Feature: Unforgettable PlayStation Firsts
Posted by Joe Walker
How many do you remember?
The PlayStation brand has been around for over 15 years, and during that time Sony has cemented itself as a powerhouse in the world of video games. From its humble 32-bit beginnings to 1080p HD and stereoscopic 3D graphics, PlayStation is synonymous with progress.
In the spirit of new beginnings here at Push Square, join us for a look back at several notable firsts from PlayStation's first 15 years.
First PlayStation Concept: SNES-CD
It’s common knowledge that the genesis of the PlayStation hardware lies in a CD attachment for the Super Nintendo Entertainment System, making for a fairly robust opportunity for “what might have been.”
Nintendo had always been interested in disc technology for its consoles, but the frailty and ease of piracy of magnetic discs kept that curiosity at bay. When CD-ROM XA technology was on the rise, Sony’s Ken Kutaragi contacted Nintendo about a partnership; Nintendo agreed, and Sony began work on the SNES-CD, which was set to be announced at the 1991 Consumer Electronics Show.
Hiroshi Yamauchi, Nintendo's president at the time, found the contract unacceptable as it gave Sony complete control over any and all titles that were to be published on the SNES-CD format. He cancelled all plans for the SNES-CD and instead announced a partnership between Nintendo and Philips, allowing Nintendo to create Philips CD-i games featuring its famous characters.
After briefly considering abandoning all its research, Sony instead went ahead with its plans for a standalone console. After a court battle with Nintendo over the name “Play Station,” Sony would eventually release the PlayStation, which would go on to radically alter the video game industry.
First Mascot: Polygon Man
If you don’t remember Polygon Man, you’re not alone. His reign as the mascot for the PlayStation was astonishingly short-lived: in fact, he was dropped before the PlayStation even launched, replaced by Sofia from Battle Arena Toshinden. He only appeared in a few print ads and one t-shirt before being abandoned.
According to Phil Harrison, head of Sony Computer Entertainment Worldwide Studios at the time, Ken Kutaragi, global head of the entire PlayStation brand and legendary "father of the PlayStation", was appalled when he first saw Polygon Man. In a 2009 interview with Edge Magazine, Harrison recalled:
"I remember walking onto the E3 booth in 1995 with Ken and seeing the Polygon Man design on the side of the booth. Ken just went absolutely insane, but the thing that really upset Ken was that the Polygon Man design wasn’t Gouraud shaded, it was flat shaded! So Polygon Man was taken out into the car park and quietly shot."
First PlayStation Million-Seller: Tekken
Erupting into arcades in 1994, Tekken took the fighting game world by storm. It was one of the first fighting games to use 3D models for its characters rather than 2D sprites, building off the success of SEGA’s Virtua Fighter. Further separating itself from traditional fighters, Tekken eschewed the standard “light, medium, hard” button set up, instead making each of the four attack buttons correspond to a fighter’s individual arms and legs.
Of course Tekken was a natural fit to make the jump to PlayStation, which was still wowing gamers with cutting-edge graphics at home. Tekken sold countless consoles, and as such it holds the Guinness World Record for the first game to sell one million copies on PlayStation.
First Dual Analogue Controller
While pretty much everyone with a remote interest in video games is familar with the DualShock controller, the history of the dual analogue controller is a bit less straightforward than most assume.
Sony was indeed the first to introduce a controller with two analogue sticks, first revealing the Dual Analogue Controller in November 1996 and launching it in Japan in April 1997. In Japan, the controller featured rumble capabilities, although this feature was removed for the European and American releases later in 1997. The controller featured longer handgrips than the PlayStation’s first controller, citing Japanese gamers to consider it uncomfortable.
American and European customers felt slighted that the Japanese version had rumble while theirs did not, so Sony quietly tweaked the design, rebranding it as the DualShock for a Japanese release in late November 1997 and in 1998 for North American and Europe.
Aside from the longer grips, the Dual Analogue differed in several ways from the now iconic DualShock, featuring plastic analogue sticks rather than the rubberised textured sticks featured later, different shoulder buttons and a raised “Analogue” button.
First Remodel: PSone
Every console and handheld produced by Sony has had at least one major hardware revision over its lifespan, a tradition that dates right back to the original PlayStation. Dubbed the “PSone” to differentiate it from the newly released PlayStation 2 (which was often shortened to just “PS2”), the dinky machine was drastically smaller than its predecessor. It also featured a brand-new system menu when no game disc was inserted.
To go with the new system design, a 5” LCD screen was also released in a “combo pack” with the PSone, which plugged into the system and allowed gamers to play without being near a TV. The screen, however, did not draw power from the system itself nor from a battery pack; it needed to be plugged into an wall outlet or into a car, giving birth to the “portable PlayStation” concept a full four years before the release of the PSP.
Released in 2000, it went on to sell more units than any other console that year — including PlayStation 2.
First Online Game: SOCOM: U.S. Navy SEALs
When the PlayStation 2 launched it featured no method of online play, standing as a stark contrast to the emphasis of Sega’s Dreamcast console, released in 1999. When Microsoft rolled out its Xbox console with the promise of its Xbox Live online service, Sony released the PlayStation 2 Network Adapter in 2001.
The first Sony-published game to take advantage of their new online capabilities was SOCOM: U.S. Navy SEALs, a tactical squad-based shooter.
While the single player game suffered from poor squad AI, online multiplayer allowed players to group together to tackle other devious human opponents, with a bundled USB headset allowing you to co-operate with — or curse at — your online squad mates.
First Giant Enemy Crab: E3 2006
When Sony finally demoed the PlayStation 3 at E3 in 2006 it was, in a word, sloppy. A high price point, underwhelming software and several on-stage bungles soured what should have been a monumental occasion.
The lowlight of the conference was when demoing the title Genji: Days of the Blade — then simply called Genji 2 — producer Bill Ritch explained how the game featured “famous battles that actually took place in ancient Japan,” and as soon as he finished his sentence the game moved into a boss battle against a “giant enemy crab,” which had to be defeated by “hitting its weak point for massive damage.”
Luckily Sony was able to right the ship, but the Giant Enemy Crab will be forever immortalised in meme status, with gamers and websites continuing to poke fun to this very day.
First 3D Game: Invincible Tiger: The Legend of Han Tao
3D is all the rage these days, with Sony in particular pushing it as a big part of the PlayStation 3’s arsenal. While many first- and second-party titles for the PS3 feature stereoscopic 3D, the first eye-popping title to hit the platform wasn’t from Sony itself, but rather from Namco Bandai.
Invincible Tiger: The Legend of Han Tao was a pretty straightforward beat ‘em up which took many cues from the arcade and NES classic Kung-Fu. What put the game on the map was that it was the first console game to feature 3D capabilities. It featured an anaglyph mode (which required the use of red and blue glasses) as well as stereoscopic 3D, the now “standard” version of 3D featured in theatres and televisions.
While Invincible Tiger: The Legend of Han Tao received rather mediocre reviews, it will remain notable for being the first game to take advantage of a new way to experience interactive entertainment.
PlayStation has been around a long time and will undoubtedly continue to innovate in the future. Whatever Sony's next big firsts are, you can be sure we'll be there every step of the way.