20 Years of PlayStation: An Introspective Look Back (Part One)

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As we ready for the PlayStation Experience in Las Vegas this weekend (the first of many I hope) and with the twentieth anniversary of PlayStation upon us, I’d like to look back at what it has meant to me personally over the years.

On the fifteenth anniversary I took a look back at the history of PlayStation in a four part series. Please take a look if you haven’t already. Since then, we’ve seen the introduction of the PlayStation Vita, PlayStation 4, PlayStation TV, PlayStation Now, and more. The future looks very bright for PlayStation fans indeed.

Back to the beginning though. I’ve talked about some of this on the podcast at various times so forgive me if you’ve heard some of this before. Back in 1995 I was fresh out of college, I had a good job and I had gotten back into console gaming after a long detour with my Apple //c. With the only real choices at the time being Sega or Nintendo I found myself squarely in the crosshairs of Sega’s upstart marketing campaign. I had messed around with the NES in college in friend’s dorm rooms but it never really hooked me. Then I saw Sonic on the Genesis and it was all over. I bought in and bought in big. I was picking up every game that caught my eye. I bought the Sega CD and eventually even the 32X when it was released. That was the beginning of a new chapter in my life in many ways.

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When Sega essentially dropped all support for the Genesis and the 32X just a few months later I was disillusioned and actually pretty angry. I’d just spent quite a bit of money and it was already obsolete. I knew now that the Saturn was coming but no longer trusted Sega. Wandering through game stores those couple of months I started to see adds for the PlayStation. What a dumb name, I thought. Could it sound any more childish? And Sony? What do they know about games? I was skittish, having been burned by Sega I really didn’t want to sink money into another system from them, but what were the chances that this PlayStation would catch on? It could fail in a year and I’d get burned yet again. I really thought I was done with console gaming at that point.

Everything turned around that summer as I wandered into the game department at a local Toys R Us. Two kids were playing a demo and the visuals were absolutely mind-boggling. I didn’t know what it was, I couldn’t understand what I was seeing or what it was running on but I knew I had to have it. The moment I saw the original wipEout is burned into my brain. The kids walked away and I tentatively picked up the controller. I’d never seen anything like this. The speed, the action, the wonder of it all. It was like the first time I’d seen Sonic the Hedgehog in action and I was hooked.

Try to remember that back then, there was no Internet, at least not like there is today. Information about the Saturn and the PlayStation wasn’t easy to come by. You were really limited to a very small selection of gaming magazines (if you could find them) so actually being able to play this game before the PlayStation came out was a revelation and I was ready to go all in.

When the PlayStation finally launched in September I headed to the Electronics Boutique at the mall with my entire Sega collection in hand. They rang up everything I had (but refused to take the 32X and Sewer Shark) and I ended up with a receipt longer than my arm. I was told I had enough credit for a PlayStation and two games or the Saturn and no games. If my mind hadn’t already been made up that would have cemented it. That day, I bought my first PlayStation and my first two games, wipEout and Warhawk.

Wipeout-PS1Warhawk-PS1

My roommates and I spent hours on end playing NFL GameDay and NHL FaceOff. As more games came out I was consistently surprised and thrilled with each new experience. I fell hard for Crash Bandicoot and suddenly, I had a new favorite developer, Naughty Dog. The humor, the idle animations, and the fact that it took platforming (literally) in a new direction made it one of my favorite games on the system. I was so thrilled with everything I was playing, from Metal Gear Solid to Gran Turismo to Final Fantasy VII to Oddworld: Abe’s Oddysee to Twisted Metal and on and on that I was even willing to overlook the (minor) annoyance of having to turn the PlayStation upside down to get the games to run half the time.

Five short years later, the PlayStation 2 came along and at that point I knew I’d be a gamer for life. I went to the midnight launch at a Gamestop in the mall and was told that one of my pre-orders, the James Bond game, didn’t make the launch date (dodged a bullet on that one). From what was still available Smuggler’s Run looked most interesting so I grabbed that and SSX and headed home.

I immediately went to set it up and start playing and my girlfriend at the time asked what I was doing, it was one in the morning. She told me to come to bed but I ignored her and as I put Smuggler’s Run in for the first time, I fell for another game developer, Rockstar. At this point I was working in Manhattan at a small startup and nearly everyone else had a PlayStation 2 as well. We’d spend our lunches at hole-in-the-wall game shops discussing what was good and what wasn’t.

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I started to really feel the beginnings of a PlayStation community around this time. The rise of the Internet and the release of the Network Adapter for the PlayStation 2 helped to fuel that. I used to spend hours on SOCOM 2 with my friends and random people. Yes me, online, for hours… with people. A functional online component being added to console games was an exciting thing and I took full advantage of it but it ended up meaning much more to me on a personal level.

My brother and I had never really been close growing up. He was four years older than me and we were very different people so we were constantly at each other’s throats. We had a few good times here and there but we never really connected and had drifted apart since I’d moved to North Jersey. Since I was working in lower Manhattan on September 11, 2001 my family was frantically trying to reach me and not having an easy time of it. I had a long, emotional talk with my brother that night and it led to us connecting through Tiger Woods online matches. We’d get to play golf together and just talk for hours and it really changed our relationship for the better. I doubt that we’d have done the same just talking on the phone.

As rumblings of the next PlayStation made their way around the office and the Internet the community buzz built up, grew louder, and more connected and it’s in the middle of this that I moved into an even bigger community, but I’ll pick that up in Part Two next week. Until then, how about you? When did you get your first PlayStation and what were your early memories of it?

Written by Josh Langford

Josh Langford

Josh has been gaming since 1977 starting with the Atari 2600.
He currently owns 25 different consoles and 6 different handhelds (all hooked up and in working condition) including all consoles from the current generation – minus the Switch.

Josh is currently the US PR & Marketing Manager for Fountain Digital Labs and has recused himself from any involvement on PS Nation arising from posting or editing any news or reviews stemming from FDL.

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  • Gruel

    Great write up Josh! Unfortunately in 1995 I was still drinking the Nintendo kool-aid and thought that loading times were the devil which led to me embracing the N64 for that gen. Eventually through PS2 backwards compatibility and playing at friend’s I discovered a lot of great Psone games.

  • zero2815

    Got are family ps0ne for Christmas didn’t know any thing about it. I had a 64 already didn’t know much about the saturn like u said information was hard to come by for a 11 year old boy 1996. But since bushido blade and joshing final fantasy 7 except for beatimg the weapons. I’ve been a fanboy ever since. I’m 29 and most every thing is own is sony.