This week marks the 20th anniversary of the American release of the original PlayStation, which is easily one of the most important events in gaming history. Sony’s PlayStation wasn’t just a sales dynamo that definitively crushed Nintendo’s chokehold on the gaming industry, it changed the entire medium. The PlayStation’s roomy CD storage and lack of publisher restrictions resulted in a game catalog that was more varied, experimental and mature than any gamers had seen before. The PlayStation changed everything, and it continues to cast a long shadow to this day.
But the success of the PlayStation was far from a predestined thing. The console had a rocky birth, and there was a lot of strife about how it would be presented and marketed once it was born. Here’s a few things you might not know about the console that truly changed the game…
Sony almost teamed with Sega to make the PlayStation.
Rejecting Sony, a decision almost as bad as Sonic’s scarf.
As we detailed in our recent article about the Super Nintendo, the PlayStation began life in the early ’90s as a collaboration between Sony and Nintendo. Basically, Sony agreed to make a CD drive add-on for the SNES and, in return, Nintendo would allow their cartridge-based games to be played on a Sony-built multimedia gaming machine called the Play Station. Unfortunately, at the 9th hour, Nintendo discovered Sony would get almost all the profit from CD-based games under the agreement they’d signed, so Nintendo backed out in a panic, sewing the seeds of a corporate rivalry that would rock the video game industry.
Sony and Nintendo’s falling out is fairly common lore at this point, but what far fewer people know is that Sony also tried to hook up with Sega after their nasty Nintendo breakup. Sony pitched the idea of collaborating on a CD-based console to Sega in the early ’90s, and Sega’s American branch was on-board, but when they brought the idea to Sega’s Japanese board of directors, it was immediately shot down. In Sega’s eyes, Sony was a company with no history of making video game hardware or software, so they had nothing to gain from partnering with them. Finally, after giving both Nintendo and Sega all the chances in the world to get in on a good thing and being rebuffed, Sony threw their hands up and decided to make the PlayStation themselves.
Sony rejected dozens of designs before settling on the iconic PlayStation logo.
The original PlayStation logo is one of the best in gaming history, as evidenced by the fact that Sony is still using it today, two decades later. Well, Sony designed dozens of variations on the iconic logo before landing on the right one, some of which you can check out above.
The PlayStation’s mascot was originally a menacing floating head named Polygon Man.
Polygon Man would eventually return as the final boss in PlayStation All-Stars Battle Royal, which was about the only clever and/or good thing about that game.
Unless you’re from Japan, the character you probably most associate with the PlayStation is the grinning, jorts-enthusiast, Crash Bandicoot, but Sony’s American branch originally had very different plans for a PlayStation mascot. The PlayStation was all about 3D gaming, so PlayStation’s mascot was going to be a rather evil looking floating 3D purple head named Polygon Man. Thankfully, the PlayStation’s Japanese mastermind Ken Kutaragi went “absolutely insane” when he first saw Polygon Man, and so The Big Giant Head was quickly scrapped.
Sony’s Japanese brass hated Crash Bandicoot.
Who couldn’t fall in love with this face?
The drama over Sony of America’s mascot choices didn’t end with Polygon Man, as Ken Kutaragi and other Japanese higher-ups also hated the heck out of Crash Bandicoot. When Crash creators Naughty Dog first presented the game to Sony’s Japanese executives, the reception was chilly to say the least. Sony almost rejected the game outright, but a last second redesign of the characters that made them look more friendly and anime-esque convinced Sony to at least publish the game.
Still, Ken Kutaragi hated the idea of Crash (or really any cartoony mascot-type character) representing the PlayStation, and Crash Bandicoot was treated as just another game in Japan. Sony’s American branch on the other hand, thought the PlayStation needed a “Mario killer” and Crash was the best choice, so over Japan’s protestations, Sony of America went all-in on the bandicoot, making him and his games a cornerstone of their advertising. Of course, Sony of America didn’t actually push Crash as just another happy, cartoony mascot like Mario or Sonic. Their commercials, featuring a guy in a cheesy Crash mascot suit, were actually ironic takedowns of the whole video game mascot concept, so maybe Kutaragi needn’t have been so cranky.
But he was, and in Japan the PlayStation’s mascot was a instead a little anime cat named Toro, who was totally lacking in attitude, badditude or jorts. Clearly us Americans came out ahead in this little dispute.
The symbols on the PlayStation controller’s buttons all have specific meanings.
A good chunk of the PlayStation’s success can be attributed to the system’s controller, which Sony devoted a huge amount of thought and care to designing. For example, the symbols on the controller’s four face buttons were all chosen to represent specific, set functions. The triangle represented looking forward, the player’s viewpoint, and was meant to be the button you used the center the camera. The square was a piece or paper or list, and was to be the menu button. The O and X buttons represented yes/no or proceed/cancel. The form factor of the controller was also designed to reflect the fact that the PlayStation was designed around 3D gaming. Most previous game pads were thin and flat, but the PlayStation had depth and protruding handles. It was literally a more three-dimensional controller.
Atari tried to prevent Sony from selling the PlayStation for $299.
There’s an alternate universe out there where Atari destroyed the PlayStation for the sake of this thing.
Another big selling point of the PlayStation was that it launched at only $299, a full hundred bucks cheaper than the Sega Saturn. Atari, which was still trying to make a go of it with their ill-fated, toilet-shaped Jaguar console, threatened to report Sony to the International Trade Commission if they launched for under $300. Atari’s rationale was that Sony was selling the console for more in Japan in order to subsidize the Western launch and put American competitors out of business. Despite the threats, Sony went ahead with the $299 and Atari continued to do a fine job of putting themselves out of business.
Sony’s first internally-developed PlayStation game was a cartoony kart racer.
The Playstation was marketed as an edgier, more adult alternative to Nintendo and Sega’s machines, so it’s somewhat amusing that the first PlayStation game developed and published by Sony Computer Entertainment was an obscure, cartoony kart racer named Motor Toon Grand Prix. Ultimately though, Motor Toon would turn into something much bigger, when the team behind it went on to form Polyphony Digital and create Gran Turismo, the most popular game on the PlayStation.
First generation Playstations worked better upside down.
Hey, whatever works.
The PlayStation was a great console, but it wasn’t particularly sturdy. In order to hit that $299 price point, early PlayStations were made entirely of plastic parts that wore out quickly. One part particularly prone to wear-and-tear was the housing for the laser that read the PlayStation’s discs. Once that wore out, the laser could end up tilted, leading to disc-read errors. The solution? Flip the PlayStation over and let gravity straighten out the laser. Early PlayStations also had a tendency to overheat, so a lot of gamers played through Final Fantasy VII with a fan trained on their upside down console. It was worth it.