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Hardships From PlayStation History – Part 3

First things first: if you haven’t read part 1 and part 2 of Hardships From PlayStation History then we suggest you do before you dive into this one. Apart from anything else, it’s about a fictional character called Edwyn Collins and we don’t want you to get confused about that. Generally though, these stories will make more sense if read in order, although they are fairly nonsensical anyway.

Right. So. Edwyn has braved the elements and got himself some games and a memory card to go with his new PlayStation. He is, at last, ready to play some games. The first game he opens up is called Actua Virtua 3D. Like all PlayStation games it comes in a really weird box, which is like a regular CD case only twice as fat. A CD, by the way, was what MP3s lived on before you could just carry them around in your pocket. The PlayStation game boxes were made of a crude form of plastic that was incredible brittle. They had to be wrapped in cling film just to hold them together, but you had to take the cling film off to get the game out, at which point the box would fall to bits and never go back together again.


A page from the book of instructions, known as a ‘user manual’, packaged with rare PSone platform/puzzler Lost Vikings 2: Norse By Norse West.

The boxes were so fat because they had to have room for something called a manual. A manual was like those pamphlets you still get in game boxes today, only it was about a hundred times thicker and had loads more words and hardly any pictures. What was the point of manuals? Supposedly, they were there to explain how to play the game but no one, no one, ever read them, despite the fact that this was before in-game tutorials were invented. Gamers in Edwyn’s time would simply boot up a game then figure out how to play it by hitting all the buttons to see what they did. This sounds like it would be yet another hardship for Edwyn, but in practice learning a game in this trial-and-error way usually took a fraction of the time it takes to sit through your average 21st Century in-game tutorial nowadays. Although sometimes 20th Century gamers could spend weeks slogging through what they thought was a rock hard game, completely oblivious to the existence of a key special ability or combo that they’d failed to stumble upon during their initial random button pressing experiments.

So Edwyn’s plucked his Actua Virtua 3D disc out from among the smashed remains of its box and is now taking a good look at it because he’s never seen a PlayStation disc before and it’s exciting. The really exciting thing is the underside of the disc, which is black – as black as night. It’s black because the only plastic available was that same crap the boxes were made of so Sony had to use a mixture of cast iron and coal to make its discs. This was tough on the workers at the disc-pressing plant – who all get very dirty and hot at work and ended up dying in their thirties from coal-dust related respiratory diseases – but actually made the lives of gamers much easier. You see, discs made from wrought iron and coal were almost impossible to damage. It didn’t matter that the boxes fell to bits as soon as you got them because you didn’t need to keep the discs in the boxes. You could put them anywhere you wanted. The most popular storage method for PlayStation games circa 1995 was strewn all over the floor in no particular order. You could step on them, spill boiling hot tea on them, even sprinkle biscuit crumbs on them – they’d still work, as long as you were able to get your PlayStation to work, that is. But we’ll get to that in a later episode.


Amazingly, all four of these black PSone discs was required to play just one game. Notice how scratched and battered they are. All of them still work, though.

Once he’s finished staring deep into the shiny underside of his Actua Virtua 3D disc muttering, “’T’is truly black as night…” to himself, Edwyn snaps out of it and sets about inserting the disc into his PlayStation. But even that’s not going to be simple. He’s not going to just shove it in a slot, for God’s sake. He’s got yet another exhausting and laborious process to go through. First he’s got to press one of those button things we explained in part 2, which makes a lid flip up in a very abrupt and sudden way. These lids could be very dangerous, especially if you let your hamster sit on top of your PlayStation (there was nothing in any of the documentation telling you not to). So, Edwyn puts the disc inside the PlayStation then closes the lid using his hand – yes, there wasn’t even a ‘Close’ button. There then follows a series of whirring noises from inside the machine. For a few tense moments Edwyn thinks he’s got a dud but then… it happens. A beautiful, three-dimensional PlayStation logo appears on screen accompanied by an almost heavenly sound effect. Actua Virtua 3D is working! At last, Edwyn is ready to play.

And on that note, we’ll leave you with another cliffhanger. Look out for the next thrilling episode of Hardships From PlayStation history coming soon. We absolutely promise he’s going to play a game next time. Honest.

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