Timeline: The towering triumph of PlayStation 2

Cursed at birth yet number one until the end, Sony's PS2 redefined success

As the world awaits the announcement of the PlayStation 4, CVG is running a special three-part article that looks through the defining moments of in PlayStation history.

Then, today at 6pm Eastern Time (11pm UK) we will stream live video of the PlayStation Meeting right here.


1999: Awaiting the curse

Chris Deering [Image: StikiPixels - Kevin Whitlock]

No one had ever pulled it off. Not Atari. Not Nintendo. Not anyone.

For thirty years, no company had ever conquered two console wars back-to-back. Perhaps it was due to gradual complacency, or maybe there was an inherent flaw in offering the same type of product twice in an industry that's constantly changing direction. But for whatever reason, every time a company conquered a console cycle, their next machine carried a curse.

Chris Deering, a renowned games industry veteran, was the president of PlayStation Europe when he prepared his business for a second console.

"From day one on PS1, I started thinking about what I would do to make sure PS2 could win round two," Deering said in a recent interview with Eurogamer.

"Nintendo and Sega had never won two in a row. We used to say it was like winning two gold medals in two back-to-back Olympics. It just never happened. So I set that as a personal goal."

[Further reading: PlayStation 2: The Insiders' Story - Eurogamer]

March 1999: "PlayStation 2000"

A supposedly "realtime" demo of Reiko Nagase promised an unprecedented graphical leap

In March 1999, Sony summoned the world's media to a lavish PlayStation Meeting at the Tokyo International Forum. Though there was no mention of PlayStation 2 on the invite cards, the excitement surrounding the true purpose of the event was all-pervading.

Comparing both the PS1 and PS2 reveal events offer a kind of short-hand description of how far the business had come during those years.

The first PlayStation launched on the quiet side; it was an economical, grassroots endeavour - gradually gaining support from within the industry until it was released, rather cautiously, across select regions of Japan.

Sony's PS2 showcase was a media event laced in pomp and pageantry. Some 1,500 journalists, analysts and game industry luminaries attended, as did Sony's longstanding president Norio Ohga, who spoke on stage about how proud he was to attach the company's name to PlayStation.

The PS2 reveal was just as much a Sony event as it was a PlayStation one. In the early PS1 days, many Sony executives tried to dissuade the business from building a games device. By March 1999, and about half a billion PlayStation games sales later, there was no such debate within the corporation.
Restructuring Sony was seen by analysts as a brutal necessity, as several divisions in the business were haemorrhaging cash. Failures in other parts of Sony made the PS1's success even more noticeable: In the first half of that fiscal year, Playstation accounted for 26 per cent of Sony's operating profits.

This time, at a deluxe concert hall in Tokyo, Sony wanted to make clear where it was stacking its chips.

But despite the hype and expenses, the press conference did not offer a complete picture of the next PlayStation. No console was shown, and not even the name was decided (Sony was internally debating whether to call the machine "PS2" or "PlayStation 2000").

A Gran Turismo target render for PS2

A string of deceptive and extraordinary tech demonstrations, however, left journalists with enough material to fill their column inches.

Deering later recalled that Sony had "promised the world" with PlayStation 2. A press release issued the same day on March 2, typified Sony's approach with the headline:

"Sony Computer Entertainment Announces the Development of the World's Fastest Graphics Rendering Processor".

The notice claimed that Sony's next generation console would boast an image "comparable to movie-quality 3D graphics in real time". In fact, up until the launch of the PS2, PlayStation executives would regularly claim that its games would resemble the graphical fidelity of Toy Story.

Target render videos from PlayStation, Namco and SquareSoft were, in retrospect, fairly misleading. They were nonetheless drooled over. Sony proudly claimed that the console's peak drawing capacity was "75 Million polygons per second", while Kutaragi infamously referred to its processor as the "Emotion Engine" - a contentious concept that the PS2 had the capability required to simulate emotion.

The next PlayStation had arrived, and it was a monster.

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March 1999: Sony cuts old ties

1999: Sony chairman Norio Ohga (left) gave Kutaragi more power as head of games

Just seven days after the PlayStation Meeting, Sony announced in a hurried press conference that it was intending to make 17,000 employees redundant as part of sweeping corporate overhaul.

The decision to close divisions and shed 10 per cent of its workforce had direct bearings on Ken Kutaragi - PlayStation was now at the heart of Sony's reconfigured empire.

Kutaragi, branded internally as a "wild card" by some executives, said he was not phased by the new responsibilities.

''I don't feel any different than I did before we made the announcement,'' he told the New York Times.

''We're just going to be forced to educate the Sony Corporation a bit.''

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