History Behind The Sony PlayStation PS1

The History Behind The Sony PlayStation PS1 is an interesting read.  Had things between Sony & Nintendo worked out differently todays gaming and console market would be a very different ball game.

The PlayStation  (officially abbreviated to PS, and commonly known as the PS1 or PSX) is a home video game console developed and marketed by Sony Computer Entertainment. The console was released on 3 December 1994 in Japan,9 September 1995 in North America, 29 September 1995 in Europe, and for 15 November 1995 in Australia. The console was the first of the PlayStation lineup of home video game consoles. It primarily competed with the Nintendo 64 and the Sega Saturn as part of the fifth generation of video game consoles.

The PlayStation is the first “computer entertainment platform” to ship 100 million units, which it had reached 9 years and 6 months after its initial launch.  In 2000, a redesigned, slim version called the PSone was released, replacing the original grey console and named appropriately to avoid confusion with its successor, the PlayStation 2.

In 1999, Sony announced the successor to the PlayStation, the PlayStation 2, which is backwards compatible with the PlayStation’s DualShock controller and games, and launched the console in 2000. The last PSone units were sold in winter 2004 before it was officially discontinued in March 2005, for a total of 102 million units shipped since its launch 10 years earlier. Games for the PlayStation continued to sell until Sony ceased production of PlayStation games on 23 March 2006 – over 11 years after it had been released, and less than a year before the debut of the PlayStation 3.

Development

The inception of what would become the released PlayStation dates back to 1986 with a joint venture between Nintendo and Sony.  Nintendo had already produced floppy disk technology to complement cartridges, in the form of the Family Computer Disk System, and wanted to continue this complementary storage strategy for the Super Famicom.   Nintendo approached Sony to develop a CD-ROM add-on, tentatively titled the “Play Station” or “SNES-CD”. A contract was signed, and work began.  Nintendo’s choice of Sony was due to a prior dealing: Ken Kutaragi, the person who would later be dubbed “The Father of the PlayStation” was the individual who had sold Nintendo on using the Sony SPC-700 processor for use as the eight-channel ADPCM sound set in the Super Famicom/SNES console through an impressive demonstration of the processor’s capabilities.

Original PlayStation Controller

Kutaragi was nearly fired by Sony because he was originally working with Nintendo on the side without Sony’s knowledge (while still employed by Sony).  It was then-CEO, Norio Ohga, who recognized the potential in Kutaragi’s chip, and in working with Nintendo on the project. Ohga kept Kutaragi on at Sony, and it was not until Nintendo cancelled the project that Sony decided to develop its own console.

The DualShock Controller

Sony also planned to develop a Super NES-compatible, Sony-branded console, but one which would be more of a home entertainment system playing both Super NES cartridges and a new CD format which Sony would design. This was also to be the format used in SNES-CDs, giving a large degree of control to Sony despite Nintendo’s leading position in the video gaming market.

The product, dubbed the “Play Station” was to be announced at the May 1991 Consumer Electronics Show (CES).  However, when Nintendo’s Hiroshi Yamauchi read the original 1988 contract between Sony and Nintendo, he realised that the earlier agreement essentially handed Sony complete control over any and all titles written on the SNES CD-ROM format. Yamauchi decided that the contract was totally unacceptable and he secretly cancelled all plans for the joint Nintendo-Sony SNES CD attachment.  Instead of announcing a partnership between Sony and Nintendo, at 9 am the day of the CES, Nintendo chairman Howard Lincoln stepped onto the stage and revealed that Nintendo was now allied with Philips, and Nintendo was planning on abandoning all the previous work Nintendo and Sony had accomplished. Lincoln and Minoru Arakawa had, unbeknownst to Sony, flown to Philips’s global headquarters in the Netherlands and formed an alliance of a decidedly different nature—one that would give Nintendo total control over its licenses on Philips machines.

Recently found Sony/Nintendo PlayStation

After the collapse of the joint-Nintendo project, Sony briefly considered allying itself with Sega to produce a stand-alone console. The Sega CEO at the time, Tom Kalinske, took the proposal to Sega’s Board of Directors in Tokyo, who promptly vetoed the idea. Kalinske, in a 2013 interview recalled them saying “that’s a stupid idea, Sony doesn’t know how to make hardware. They don’t know how to make software either. Why would we want to do this?”.  This prompted Sony into halting their research, but ultimately the company decided to use what they had developed so far with both Nintendo and Sega to make it into a complete console based upon the Super Famicom.  As a result, Nintendo filed a lawsuit claiming breach of contract and attempted, in US federal court, to obtain an injunction against the release of what was originally christened the “Play Station”, on the grounds that Nintendo owned the name.  The federal judge presiding over the case denied the injunction and, in October 1991, the first incarnation of the aforementioned brand new game system was revealed. However, it is theorised that only 200 or so of these machines were ever produced.

PlayStation Memory Card.

By the end of 1992, Sony and Nintendo reached a deal whereby the “Play Station” would still have a port for SNES games, but Nintendo would own the rights and receive the bulk of the profits from the games, and the SNES would continue to use the Sony-designed audio chip. However, Sony decided in early 1993 to begin reworking the “Play Station” concept to target a new generation of hardware and software. As part of this process the SNES cartridge port was dropped and the space between the names “Play Station” was removed becoming “PlayStation”, thereby ending Nintendo’s involvement with the project.  Sony’s North American division, known as Sony Computer Entertainment America (SCEA) originally planned to market the new console under the alternative branding “PSX” following the negative feedback regarding “PlayStation” in focus group studies. Early advertising prior to the console’s launch in North America referenced PSX, but the term was scrapped before launch.

According to SCE’s producer Ryoji Akagawa and chairman Shigeo Maruyama, there was uncertainty over whether the console should primarily focus on 2D sprite graphics or 3D polygon graphics. It was only after witnessing the success of Sega’s Virtua Fighter in Japanese arcades that “the direction of the PlayStation became instantly clear” and 3D polygon graphics became the console’s primary focus.

Unlike Sega, Sony had no arcade division from which to draw console-selling ports, or any in-house development to speak of. To solve this problem, Sony acquired studios such as Psygnosis and signed exclusivity deals with hot arcade publishers Namco and Williams Entertainment.

Industry hype for the console spread quickly, and in early 1994 GamePro reported that “many video game companies [feel] that in the near future, the video game platforms to contend with will be from Nintendo, Sega… and Sony.” [emphasis in original]

Launch

The PlayStation was launched in Japan on 3 December 1994,  North America on 9 September 1995, Europe on 29 September 1995 and Oceania on 15 November 1995.  The console was an immediate success in Japan, selling over 2 million units within its first six months on the market.  In the US, 800,000 units were sold in 1995 (i.e. four months on the market), giving the PlayStation a commanding lead over the other consoles of its generation,though it was still being outsold by the older Super NES and Sega Genesis.  The launch price in the American market was US$299 and Sony enjoyed a very successful launch with titles of almost every genre, including Battle Arena Toshinden, Warhawk, Air Combat, Philosoma, Ridge Racer and Rayman. Almost all of Sony’s and Namco’s launch titles went on to spawn numerous sequels.Unlike the vast majority of gaming consoles of the time, the PlayStation did not include a pack-in game at launch.

Then Microsoft chairman, Bill Gates, preferred Sony’s console to the competition from Sega, saying “Our game designer likes the Sony machine.” Microsoft would later compete with Sony with its Xbox console. In a special Game Machine Cross Review in May 1995, Famicom Tsūshin would score the PlayStation console a 19 out of 40.  Next Generation reviewed the PlayStation a few weeks after its North American launch. They commented that while the CPU is “fairly average”, the supplementary custom hardware such as the GPU and sound processor is stunningly powerful. They particularly praised its focus on 3D, and also remarked positively on the comfort of the controller and the convenience of the memory cards. Giving the system 4 1/2 out of 5 stars, they concluded, “To succeed in this extremely cut-throat market, you need a combination of great hardware, great games, and great marketing. Whether by skill, luck, or just deep pockets, Sony has scored three out of three in the first salvo of this war.”  An advertisement slogan used in marketing the console was, “Live in your world. Play in ours.” It is stylised as, “LIVE IN YCircleUR WXRLD. PLTriangleY IN SquareURS.” Another briefly used advertising campaign was titled “You Are Not Ready” or “U R NOT E.” Sony’s CCO Lee Clow explained that “it’s the ultimate challenge. Gamers love to respond to that tag line and say ‘Bullshit. Let me show you how ready I am.'”

Market success

One of the key factors in the PlayStation’s success was Sony’s approach to third party developers. Whereas Sega and Nintendo took an isolationist approach, focusing on first party development while generally leaving third party developers to their own devices, Sony took efforts to streamline game production by providing a range of programming libraries which were constantly updated online, organizing third party technical support teams, and in some cases giving direct development support to third party companies.

While the Sega Saturn was marketed towards 18 to 34 year-olds the PlayStation was marketed towards teenagers. Both Sega and Sony reasoned that since young children typically aspire to be older than they are, they would be drawn in by advertising targeted at teenagers and adults, but Sony additionally found that adults are best targeted by advertising geared for teenagers; according to Lee Clow, “One of the first things we resolved early on was that everyone is 17 when they play videogames. The young people look up to the best gamer who is usually a little older and more practised and talented. Then there are people who start working and grow up, but when they go into their room and sit down with their videogames, they’re regressing and becoming 17 again.”

Functionality

In addition to playing games, select PlayStation models have the ability to play audio CDs; further, Asian model SCPH-5903 can also play Video CDs.  The CD player has the ability to shuffle the playback order, play the songs in a programmed order, and repeat one song or the entire disc. Later PlayStation models can utilize a music visualization function called SoundScope.  This function, as well as a memory card manager, can be accessed by starting the console either without inserting a game or keeping the CD tray open, thereby accessing a GUI for the PlayStation BIOS.

The actual GUI for both PSone and PlayStation differ graphically depending on firmware versions: the original PlayStation GUI had a dark blue background with rainbow graffiti used as buttons; the early PAL PlayStation and PSone GUI had a grey blocked background with 2 icons in the middle different on each version. If the CD lid is closed with a game inside at any time while at the menu, the game will immediately start.

Software library

As of 30 June 2007, a total of 7,918 software titles have been released worldwide (counting games released in multiple regions as separate titles).  As of 31 March 2007, the cumulative software shipment was at 962 million units.  The last game for the system released in the United States was FIFA Football 2005. However, several reprinted and remastered editions were released in later years. Metal Gear Solid: The Essential Collection was released on 26 July 2007, which contained Metal Gear Solid in the original PlayStation format. In 2011, Capcom released the Resident Evil 15th Anniversary Collection, and in 2012, Square Enix released the Final Fantasy 25th Anniversary Ultimate Box in Japan containing all of the Final Fantasy titles, a majority of which were also in the original PlayStation format.

Regional variants

The OK and Cancel buttons on most of the Japanese PlayStation games are reversed in their North American and European releases. In Japan, the Circle button (maru, right) is used as the OK button, while the X button (batsu, wrong) is used as Cancel. North American and European releases have the X button or the Circle buttons as the OK button, while either the Square or the Triangle button is used as Cancel (some titles like Xenogears used the Circle button for cancelling actions and selections, along with the PlayStation 2 system browser and the XrossMedia Bar on the PlayStation 3 and the PSP).   However, a few games, such as Square’s Vagrant Story, Final Fantasy VII (which used the X button as cancel) and Final Fantasy Tactics, Namco’s Ridge Racer Type 4, and Konami’s Metal Gear Solid, use the Japanese button layout worldwide. Some other games, like the Japanese version of Gran Turismo, had used different controls that are similar to North American games. These Japanese button layouts still apply to other PlayStation consoles. This is because in the early years Sony America (SCEA),   Sony Europe (SCEE), and Sony Japan (SCEJ) had different development and testing documents (TRCs) for their respective territories.

Hardware

Hardware designer Ken Kutaragi stated, “The technology came from an original idea to create a synthesizer for graphics, something that takes a basic graphic and then adds various effects to it quickly and easily.”

Hardware problems

With the early units, particularly the early 1000 models, many gamers experience skipping full-motion video or physical “ticking” noises coming from their PlayStation units. The problem appears to have come from poorly placed vents leading to overheating in some environments—the plastic moldings inside the console can warp very slightly and create knock-on effects with the laser assembly. The solution is to ensure that the console sits on a surface which dissipates heat efficiently in a well vented area, or raise the unit up slightly from its resting surface.

Comparison of old and new pick-ups

The first batch of PlayStations used a KSM-440AAM laser unit whose case and all movable parts were completely made out of plastic. Over time, friction causes the plastic lens sled rail to wear out—usually unevenly. The placement of the laser unit close to the power supply accelerated wear because of the additional heat, which makes the plastic even more vulnerable to friction. Eventually, one side of the lens sled can become so worn that the laser can tilt, no longer pointing directly at the CD. This would cause data read errors and games would no longer load. One common fix is to turn the PlayStation upside down, making the lens sled rest on the unworn top rails. Sony eventually fixed the problem by making the sled out of die-cast metal and placing the laser unit slightly farther away from the power supply on later models of the PlayStation.

Due to an engineering oversight, the PlayStation does not produce a proper signal on several older models of televisions, causing the display to flicker or bounce around the screen. Since only a small percentage of PlayStation owners used such televisions, Sony decided not to change the console design, and instead gave consumers the option of sending their PlayStation unit to a Sony service center to have an official modchip installed, which would allow it to play on older televisions.

Copy protection

Prior to the PlayStation, the reproduction of copyrighted material for gaming consoles was restricted to either enthusiasts with exceptional technical ability, or others that had access to CD manufacturers. However, the increased availability of cheap CD burners at this time led Sony to introduce a special wobble pressed into PlayStation formatted discs. As a result, any discs that did not contain the wobble such as CD-R copies or standard pirated discs could not boot on the console.  This wobble was used to encode the disc “region”, for example a disc destined for distribution in the NTSC-U region would encode the letters “SCEA”, “SCEE” for europe or “SCEI” for NTSC-J. This served as copy protection as well as region-locking.

The installation of an unofficial modchip allowed the PlayStation to play games recorded on a regular CD-R. Since it worked by injecting the correct region data into the stream it also allowed the console to play games from any region.

Several open source modchips where designed using readily available electronic parts, by the end of the system’s life cycle almost anyone with minimal soldering experience was able to perform these modifications. This created a wave of games developed without official approval using free, unofficial tools, as well as the reproduction of original discs.  With the introduction of such devices the console became very attractive to programmers and illegal copiers alike, as well as those who merely wished to protect the lifespan of their lawful, original discs.

Some companies (notably Datel) did manage to produce discs that booted on unmodified retail units while using special equipment.

Controller

Main article: PlayStation Controller

Instead of a D-pad, which is used for directional movement in nearly every other console then on the market, the PlayStation controller uses four directional buttons.

Peripherals

Peripherals released for the PlayStation include memory cards, the PlayStation Mouse the PlayStation Analog Joystick the GunCon (a light gun), and the Glasstron (a monoscopic head-mounted display).

Technical specifications

  • CPU: 32-bit RISC MIPS R3000A-compatible MIPS R3051 (33.8688 MHz)
  • MDEC (motion decoder) for FMV playback
  • RAM: 2 MB main, 1 MB video
  • Graphics: GPU and Geometry Transformation Engine (GTE) with 2D rotation, scaling (2.5D), transparency and fading, and 3D texture mapping and shading
  • Colors: 16.7 million (True Color)
  • Sprites: 4,000
  • Polygons: 180,000 per second (textured), 360,000 per second (flat-shaded)
  • Resolution: 256×224 to 640×480 pixels (480i)
  • Sound: 16-bit, 24 channel ADPCM

Models

 

A comparison of the SCPH-1001 (bottom), SCPH-5001 (middle) and SCPH-9001 (top) models. The SCPH-900x revision saw the removal of the Parallel I/O port while the RCA jacks were removed in the SCPH-500x revision.

The PlayStation went through a number of variants during its production run. From an external perspective, the most notable change between variants was the reduction in the number of connectors. The RCA jacks were removed in the first revision, and the Parallel I/O port was removed in the final revision.

In 1997, Sony marketed a development kit for hobbyists and developers also known as the Net Yaroze. Sold only through an ordering service, the development console came with the necessary documentation and software to program PlayStation games and applications.

PSone

On 7 July 2000, Sony released the PSone a smaller, redesigned version of the original PlayStation.  It was the highest-selling console through the end of the year, even going on to outsell all other consoles throughout the remainder of the year – including Sony’s own PlayStation 2.  A total of 28.15 million PSOne units had been sold by the time it was discontinued in March 2005.   A version of the PSone included a 5-inch (130 mm) LCD screen, referred to as the “Combo pack”.

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