It started with the PS2. I wanted one. I was 20 and this was nearly two years ago. I’ve owned a PS4 since 2014 but now I wanted a PS2 as well. Finding one on eBay was a trivial matter and I found mine for about £40 with a bunch of PS2 classics like ‘BRATZ: Forever Diamonds’ and ‘Charlies Angels.’ PS2s are cheap because of how ludicrously successful the system was back in the day – the christmas after the PS3 came out the PS2 was still the best selling console. I had no idea what path I was walking down, and how easy and tempting each step is. My name is Henry Vincent, and I have a retro-console problem.
CEX is a good shop. Hull has two of them for some reason. I would go to both of them everytime I could be bothered to walk into town. I wouldn’t buy a game every time I visited, I just wanted to look at all the games they had and got excited about what I found, so then I’d have to convince myself that I don’t need the Futurama game because I remember it being bad and not in a fun way, and other people seem to agree, but it’s still just so tempting. Although sometimes when a really bad game is exactly 25p I won’t be able to stop myself.
One fateful morning, a few months after getting my PS2, during a typically self-inflicted student-life sleep-deprived state, I wandered into the now-defunct Hull branch of Granger Games to find – to my amazement – a PlayStation 1 behind the glass. Now, the PS1 isn’t that rare in itself, but this was the very first original PAL version, with the RCA jacks on the back, RF video support (lol), and – most importantly, the PlayStation controller. Not DualShock, not even Dual Analogue – the first PlayStation controller, with no analogue sticks and no vibration. I’d never seen one before. I was barely aware of their ever having existed to be honest; we always had DualShock when I was a child. And all of this for a mere £22. I couldn’t believe it. I should have gone to sleep; I was exhausted – but instead, I bought the console.
Okay, yes – obviously, I already had a console that could play PS1 games perfectly well (even better you might argue) – the PS2. But that never seemed right to me. It seemed to me that if I can play PS1 games on an actual PS1, that’s better isn’t it? Apparently that makes me what’s known in the retro console community as an ‘original hardware person’. I don’t want backwards compatibility or emulation when I can experience a game authentically, on the hardware it was built for, experiencing the quirks of the system, using the actual controller the game was designed to work with and the actual disk – the full experience that is more than the game itself – there’s an important meta side to the game. No matter how complex and technically accurate your emulation experience gets, you’ll never have the true feeling of pushing the power toggle button in, hearing the clunking and whiring, and seeing the bootup animation, and then hoping the game will actually load past the PlayStation logo because sometimes it doesn’t so you need to try with the PS1 upside-down. You can’t beat that feeling with any kind of backwards compatibility or emulation.
You’d think that it would be annoying that you sometimes have to turn the console upside-down to get it to detect the disk – but I love that about it; it’s such a bizarre quirk that you don’t get with modern hardware. I mean – I don’t want that to be a ‘feature’ of my PS4 but I think it’s cool on the PS1 as a charming oddity of my model of the system. Although I would like to get the slim version (confusingly called the PSOne) which doesn’t have this problem (it also looks cool as frick).
After a month or so of being perfectly happy with the quality of my gaming experience with the then three PlayStations I owned, ‘the algorithm’ got to me. Youtube recommended me a video titled “Getting the Best Picture from your PlayStation 1 Games”. I was mortified; I’ve been playing PlayStation games as a scum-lord using disgusting, dirty composite video. It was lucky then that my room had a TV with a SCART input that supported RGB. I could use a nice RGB video signal from both my analogue-only consoles. It required me to buy some slightly expensive new cables, but the video quality was quite well improved – so I was happy.
A fool I was! As soon as I was content again, I watched NakeyJakey’s Halo videos. Great – now I need an Xbox. Furthermore, it occurred to me that I had every PlayStation apart from the PS3, so now I need one if only to complete the set and not have a weird gap in my collection. I didn’t even have a particular game I wanted to play on it! Then one of my housemates had an Xbox 360 which he didn’t want anymore, so of course I bought it off him! What do you think I am? Some sort of person who wouldn’t do that and would instead be satisfied by the things they already have? I’m not some sort of Buddhist who seeks satisfaction from within, I’m exclusively about external pleasures.
Okay, then I took it to a level of ‘OG hardware’ that was too far. I sourced a CRT TV in Hull for £20 which accepted RGB input and seemed to be decent quality. Because ultimately, you’re not getting the full experience if you’re not playing these games on a display from the time. I was pretty happy with it for a few months. It looked okay and it gave me the nice tingly feeling of better times gone by.
But… you know… it is quite big… and everything looks fairly fuzzy on it. It didn’t even have the blessed scanlines coveted by the retro console community. I mean if it were a Sony Trinitron I’d be fighting people off with a pointy stick, even if they weren’t fighting me – but this display ultimately just disappointed, so I sold it for £25. So at least I’m an entrepreneur.
I think I’ve worked out what all of this is about. Some number of years ago, my cousin got some vinyl records for a Christmas present. I remember my Mum and my Aunt asking why he’d want records in the modern day, considering that we now have CDs and streaming services which are quite obviously better in all possible ways. He said that they’re ‘just nice to have.’ I catch that drift. In a world where more and more of our lives exist digitally, it’s a becoming a novelty to actually own real stuff – especially entertainment stuff. Holding a vinyl record in your hands and realising that this thing contains the sound you’ll listen to and nothing else… it feels authentic. In some ways, these old consoles have that same sense of authenticity. The PS1 plays PS1 games. That’s all it does. That’s all it’s designed to do. It was built from the ground up to process polygons and draw an image on the screen, play some sounds and accept user input. Playing these same games on my PC – a device that was designed to do any number of different tasks feels sort of not real. A game was not made specifically for this hardware, nor just for this kind of input. It’s hard to explain, like trying to describe what it means for sound to be ‘warm.’
I know that it’s probably just a phase, but it’s one I’m enjoying right now. I now have way too many games to play and I’ll probably never get through them all because the library is expanding faster than I can consume it, but in some ways just owning some of them is nice enough for me. Playing older games has given me an appreciation for the design choices of modern games, and for how much things have improved and also how much has been left behind over the years. Games of today are better than games of twenty years ago, not exclusively, but generally, and I can say that now. I got over the nostalgia of it all ages ago – now I’m just playing these games and appreciating them. I gave up on the CRT because once the nostalgia wore off, I realised I didn’t really like it, but these consoles and these old games are pretty cool if you ask me even after nostalgia has faded. Thanks for listening and have a nice day. I will one day learn to end these things well. Until then, peace out.