Playstation. That one word, that one titanic symbol of something that could’ve been very different now stands alone as one of the most successful and continuously improving gaming machines on the market today. But to understand it now, you must first understand it then.
Sony’s intro into the videogame market began back when Nintendo created a joint effort for the SNES. Nintendo wanted to keep up with the rest of the consoles on the market (NEC and Sega had leaped ahead and begun using CD systems). Immediately, Sony was brought into the race. They were tasked with the development and creation of an add-on for the SNES which allowed for the system to play 16-bit CD-based games. Sony also developed and worked on a stand-alone console during the time of the SNES-CD’s creation. But initial agreements were broken, and Sony was dropped.
A man by the name of Ken Kutaragi approached Norio Ogha, then president of Sony, about continuing the development of the stand-alone console. Ogha agreed, and Sony Computer Entertainment Division was formed. The project was continued, dubbed the ‘Playstation’ – which, originally, was to be able to play SNES cartridges and CD-based software as well. In ’91, it was announced at the Tokyo International Electronics Show. Nintendo attempted to get Sony back on their side, fearing that Sony would throw out support for the SNES’s SCP700 sound chip (developed by Kutaragi). Ultimately, the joint effort fell through.
Kutaragi went back and redesigned the Playstation. Working from scratch, he created a 32-bit console that was not only powerful, but also easy to program for and cheap to market. With connections and financial influence, the new Sony Computer Entertainment division managed to attain over 160 3rd-party licensees in North America and over 400 worldwide to develop for the Playstation. The Playstaion, or PSX, released on December 2nd, 1994, selling over one-hundred thousand units on its first weekend. Developers found the PSX to be far easier to develop for than the rivaling Sega Saturn, also a 32-bit system. Then, Sony took the Playstation overseas.
On September 9th, 1995, the Playstation saw high success in America. It retailed for $299, $100 dollars cheaper than the Saturn. Europe received the console a month later. It maintained a spot as the highest-selling console on the market, even after Nintendo’s 64-bit N64 released into the market. In 1999, during the releases of the Next-Gen consoles, Sony released the PSOne, a remodeled PSX. It was almost the size of a portable CD player, and was cheaper to both buy and produce. A myriad of accessories, including battery packs and portable LCD screens, were released for it shortly after, allowing the PSOne some measure of portability. The PSX still holds one of the largest and widest software libraries, spanning more than 1000 titles.
By 1997, though, rumors of the PSX’s successor were milling about. In ’99, Sony announced the new Playstation 2. The system would utilize the massive storage capabilities of DVDs, the raw power of a processor chip known as the ‘Emotion Engine’ (created with Toshiba, Sony’s partner-in-crime), which allowed it to play DVDs and audio CDs right out of the box. Also, it would allow it to be compatible with original PSX software. Nifty side things included Texture Interpolation to clean up jagged edges, giving games a much-needed improvement graphics-wise, and another which took advantage of the system drive to speed up loading times for games. It also included external ports for USB devices and other links, making the PS2 a true multimedia device.
The PS2 released in Japan on March 4th, 2000. It smashed into the market with record-breaking sales topping over one million in a span of days. At first, the PS2 shipped with a special memory card containing the ‘Gate Way’ technology and the drivers required for the console to run DVD movies. Later, Sony dealt with another bug, which allowed users to bypass and override the regional coding system, allowing them to play DVDs from any region. When it finally released in America in October, Sony hard-coded the drivers, dealing with both bugs in one fell swoop. Europe saw its release a month later.
Demand in the US was high. Consoles were selling out faster than they could be manufactured, and Sony made promises of larger shipments. Consoles sold online from retailers and through auctions between $500 and $1000, using the hype behind the console. Robberies became commonplace, and more reports of manufacturer defects rose up – definitely one of the strangest and most controversial of all console launches to date. Sure, the Emotion Chip was revolutionary and state-of-the-art, but developers, spoiled by Sega’s Dreamcast, found it difficult to work with the new software. In response to the growing concern, Sony opened assistance forums, phone lines, and other aid areas for developers and programmers alike to contact for help.
But PS2’s initial titles seemed to pale in comparison to the Dreamcast’s more memorable and lasting titles. Like any other console, PS2’s software took time to get used to – indeed, time was necessary to be able to completely understand it. Early creators complained about the console’s massive amount of video RAM, opting to centralize programming on the CPU. It would be a while until they learned and took advantage of the Emotion Engine’s twin co-processors. Other complaints included jagged edges and flickering in games. Reason, or one of them, was that the games lacked FSAA, or Full Screen Anti Aliasing. PS2 hardware seemed to lack FSAA, unlike the N64 and Dreamcast, and it wasn’t until later that Sony revealed a completely unique way of dealing with it.
The year was 2002, and it was now evident what next-gen consoles were capable of. Sony soon began their own efforts for online efforts, taking hint after Sega’s own attempts. The product would be an adapter which, when attached onto the console’s back, allowed the system and compatible games online play in either 56K or broadband connections. Word of HDDs, ZipDrives, voice-chat and other plug-and-play devices brought the PS2 that much closer to the dream of a true multimedia unit. And even after Nintendo released its new console and newcomer Microsoft released the giant Xbox, PS2 remained the literal ‘top dog’ of the market. Its success made developers cash in on it, resulting in the largest library of games in console history (second only to Nintendo’s ever-successful Gameboy line), and it’s still growing.
In 2004, PS2 went the way of the Playstation. Adding built-in Ethernet support and putting the PS2 on the Subway diet, it was reduced to a mere 25% of its original size (albeit sacrificing its HDD capabilities, though grubby Sony fanboys may later look toward external USB-powered hard drives). This offered more portability than the standard PS2, with a rollout retail price of $149.99 – the same as its bigger brother. Sony did develop a more advanced PS2, calling it the PSX. This all-in-one multimedia beast contained a DVD/TiVo recorder, CD/DVD playback, a TV tuner, digital photo management, and Playstation2 game playability (dur!), among other nifty add-ons. It is clear that Sony is a titan amongst console manufacturers, and the future still shines bright for them.