Be Who You Want To Be: The Birth Of PlayStation Network Gaming

The weekly Store Updates might now be as regular as clockwork and twice as important as anything else to some, but newcomers to the world of PlayStation would do well to learn that they’re currently in the best position for online gaming that any PlayStation owner has ever been. Yes, there’s a distinct difference between grabbing demos and games from the Store and actually playing online, but back in 2003, when the PS3 was still under wraps and far from the minds of PS2 gamers, things were very different indeed.

A recent clear-out of TSA Towers produced an Uncharted-esque discovery: the cool, ring bound promotional book that I’ve attempted to photograph for the gallery below. Back when I used to run a PS2 website (amongst other things) Sony’s first party promo kit was unmatched amongst the publishers (and to some extent, it still is) and when this popped through the door, offering a glimpse into just what Sony had planned for online gaming I was personally excited to see just where this was all going.

Granted, I’d been gaming online, console-wise, since the Dreamcast and whilst Xbox Live was an all round more impressive (and earlier) debut at the time I was more interested in what Sony could pull out the bag.  “Imagine being able to team up with friends from around the country for a spot of counter-terrorist action in SOCOM,” said the undeniably British text in the booklet.  “Imagine challenging gamers in Germany to a skate-off in Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 4.  Imagine showing-off your superior driving skills to players in Spain by screeching round the tracks in Midnight Club II.”

It all sounded fantastic.  The issue?  Well, the original PlayStation 2 didn’t ship with any means of actually getting online, so to venture into this brave new world you needed to splash out on a Network Adapter, something that incredibly you can still pick up.  For most people this would turn out to be a step too many (and too expensive) and back then broadband wasn’t nearly as widely available or as cheap as it is now.  Interestingly, though, as with the PS3 now once you’d bought the kit there were no addition charges to enable online play. Another featuresfound back then that is still relevant today was the fact that you could plug in a USB headset.

The launch games left a little to be desired, though.  Naturally SOCOM was the star of the show, but Studio 33’s Destruction Derby Arenas was also a key title although one that wasn’t exactly critically acclaimed.  One title mentioned in the promo booklet that you might not be familiar with is “My Street” from Idol Minds (PAIN) which whilst the blurb tried to make it sound like an all-in-one online avatar based chat system (sound familiar) was actually simply a pack of seven multiplayer minigames.  Like a poor mans’ Mario Party, without Mario or any of his verve and character.

More ambitious was EverQuest Online Adventures, boasting 8000 players online at any one time, and with 9 races and 13 classes this was a great introduction to the world of Massively Multiplayer Online gaming, albeit in something of a ‘lite’ form.  I preferred Phantasy Star Online, but this was a great move by SOE.  Other titles mentioned in the book were Amplitude, the aforementioned Tony Hawk Pro Skater 4, Twisted Metal: Black Online, Midnight Club II, Hardware: Online Arena and Tribes Aerial Assault.  Each game has a couple of screenshots and as you’ll see from the last picture there’s also a set of photograph slides in little plastic holders and a press DVD.

None of this will mean very much if you’re new to online gaming or the PlayStation brand in general, but my point is that regardless of what you think about the state of online gaming and the marketplace as it stands, it’s a million miles away from the false starts, laggy online and shoe-horned online features that we had to put up with back then.  Now that broadband is popular and cheap enough for the mass market and adoption of online gaming is at an all-time high by consumers the quality of multiplayer gaming is the best it has ever been, and whilst Sony might not have nailed the PlayStation Store at launch, 2 years on the quality and quantity of decent software is unmatched.

Now, where did I put that Network Adapter, let’s see if the EverQuest servers are still running…