Pete's Perspective: Episode 1
Considering that the summer months are typically slow in our favorite industry, I thought that putting together a regular column wouldn’t be a bad idea. I know that writing in the first person isn’t the most professional way to do things, but these columns will basically consist of me talking to you, the reader, as though we were in the same room. It’s a little different than you might expect, and there’s definitely going to be some jumping around from one topic to the next, but at the end of the day I get to share my views and/or gaming experience with you, so that you’re hopefully entertained and maybe even fired up enough to agree or disagree with me either in our forums or via e-mail. OK-- now that we’ve got that out of the way, let’s get started. Strap yourselves in…
Right around this time of year, back in 1995, I distinctly remember getting my first real taste of the Sony PlayStation. Mind you, I was splitting my time among three systems—my SNES, Genesis, and 3DO, and really was content. I remember reading about the 32-bit generation and Sega’s upcoming Saturn project, plus the initial hype surrounding the PlayStation, and just was not all that impressed. It wasn’t until a friend of mine, who owned a gaming retail store, invited me down for a first-hand trial of an import PlayStation that my curiosity was somewhat piqued.
“Just wait until you try Ridge Racer,” he said. “Even you will be impressed-- plus there are two large pizzas here.”
I was in.
The event actually coincided with the grand re-opening of his store, so there were about 20-25 people there when I arrived. After helping myself to some pizza and looking at the used Genesis and SNES games, the owner called me over towards the back of the store.
“Take a look at this.”
I looked at Ridge Racer and listened to the very cool techno beats that accompanied this arcade racing title. I had seen Ridge Racer coin-ops, but never really played them. I had preferred Sega’s Virtua Racing over Ridge Racer, and, to be honest, has never really been much into racing games. I had a bad history with them. I was awful at playing Pole Position back in the 80s, and my interest in the genre never recovered. Of course, there was Nintendo’s F-Zero, but that was hovercraft racing—no wheels. Still, Ridge Racer interested me. It was colorful, fast, and looked fun. I watched intently as the kid playing the game maneuvered around corners with blinding speed, sliding all the way. For an instant, I wondered if I could do that my little Ford Tempo at the time-- but quickly thought better of it.
“OK, Pete, go on. It’s all yours.”
I picked up the controller and looked at the funny symbols. I wondered to myself about where the letters went. It was an interesting design, but the controller felt good in my hands. I was a bit apprehensive of the double trigger buttons, which was a departure from the single triggers that I had become accustomed to in my four years of SNES gaming. I remember rarely using the triggers during that time. Even in a game like Street Fighter II Turbo, which used all six buttons, I just used light and fierce attacks and purposely forgot the medium attacks.
After picking my car, I was ready to go. Speeding along to “Rare Hero”, I was amazed with the sense of speed. I didn’t quite understand the game’s powersliding at first, but quickly got the hang of it. Certain sights, like crossing the bridge or seeing that omnipresent helicopter, were awesome. After a couple of tries, I wound up finishing first, but I wanted more. I was on the machine for nearly 30 minutes, when I heard:
“Why don’t you just buy one? They’re coming in September, but if you don’t pre-order, you might be out of luck. Now, come on, you’re not the only one here. Move.”
It was this event that sold me on Sony’s new system. I knew that they didn’t have much gaming experience—except for publishing some hit-or-miss games, like Hook, Cliffhanger, and Skyblazer. Still, I was intrigued and wanted one. As I started more intently researching the PlayStation, I saw another game that I desperately wanted: NBA Jam T.E. (Tournament Edition, if you didn’t know.)
Admittedly, I was still dumping tokens in local NBA Jam T.E. coin-ops and showing off my skills, despite owning decent SNES and Genesis conversions of the game. I used to play in “Baby mode” to show off my code knowledge, and had compiled a ridiculous win-loss record at one arcade site. Word was that the PlayStation translation was going to be as close to the coin-op as you could get, without spending thousands of dollars on the cabinet, itself. This was the second must-have game for the PlayStation, and this sealed the deal. I was going to pre-order right away.
I pre-ordered in July, and traded in most of the farm to afford the PlayStation. I traded in my 3DO without a second thought, mainly because there wasn’t enough new software coming out and Slam ‘n Jam only lasted so long. After lots of back-and-forth thinking, I parted with my Genesis and Sega CD, too. I also traded in most of my SNES games, save for about 5 or so. I still had to pay a good amount out of pocket, and wound up giving up a little bit of money every week until early August, when the debt for the PlayStation and copies of Ridge Racer and NBA Jam T.E. was fulfilled. It was a good thing that Final Fantasy III and NBA Give ‘n Go kept me so busy, but I still kept glancing at the calendar and counting the days until September 9th. Work days would drag by as I picked up PlayStation preview magazines to read and salivate over.
The magic day finally arrived, and, armed with my receipts and extra cash for another controller and a memory card, I set out for my local Electronics Boutique. I remember the big smile on my face as I walked into the crowded store with my receipts, knowing that one of those PlayStation units was going to be mine, and that I’d be playing Ridge Racer and NBA Jam T.E. that night until my eyes fell out of my head. I walked out of the store with a system under one arm and a bag in my hand and broke every posted speed limit on the way home. It was fun time-- or so I thought.
I arrived at home and feverishly set about tearing open the box and looking at my new system. I thought that I had everything. Two controllers, memory card, games, power cord-- check. But… where was the RF switch? Not included? NOOOOOOOOO!!!!!!
*cue angry outburst, complete with expletives not suitable for publishing*
I ran down my stairs, almost spraining both ankles in my haste, and jumped back in my car. Armed with my credit card, my objective was clear. I went down to visit my friend, the game store owner, and picked up an RF cable. He asked me if I was interested in Battle Arena Toshinden or Kileak, but I was already out the door and on the way to my car. Now, I was ready. I was little perturbed at the EB guys for not advising me that I needed an RF, but I was willing to forgive and forget once I started playing.
Upon arriving home, I hooked up my PlayStation, per the instructions, and sat down with controller in hand. I hit the power switch and prepared to be amazed again. I was amazed, all right, but not in a good way. Something was wrong. The sound was crystal clear, but the picture was bouncing. I fiddled with the RF cable to make sure that it wasn’t the problem. Things went from bad to worse as the Ridge Racer demo ran, but looked awful as the vertical hold on my TV seemed to be going haywire. I couldn’t believe that this was happening. Convinced that my PlayStation was defective, I quickly packed it up and angrily got into my car for the third time in 90 minutes, headed to EB with a serious chip on my shoulder.
"Defective? Are you sure that you’re hooking the system up right?” asked the EB employee. “Did you purchase an RF switch?”
“Yeah,” I replied, “no thanks to you. I hooked it up right and the screen is bouncing like a beach ball. I want another system. NOW.”
The EB employee, visibly annoyed by my belligerence, disappeared into the back for a few minutes. He reappeared with his manager, and with a new PlayStation.
“We’ve received no reports of any defective products. This is the only time that we’ll do this. If you have any more ‘problems’, you’ll have to call Sony. OK?”
I was convinced that this exchange would solve the problem. I again sped home, raced upstairs, and put the new system together again. Again, I sat down with controller in hand, and pressed the power button. Again, the sound was crystal clear, but the picture was bouncing just like before. I could not believe my bad luck. Short on options and shorter on patience, I took a drive back to my friend’s gaming store to tell him about my problem.
Upon arriving, the look on my face told the world that I was in a foul mood. I related my story to the owner, and after hearing a few chuckles, he asked me a question that I thought was irrelevant:
“Did you try hooking the console up to another TV set?”
“Maybe it’s your TV.”
“Where did you come up with that idea? I’ve been playing games on that TV with no problem for years.”
Convinced that this wasn’t going to end well, I took my leave and drove home, disgusted. I repeatedly tried to call Sony upon returning home, but the lines were jam-packed. When I did finally get through, there was little progress. The rep had not heard about this kind of problem and suggested that I return the system to where I bought it from. I was at a dead end. I had parted with over $400 in games, systems, and cash, and was seemingly out of luck. Then, the phone rang. It was the game store owner.
“Is your TV a Zenith?”
I went upstairs and looked. Indeed, I had a Zenith TV.
“Yeah, it’s a Zenith. Why?”
“I just had someone come in who complained about the same thing you did. We hooked his system up to our TV and it works fine. Did you try changing TV sets, like I suggested?”
I told him to hang on and fetched all of my PlayStation gear from my room. The downstairs TV had RCA jacks, so the RF cable was rendered moot. I powered the system up, and my jaw dropped wide open. There was Ridge Racer, in all its glory. Crisis averted, sort of.
“Yeah, it works. Thanks.”
Sony eventually admitted to a compatibility problem between the first run of PlayStation systems and older-model Zenith TV sets, but the only fix was to send the system in for service. I eventually wound up remedying this problem by way of purchasing Samsung’s GxTV, which I still own, but I at least got to use my PlayStation on launch day, despite all of the hurdles.
I hope this story was an entertaining read. If you’d like, share your launch day antics with us here at PSX Extreme by posting in our forums. It doesn’t necessarily have to be about the PlayStation, like I mentioned. Talk about the hours you spent in line waiting for a PS2, or maybe another system. Don’t hesitate to drop me a line, either, with feedback or maybe even issues that you’d like to hear more about in future installments.
See you next time!
6/19/2003 Peter Skerritt