High Programmer > Alan De Smet > Rants > The PlayStation 2: Insult to Customers

The PlayStation 2: Insult to Customers

I've come to the conclusion that Sony hates me.

Not me personally, but me as a customer.

If they didn't hate me, why would they have the audacity to sell me a PlayStation 2, without a doubt the worst console for usability ever?

As for the technological capabilities of the PS2, I don't really care. Maybe the PS2's wacky design decisions for the memory bus and vector unit were brilliant ideas or really stupid. Whatever. Ultimately it's down to the games, and there are some brilliant, and fun games for the PS2.

But as a usable consumer product it's an abject failure.

If you were get a bunch of unpaid interns for the summer and ask them to design a console, they would do a better job. Low-bidding Malaysian crack monkeys could do a better job. No, the only way to do a job this amazingly bad is to specifically intend to do such a bad job. Maybe it's like being asked to do the dishes and intentionally breaking them all to avoid being asked again.

The first problem: the off button. Or the lack of an off button. Sony expects you to hold the reset button for a second to "turn it off". No other piece of consumer multimedia electronics expects you to hold a button for a while to turn it off. Normal products just have a power button. If you don't hold it long enough, the PS2 will appear to power off, but after a moment reset and turn itself back on. If you tap the PS2's front power button, then quickly turn off your television, you may not realize that your PS2 is still running. At least until in the middle of the night you notice the faint whir of the CD drive inside still spinning.

Of course, holding the button doesn't actually shut the PS2 off. Instead it puts it in some sort sleep mode. Why put it in sleep mode? Perhaps it's like a VCR and will turn on to record something? Nope, no capabilities like that here. Perhaps it's like a computer and will respond to something on the network? Nope, not that either. No, the only reason to have a sleep mode is to justify leaving one of the stupid little lights glowing. Great, like I need yet another useless LED glowing at me like an evil eye in the darkness when I stumble by my living room on the way to the bathroom late at night.

Now, I can turn off the PS2, for real even. Using a switch, which is reasonable enough. But the switch is in the back. Who puts a switch in the back? Well, general purpose computers do, but the switch in the back of a computer really just an emergency switch in case the soft power switch in the front doesn't work. But the PS2 isn't a general purpose computer, no matter how much they might like to pretend otherwise. Even if I resort to using this stupid switch, it means that to turn the PS2 I need to flip the switch in the back then hit the power in the front. Why not just put a real power button on the front and get over it?

Now, one of the reasons I got a PS2 is that there are games for the original PlayStation that I want to play. Of course, a PS1 would have been cheaper, but the PS2 promised that older games would load more quickly and could be bilinear filtered (a technique that makes graphics look better). However, for a long time my friends didn't believe me when I told them of these great features. Why didn't they believe me? Because the feature is carefully hidden in the most brain dead place possible. To enable these features you need to start the PS2 with no disc in (something many people never do). You then need to select, no, not "System Configuration", that might make sense. Instead you want "Version". Once there you see the versions of the various components. This is a completely non-interactive screen, you can't do anything except if you select the "PlayStation Driver" version. Now you're given the option to see the real Options screen. Once you've turned this on, you can put in your game and play. But once you reset the system (even putting it to sleep), the settings will reset to the dumb old way. Given that you need to do this procedure every time, most people don't bother. A great feature destroyed by a bad interface.

The PS2 has many interesting multi-player games. People like playing games with their friends. Other game consoles realized that this was an important feature. Every major console in the last six years has come with the ability to connect four controllers so four players could play locally. The PS2 didn't. Instead you get to purchase a multitap to enjoy a benefit every other console system comes with for free. Great, I get to spend $35 on a product that will add unnecessary cables to my system. Big surprise, almost no one buys the multitap. Because it's such a small market, there aren't many games capable of supporting four players. No games, no one buys the multitap. Everyone loses. So go buy a GameCube if you want to play four player games.

On the subject of peripherals, an S-Video cable is not a super complex, expensive piece of hardware. The PS2 is already perfectly capable of generating S-Video output. The cable is sold separately at a massively inflated price just because Sony can. As an added bonus, a PS2 with the default connector won't look as sharp as possible. What a great way to promote your product: by making sure that it looks blurry right out of the box. Be sure to buy a cheap knock-off brand, the quality is usually just as good and you'll save a lot of money.

Like every modern console, you save your game on a memory card. This is typical. Back in the dark ages of the 90s memory cards were still a relatively new idea so it was understandable that a system could only support a fixed size. This system's memory cards hold 16 kilobytes, that system's hold 32. We've advanced since then. It's trivial to support a variety of sizes. Ensuring that they're on the trailing end of basic technology, the PS2 is hard wired to only support 8 megabyte memory cards for modern games. No more, no less. If future games come out that need more memory, well, too bad. Got so many games that you're constantly swapping memory cards and want to a buy a single large one? Too bad. Just remember, Sony hates you. So while GameCube owners can purchase bigger cards, PS2 owners get to juggle cards or buy off brand cards and manually select between different memory banks. It's just like 1998 again!

Foolishly, Sony decided that every time we save our game to remind us of their brain-dead restriction. The game never refers to "the memory card" or even "PS2 memory card." Every bloody time it's "MEMORY CARD (8MB) (FOR PLAYSTATION 2)," reminding us how idiotic they are. The recent Dynasty Warriors 4 is just one of the most recent to add insult to injury to repeat the phrase twice in two sentences. Fortunately Sony appears to have lifted this requirement from developers, I'm seeing it less frequently on new games.

When you actually try to save a game, it's never easy. Instead you get a chain of dialogs like so:







You get to hunt through the stupid menus every time, even if the game you're overwriting is the exact same one you're playing now. Again, Sony seems to have come to its senses and I'm seeing many more autosaves and fewer "Sony thinks you're too stupid to make decisions. Are you sure?" checks.

While we're on the subject of memory cards and save games, one last complaint. Why can't I save a PlayStation 1 game onto a PS2 memory card? There is plenty of memory on the card. It wouldn't have been hard for the PS2 to hide the actual card type from the old game. I'm forced to conclude that Sony has a huge PS1 memory card back stock and hopes to sell it.

None of these things would be hard to fix. It's impossible to have overlooked these problems during testing. Heck, it's impossible to miss them while designing it in the first place. My conclusion: Sony hates us and wants to rub our noses in the fact that we'll buy it anyway because they dominate the market. I expect the PlayStation 3 to give you an electric shock randomly. It will take quarters, and once a week a burly guy will collect the quarters and kick you in the nuts. I hope the games are worth it.

(Want to discuss this article for some strange reason? You can discuss it here. The forum should be open until about the end of September 2003.)

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