Reflecting on the PlayStation’s 20th Anniversary

In the universe’s ongoing campaign to force me to graciously accept the passage of time, this last week saw the arrival of the 20th anniversary of Playstation’s launch in the U.S.  I’ve written a bit before about my affinity for the original PSX console (See Rayman!), and I can easily call it the console I’ve owned that has been the most memorable to me.

I suppose I was the right age for the PSX when it hit.  It’s strange to think of it today, but gaming (at least on consoles) up until that point had been dominated by a focus on children’s entertainment in the U.S., which contrasts with today’s gaming landscape, where the biggest budget efforts target an 18-35 year old male demographic with high levels of disposable income.  Playstation was the inversion point, as Sony realized that there was an emerging market of young adults who had grown up on video games as children, and there was no reason that they couldn’t continue to be gamers.  Consequently, they put a lot of effort into pushing titles that would appeal to the maturing tastes of these young gamers.  Nintendo, meanwhile, seemingly chose to focus on inducting the newest batch of kids into the world of gaming.

Jet Moto 2Jet Moto is a way faster game than I remembered it.

When these consoles released, I was a few years off from being a teenager, so I could have gone either way here.  Even at the time, I don’t think the “kiddiness” of Nintendo’s games ever really bothered me.  I mean, the N64 did have some really great titles, like Star Fox, Zelda, and Mario Kart.  But in the end, I’m glad that my parents, for whatever reason, picked up the Playstation instead of the N64 that one Christmas.  There were so many great games that resonated with my evolving world view at the time.  For instance, I’ve written before on how and why Final Fantasy VII seems to resonate so strongly with gamers of a certain age (The Final Fantasy VII Remake and What It Means to Me).

In addition, the arrival of CDs were a great thing for gaming.  I think so many of the reasons the system was a big event for me could be tied the distinct advantages that these discs brought to the scene.  Up until that point, the primary expense in making a game went into the manufacturing of ROM cartridges.  The cost-savings on the vastly cheaper CDs translated to greatly lower prices on store shelves.  Those green-labelled Greatest Hits releases of popular games at $20 meant that my meager savings at the time could go a lot farther in buying games.  The N64 analogue, Player’s Choice, had games retailing for double that.  

FFIX Fight

Final Fantasy IX is my favorite of the series.

The low price of the CD medium was also a boon for third parties as evidenced by how they flocked to the system.  For cartridge based games, failure to live up to sales expectations could bring a company to near ruin since a lot of money had been blown on producing costly cartridges that weren’t selling.  With CDs, these losses weren’t nearly as severe, and, consequently, many developers were willing to take greater risks, and this led to a greater amount of diversity in the games that were released for the console.  While there were a lot of quintessential games that were released on the SNES and the Genesis, the 16-bit era was also the era of the “me too” game, where too many developers were focused on making copycats of the few innovative blockbuster titles, and this led to a glut of mascot platformers, shallow beat’em ups, and lame Mortal Kombat clones.  

On the PSX, there were many series born around taking risks on new ideas instead of playing it safe with the tried and true.  Some of these include Resident Evil with its focus on atmosphere and suspense, Wipeout with its focus on high-speed, high-precision racing, Twisted Metal’s high-octane car combat, Tomba with its mix of platforming, RPG, and Metroid-style worldbuilding, and Tomb Raider which revolutionized the action/adventure genre with its mix of 3D platforming, combat, and puzzle solving.  This list could honestly go on for a while.  And even the games that were cloning the germ of other groundbreaking series tried to be innovative in their own ways.  For instance, you wouldn’t have Silent Hill and Parasite Eve without Resident Evil, but Silent Hill created its own identity with its focus on psychological horror, as did Parasite Eve which fused survival horror with Squaresoft RPG design.

CTR

Crash Team Racing is a legendary kart game.

This was also the era when gamers became really obsessed with story in games.  There had been story-driven games before on consoles (like Final Fantasy and Dragon Quest) and, of course, adventure games like King’s Quest and Monkey Island were huge on PC, but with the relatively immense storage space that CDs offered, a new generation of heavily cinematic Japanese game design came to rule the roost.  The biggest directors of this era were veteran Japanese developers that were heavily influenced by their interest in Hollywood-style storytelling, including Hideo Kojima (Metal Gear Solid), Shinji Mikami (Resident Evil), and Hironobu Sakaguchi (Final Fantasy).  The influence of their cinematic approach to game design still dominates today’s big budget gaming landscape which gives just as much weight to storytelling as it does core gameplay mechanics.

Thus, Playstation was a major turning point in gaming.  I often wonder if I would still be as interested in gaming today if I didn’t have PSX during my early teen years.  It’s not so much because of the mature edge that it was marketed on, but simply because it enabled the birth of so many of the series that I love.  If nothing else, I don’t think my tastes in games would be as developed as they are, which is to say that I don’t think I would be as interested in the variety of games that I am.

Advertisements

Posted on September 13, 2015, in Essays and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 9 Comments.

  1. Ah, I still remember unboxing my Playstation. That was the moment I jumped from “casual” to “gamer” I think. It had such a diverse library, and it really introduced me to so many genres…JRPG’s (FFIX is my favorite too!), games like Tomb Raider, Metal Gear Solid, Jumping Flash…I could go on and on about all the great games that thing has, but yeah. I totally feel the same way, the Playstation made me the gamer I am today – it was like a gateway to so many cool new things that more or less already existed on other consoles (like Final Fantasy for example), but I’d have never given a try, if that makes any sense.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Playstation gave me one of the greatest gaming experiences in my life when I was young, next to the Sega Dreamcast. It’s unreal now that I see how many titles I played during those days, especially being a big JRPG fan, titles such as Suikoden, Wild Arms, Final Fantasy, Thousand Arms, Persona 1 and 2, Breath of Fire, Brave Fencer Musashi, and the list goes on. Also, I appreciate the variety that the PSX offered as well, almost something for everyone in a way…

    Liked by 1 person

  3. FF9 is your fave game from the series? Mine too. It’s the title that got me into RPGs.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. I never owned a Playstation. I was interested to read your opinions on how this period changed games as being aimed towards children to aimed towards children and young adults. Many early games seemed to be simply toys designed to entertain kids for a while. The games seemed to have little plot and functioned as puzzles, with the player controlling a character as they completed harder obstacles (such as the early Mario and Sonic games). More modern games seemed to include more detailed stories and more realistic action. The Metal Gear series provides an example. The original Metal Gear game seems to be a simple game, there is little plot and the action seems repetitive. The later Metal Gear Solid games use long cutscenes and greater character development than the original game. I was also interested to read about the advantages of using CDs over cartridges.
    Even though I never owned a Playstation, I always associated it with darker games, such as Resident Evil and Metal Gear Solid, than the more family-friendly series available on the Nintendo 64.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. This blog brought back some great memories man. I can still remember as a young fella (think I was ten or twelve at the time) how blown away I was at the graphics on the PS1 compared to the Super Nintento and Sega consoles I had been using before. It was like a whole new world opened up before me.

    Like

  6. PSX might also be the defining console for me too (close with SNES). My neighbor had one before I did, and we played the hell out of Masters of Teras Kasi (Star Wars fighting game). I remember getting the console and Crash Bandicoot and thinking the graphics could never get better.

    Also the 20th Anniversary sale got me Jeanne D’Arc for PS Vita!

    Liked by 1 person

    • About the graphics things, its something that really gets to me. At the time, I couldn’t imagine anything better than what I was seeing. It seems like every time new consoles are released, there are a contingent of people who are like “Why do we need new consoles, graphics can’t get much better than this!”, and it always amuses me.

      Like

  7. Wow, Tomba, I haven’t thought of that game in years! I too came to the PSX in my early teens and it defined my childhood – Many hours were spent playing the Oddworld games, MGS, Twisted Metal 2, Silent Hill and the like. As you mentioned, it felt as if the games industry was growing up alongside me, catering to a newfound desire for narrative and darker elements in games I hadn’t even realised I’d been craving. Terrific article and a nice trip down Nostalgia Lane for this jaded old gamer.

    Liked by 1 person

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: