On Its 25th Anniversary, PlayStation Devs Reflect on Their Greatest Terror: Memory Cards

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The PlayStation was revolutionary in many ways. It was largely responsible for a shift to disc formats and a change in the culture surrounding games, and it’s what launched Sony into the gaming space. It was also responsible for the memory card, an object some designers seem fine with leaving in the past.

In a huge retrospective for the 25th anniversary of the PlayStation over at Game Informer, several Sony collaborators reflected on the horrors of working with the PlayStation 2 memory card. Guerilla Games’ Michiel van der Leeuw and Angie Smets, as well as Sucker Punch Productions co-founder Brian Fleming, all had their own stories of working with the card.

“The Greatest Terror Ever is That Your Game is Going to Erase Someone’s Memory Card”

Smets, a designer at the time, had to draw out a flowchart for implementing the memory card in order to follow all the myriad prompts and options.

“If you, at any moment, inserted a card and it was corrupt, you had to offer the ability to format it there,” Van der Leeuw told GI. “But also you had to be able to rip it out at any moment. Basically, all the rules in the PS2 there was a certain way you had to do it. And we kept fighting bugs that came out of it.”

Communication between America, Europe, and Japan was poor at the time, van der Leeuw says. The developers were working somewhat in the dark, and with a piece of hardware that could cause a lot of headaches for players.

“The greatest terror ever is that your game is going to erase someone’s memory card,” Fleming says. “Literally, the most terrifying thing that could ever happen.”

A Unique Quirk

PlayStation 2’s memory card also had a memorable quirk: each save file had its own polygonal icon, bespoke for each game. You might, like me, remember it fondly, but the way Fleming describes it, creating those icons was some kind of witchcraft.

“The model was some godforsaken … what I remember is that it was crazy, and I forget what flavor of crazy it was. But I remember that just the data conversion of the polygons into that format was like a research project.”

As Sony looks ahead to a fifth PlayStation, it’s fun to remember all the little things. It’s almost heartwarming to think of how much work went into those little icons, though from more frustration than love.

If you want to fondly reflect on other quirky consoles, check out our retrospective on many industry leader’s favorite Dreamcast games and, in light of this article, ponder about the nightmares of the VMU.

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