Sony PlayStation (PS1) 101: A Beginners Guide

ps1-101
Note from racketboy: Special thanks goes to Ack for putting most of this guide together! The RetroGaming 101 series is aimed at gamers who are just starting out in the classic gaming scene or are curious about an older console that they don’t know much about yet.

Originally designed to be a peripheral for the Super Nintendo, Sony’s PlayStation brand would go on a steady climb through the late 1990s to dominate the market for two generations of games. But before it could get there, it would have to go toe to toe with the giants of the 16-bit era, Nintendo and Sega. The PlayStation, sometimes referred to as the PS, PS1, or even PSX, would also see an influx of gamers coming into the field while an older generation began looking for more mature titles. The little gray console would see one of the longest production runs in gaming history, running for over 11 years. Production would finally be halted on March 23, 2006.

Background Information

  • Originally named the SNES-CD, it was changed to “Sony Play Station” after Nintendo’s deal with Sony soured.
  • Nintendo dropped the original deal in 1991 after Hiroshi Yamauchi, then president of Nintendo, read the 1988 contract and discovered that Sony would practically have total control over all SNES-CD games.
  • In 1992, Sony and Nintendo worked out a new deal where the “Play Station” would have a slot for SNES cartridges and Nintendo would own the rights and receive the majority of profit, while Sony’s SPC700 audio chips would still be used for SNES carts. Sony then decided against the deal, changed the name to PlayStation, and dropped the SNES port.
  • Many third-party companies that were furious with Nintendo then abandoned the console developer and joined Sony, cementing their place on the market. The most notable of these would be Squaresoft.
  • The console launched in Japan on December 3, 1994, in America on September 9, 1995, Europe, September 29, 1995, and Australia and New Zealand, November 1995.

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Historical Impact

  • The Playstation led the way in the transition from the cartridge format to the CD, though not the first to use CDs.
  • While memory carts were used on the Sega Saturn and the Nintendo 64, the PS1 would utilize memory cards via its controller ports, the Sony PlayStation would be the first to utilize the portable memory device effectively
  • Over 962 million PlayStation games have been sold worldwide.
  • Proved that third party support was absolutely key to a console’s success.
  • The general design of Sony’s PlayStation controller has also stayed similar in three generations, the longest of any game company.

Strengths

  • Featured the Geometry Transformation Engine, which would allow it to process on average 360,000 flat-shaded polygons per second, and 180,000 texture mapped and light-sourced polygons per second.
  • Could handle up to 16.7 million colors, with 24 bit color depth, resolutions ranging from 256×224 to 640×480, and up to 4000 8×8 pixel sprites at any time
  • The PlayStation controller, while featuring 8 buttons and a D-pad initially, saw one of the greatest upgrades in the Dual Shock, which featured two Dual Analog sticks built into it in places easily accessible by the thumbs.
  • Featured large amounts of 3rd party support, including the coveted Squaresoft.
  • The console was also remembered for its large number of adult-oriented games, such as the Resident Evil series, Silent Hill, Parasite Eve, and Dino Crisis. Nintendo was meanwhile forced to fend off an image as “kiddy.”
  • The Playstation has one of the most diverse game libraries in the history of the industry – the only console to surpass it was its successor, the Playstation 2.
  • Fans of Japanese RPGs, 2D scrolling shooters, and platformers will find a wealth of essential games in the PS1 library.
  • The Playstation is much easier to emulate accurately than both the Sega Saturn and the Nintendo 64.

Weaknesses

  • Could only display quickly moving polygons in lower resolutions. Textures also sometimes appeared grainy. The machine was designed with 3D graphics in mind, so 2D graphics had to be saved in as multiple polygon textures.
  • Games suffered from load times, and were less durable than the cartridges of previous eras. Cases are also fragile and have a tendency to crack.
  • First generation PlayStations had cases and moving parts for their lasers made out of plastic, which would eventually wear away from friction and heat. Eventually Sony would fix this by replacing these parts with metal ones.
  • Some early models, especially 100x models, would not run FMVs or streamed audio properly, leading to skipping or freezing. In a few extreme cases the machine would have to be turned over to work. Early consoles also suffered from some overheating problems.
  • There were many different models released, featuring various ports, S-video, A/V and direct connections. One model could even play Video CDs. The overall amount is a bit mind-boggling, and charts are best used to describe them

Game Library

Importing & Modifying

  • PlayStations are region locked, though some early models could play burned games and imports using the swap trick.
  • Modchips exist that require minimal soldering skills to use, though local and national laws should be considered before installation.
  • Other mods that require no use of soldering tools do exist, such as the Breaker Pro, though the quality of these devices is debatable.

Emulation

  • PlayStation 2 is backwards compatible, so PlayStation games will work on it along with Playstation memory cards and Dual Shock controllers.
  • All existing models of the Playstation 3 are also able to play PS1 games – even those that do not have support for PS2 games.
  • Emulators to play PlayStation games on the PC, such as ePSXe(including a Linux version), PCSX, PSXeven, and pSX. Tools also exist to emulate PlayStation titles on other formats, including the PSP and iPhone.
  • You can get some impressive results by tweaking your settings, plugins, and filters on ePSXe

Accessories

  • The PlayStation garnered considerable third party support for controller design, such as the EA Sports PlayStation Controller, the Namco neGCon Analog Controller, or the Performance Dual Impact Controller. The Namco JogCon is a particularly interesting design, a mixture of standard PlayStation controller and steering wheel.
  • Joysticks(including the Dual Sticks and ASCIIWARE Specialized Joystick), Dance Pads(such as the Konami Dance Pad), Racing Wheel, and an official Mouse and Mousepad(and a trackball mouse as well) were released for the PlayStation.
  • Stranger controllers, such as the Agetec Bass Landing Fishing Controller, Reality Quest Glove, Ultra Racer, and even the Naki Finger Dance Pad, were all manufactured for this console. Perhaps the oddest is the Beatmania controller, with five keyboard keys and a mini-turntable.
  • A wide selection of light guns were made available by such companies as Nyko and Mad Catz. Namco also manufactured and marketed their own light gun, the GunCon(G-Con if you live in Europe), though it only worked with Namco games. Auto-reload pedals were also sold.
  • Multi taps were manufactured, allowing games to have up to four players. Two multi taps could be combined to allow a maximum of eight players for the biggest games. Link cables were also manufactured to hook two PlayStations together.
  • A vast array of cheating and import materials, from Code Breakers to Game Sharks to Game Enhancers existed for the console, working via swap tricks, or even plugging into the parallel port found on the back. Some of these doubled as additional memory storage devices.
  • Other storage devices that used the printer port were available, as well as larger-sized memory cards from third party developers. Sony also released a special memory card, the Pocketstation, which had a variety of features. It could also unlock extra features in some games, and could transfer saves directly to other Pocketstations.
  • Additional memory storage included Interact’s Dex Drive, which allowed people to upload their saves from their memory cards onto their computers. The PlayStation was also compatible with Blaze Technology’s MPXchanger, as were the Pocketstations.
  • An official carrying case was also released for the console.

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Variations in Hardware

  • The PlayStation had multiple hardware variations, often changing the type of ports. The SCPH-1000 had S-Video connections. Later models dropped the parallel port first, and then the serial port.
  • One model, the SCPH-5903, was the only model that could play Video CDs.
  • The SCPH-700x series standardized Dual Shock, and were released around the time the 10 millionth unit was sold. As a result, Sony released several of these in Midnight Blue.
  • The SCPH-5552 had an extremely rare Men in Black variant. The case was black and had the film’s logo on the top of its CD lid.
  • The SCPH-900x series introduced Sound Scope to the PlayStation, but removed the parallel port.
  • The PS One was a smaller, retooled version of the PlayStation. It lacked the parallel and serial ports, could play all PlayStation games, featured a different interface, and was designed to be very difficult to modchip. Sony also released an LCD screen and an adapter so the console could be used in a car. (See Pictures)
  • The Net Yaroze was a black PlayStation that featured many of the tools for game development, though not everything. It was also region free, but could not play burned games. Programming was also limited to 2MB of game space. (See Pictures)
  • Blue and green developer consoles can also be found on the market. They are virtually identical to other PlayStations, though they could play burned games. The difference in color represented the hardware they used: Blue for “Revision B,” green for “Revision C.”

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Deciding Between Various PS1 Models

  • Unless S-Video is absolutely essential, look for a later model, like the 500x series. By that point most of the major hardware issues are fixed, such as the plastic laser pieces.
  • PSOnes offer portability due to the LCD screen and car adapter, but lack serial ports, so link cables do not work on them. They’re also difficult to mod.
  • 900x series does not include the parallel port, making it incompatible with some of the peripherals, especially some larger memory storage devices. However, there are the only standard PS1 models with Sound Scope.
  • Dual Shock is standardized in the 700x series, so keep that in mind when selecting controllers!

Advantages PS1 Has Over a PS2

  • Because there is no reliance on an ejecting CD tray, the PlayStation tends to have a longer lifespan than the PS2.
  • Certain PlayStation games are not compatible with the PS2, or with specific models. A few will run but experience technical problems.
  • These games do not work at all: Fighter Maker, Judge Dredd, Monkey Hero, Poy Poy 2
  • Tobal 2 typically has trouble on the PS2, though may work on later PS2 models. The PAL version is apparently ok.
  • Final Fantasy V sometimes glitches while saving on PlayStation 2.
  • Mortal Kombat Trilogy only works on one model PS2, only when it’s the Greatest Hits copy. But even this version freezes when the player beats arcade mode.
  • PS2 3000X models have trouble running Legend of Dragoon, Lunar Silver Star Story, Lunar 2: Eternal Blue Complete, Metal Gear Solid: Special Missions, and Final Fantasy Tactics
  • Some games including Super Puzzle Fighter 2 Turbo, Driver, and Syphon Filter 3 do not work on the PS2 Slim at all (see full list here) Since some of these are good games, it’s well worth it to pay the extra few bucks to use them.
  • Many of the peripherals for the PS1 do not work on the PS2, especially anything that used the parallel port.

Affordability

  • Because the console was basically replaced by a backwards compatible PlayStation 2, PlayStations generally sell for very cheap on eBay, usually less than $20.00. PS Ones can go for slightly more, depending on the peripherals. Developer and rare models can be much more expensive.
  • PlayStation games can range from dirt cheap to extremely expensive, depending on the rarity and quality of the game. The PlayStation has a large library that many people still have access to because of backwards compatibility on the PS2(and some models of PS3). Some games were also hyped a great deal, and suffer from artificially inflated prices.

32 Comments

  1. Mozgus says:

    What the hell is sound scope? I cant find any info.

  2. Nick says:

    Haha, I happen to have one of those old PS1 models where you had to stand it up on its side to get it to play games. It is actually an added mini game that adds hours of fun!

    Seriously though, I keep finding old gems every once in a while that makes me go back and play this system, even though when the system was popular, I had to sit on the sidelines with my Genesis. Oh well, no time is better than now to go back and get those games I’ve always wanted! Just picked up Final Fantasy 7 (mint black labeled) for 30 bucks, so I’m having a blast with that!

  3. MrPopo says:

    One comment on the needing S-video. You can get S-video using the multi-out port, as the PS2 cable and the PS1 cable are identical. My PS1 only has the serial, parallel, and multi-av ports and I get S-video out of it.

  4. KaL says:

    Tobal 2 had a PAL release? That wording seems odd if you mean it works on a moded PS2.

  5. butane bob says:

    You can also get RGB out of it too, but not component.

  6. Droid party says:

    @ Moz
    If memory serves, it’s a visualisation thingy when you play audio cd’s.Forgive me if I’m wrong. It’s been a while since I used my ps1 (thanks to epsx).

    Great article Ack, keep it up buddy.

  7. Binny says:

    That is a great article, and a great look back at the PS 1.

  8. brad says:

    Great article. I still love the PS1 library. In some ways, it may be my favorite console of all time.

  9. Vince says:

    Another great article. Well done. This site is becoming the authority on retro gaming. Keep up the great work and regular updates. Thanks.

  10. randombullseye says:

    Great article! I’ve been playing my playstation 1 more and more. This is why I love coming here.

  11. mike says:

    I’ve had lots of trouble running PS1 games on my PS2 (non-slim) with component video cables. Composite works fine.

  12. Dr Haisook says:

    Nice article. I stupidly sold my PSone console a year ago. I should’ve waited to read these great articles. I’m sure I would’ve gotten more interested in PS1. I currently play PS1 games on my PSP, but of course it’s not as comfortable as playing in front of the TV.

  13. skate323k137 says:

    Dr Haisook-

    the newest psp firmware lets you output PS1 software to your TV, even if it’s not progressive scan. PSP software still reqires a progressive scan TV.

  14. Calibrator says:

    I used to play PS1 games a lot back then (I have more than 120 originals) and now with big flatpanel TVs and Bluray getting it’s way I consider buying a PS3.
    However, I thought that Sony dropped compatibility to older platforms and didn’t question that. Reading here that the PS3 is able to play PS1 games is a very welcomed bonus!
    Are there incompatibilities like with the PS2slim? Visual enhancements (filtering etc)? Video output will be to a full HD TV – will the PS1 video upscale correctly?

  15. corrections says:

    ummm, first off, the Sound Scope started with the 75XX models aka Dual Shock PS1s, not the 900X. second, S-Video can be acheieved on all PS1 models if you just buy an S-Video PlayStation video card – they’re everywhere. it’s not exclusive to the SCPH-1000 model.
    other than that, great article!

  16. Radarscope1 says:

    All PS3 play PS1 games. It’s only the PS2 BC that’s been taken out of some models. There is a smoothing option for playing PS1 games. It works well – doesn’t overdo it, it just rounds things off a bit so they look pretty much like they did on a tube television.

  17. Ack says:

    To Calibrator-

    Well, technically it’s supposed to play all PS1 games, though there are some that run into problems. Here’s a couple of websites where you can check to see which games are compatible and which ones have problems.

    http://www.us.playstation.com/Support/CompatibleStatus

    http://www.ps3comp.com/view.asp?flt=m&console=psone

    As for the HD upgrade, the PlayStation firmware update 1.8 is supposed to have given the PS3 the ability to handle PS1 and PS2(if you have a model that can run them) games in HD. IGN did an expose…honestly, to me the games don’t really look like they’re improved upon, but at least they run. Here’s the article:

    http://uk.ps3.ign.com/articles/793/793775p1.html

    To corrections-

    You’re right, I made an error about Sound Scope. It did first appear on the 700X series. I’m sorry for the mix up. As for the video card…do you mean a purchasable video card to change out with the PS console’s, or do you mean a peripheral, because I can’t find anything on what you’re talking about. Do you know a good place to find information on it?

  18. Ack says:

    To Calibrator-

    Here are a couple of websites to look over concerning backwards compatibility. The vast majority of the collection plays without problems, though certain games do have issues. Take a look.

    http://www.us.playstation.com/Support/CompatibleStatus

    http://www.ps3comp.com/view.asp?console=psone

    IGN also wrote an excellent article about PS3 upscaling of PS1 and PS2 games for HD. It’s got a nice rundown of the options you can check out, though I don’t see it making much of a difference. But hey, as long as they’re still playable.

    http://ps3.ign.com/articles/793/793775p1.html

    To corrections-

    First off, you’re right about Sound Scope, it first appears on the 700X series. I screwed that up. As for the video card…what do you mean? As in it was a separate video card to replace the PlayStation’s? I can’t find any information on it. Do you know any place where that’s still available?

  19. Ack says:

    And for some reason comments are now randomly appearing and disappearing on my computer. Sorry about the double post folks. It’s been a long day.

  20. Calibrator says:

    Thanks Radarscope1!

  21. Boringspreez says:

    One way to get s-video on PS1 games is play them on a PS2 with s-video cords. That’s what I do.

  22. gord allott says:

    For the downsides, i always felt that the playstations lack of subpixel accuracy for its polygon co-ordinates was a huge downside, its why playstation 1 games feel sort of… flimsy, almost like everything is made of paper and hollow inside.

  23. crux says:

    As another pro for the original PlayStation, with some games an exploit can be used to skip cutscenes by opening the tray and thus forcing the game to skip FMV (as the game cannot read the video with the door open and chooses to skip past it), saving crucial time in speed runs. PS2 and PS3 both default to the menu when the disc is ejected or the door opened.

    The most notable use of this trick is in FFIX, which requires the end of the last dungeon of the game to be reached within 12 hours for Steiner’s strongest weapon. To get the weapon AND every other item in the game REQUIRES the FMV skips to save time.

  24. executioner says:

    Great article, reminded me I need a car adapter for the psone.

  25. LithuanianGamer says:

    AWESOME site

  26. breakwind says:

    I purchased my overheating PS Console(SCPH-5501)on 08-13-97 and less than 5 months later it malfunctioned on me.Also,the controllers only worked when plugged in at a certain angle.Plus the original controllers d-pad were quite stiff causing my fingers to hurt.Though i still play my PS games from time to time i retired my PS console upon purchasing a PS2 console.

  27. i used to own a playstation. the game i liked playin a lot was Alien Trilogy, an fps game based on three Alien movies, Alien, Aliens, and Alien 3. i also had Crash Bandicoot, Dino Crisis, Resident Evil 3:Nemesis, Syphon Filter, Bust-A-Move, Cool Boarders 3, Contenders, Road Rash, Beast Wars, Ehrgheiz, Star Wars: Demolition, and Star Wars: Rebel Assault 2.

  28. Dave G says:

    how can I use my old ps1 on a samsung hd tv ???

  29. Dave G says:

    I cannot connect my PS1 to my new TV (Samsung)
    It doesn’t recognise the connection – played excelently on my old (now defunct) tv.
    Please advise

    Dave G

  30. racketboy says:

    This might be a better question for the forum, but have you tested to make sure another device works with the same inputs on the TV as you have the PS1 hooked up to?

  31. Egamer says:

    A truly great console with a FANTASTIC library of amazing games! The PS3 just can’t cut it compared to this or even the PS2 library.

  32. thor says:

    i hope in resurrection…and new psone games will be released.It is my only true wish.Psone is best!