Sony began its entry into video games in 1995, competing against the Sega Saturn and
Super Nintendo, and later the Nintendo 64 (all found under Classics).
Originally the Sony PlayStation was going to be an accessory for the Super Nintendo, but after
Nintendo scrapped the project it was released as its own system by Sony. The PlayStation launch
was a massive success, and the games released for it were consistently better than games that
came out for the Sega Saturn and Nintendo 64. It could be argued that the PlayStation changed gaming
for the better. It introduced us to true 3D gaming with its accelerated graphics chip, whereas
the Saturn's graphics chip was not as powerful and produced 3D games that weren't much better than the
32X or the Super FX chip (for more on all of that, see Classics).
The PlayStation 1 began with a fairly ordinary controller, with a D-pad, four buttons,
four more trigger buttons on top, select and start. It wasn't until the hit racing game Gran Turismo
was released that they produced the Dual Shock controller which has become a hit for Sony. (More on
the controller later.) The system itself used CD-ROMs which, if you had legal games, were black on the
bottom. It featured digital stereo sound and limited 480i (then referred to as "high resolution") support.
Unfortunately, there were also some problems with the Sony PlayStation. One of the most
frustrating problems was that it was the first system that did not include an RF adapter in the box.
This proved to be very frustrating especially for the non-tech savvy, and as a result many children got
a PlayStation but found they could not connect it to their television, because in 1995 very few sets had
the composite input jacks needed to hook it up. (I was one of those children.) However, as one might
expect, Sony didn't give in and start packing the RF adapters with PlayStations—instead they stood their
ground and eventually it became a necessity that new televisions start including these jacks. Indeed this
bred a new age where more was better, and one company even produced a TV for sale in video game stores that
had fold-out speakers and a whopping three sets of A/V jacks for a moderate price. I forget the name
of this set and was unable to find any information on it, but if any of you remember this set please
The PlayStation's other problem started appearing several years after its release.
It seems that after enough use, the track that carried the laser lens would wear out and become
rough, causing the laser to skip and freezing the system. A well-known workaround was to turn the
boxy PlayStation on its side (which was sometimes followed by the system falling over because its
sides were not completely straight). Thus it became common to see PlayStations tipped up on their sides
during those last few years of use.
At about the same time the PlayStation 2 was released, a new smaller version called the
PSOne was released. It was only about half the size of the original and had a lighter, off-white color
case and controllers to match. However, they never made any memory cards in the new shape and color so
those always tended to clash with the PSOne. The PSOne started the trend of producing LCD screens that
attach on top of the console for something distantly resembling "portable" gaming.
Sony PlayStation 2
The PlayStation 2 came out five years later in 2000. Its launch would have been an even
bigger success than the first PlayStation launch, but at its launch, there was a severe shortage of
PS2s and the few who had them, hoarded them and asked for anywhere from $400-800 to buy one. As a result
gamers did not get their hands on the PlayStation 2 until the next year when more systems came out. Despite
the slow and painful launch, Sony still made a lot of things right with the PlayStation 2 and made it another
A V9 PlayStation 2 and Dual
Shock 2 controller.
The PlayStation 2's hardware was not far ahead of the competition like the first PlayStation.
The PS2 came with Sony's touted Emotion Engine processor, a powerful Graphics Processing Unit, and a DVD-ROM
drive capable of reading 2-layer DVDs up to 9GB. The Sega Dreamcast
was slightly slower and had only 1GB GD-ROMs, but it had a full-scene anti aliasing feature that left the
graphics looking much smoother. PlayStation 2's early adopters referred to the untreated polygon edges output by
the PS2, which look like tiny staircases, as "jaggies." Later competitors Xbox and GameCube would also have
anti-aliasing. They both have a similar amount of power to the PS2, but include four controller ports for
multiplayer games while the PS2 would require a multitap to have more than two. As one bonus feature,
the PS2 is fully backward compatible with PS1 games, memory cards, and controllers.
Sony would renew its hardware later on with the broadband network adapter, and then by producing
a Component video cable and enabling some newer games like Gran Turismo 4 to play in High Definition. No longer
would jaggies be a problem when playing at 1080i resolution. The PlayStation 2 also had an option for DVD playback,
which worked out of the box but could be enhanced by buying a DVD remote. The V9 PS2 shown above was an updated
release which included DVD+RW format playback of movies, a quiet fan, and a built-in IR sensor for the remote
so no dongle would be necessary. It did remove the Firewire port, leaving only the (fairly useless) two USB 1
The Dual Shock 2 controller released with the PS2 was the true revolution for controllers. As
great a controller as the first Dual Shock was, having two analog sticks and two vibrating motors, the Dual
Shock 2 added a feature badly needed for precise control in racing games: pressure sensitive face buttons.
Although the Dreamcast had two pressure sensitive triggers on the top of the controller for gas and brake,
it proved awkward to use them in racing games compared to face buttons. On the PS2 not only do the face
buttons and L/R triggers have pressure sensitivity, it's a little known fact that even the D-pad is
pressure sensitive. One key piece of evidence that the Dual Shock 2 controller is the best design is
that there are more adapters to connect it to other systems, and more controllers designed for other
systems imitate it, than any other controller ever designed.
As future-proof as the Dual Shock 2 controller is in my opinion, Sony appears to be scrapping it on the
PlayStation 3 and may
instead have you control the system with a remote-controlled boomerang. Stay tuned for more developments.
Namco released both of these controllers toward the end of the first PlayStation's life,
the neGcon and the JogCon. Both were designed for analog control of their racing series Ridge Racer.
The neGcon preceded the Dual Shock controller by a short amount of time, so its lifetime was short.
You can still use a neGcon in any Ridge Racer game, but other titles will only accept input from a
Dual Shock controller. The JogCon was released with Ridge Racer Type 4, and its gimmick was a true
steering wheel control in the center of the pad with true force feedback. Although it was a great
concept, Namco was not open with the design and it too faded into obscurity. Ridge Racer V for the
PlayStation 2 accepts both controllers.
Adapters for PC
PlayStation controllers have the most adapters of any controller ever designed.
Because of this it would be impossible and silly to list them all. For example,
you could make your own interface based on the instructions at PSXPad, but why would you want to?
For a reasonable price a USB adapter can be bought with many more features.
The USB interface works remarkably well with PS2 controllers, because they seem
to work fine with 5V power even though they are designed for 7.6V power. Because
of this these USB adapters can run off of bus power; however, it is important that
there is enough power in the USB bus to handle the controller at rest and when vibrating.
If you plug a PlayStation controller into an overloaded USB hub or a laptop, you
may find that the narrow margin that works for the PS2 is not maintained and
you end up with unpredictable behavior or failures. If this happens, just get a
self powered USB hub that plugs in, and connect your PS2 adapter into that.
The Super Joybox 5, Super Dual Box,
and Super Joybox 3 Pro.
The SmartJoy Plus.
As well as USB works with PlayStation controllers, there is one other issue
that has come up. How is the second analog stick mapped to a PC? Early USB adapters did not
leave the second stick unaccounted for, nor did they try to map it to a POV hat or anything
like that that would defeat its analog precision. Instead the right analog stick is mapped to
an additional two axes (the left being X for vertical, Y for horizontal): Z and Z Rotation.
Traditionally Z was used as an axis for yawing left and right, and was connected to a set of
rudder pedals for aviation simulators. The early joystick specs did not have a Z Rotation axis
but with USB and DirectX that axis exists. However with this new axis, some confusion arose
on how to map a second analog stick. The early adapters tended to map vertical movement to
Z and horizontal movement to Z Rotation. This, however, was wrong, since Z is traditionally
a left-to-right control axis. As a result gamers who used these adapters in Grand Theft Auto 3
and other games that were ported from the PS2 would have a heck of a time controlling the camera.
The good news is that this axis problem is fixable with patches, and I have posted a few
on this site. But the better news is none of the currently produced adapters that you see
above suffer from this problem. They all map the axes correctly. One, the EMS USB2 (which
has several other issues that preclude me recommending it), does not unless you update the
driver and re-map the axes, the updated driver is on the links page.
The adapters seen here all support all buttons and axes, and dance mats (for
the MayFlash adapters, you hit Start+Select+Up to use a dance mat). They all have DirectX
force feedback support, also, so you can have vibration effects. The difference lies in the
number of connectors. The Super Dual Box
takes two, the Super Joybox 5
Super Joybox 5 takes four, and
the SmartJoy Plus
takes one. In all cases you can plug in multiple adapters for even more
players. The Super Joybox 3 Pro is part of a new set of adapters by Mayflash
Lik-Sang does not yet carry) that supports pressure-sensitive buttons. You can choose any
two buttons to map to sliders and use them, for example, as your gas and brake pedals. It
also has full configuration and mapping of buttons. It is a very slick product, but I have
heard there is a problem using it on Windows 2000. I am still working on confirming that and
seeing if I can solve the problem.
Fans of the Dual Shock 2 controller can take comfort knowing that they can use that controller with the Xbox,
GameCube, and Dreamcast, all three. The mappings of buttons and axes usually makes perfect sense (to those who
dislike the GameCube's button layout, maybe even better sense), and although the Dragon Adapter doesn't support
Xbox memory units (for all... both of you who use them), the Dreamcast Total Control Plus has a socket for a VMU.
(and it converts Jump Pack signals to vibration signals for the Dual Shock 2 controller). It may be awkward for
VMU-dependant games (you will have a difficult time checking your health in Resident Evil or choosing plays in
NFL2K), but in all other respects it does a fine job. Other than that, there is little that needs to be said
about these adapters.
PlayStation to GameCube adapters.
Left to right,
Keyboard and PS 2 in 1,
Dragon Adapter (also for Xbox),
The Dreamcast Total Control Plus.
Of course, the PlayStation 2 has a great DVD player built in. The DVD remote they sell works
great for that purpose. However, you may not have noticed, but you can use the DVD remote as a controller
in games too! It might be useful in games where reflex speed is not a concern and you want to play in
Nintendo Revolution style. This might be reminiscent of ASCIIware's RPG controller for the PlayStation that
could be operated with one hand (but was wired).
The real neat tricks come with the use of the broadband adapter, which also has an IDE connector
for a regular Parallel ATA hard drive. Not just any hard drive will fit, but generally Maxtor and Seagate have
a higher success rate, and Western Digital hard drives have the connector in the wrong position and never work.
One use of this is to install Linux on the PS2. Unlike the Xbox method, Linux can
only be installed using Sony's expensive (and discontinued) Linux kit.
The PS2 Linux Kit is designed to only work with the included 40GB hard drive and has many other limitations. Although
I have not investigated it so thoroughly, it is likely that someone has cracked these limitations. The NCSA have
created a cluster of PS2s running Linux (and you wonder where all of Sony's kits went); you can see it here.
The other use of the hard drive is the slick HDAdvance tool. HDAdvance
uses any hard drive that fits (the current version has has 48-bit LBA so even my 300GB hard drive works!)
and can dump a PS2 game to the hard disk and load it from there. Due to a design flaw, it does not work with most
double-layer DVD games. However, for the games it does support, it can be very handy. If you take the PS2 on a road
trip, although the hard drive will make the system considerably heavier, it also could have your entire game collection
on it, making it unnecessary to carry around all those games. The best part is, because the seek time on a hard drive
is much less than it is on a DVD-ROM, games like Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas that took two minutes to load a scene
can do it instantaneously from the hard drive. These two are both legitimite uses of the HDAdvance and they
are how I get my value out of it. Of course it could be used for piracy, but it is not at all designed to make that
process easy. (For example, there is no FTP program, so you can't copy DVD images downloaded over the internet to
the PS2 as easily as you might for the Xbox). There is another product for the PSTwo,
which has no hard drive slot, at the same site. It connects to an external USB hard drive through the USB 1 port.
The speed value of HDAdvance is lost since USB 1 only transmits at a maximum 12 Mbps.
Emulation on PS2
There are a few emulators for the PlayStation 2, but they are fairly rough around the edges and
most require modding and/or a very complicated burning process to work. The PlayStation 2 is not even as
emulator-friendly as its nephew the PSP. However, if you are interested in running
an emulator on the PS2, check out the page on Zophar.net.