The Launch of the Sony PlayStation (1995) | Classic Gaming Quarterly
On this episode of Classic Gaming Quarterly TV, we take a look back at the history behind and launch of one of the greatest game consoles of all time: the Sony Playstation. I was 18 years old when the Sony Playstation was launched in 1995, and it was the first video game console that I was able to buy and experience as a working adult. This meant that I could read video game magazines, follow previews, and then actually buy those games and peripherals when they came out. For this reason, the nostalgic feeling I have for the Playstation is a little bit different than the one I have when I think about the NES or the Genesis, and the Sony Playstation is definitely one of my all-time favorite video game systems. So now, without any further ado, let’s take a look at it and the 10 games that launched with it on September 9, 1995. In 1947, Masaru Ibuka and Akio Morita founded the Tokyo Telecommunications Engineering Corporation and built Japan’s first tape recorder: the “TTK Type G”. Ibuka and Morita wanted to change the name of their company to something more marketable, and in 1958 officially changed the name to “Sony”, and began manufacturing small handheld radios using then-new transistor technology. Radios like the TR-55 and TR-63 sold like hot cakes in the quickly expanding American market, giving Sony their first real presence here. Sony would go on to become an industry leader in product development, and their name would become synonymous with the highest-quality products on the electronics market, helping to reverse the pre-war image held by products manufactured in Japan. The PlayStation can trace its origins back to 1988, when Ken Kutaragi, an engineer at Sony, secretly designed the sound chip for Nintendo’s upcoming “Super Famicom” game console, without the knowledge of his employer. Based on the success of this project, he was able to convince Sony CEO Norio Ohga to take Nintendo up on their offer to collaborate on a CD add-on for the Super Famicom. As part of the deal, Sony would also be allowed to develop their own standalone console. In 1991, at the Chicago Consumer Electronics Show, Sony announced their “PlayStation” console – a CD-based system that was also fully-compatible with the Super Famicom library. The business relationship with Nintendo broke down over licensing issues, and Sony was publicly embarrassed when, just one day after they announced the PlayStation, Nintendo announced that they would instead be partnering with Sony rival Phillips to develop their CD peripheral. The vast majority of executives at Sony were ready to end their foray into the gaming hardware market but Kutaragi, who would come to be known as the father of the PlayStation, was able to convince Ohga, who felt humiliated by Nintendo, to continue developing the PlayStation as a next-generation console. Officially announced in 1994, the PlayStation as we now know it is a 32 bit system based around a 33 MHz RISC processor, has three megabytes of RAM, one of which is dedicated to video, has a color palette of 16.7 million colors, and can push up to 360,000 polygons around the screen per second. It was released in Japan on December 3, 1994 and in North America on September 9, 1995. The PlayStation was one of the first
consoles that did not come with a pack-in game as part of the standard package. If you bought your PlayStation at or near launch you got this disc, “Playstation Picks”, which featured 12 total games, 4 playable demos, and a sweet soundtrack by Tommy Tallarico. The highlight of the disk was a playable early version of Wipeout, which was missing the soundtrack for which it would later become known. At launch the console cost 299 dollars; that’s 100 bucks cheaper than the Sega Saturn. But unlike the Saturn, you would also need to buy both a memory card and a game, which certainly help bridge the price gap. But with 10 games to choose from on launch day there was something to satisfy almost every type of gamer. “Eight traveling fighters brought together by a common destiny now we meet at the battle arena ‘Toshinden’…” Battle Arena Toshinden was developed by TamSoft ,a developer better-known for, well ,nothing really. This fully-3D fighting game was clearly meant to take on Virtua Fighter, which was the pack-in Game four then recently-released Saturn console. Supposedly the first 3d weapons-based fighter ever released, you could choose from 8 fighters, each with unique weapons and fighting styles. The game was very well-received when it was released, earning high marks from both games journalists and gamers alike. While the visuals are definitely a step above Virtua Fighter, the game suffers in the gameplay department. While Toshinden was the first to innovate the side stepping feature that made the game feel truly 3D, the controls feel generally sluggish and sloppy; moreso when you’re accustomed to playing 2D fighting games where control precision is of the utmost importance. While this game was very popular when it was released, I think it’s safe to say that the majority of that praise is due to the game’s “wow factor” – its ability to show off with the PlayStation is capable of, and more importantly with the consoles that gamers were used to playing were not capable of. If you bought a PlayStation at launch, or any console at launch for that matter, it’s because you were looking for that “next gen” experience. Battle Arena Toshinden may not objectively be a good game, but there’s no denying that it gave gamers a taste of things to come on Sony’s fledgling console. If Battle Arena Toshinden was next gen, then this next game was anything but. The Raiden Project is a bundle disk featuring both Raiden and Raiden 2, and was developed by Saibu Kaihatsu, the same developer of the original arcade games. Rather than being arcade roms played via emulation, these games are actually arcade perfect ports; or at least can be made arcade perfect with a little bit of trickery. All the Raiden games are vertically oriented, meaning that they’re displayed in 3:4 instead of 4:3, which presents a bit of a problem for home gamers trying to play the game on their TV. There are three screen modes available in the options menu that attempt to solve this problem. One shrinks the screen down to fit vertically, another stretches that first option out to make it even uglier, and the third, “horizontal”, gives you a pixel-perfect view of the screen but doesn’t really work because they want you to play the game as though it was a horizontal shooter instead of a vertical one. Obviously they were worried about the litigious nature of American culture because they warn you about the dangers of rotating your TV, and then make you press a button to waive your right to sue them if you ignore the warnings and break your TV anyway. Even if you do rotate your TV, the controls aren’t rotated meaning that you have to rotate the controller in your hand and play that way, which is horribly uncomfortable. The Japanese version of the game has a fourth display option which rotates both the screen and the controls. Rather than remove this feature from the American release, they just got rid of the option to select it in the settings menu. Using this Game Shark code, you can enable this display mode, allowing you to play the game the way it was meant to be played. The games both use a progressive power-up system, and although you can choose between different weapons it’s best to stick with one and keep powering it up. As is the case with most games of this nature if you die you lose all your power-ups and need to play the game very defensively until you regain your strength. Raiden is significantly easier than Raiden II, so it’s probably best to master the first game before trying to tackle the second. Raiden II also has improved visuals, and adds a third weapon: a purple laser that turns into a solid beam that homes in on enemies if you tap the fire button fast enough. There’s also an option of selecting remixed soundtracks for both games. While I don’t have a problem with the original game music, the remixed versions sound nice and are definite upgrade. This game received lukewarm reviews from critics, who wondered why anyone would pay three hundred dollars for a next-gen game console and then use it to play arcade games that were five and two years old respectively. But reading through old usenet posts, I found that this game was very well received by gamers who were fans of the genre, and The Raiden Project was seen as a clear upgrade over the 1993 Jaguar release. This game is also probably the most sought-after title of the launch lineup, as it was the only arcade perfect home port of Raiden II. Kileak: The DNA Imperative is a corridor shooter that was developed by Japanese developer Genki, who much like Tamsoft aren’t really known for making anything else in North America. Kileak was the only first-person shooter available at launch, and while it certainly looks better than any other console FPS that came out before it, it’s entirely forgettable today. As was standard with games of its ilk, you wander around an illogically laid-out building, upgrading your weapons, collecting key cards, and killing the occasional enemy. The game did a decent job of showing off the power of the Playstation, and I’m sure had some “wow” factor to it back in the day, but unless you were really into the genre, Kileak was a “weekend rental” at best. Even the title is boring. Moving on… NBA Jam: Tournament Edition has a number of things going for it. It’s a nearly arcade perfect port of a wildly successful arcade franchise, it was the only licensed sports title available at launch, and it was the only game compatible with the four-player multi-tap available at launch. In the late 80’s and 90’s, Midway released a number of over-the-top arcade-style sports games that emphasized exaggerated well, everything, over simulation. But none was successful as the NBA Jam series, which sold over 20,000 arcade cabs and generated over 2 billion dollars in quarters. That’s eight billion quarters, which is more than the population of the earth. It’s a 2-on-2 basketball game featuring every team that was in the league at the time, and three players from each team, allowing for substitutions between periods. The gameplay is fast, the fowls non-existent, the physics totally unrealistic, and the announcer highly quotable. “He’s heating up!” “He’s on fire! The game has a metric crap-ton of cheat codes, too many to cover here, and there are a ton of hidden characters including both then-President Bill Clinton and his wife, and DJ Jazzy Jeff and the Fresh Prince. I really
can’t say enough good things about NBA Jam Tournament Edition. Not only does this game not require that you like basketball, it doesn’t even require the you like sports. This is just arcade action at its finest, and was definitely worth buying at launch if you had a group of friends to play with. Power Serve 3D Tennis was the only Playstation game developed by SPS to be released outside of Japan, and one of only two PlayStation games published by Ocean in North America. Thank God for that, because this game is terrible. Is that Rafael Nadal? No, that’s a chick… I bet the graphics were pretty awesome back in the day, but it’s all just eye candy. The problem with this game is in the gameplay. The control is sluggish and unresponsive, and you have to be standing in exactly the right spot to hit the ball. For all the time I spent playing Power Serve for this video, I scored a grand total of three points. The game has a doubles mode but isn’t compatible with the four-player multi-tap. Seriously? At least then you and three of your friends could suffer together. Not worth buying, this game wasn’t even worth renting. Moving on… Street Fighter: The Movie may be the only home video game that was based on an arcade game that was based on a movie that was based on an arcade game. It’s also the only game that I know of featuring Kylie Minogue. This much-maligned entry in the Street Fighter series features the entire cast of characters from the movie, which in turn is just the entire cast of characters from Super Street Fighter II, except that Fei Long has been swapped out for some dude called “Sawada”. Instead of the colorful, cartoony graphics used in every other Street Fighter title, this one looks more like Mortal Kombat, using digitized video and stills from actors in the movie. Along with the standard arcade mode, there’s also a movie battle option which plays more like a story mode. I thought this was pretty neat as it ostensibly tries to follow the plot of the movie. The only downside is the fact you have to play as Guile, since he was the main character, and of course has little replay value. But as is the case with any Street Fighter game, the real meat & potatoes is the arcade mode, anyway. While the game obviously looks quite different, I thought the gameplay felt about right. Oftentimes when a game is seen to be not “up to snuff” compared to its peers, you’ll hear someone say that it’s only for die-hard fans of the genre or franchise. I felt like with Street Fighter: The Movie the opposite is true. This game just rubs Street Fighter purists the wrong way, but for a casual fan like me I see it as a pleasant diversion in the series, and I enjoyed playing it quite a bit. Is this one of the best Street Fighter games ever made? Of course not. But it also doesn’t deserve all the abuse that it takes. I’d still rather play this in any of the Mortal Kombat games ever made. That’s right, I said it. ESPN Extreme Games is a combat racing game in the same vein as Road Rash. In fact, this game feels a lot like Road Rash. And at the risk of pissing some you off, I think that Road Rash is one of the most overrated games of all time. (Feel free to tell me how wrong I am in the comments section…) ESPN Extreme Games lets you choose between four forms of locomotion: A mountain bike, rollerblades, a skateboard, and a street luge. And there will be players using all four in any given race. The game also features multiple locales, including the streets of San Francisco, Lake Tahoe, the Italian countryside, somewhere in Utah that looks like Moab, and some jungle ruins in South America. The object of the game is to not only win the race, but to pass through as many gates as possible. Yellow gates earn you points which add to your season total, blue gates open secret passages or clear obstacles, and green gates give you cash which you can use in between races to upgrade your gear. At the top of the screen you have a strength meter which is drained when you push too hard while racing. A depleted race meter will not only slow you down but will also make it easier for opponents to knock you to the pavement. This meter can be refilled by coasting without crashing. The real key to this game lies in fighting other players and it is this aspect which must be mastered. Unlike the 16-bit Road Rash games, ESPN Extreme Games takes advantage of the shoulder buttons on the PlayStation controller, allowing you to punch or kick to both the left and right, and timing is critical if you want dispatch fellow racers. While it is best to avoid them when possible in order to keep your speed up, the other racers tend to be pretty aggro, and in this game the best defense is a good offense. Although I definitely would not have considered buying this game back in the day, it would absolutely have been worth a weekend rental. As the game also features a two player split screen option, it would have been an awesome choice if you had a friend or family visiting for the weekend. Total Eclipse: Turbo was a port and slight upgrade of an early 1994 release on the 3DO, simply called “Total Eclipse”. The game was developed by Crystal Dynamics, who is better known for their Gex series of games, which would later make their way to the PlayStation, as well. Total Eclipse: Turbo is split into two game modes. The first takes place on the surface of a planet features height-mapped terrain reminiscent of Cybermorph on the Atari Jaguar. You fly along a predetermined linear path, and are limited to a pretty narrow altitude range. Shoot as many enemies as you can while collecting power-ups and not dying. The other half of the game is what is called “tunnel mode”, wherein you fly through a tunnel avoiding obstacles, shooting enemies and once again trying not to die. I’m sure that this game had some wow factor for anyone playing in January of 1994 on the 3DO, and perhaps similarly so for those playing at the launch of the Playstation. That being said, I can’t say that I had any fun with it, as the controls were too sensitive, your ship lacks the ability to roll in the tunnel sections, and the game just plain isn’t that fun. Once again, it clearly separates itself from games of the 16-bit era and shows off the 3D capabilities of the systems on which it was featured, but this one was a weekend rental at-best, and really only if there was nothing else left on the shelf. Rayman was the only platform game released at launch, was released around the same time for both the Playstation and Atari Jaguar, and was the first in a franchise of games that lives on to this day. Sony supposedly had a blanket policy about 2D games early in the Playstation’s lifespan, so either they started that sometime after the launch, or Rayman slipped through the cracks. the first thing you’ll notice about this game is it’s gorgeous graphics, as it takes excellent advantage of the Playstation’s color palette. Visually, the game has held up better than any other launch title, for obvious reasons. Your job is to rescue all of your caged friends, called “electoons” in each area of the game. While Rayman may look like a cutesy platformer marketed towards kids, it gets brutally hard as you progress through the game, basically requiring you to memorize many of the levels. As you move through the game, Rayman picks up additional abilities which allow you to revisit earlier levels and rescue trapped allies that were previously unreachable. If you have the patience to die repeatedly while learning how to properly traverse the later levels, Rayman can be a great game. While I never would’ve bought this one back in the day, it would have made an excellent weekend rental if you’re a fan of the genre. This is definitely a game worth checking out either on the original Playstation, or via download on PSN or on the Nintendo DS-i. We’ve finally come to the tenth and final game. Ridge Racer from Namco was the standout title from the PlayStation launch, and I can almost guarantee that if i had bought the system on September 9, I would about this game along with it. Ridge Racer is a port of Namco’s 1993 arcade hit, and perfectly showed off the audio-visual capabilities of Sony’s new console. The biggest complaint I hear about this game is that it really only has one track with multiple variations. That’s a fair point, but go back and play just about any motor racing game from the 16-bit generation, and then tell me that you would rather play this instead. There are four cars to choose from, each with different characteristics, and initially there are three tracks or track variations on which to drive. More variations in the track are unlocked as you progress through the game. Once you’ve unlocked it, there is also a time trial race against a special black racing car that requires near perfection to beat. Doing so will allow you to use that car in all subsequent races. I feel like people think this is a drift racing game and perhaps the series did move in that direction down the road, no pun intended, but it actually relies on smooth driving, which is a challenge on a digital control pad. If you start to drift, you’re doing it wrong. Ridge Racer also had a minigame programmed into the loading screen, allowing you to play a single board from their arcade classic Galaxian. If you clear the board before the aliens fly away, you actually unlock a bunch of hidden cars. While these cars offer nothing new in the performance department, they are all themed after classic Namco arcade titles, which makes them a neat easter egg. Ridge Racer was not only the best game available at launch, but it’s still quite playable today, and I spent more time playing this game than any other in preparation for this episode. It also went on to spawn a litany of sequels both on the Playstation and beyond. That’s going to do it for this episode of Classic Gaming Quarterly TV. If there are any games, consoles, or topics you’d like to see covered on the show please let me know by leaving a comment below. And if you haven’t done so already please consider subscribing so you don’t miss out on any future episodes. Thanks for watching, and I’ll see you next time.