Pneumonia. It was an annual bane of my childhood times. 6 consecutive years I was a bedridden creature for a month. Fever dreams, broken only with incessant coughs trying their best to push my lungs out of my mouth and injector delivered antibiotics – a sharp stabbing followed by a receding pain in my muscles, leaving me on the shores of sleep – wasted and sweaty, like I tried to manhandle a rabid bear fresh out of a nonexistent Siberian atomic wasteland.

One of these years I think we got a Sony Playstation. It wasn’t my Playstation initially – but it became mine after a while.. I think my father bought it when he decided to step up from selling 8-bit Nintendo clones to PSX games. As Bob Dylan said, the times were a-changing. In those days the tide for 8-bit consoles were ebbing away, leaving the console gaming in their wake.

But let’s discuss 8-bits before moving to Playstation era:

Dominance of 8-bit consoles

Let’s face it, Commodore provided a complex ecosystem for parents. You had to buy the computer and had to go with your kid to the computer stores; wait with them; pay for the games; adjust the reading level of the datasette with a screwdriver and try to explain the game if needed. In time the kid in question learned some steps but all in all it required a great deal of time.

Black Boxes

The “ataris” that first flooded the marketplace did offer an alternative to all that convoluted mess. It contained all the games in itself. All you need to do was hook up the damn thing to the TV and let the child play it. The games were mechanically and graphically simple, requiring no explanation on how to play.

Black boxes looked like that, and no they weren’t Atari’s…

But these black boxes had a critical disadvantage: You couldn’t buy new games for it. After the games on the machine lost their novelties, you couldn’t change them. From the sellers’ side this was a problematic aspect as well. After you sell your console you couldn’t make the customer “stick” with you. I want to think this was the main reason behind the dramatic change of market to 8-bit nintendo clones.

NES Clones

Those clones were miles apart from those black boxes. For one, they came with more stuff: Two controllers, a lightgun and a cartridge with “999999” games. So you could buy one, hook it up to the TV and forget about it for a long time. Most importantly you could buy new games. But cartridges had a problem: They weren’t rewritable like diskettes. The solution? Adapting the same exchange & sale system used in video cassette stores.

It went like this: You – as a customer – would buy a cassette from the store initially. This opened up your account in that store at the same time. When you watched the movie, you could exchange it by paying a small fee.

Electronics shops took this system and ran with it with small adjustments made here and there. Remember the demo cartridge coming with the console, boldly proclaiming it had 999999 games? A lie, of course. In reality it had 10 games (at most). The rest is weird (and probably created automatically) variations of those games filling other slots. Because everybody had this initial cartridge, it was worthless. But it took time and explanation to the children wanted to use this to exchange games; probably giving them their first practical lesson in inflation.

The “unboxing”

Also not all cartridges created equal. Some of them carried one game within themselves; others are would have more within them. Some of them had three and other, more rare ones, carried twenty good games in one cartridge. This meant the customer couldn’t use his single game cartridge to get a three game one. He had to buy a cartridge in that category, needless to say they were pricier. (For some weird reason I remember exchange fee higher for those as well but I am probably wrong.)

Of course there was budding crooks, trying their best to con the system. There were outright wannabe thieves. Their method was akin to DDoS attacks. They’d go to a store and make the person show them 6-7 games. When the store gets crowded, they’d put one of them to their pockets and ran. There were also some brainy ones as well. They realized that the cartridges were basically two plastic cover sandwiching the circuitry that is the game. So if they changed this with a worthless game, they can con the store. This attempt usually failed for one basic reason: The shops tried the customer’s cartridge before they made the exchange.

The stores acted as a repair shop as well. The consoles and their peripherals often break down. That was not a surprising outcome. The peripherals weren’t that durable to begin with, and their users were often little kids. The general rule was “fix the console but not the controller: make the client buy a new one”. This may seem cruel but basically fixing the controller was practically impossible. The main reason for this is, they weren’t built to be repairable. They hadn’t got a proper board with replaceable parts, except buttons.

I think some distributor who saw all this ecosystem, tried to enter with Sega MegaDrives to the market. But they failed for a simple reason: They didn’t understand what made it that lucrative. Their product was much more expensive without providing anything different.

Looked way cooler in its day

Sony Playstation

But the killing blow to those machines came with the Sony’s eponymous device: Playstation.

You could see the rise of it in the boxes of the clones as well. Usually they carried game screenshots, providing a sneak peek of what you could play with that machine. But in the last days of their demise they began to use covers and screenshots of Playstation games. Tomb Raider, Mortal Kombat and Final Fantasy were popular choices. They even fostered this illusion with their look-alike (I kid you not!) machines. A lie. Lie of epic proportions which resulted in a lot of tears and cries in our shop as far as I remember.

Also, as a first, they weren’t just marketed as expensive toys for children. You could buy an accessory to convert it into a video player. Hence making it a “Game station for the kid, video station for us” device.

Contrary to their colleagues abroad, the shops who sold those devices here offered to mod them as well. And ironically this illegal aspect contributed a lot to sales of the machines over here. Modding created a caste system within games even. There were the “copy – cheap” ones and the originals with their distinctive covers, manuals and black cds.

They applied the exchange&sale system of the 8-bit market to PSX – with one difference, only the originals could be exchanged. Considering how cheap those “copies” were it was a logical thing.

My memories from that era are mostly about Final Fantasy 7, Tomb Raider 1 and 2 and a weird space FPS. Speaking of FF7, it was the first J-RPG I finish. I remember myself super angry about the plot twist happening on the midway.

FF8 was a game I remind as pretty. It had a good scenario, not as complex as FF7. The Gunblade concept draw my attention but that’s all I remember I’m afraid. Tomb Raider and 3d exploration games were my father’s pick of poison. He played it, and Syphon Filter series, in the shop when it was nearing closing time. I know he finished the SF series but no idea what he did with Tomb Raider.

The weird space FPS was the first game I tried in my initially encounter with the Playstation. Queasy with the medicines, I was trying figure out how to move and fire the character without puking. I think I never played that game again, just because it reminded me of that night. Stomach churning, the dark room illuminated with the lights coming with the screen and the green LEDs of the console.

Photo by Franck V. on Unsplash