Sony's very first outing into the console market yielded an unprecedented level of success. The original PlayStation was the first home console ever to crack the 100 million units barrier. This number included the sales of the redesigned, smaller "PS one" unit that was released in 2000 and made up roughly a quarter of the system's total sales. A truly astounding number, made even more astounding when you consider it achieved the milestone in the 9 and a half years from the date of its Japanese launch in December 1994.
To put it into perspective of how special this achievement actually is, especially during the mid-to-late 90s and early 2000s - only 2 other home consoles to date have managed to also eclipse the century - the Nintendo Wii (101.63 million), and the PlayStation 2 (158 million). The original PlayStation, at least at the time of writing, remains the 2nd best selling home console of all time with over 102 million units sold, behind only its immediate successor.
In somewhat of a strange twist, when the redesigned PS one released, it hit the market during the initial launch window of the PlayStation 2. Due to a number of factors, the PS one was actually the best selling home console during this period, outselling even the brand new PS2!
This amount of systems in the wild obviously resulted in a lot of game sales - 962 million software titles, in fact, had shipped by the time the PlayStation was discontinued. Yep, that's almost 1 billion games shipped. That's mind boggling! The best selling game was Gran Turismo, shipping almost 11 million copies.
The PlayStation was the first console to really break the trend of labelling its controller buttons with letters of the alphabet or numbers...in fact Sony still remains the only major player to be doing this. Instead of the usual A, B, C etc buttons, the PlayStation used shapes - a triangle, a circle, a cross and a square. Turns out, there's actually a meaning behind each of these shapes.
The triangle is meant to represent the player's point of view and looking in a forward direction. The square is meant to represent a piece of paper or a menu. The circle is meant to represent "yes" and the cross is meant to represent "no", corresponding to "accept" and "cancel" respectively - although you'll note that when the console was launched outside of Japan, the functionality of the circle and cross were reversed, so cross was the "accept" button and circle was the "cancel" button. The triangle button was also occasionally used as a "back" button. Japanese consoles though still to this day retain the original design.
I was actually unable to track down an official explanation as to why the functions of the cross and circle buttons were reversed for international models. In Japanese culture, the "X" would denote "incorrect" or "wrong" and is generally viewed as a negative symbol, so it makes sense in that context. But the usage of "X" in western cultures is a bit more ambiguous, and could denote both positive (put an X in the box on a form) or negative (incorrect answer). It would seem to me that there wouldn't have been any harm in Sony leaving the purpose of those buttons as-is for international models as it would have still made sense, but I guess that's history now.
The character of Crash Bandicoot became somewhat of an unofficial mascot for Sony and the original PlayStation, appearing in many commercials for the system (or rather, a dude dressed in a Crash Bandicoot costume appeared in commercials). This was apparently not without the protests of SCE boss and father of the PlayStation himself Ken Kutaragi though. He reportedly hated the character.
Kutaragi was against the idea of having a single mascot for the system, and was especially against the idea of having a cartoony looking character as a mascot. He wanted to market the PlayStation has a device for a more mature demographic; that it was not a toy that was intended primarily for children. He felt that the character of Crash, and indeed the entire game of Crash Bandicoot was not suited to the system or his vision for its library of games. Ouch. In fact, when Naughty Dog first showed the game and the character concept to him, he reportedly almost rejected the game on the spot, and was saved by some quick thinking by Naughty Dog to redesign the character a little and give him a bit more of an anime look. Luckily, enough of the other execs were in favour of the marsupial attired in shorts and shoes, and allowed Crash through, primarily because they felt a US-created character from a US-based game studio would resonate with the US audience. They believed the system needed something to compete with the likes of Mario.
While he did relent and allow Crash Bandicoot games on his system, Kutaragi was still clearly uncomfortable with the idea of the Australian animal being a mascot. He was only really used as a mascot in US commercials, and the Japanese commercials for his games were...a little on the weird side, to say the least. It's also rather telling that Sony chose to eventually sell the IPs of Crash and Spyro (another similarly cartoony looking character) to Activision so the games could go multiplatform. This was why neither character appeared in PlayStation All-Stars Battle Royale, despite the fact both franchises were pretty integral to the PlayStation's initial success.
Back in the mid 90s, most music was sold on compact discs, and dedicated CD players didn't come cheap, especially good ones. Heck even in 2018 you could be handing over anywhere from US$200-$1000 for a decent dedicated CD player. The PlayStation was a CD based console of course, and it also happened to be able to play audio CDs, which itself isn't unusual. What is unusual though is that it was actually a better CD player than the dedicated ones, and was sold for a fraction of the price.
Audiophiles flocked to the system to snap it up, specifically one of the earlier models (SCPH-1000, SCPH-1001 or SCPH-1002) as they had dedicated RCA jacks in the back of the console with a very good digital-to-analogue converter (DAC) that allowed them to output outstanding analogue audio quality. Later revisions of the system removed the RCA jacks however in favour of using a multi-AV cable, making them less appealing to music lovers. It's not uncommon for sound aficionados to have these relatively cheap PlayStations hooked up to thousands of dollars of other audio equipment, and even they admit that concept seems a bit strange - but you can't argue with results.
What's kind of funny is that Sony themselves manufactured some of those aforementioned expensive dedicated CD players, so they were essentially competing against themselves in that market (albeit a different department). The PlayStation was able to pack in high quality audio/video components but sell cheaply because the hardware was sold at a loss. They would of course make the money back on game sales, something that manufacturers of the dedicated systems, including Sony's specific internal division, did not have the benefit of doing. The same kind of thing happened with its successors the PlayStation 2 (DVD) and PlayStation 3 (Blu-Ray) - they were often purchased as a media player as they were cheaper than the dedicated devices on the market.
One of the biggest strengths the PlayStation had over its rival console the Nintendo 64 was the fact that it used compact discs or CDs, as opposed to the N64 that used cartridges. CDs could hold up to 650 megabytes of data - a lot more than a cartridge could at the time (the largest N64 cartridge was 512 megabits, or 64 megabytes - around a tenth of the storage capacity of a CD).
Even with all of this extra storage though, games that spanned across multiple discs started becoming common. Around 40 games released on two discs, titles such as Final Fantasy VII used three discs, and Final Fantasy VIII and Final Fantasy IX that followed it both used four discs. Other games, such as Fear Effect, The X-Files Game, Wing Commander III and Wing Commander IV also weighed in at four discs. However, two games stretched it even further than that and shipped on five discs - those were Riven: The Sequel to Myst and the Japanese-exclusive Tokimeki Memorial 2, meaning they would have tipped the scales at well over 2 gigabytes in size.
What on earth took up so much space? In most cases, it was full motion video (FMV) that was the primary culprit. Plenty of games used FMV to some degree back then - often it was just for the intro and maybe the ending sequence. But a number of games, such as the Final Fantasy titles featured them at many points throughout the experience, while others built the entire game off them. Plenty of games also featured high quality CD audio and incredibly detailed prerendered environments. I guess some developers went a little overboard with all of the extra freedom granted to them by the CD format. The competing N64 of course had very little to zero FMV in its games and the audio also often needed to be heavily compressed, and didn't have the luxury of being able to split a large game onto multiple cartridges.
Arc the Lad Collection actually spanned six discs, but as the name implies, this was a collection of four games rather one single big game.
For around half of the PlayStation's lifespan, it was referred to by the shorthand of PSX (or PS-X). This abbreviation apparently came from the system's codename during development, where it was called the "Play Station X" (or "PlayStation-X"). What the "X" stood for exactly, nobody seems to know for sure, though the most common belief is that it meant "eXperimental". Being the 90s and all, another popular theory is that it meant "eXtreme". Official magazines and other sources were referring to it as the PSX during development and the name just seemed to stick once the system was launched (a similar thing happened when Nintendo launched the Gamecube, where "GCN" was the common written abbreviation). It should be noted that it was almost always only used in written form - in spoken form it was mostly just called the PlayStation.
Once the PlayStation 2 was on the imminent horizon though, and the console was redesigned into the smaller model, it was renamed to the "PS one" to avoid confusion with the upcoming launch, and from that point forward most referred to it as the PS1 or the official abbreviation of simply PS. To this day, many (particularly the older generation) still call the original larger model of the system the PSX out of habit though.
Further confusing things, Sony launched a product actually called the PSX a number of years later. Released exclusively in Japan at the end of 2003 and discontinued just 14 months later, this was a device that combined a PlayStation 2 and a digital video recorder into a set-top box. Due to its high price, it was a commercial failure - and because the main Sony Corporation handled the marketing rather than Sony Computer Entertainment, the PlayStation branding and logo were almost non-existent on it (you could see it if you squinted). Because this device is actually a thing though, referring to the original PlayStation as PSX may cause some confusion, particularly if someone wasn't around during the days of the original "phat" version.
In the early days of 3D gaming, developers were still figuring out how to create believable, large worlds. One of the biggest technical hurdles was the draw distance - that is, how far into the distance of the game world the player can see at any given time. In most cases, the distance the player could see was limited, because the system could only render so much on screen before it would start to negatively affect performance. Developers covered this up either by making the player walk through doors or long corridors to reach connected areas, or covered the area in "fog" and objects only came into view through the fog when the player got close enough. While it's difficult to say with 100% certainty, Spyro the Dragon, released for the PlayStation in 1998, was more than likely the first game to solve this problem by using a system called Level-Of-Detail, or LOD.
How it worked was that game objects basically had different versions of varying quality. If the player was close, the object would be rendered in the highest quality possible, but the further away the player was, the less detailed it would become. As the player moved about the game world, the game would seamlessly transition between the lower and higher LOD of the object, meaning the player could see much further into the distance than ever before while maintaining consistent frame rate. Spyro the Dragon's levels were also very large for the time, making the technical feat even more impressive.
LOD is a system that's still used to this day, especially in large, open-world games. The technology is obviously much more advanced these days, but you can thank this sometimes under appreciated PlayStation game for pioneering the concept.
One of the defining characteristics of Sega's fantastic but unfortunately ill-fated final console, the Dreamcast, was the Visual Memory Unit or VMU. This was basically an innovative memory card with a small LCD screen that allowed you to play minigames, depending on the game you were playing, and could even be used as a handheld gaming device. Many gamers would know about the VMU, but did you know Sony also released what was essentially their own version? It was called the PocketStation, and it's quite possible you haven't heard of it because it was only ever available in Japan. It launched in early 1999, around 6 months after the VMU (which was actually launched a few months before the Dreamcast itself was).
The PocketStation was a device that plugged into the memory card slot of the PlayStation, and like the Sega VMU, its basic function was to store save data, but it also had a small LCD screen and controller buttons. You could transfer data onto the PocketStation and then take it with you on the go to play various minigames, and was apparently very popular in Japan as a Tamagotchi-type of device. Some games allowed you to earn rewards with these minigames and then transfer them back to the main game once you plugged it back into your console.
Sony reportedly only manufactured about 60,000 units initially, which promptly sold out, although went on to sell almost 5 million units in the 3 years it was officially available in Japan. There were plans for an international launch of the little device, and some marketing had apparently already started, but they opted not to go ahead, citing an inability to keep up with Japanese demand. The launch of the PlayStation 2 in 2000 also no doubt contributed to the decision. Compatible games included Street Fighter Zero 3, R4: Ridge Racer Type 4, Seiken Densetsu: Legend of Mana and several entries in the Dance Dance Revolution series. Even though the device was only released in Japan, a few localised games such as Final Fantasy VIII and SaGa Frontier 2 still shipped with the PocketStation functionality ready to go, leaving a few western gamers a bit confused.
When you think about indie development, you'll probably think about it being a relatively new thing, especially since so many cheap or even free tools are now available, not to mention the abundance of kickstarter or indiegogo campaigns and the ease of publishing games on mobile platforms. It may surprise you to learn then that Sony once upon a time actually officially supported indie and homebrew development on the original PlayStation with a product called Net Yaroze. That sounds like a weird name at first, but "Yaroze" (pronounced "ya-row-zey") in Japanese means "Let's do it together" or "Let's work together".
Net Yaroze was basically a special, black-coloured PlayStation development and debugging kit. It was only available to purchase by mail order, and cost US$750 at the time, which definitely wasn't cheap by any means, but much cheaper than the many thousands of dollars a full development kit would have been. The product came with development software in the box as well as the physical debugging unit, controllers and required cables. Sony provided some support, though the developer was responsible for writing all of the code (primarily in the C programming language), compiling it and getting it running. It supported development on DOS and Windows PCs and Macintosh via a compiler named CodeWarrior.
The majority of the games created with Net Yaroze that saw the light of day were included on demo discs provided by various publications such as the Official UK PlayStation Magazine, and many of them were actually quite good (games like Blitter Boy, Psychon and Terra Incognita in particular are standouts). Sony (in conjunction with organisations such as the Scottish Games Alliance and Edge Magazine) was even involved in some contests to find the best games produced with the product. Some developers of Net Yaroze games went on to work for larger studios and have successful careers. Some other games have been updated and ported to more modern systems, such as Timeslip (X360 version pictured).
I mentioned in my intro that I wouldn't be covering the history between Nintendo and Sony that would eventually lead to the creation of the PlayStation. That story is pretty well known by now and I'd say most of you would have at least heard about it. What you might not have heard about though is that Sony could have collaborated with Sega instead on the exact same thing, though it's unclear whether this happened before or after Nintendo did a 180 on the Sony deal.
Sony and Sega had actually worked very closely together with the creation of the Sega CD add-on for the Genesis, and Sony Imagesoft had a partnership with Sega to publish games such as Mickey Mania for the add-on. Former president of Sega of America Tom Kalinske stated in an interview with Sega-16 that "there was really this wonderful collaborative effort. We each benefited from each other's work, and I think that's one of the things that has been forgotten in video game industry lore or history: that this very strong bond existed back then between the two companies." He had the vision of the two companies combining their efforts, utilising what they had learned during the development of the Sega CD. He and his team took the idea to Sony, who apparently gave it the green light.
Reportedly, when Kalinske proposed the idea of Sega and Sony co-developing a console to the Sega executives in Japan, his idea was shot down. "Not a chance", they said. Sega of course were the more experienced of the two companies when it came to video games, and were coming off the back of the Mega Drive/Genesis being a huge success (at least outside of Japan). They didn't see any benefit in partnering with a less experienced company like Sony and figured they were better off doing it on their own. We all know how that eventually worked out - Sony dominated the market, Sega floundered and eventually dropped out of the hardware business altogether.
So there you have it, the top 10 facts you may not know about the PlayStation! Hopefully, you learned something from this list...but of course, as I said in the introduction, maybe you did know these facts already...so if you did, I hope you were at least entertained.
I can only put 10 items on this list, so if I've missed a little-known fact about the PlayStation that you think I should have included in this list, please let me know! Drop me some feedback, or discuss the list in the forums.
Thanks for reading!
Sources used to compile this list: Wikipedia, Giant Bomb, The Fact Site, The Guardian, RetroRGB, IGN, Frag Hero, Radio Times, Quora, Digital Spy, Kill Screen, Uproxx, Sega-16, Push Square, Games Radar
By the way, did you know I have a YouTube channel, where I periodically make video versions of my top 10 lists (including this one)? Why not check it out if you enjoy my content? Search for "White_Pointer Gaming" on YouTube to find me!
List by White_Pointer (09/13/2018)
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