On December 3, 1994—20 years ago today—Sony launched the PlayStation in Japan. More than any console before it, Sony's first video game system propelled the CD storage format into the video game mainstream worldwide, setting the stage for Sony's domination of the U.S. market for two console generations (and perhaps a third generation if things continue to go well for the PS4). Selling over 102 million units during its life-span, the original PlayStation served as the launching point for one of the world's most valuable electronics brands.
Okay, enough with the facts you can find anywhere. I'm here to tell you about the stuff most people don't know: the weird side of the PlayStation universe. After some serious digging, I've uncovered a handful of PlayStation 1 accessories, variations, tributes, and modifications that decidedly tip the scales from NORMAL to ODD. As you read, keep in mind that everything you see here relates to the first PlayStation console and not its successors, the PlayStation 2, 3, and 4. Those consoles inspired their own oddities—and maybe we'll pay tribute to them, too, someday.
Sony released numerous variations of the PlayStation 1 over the console's dozen-year life-span, ranging from mundane internal revisions and external port removals (for reductions in manufacturing costs) to an entirely new form factor, the PSOne, in 2000. In between, the classic PlayStation console shape came in a variety of rare and special colors.
Here, we see some of the most special flavors of PlayStation as assembled by collector Robert Sebo. The blue console in the upper right is the DTL-H1000 debugging station (NTSC/J) and the green console is the DTL-H1200 debugging station (NTSC/J). They're both official development consoles. The white unit is the Hong Kong-only video CD model, which contains dedicated hardware to play back video CDs. The black console goes by the name Net Yaroze, and it holds a special place in PlayStation lore because, as a Sony-sanctioned amateur development console, it spawned a cult gaming community in the late 1990s.
Sony also released a very limited edition midnight blue colored PS1 (not pictured) to commemorate 10 million consoles sold. To see that model and the rest of Sebo's impressive collection, check out his full gallery here.
Dozens of specialized, sometimes downright bizarre controllers exist for the PlayStation, including ones that simulate driving a speedboat, RC car, and locomotive; using construction equipment; flying a plane; exercising; dancing; fishing; conducting an orchestra; and playing pinball, mah-jongg, and pachinko. But hands down, the absolute weirdest peripheral of the PS1 of all time came as part of Bandai's ZXE-D: Legend of Plasmalite game set in 1996. At first blush, it appears to be your everyday fighting game with customizable robot characters. But players could build a real-world model of the robot they wanted to use with the included plastic pieces in the game set. A special interface that plugged into the PS1's twin memory card slots recognized the different body parts and represented your robot model on the screen.
ZXE-D's blending of real-world models may sound similar to Skylanders, Disney Infinity, or Nintendo's Amiibo toys, but this Japanese original preceded those modern brands by at least 15 years while still allowing far more creative flexibility.
Beginning almost a decade ago, folks in high-end audio circles began to realize that the early models of the PlayStation 1 console contained respectable D/A audio circuitry while being available at ridiculously low prices ($5-$20) in the secondhand market due to their abundance. Audiophiles latched on to the PS1, modifying the console both externally (for visual appeal, because CD players housed in wood or brushed aluminum sound better) and internally (because CD players you tinker with endlessly sound better). These hobbyists' efforts result in fun and creative uses of old game consoles, and despite the fact that they don't sound any better than 99.99% of other CD players to most of us, they sure do look cool.
In 2001, Sony released a nifty cable that linked to a mobile phone on one end and to the PS1's controller port on the other. Coupled with the right software running on the PS1 and a cell phone data plan called i-mode, one could browse the Internet, albeit primitively. You could also play a few online games or download a few simple LCD games to your phone. The service never made it to the West.
Somewhere in Japan, someone recently had the odd but brilliant idea to take Optimus Prime from the Transformers toys, cartoons, and movies and merge him with the venerable PlayStation. One minute he's an ordinary, everyday Sony PlayStation console, and the next, he's an anthropomorphic robot with a gun.
When you find yourself with a broken PlayStation console on your hands, you realistically only have two choices: throw it out, or turn it into a wall clock. In this case, Zoltan, a mechanical technician and designer from Hungary, took the second route and turned the plastic shell of this beloved game console into a fully functional timepiece (always remember: 6 p.m. is PlayStation Hour). The resulting gadget has since been sold, but Zoltan's clock is only one of dozens of PlayStation-inspired artworks that fans create and sell on craft sites like Etsy.
It's no secret that Sony's PlayStation product line began as an offshoot of a collaboration between Nintendo and Sony. Essentially, Sony was to create a CD add-on for Nintendo's Super NES console while simultaneously releasing its own SNES/CD hybrid console. What you see here is a prototype of that hybrid console, complete with its Super NES controller. This system would have been capable of playing both SNES cartridges and CD titles. The deal between Nintendo and Sony ultimately fell through, and here we are, 20-some years later, left to stare at this photo and wonder "What if?"
For reasons beyond the ken of this author, Japan is crazy for miniatures. Companies like Takara regularly manufacture tiny facsimiles of larger gadgets and toys—among them, the palm-sized Sony PlayStation, as seen in this photo by Sebastian Vargas.
PlayStation's memory cards allowed easily removable, portable storage of saved games. Unfortunately, the cards always seemed full and relatively expensive for the "15 blocks" of data they stored. That got third-party wheels turning, and before long, Datel released the Memory Drive, a floppy disk drive which plugged into the PS1 memory card slot and let owners store game saves on cheap and plentiful 3.5-inch floppy disks.
The Sony PocketStation was a tiny offshoot platform unto itself that could serve as both a typical PlayStation memory card and a detachable gaming device. Equipped with its own limited (read: adorable) game controls and a tiny (adorable) monochrome LCD screen, one could play limited (adorable) games on the PocketStation after loading them from a CD through the (hideously large) mother console. You could download character data from a full-fledged PS1 game like Final Fantasy and level it up while on the go—but only if you lived in Japan, since Sony never released this gizmo outside of Japan.