millions-string install base and incredible third-party support paved the way for the PlayStation 2, which went on to become the best selling console of all time and, some say, was largely responsible for SEGA’s exit from the hardware business.
Microsoft’s Bill Gates was quite impressed with the system, so much so that the company threw its hat into the ring for the next generation of consoles, pitting its giant Xbox against Sony’s PlayStation 2.
The rest, as they say, is history.