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.