A computer games console, made by Sony. Also, something of a small cultural revolution. It has had a long life for a games console, and has undergone many changes. Its history is also a little odd.

Back when the SNES was nearing the end of its viable commercial life, Nintendo wanted to wring a few last drops from it. Their solution was the SNES CD drive. Nintendo teamed up with Sony to create the addon, but pulled out of the deal and switched to Philips.

By this time, the Sony / Nintendo partnership had already drawn up plans for a 'Playstation' .. a CD-ROM addon for the SNES. It was never completed though, as Nintendo backed out. Sony was then left holding a bundle of research into a CD console, and a name .. 'Playstation'.

In 1993 the PlayStation R&D project was completed. Sony Computer Entertainment was established, and Ken Kutaragi becomes the Executive Vice President of its R&D Division.

In December of that year, the Playstation hardware was demonstrated to developers in London. In January of 1994, the hardware was also demonstrated to US developers.

In December of 1994 the Playstation launched in Japan, at 39,800 Yen. By May the next year, over a million units are sold. In September 1995, the Playstation launched in America .. it sold 100,000 units in two days. September also saw the European launch of the Playstation. By Christmas, around 350,000 units had been sold in Europe.

The immediate success of the Playstation was largely due to the quality of the launch games, and specifically Namco's Tekken. Tekken was the first Playstation game to hit the one million copies mark, and it was the first in a series of games which will go down in the videogaming hall of fame. In one day on the launch of Tekken 3 in Japan, one million copies were shipped to retail.

In January 1997 Sony launched the 'Platinum' range .. a selection of games (which had been on sale successfully for a while) whose prices were reduced. This was a good move .. making many of the best games more affordable to the kids. It also had the side effect of making some games increase in price. Some stores would offer discounts, more than the Platinum range .. so when a game 'went platinum' it would actually go up in price. This was kinda rare though, and overall the Platinum range was a good idea.

In February 1997, the Net Yaroze launched in Europe. This programmable version of the Playstation has been a mild success .. although perhaps not taking off in quite the way Sony had hoped, it has offered an affordable route to Playstation programming, and has a loyal following.

In February 1998 Sony announce the Pocketstation .. a PDA extension to the standard Playstation memory card. A lot of hype surrounded its announcement, which was never fully realised. As of September 2000, I'm still not sure if you can buy the thing in the UK.

In its lifetime the Playstation has undergone a number of hardware changes, mostly aimed at reducing the manufacturing costs. The main effect has been to reduce the clutter at the rear of the machine. The downside of this unpopular move is that if you want to do anything more complex than hook it up to a TV, you need to purchase a whole bundle of cables. I did read in an old copy of Edge magazine that a few people reported a change in the quality of graphics in certain old games between original Playstations and later revisions. I never did find out what the conclusions were on that.

One of the big strengths of the Playstation is the wealth of titles available for it. At the end of the financial year 1999, SCEE announced there were 1592 titles available in Japan, 515 in the US, and 550 in Europe.

The Playstation is available in a number of multicoloured casings:

Playstation Flavour Guide

Gray - Your standard, consumer device.

Black - The Net Yaroze.

Blue - A testing version of the Playstation. Mostly used by dev teams to test the games (and also by journalists to test early code) the blue flavour lacks a country code check, and will play gold discs.

Green - Same as the Blue flavour.

White - Regular consumer version, with added MPEG compatibility, allowing it to play the CD movies (mostly karaoke and porn) that are so popular in Asia. There are no plans to release this version outside of Asia.

Earlier I said that the Playstation has been something of a small cultural revolution. It's hard to gauge the full impact it's had, but some things are certain. The playstation has changed the common image of videogaming. Gaming is no longer seen as the preserve of socially challenged young boys .. the Playstation has made it 'cool' to play videogames.

This is in no small part due to its close links to clubbing. Since Sony made the genius marketing move of having some Playstations installed in a few club chill out rooms, they are now required furniture in any self respecting club. The playstation (mine at least) came with a demo disc which contained an audio visualisation program. You loaded it to RAM and put in an audio CD. It then created a bizarre light show in time to the beats, much akin to club visuals.

More complex versions of this program have since become available .. as have music creation 'games' which act as quasi sequencers .. requiring only an output to a hifi to let you create and record your own music. The quality of this music is often questionable, but the product puts basic music creation tools into the hands of millions of people for a tiny amount of money. In my opinion that's quite a good thing.

Sony has sponsored snowboarding teams, and they were reponsible for the infamous 'roach paper' adverts. It's marketing like this which has seen the Playstation become such an integral part of popular culture. Bands ask for Playstations to be installed on their tour buses, and Land Rover offer to fit them in top spec Range Rovers.

The playstation has seen so many great games, too many to ever list here. Instead I will offer my humble suggestions for games to try if you haven't already.
I'm crap at these kind of list things, so please simply ignore it if it annoys you.

And if you were wondering where the PSX moniker comes from, it's because originally Nintendo wasn't too hot on Sony using the Playstation name, given that it had been the name for the SNES CD addon. So Sony used 'Playstation X', shortened to PSX, which then became Playstation again. Nintendo no longer seems to care much.

Update (26th Jan):

I'm informed by Clone that the Pocketstation never made it out of Japan, with many games seeing a foreign release only after having their Pocketstation code removed.

Clone also notes that the Playstation is now officially dead, with the PSone taking its place. Interestingly it seems the console topped the console sales charts in the US over Christmas 2000.
There is a conspiracy theory that the reduction in parts on the back of the original PSX systems (I say PSX to distinguish from the compact PSOne model) was Sony attempting to crack down on the rising problem of piracy and modchips.

The 7xxx series of PSX, specifically the 7502, was the last model to feature the I/O port on the back. Intended for things like VCD adaptors and cheat cartridges, this was removed for the 9xxx series. This instantly rendered cartridge-based accessories like GameSharks and Action Replays worthless.

This was due to an infamous secondary function of these cartridges, which allowed the playing of copied or imported games by booting the cartridge with an original, correct region CD and then swapping to the copy and selecting 'start game' from the cheat menu. One cartridge, the Game Enhancer (a bootleg Action Replay) was marketed specifically for this use, and included a custom spring designed to hold the door button down even if the drive door itself was open.

The 9xxx series was also significantly different in that it featured a new design of casing and construction which made the dismantling necessary for modification (aka 'chipping') notably more difficult than in its predecessors. Cheat cartridge manufacturers, though, soon made new versions of the Gameshark which worked from CD and the memory card slot, and so it was again possible to play your imports and backups. So much for this attempt at shoring up the so called Playstation copy protection.

Just out of interest, it's my understanding that the 7502 (which was common around the time of the UK drop in pricing to £99 for a PSX) is the most desirable in terms of modification, as in addition to chipping it allows for a quick and easy colour mod. This is a simple attachment of a wire, cutting a track on the mainboard, and as if by magic all games play in full colour regardless of region and system (PAL/NTSC). Yet more proof as to bullshit nature of region encoding and delays for 'PAL conversion'.

Sony's first real venture into console gaming and a great console for fans or RPG's, as stated by IvyNeko.

The Playstation was responsible for bringing gaming to the masses. It was also responsible (along with Sega's complacency) for the death of the Sega Saturn, at least here in Britain. Sadly, I sold my playstation to buy an N64, which was possibly the biggest mistake I have ever made.

Some basic technical specifications (stolen straight from the instruction manual) are:

Processor: 32-bit RISC CPU (33.8Mhz).
CD-ROM: Double speed. Memory: 2MB.
Graphics System: Capable of up to 1.5 million flat shaded polygons or 500,000 texture-mapped light sourced polygons per second. Capable of resolutions of up to 640x480.
Sound: 512KB or dedicated RAM, 24 sound channels.

It's not as clear cut as all that.

The Sony Playstation (1994) (aka PSX) was a grey box containing a dual speed CD-ROM drive* and a few custom chips that allowed polygons to be drawn on screen at a reasonable speed (at the punitive expense of resolution, colour depth, perspective correction, 2D performance, memory bandwidth and available RAM). Although its technical 'merits' dated rapidly, the Playstation became the best-selling games machine of all time. (Well, after the Game Boy.)

The Playstation was aided (moreso in Europe) by a lack of heavyweight competition (the Sega Saturn was technically superior but hobbled by hopeless marketing, some dodgy coin-op conversions and a prohibitive price tag). Sony seized upon the spending power of the 18-25 male demographic (who had largely progressed from the Sega Mega Drive and Super Nintendo, neatly debunking the "Playstation brought gaming to the masses" myth), with advertising pushing the Playstation brand as opposed to the dodgy graphics.

This strategy, combined with some high-profile titles such as Resident Evil, Ridge Racer and (the execrable media whore) Tomb Raider, quickly established the Playstation as the de facto console gaming standard, and made 'Playstation' the accepted shorthand (among the stupid) for computer games in general (much like Nintendo had done in the 1980's).

There were very few genres that the machine could pull off convincingly (it could just- barely- manage a pseudo-3D fighting game), with coinops and the PC rapidly outstripping its capabilities, and no option to fall back on 2D genres. To compensate for this, vast amounts of money were poured into FMV-heavy RPGs (Final Fantasy VII), succeeding in whipping up a "phenomenon" among the easily-persuaded Japanese youth, with the multi-million unit sales of some titles leading many Western journalists (and gamers) to believe that these were somehow the "best games ever". (Wrong!)

Less well publicised was the extreme ease with which PSX software could be pirated, which undoubtedly had a positive effect on hardware sales. Compare Sony's strict stance on emulation to their lax take on piracy - although that hardware was selling at a loss in the early years, it must have been turning a tidy profit towards the end of the 1990's.

The runaway success of the PSX lead to Sony delaying the release of their 'next-generation' machine, the Playstation 2, as long as possible, and adding a backwards-compatibility feature to that machine. Sony still wring some life out of the Playstation in the form of the psOne. Although software releases have all but dried up for the machine, the extensive back catalogue ensures it is still commercially viable (just).

*Famously prone to breaking down very quickly, resulting in many Playstations being turned upside down to get them to boot.

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