Since first arriving on the scene in 1995 with the release of the PlayStation in North America, Sony has been one of the most dominant and innovative forces in the gaming industry. After going head-to-head with the Nintendo 64 in the ’90s and emerging the clear victor, Sony would enjoy its greatest success with the PlayStation 2, which would end up becoming the best-selling video game console of all time. While the company would flounder a bit in the mid-2000s with the PlayStation 3 and its ridiculously high launch price, Sony would end up rebounding in a major way thanks in large part to the overall quality of its many first-party game releases, with titles like Uncharted and The Last of Us pushing the medium forward when it came to storytelling and visuals.
Then came the PlayStation 4, released in 2013 at a time when many were predicting the demise of the console industry. The console would end up vastly outperforming expectations and prove that the PlayStation brand remains strong more than two decades after its introduction. Of course, no company spends 20-plus years at or near the top without having some incredible stories to tell, so in celebration of everything PlayStation, here 20 things you may not have known about the brand that made Crash Bandicoot a household name.
20. The PlayStation Was Originally A Super Nintendo Add-On
Might as well get the most obvious one out of the way first, right? The origins of the PlayStation are a well-known bit of gaming history these days but that doesn’t make the story of how Sony first entered the console race any less interesting. By the early ’90s, Nintendo was looking for a way to take advantage of the superior audio and video quality offered by compact discs, as CDs were the hottest multimedia storage solution at the time. Sony’s Ken Kutaragi had helped design the Super Nintendo Entertainment System’s incredible sound chip in secret — and nearly lost his job at Sony in the process before then-CEO Norio Ohga recognized the potential of Kutaragi’s chip and a partnership with Nintendo — so the big N decided to bring that partnership to the next level by enlisting Sony to develop a CD-ROM add-on for the SNES.
Unfortunately, the agreement fell apart once Nintendo chairman Hiroshi Yamauchi realized that Sony would have complete control over all titles released on the SNES CD-ROM format and formed a partnership with Phillips instead without Sony’s knowledge. Of course, Sony would end up getting its revenge on Nintendo and then-some, taking what they had made for Nintendo and reworking it into what would eventually become the first PlayStation console, which would go on to sell over 100 million units worldwide while Nintendo’s SNES successor, the Nintendo 64, sold less than a third of that number.
19. Meet Polygon Man, The PlayStation’s Original Mascot
Unlike Nintendo, Sony has never really had an official PlayStation mascot to represent the brand (though Crash Bandicoot made a strong case for the job back in the PS1’s heyday). This is likely because the PlayStation has had so many unofficial mascots come and go over the past two decades that Sony has never really needed to find its own “Mario” … but it could also have something to do with the fact that the PlayStation’s first official mascot was so bad that he was killed off before the console’s U.S. launch. Polygon Man was conceived to help show off the PlayStation’s (at the time) impressive 3D visuals and was set to make an appearance at the console’s American unveiling at E3 1995.
However, according to Phil Harrison, who was working as head of Sony’s European game publishing business at the time, PlayStation’s global head Ken Kutaragi “went absolutely insane” when he saw Polygon Man’s jagged purple head (apparently it had something to do with the character being flat shaded rather than Gouraud) and so the character was “taken out into the car park and quietly shot.” Evidently, Sony has a sense of humor about the whole thing, as Polygon Man would eventually resurface as the final boss in PlayStation Battle Royale.
18. Black Discs Are Cool
When the PlayStation was first released, many people were surprised to discover that the games came on black-bottomed discs, which looked quite different from the CDs people had become accustomed to seeing. While the popular theory was that Sony did this to make it easier to discern between authentic games and copied ones, this only made sense until CR-Rs started being released in all sorts of different colors. As it turns out, the decision to make PlayStation discs black was entirely based on aesthetics — Sony just thought they looked cool. And you know what? They did!
17. The PlayStation Controller’s Symbols
Unlike many of its competitors, Sony opted to forgo letters on the PlayStation controller in favor of symbols. This decision was made by designer Teiyu Goto, who felt that symbols would be easier to remember than letters or colors. As it turns out, the chosen symbols aren’t random but rather infer each button’s respective function: the circle and cross align with the Japanese symbols for “yes” and “no,” the triangle symbolized perspective or a player’s head, and the square represented a menu, map, or document. Of course, Goto didn’t really account for developers doing whatever they wanted with the PlayStation controller’s button layout and while some early Japanese PlayStation games adhere to his protocol, it didn’t take long for developers to scrap it.
16. The PS3’s Sixaxix Was A Late Addition
Nowadays, the PS3’s Sixaxis motion controls are considered a blunder on Sony’s part; an unnecessary feature of the console’s controller that was difficult to see as anything more than a gimmick. As it turns out, the reason the Sixaxis was never really all that great is that it was shoehorned in at the last minute as a half measure designed to compete with the Nintendo Wii’s impressive motion controller. According to PlayStation’s Shuhei Yoshida, Sixaxis motion controls were added to Sony’s E3 2006 plans just weeks before the event, which is why those controls looked less than impressive in the Warhawk demo featured in the company’s notoriously disastrous press conference from that year.
Though unpopular, Sony still kept Sixaxis functionality present in the DualShock 3 once it became the PS3’s standard controller but software that actually utilized it became much sparser as the console got further into its lifespan, as developers came to grips with the fact that no one ever really liked Sixaxis to begin with.
15. Crash And Spyro’s “Anime Makeovers”
It’s hard to think of two characters more synonymous with the PS1 than Crash Bandicoot and Spyro the Dragon. Created by Naughty Dog and Insomniac Games, respectively, both characters starred in a number of critically-acclaimed platformers that still stand as some of the console’s best games to this day. Crash and Spyro essentially became unofficial mascots for the console, which was pretty significant considering they both originated from American developers. The pair also gained popularity in Japan but ended looking a bit different from their American counterparts.
The assumption at the time was that American gamers craved characters with “attitude” on game box art, whereas the Japanese marketplace was more welcoming to a cuter aesthetic. To this end, Crash, Spyro, and other edgy ’90s characters lost their familiar smirks and cocked eyebrows once they left American shores, and had these features replaced with friendlier demeanors and more innocent-looking eyes. Talk about a makeover!
14. The Rarest PlayStation Game
Now that the PlayStation is considered a retro console, it’s becoming increasingly difficult to find certain titles in physical form. However, one title in the PlayStation’s library is so rare that you pretty much had to be in the right place at the right time to even have a chance of acquiring it. You see, Elemental Gearbolt Assassin’s Case was never released for sale to the public. Instead, Working Designs only gave away 50 copies of the game (which included a special “gold-plated” GunCon controller) as prizes at E3 1999. As such, only a lucky few ever got their hands on this treasured collector’s item and the downside is that even if you had one, you’d have to work extra hard to keep it in pristine condition, as the gold pain coating on the GunCon was dissolved by human hand sweat (the developer actually enclosed a letter with each copy stating as such). If you’re one of the lucky collectors out there who have this game in their possession, we hope you had the foresight to never actually play it!
13. Sony Can Be Credited With Helping Create The Indie Development Scene
The indie development scene only seems to get better with each passing year as more developers opt for smaller teams and more creative control instead of the grind that can often come along with development in the so-called “AAA” space. Of course, the indie scene has only been able to flourish because the tools to do so are so readily available but back in the ’90s, having any success with an independent game was much more difficult to achieve. “Garage developers” did have one avenue for potential success in the form of Sony’s Net Yaroze system, a $750 black PlayStation released in 1997 that could interface with a user’s PC. These development kits didn’t produce a ton of memorable games, but some developers who used them eventually found jobs within the games industry, such as Mitsuru Kamiyama, director of the Final Fantasy Crystal Chronicles series.
12. Meet Toro, PlayStation’s Japanese Mascot
While Sony struggled and eventually gave up on creating a mascot character for American audiences, Sony Computer Entertainment Japan had considerably more success. The Japan-only 1999 PlayStation release Doko Demo Issho saw the debut of Toro, a small white cat who — alongside his black cat counterpart, Kuro — proved to be so popular that he was eventually chosen as Japan’s PlayStation mascot. Toro has since appeared in a number of PlayStation titles and merchandise but remains largely obscure to US gamers. Much like the failed Polygon Man, Toro was also included in the 2012 crossover fighter PlayStation All-Stars Battle Royale, offering many American PlayStation fans their first real look at the overseas mascot.
11. PlayStation Logo Concepts
The four-color “PS” logo has continued to endure as a nostalgic reminder of the PlayStation’s early, even if Sony doesn’t use it all that much anymore. As any graphic designer can attest, coming up with a logo as iconic as the original PlayStation’s can take a fair amount of conceptual work before landing on the perfect design, but it’s pretty incredible just how many different revisions Sony went through before landing on the final product. Designer Manabu Sakamoto created a number of variations on the PlayStation’s logo, with about as many different takes on the “P” and “S” as you could imagine. While there are some alternate logos that we like among Sakamoto’s many drafts, there’s just no beating that finalized four-color design.
10. The Great Memory Card Shortage of 2002
By 2002, the PlayStation 2 was really hitting its stride, having seen a number of groundbreaking titles such as Grand Theft Auto III and Metal Gear Solid 2: Sons of Liberty released the year prior. While the console’s stellar software lineup was helping Sony move lots of PS2s, the company was faced with an unforeseen issue took a bit of the wind out of their sales: a massive shortage on memory cards. These were the days before consoles shipped with hard drives, remember, meaning that Sony’s 8MB memory cards were essential to actually save games on the PS2.
Due to a combination of heightened demand and Sony’s decision to not renew licensing agreements with certain manufacturers the previous year, memory cards became nearly impossible to find on store shelves, resulting in many irate customers who didn’t much like the idea of starting a massive game like Final Fantasy X and not being able to save their progress. Fortunately, Sony would eventually solve the supply issue and the PS2 ended becoming the best-selling console of all time but for a brief period of time, the PS2’s momentum ground to a halt thanks to a people not being able to find little cards with 8MB of flash memory.
9. The PlayStation 2 Design Was Based on an Old Atari Prototype
The PlayStation 2’s slim, book-like design looked like no other console before it when it was released in 2000, but the origins of the go back nearly a decade. In 1993, Atari had grand ambitions for their next console, which was labeled by the prototype name “Falcon030 Microbox.’ Atari would end up scrapping the Microbox in favor of the doomed Jaguar system. However, Sony saw the potential in the prototype’s design sensibilities and borrowed heavily from the system’s overall look when it came time to design the PS2; in fact, Sony has namechecked the Atari Falcon030 Microbox as a major influence on the PlayStation 2’s design. One need only look at the two systems side-by-side to see the similarities, though Sony definitely improved upon Atari’s design by ditching the grey and going with black. If Atari hadn’t ditched their protoype, it’s quite likely that the PlayStation 2 would have looked entirely different.
8. PS2 Home Development
The ability to stand the PlayStation 2 vertically helped make the console look more like a desktop computer, which was fitting because you actually could turn it into fully-functioning PC. Recognizing its potential as a home computer, Sony released the operating system Linux on disc, enabling users to use their PS2s as a PC. Going one step further, more tech-savvy owners were able to use Linux to turn their console into a development kit, using open source code to create their own games. The downside is that these games wouldn’t work on an unmodded PS2, but it was still a great way for fledgling developers to get their feet wet. The Linux pack included a disc, ethernet adaptor, keyboard, mouse, VGA adaptor and a 40GB hard-drive.
7. The PSP Was Envisioned As “The Walkman of the 21st Century”
Sony revolutionized the way people listened to music with the introduction of the Walkman in the early ’80s, making it easier than ever before to bring your music with you on the go. Father of the PlayStation Ken Kutaragi was a big believer in the PlayStation Portable, so much so that he thought it could be just as revolutionary as the Walkman was two decades prior. This is part of the reason why Sony pushed the PSP’s multimedia capabilities — which included internet browsing, watching movies and of course, listening to music — so heavily in the handheld’s early years. Unfortunately, while the PSP was quite successful for Sony as a gaming platform, the device had to compete with mp3 players and later smartphones, making it a considerably less essential tech product than Kutaragi had envisioned.
6. The PS4’s Messaging Feature Was Inspired By Dark Souls
From Software’s Dark Souls series is infamous for its high difficulty level, but the games contain a unique feature that allows players to leave messages for others. This interconnected web of messages contains various tips on how to defeat bosses, where to find treasures, whether something is a trap, etc. As it turns out, this message feature proved so influential that it ended up inspiring the PlayStation 4’s own messaging system. According to Sony Worldwide Studios’ President Shuhei Yoshida, he loved the way Dark Souls kept players in constant connection without it being too intrusive to the user experience and applied this philosophy when it came time to design the PS4’s own messaging system, which notifies users about such things as their friends’ activities and system updates.
5. The Secret Behind The PS2 Boot Screen
When the PS2 was released in 2000, it felt like a massive technological jump over the original PlayStation’s capabilities (and in many ways, it was). One visual representation of this leap forward was the PS2’s boot up to its main menu screen, as the series of white towers/blocks shooting up towards the player helped convey the console’s futuristic feel. Of course, it didn’t take long to stop noticing the PS2’s snazzy intro but what many owners probably didn’t realize is that the white towers they were seeing were not randomized.
As it turns out, each tower represents a save game file on the inserted memory card, which is why there aren’t any towers if you loaded up the console without a memory card inserted. The fuller your memory card, the more white and silver towers you would see. Sure, it was a small design choice that didn’t really affect anything, but don’t you kind of want to go dig out your old PS2 now to test it out?
4. PS3 Supercomputers
The PlayStation 3’s unique system architecture made it a notoriously difficult console to develop games for but the (at the time) considerable computing power of the system’s Cell microprocessor made it a popular device for cluster computing, which involves connecting many different computers together to perform more complex tasks. One of the most famous examples of the PS3’s networking capabilities is the “Condor Cluster,” the U.S. Air Force’s supercomputer built from a collection of 1760 PlayStation 3 consoles. In 2010, it ranked as the 33rd largest supercomputer in the world and was capable of processing billions of pixels a second, making it the fastest computer in the entire U.S. Defense Department at the time.
3. The Reason Sony Ditched The PS3’s Spider-Man Font
If you weren’t around for the leadup to the PlayStation 3 launch, it might seem strange to discover that the console was closely linked with Spider-Man. The reason? Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man movies were incredibly popular around the time of the PS3’s release and since Sony produced the film franchise, they were free to brand the original PlayStation 3 with the same font they used to market Spider-Man. Whether this was an awkward attempt at synergy or pure coincidence, the PS3’s Spidey font quickly became one of many reasons to deride the console.
In 2006, the PlayStation 3was experiencing quite a bit of backlash due to its expensive launch price and Sony’s overall smugness about the product (don’t even get us started on the “you’ll need two jobs to afford one” thing). Sony finally dropped the font in 2009 with the release of the first redesigned PS3 slim model but the reason for the change had nothing to do with the font’s popularity. Rather, Sony rebranded the console to simply have “PS3” as their new logo because it was easier to read in advertisements than “PLAYSTATION 3” in Spider-Man font.
2. Ken Kutaragi Hated Crash Bandicoot
While millions of PlayStation owners around the world fell in love with Crash Bandicoot and Naughty Dog’s 2.5D platformer gameplay, the Godfather of PlayStation was not one of them. Ken Kutaragi had some serious problems with the pants-wearing marsupial, as he felt that the character’s goofy design clashed with the PlayStation’s branding as a console for teen and adult gamers. Kutaragi even went so far as to confront a Naughty Dog representative about it, offering up a list of complaints and declaring “This game is crap!” Fortunately for Kutaragi, mascot platformers largely went out of vogue following the PlayStation generation and Crash went with them, with the brand being sold to Vivendi Universal following the release of Naughty Dog’s final Crash game, Crash Team Racing, in 1999.
1. The PS3 Lost Billions Of Dollars
When the PlayStation 3 was first launched in 2006, it did so with a whopping price tag of $600 USD, which understandably drew plenty of criticism from consumers and industry observers alike. While Sony was riding high on the massive success of the PS2 at this time and likely figured that they could get away with releasing such an expensive new console, the PS3’s high price didn’t just come down to Sony being cocky. The reason the PlayStation 3 was so expensive is that Sony had gone way over budget on R&D, spending billions on the console’s Cell microprocessor and Blu-ray drives.
Unfortunately for Sony, people weren’t eager to work a second job in order to afford a PS3, so the company ended up cutting features and slashing prices over the next few years in order to bring the console’s price down. Sales improved but Sony was forced to take a massive loss, to the tune of around $3.5 billion over the first couple years of the PlayStation 3’s lifecycle. The PS3 would finally start turning a profit years later and eventually catch up to Microsoft’s Xbox 360, but would end up matching just over half of the PlayStation 2’s staggering lifetime sales number of 155 million units.