It’s been 20 years ago since I properly entered the world of console gaming. Prior to 1996, my experiences with gaming were shared between playing on the SNES that my childminder’s son owned and playing old Sierra Quest games with my sisters on a clunky old IBM computer. Video games just weren’t a ‘thing’ among my friends at primary school, so they weren’t something I was surrounded by enough to make me pester my parents for a console.
But in the autumn of the year where football didn’t quite come home, I was bought a Playstation by my great aunt. I was obviously excited and loved the three games I got with it (International Track and Field, FIFA 97 and Destruction Derby 2), but if things had been left like that, though I may have enjoyed games here and there I really don’t think I would have built up the same passion as I do now. Happily my great aunt made another decision; to buy me the Official Playstation Magazine every month. Why was this so important? The magazine itself was decent enough for pre-teen Steve, and it certainly made me aware of titles I wouldn’t have thought about otherwise, but probably the most important part was the demo disc that came with every issue.
Nowadays we all know what demos are and how they work, but as a child getting a demo disc felt like being a kid at a candy store. At my beck and call were sections of some of the latest (and occasionally some classic) games for the Playstation, games I would never have had the opportunity to buy or even see in action if it weren’t for those discs. With a minimum of four fully playable demos per month, they allowed me to expand my gaming horizons without scrimping, saving and begging my parents to buy copious amounts of games but also, when I did eventually earn enough to make a purchase, without the fear of buying into the unknown.
Unlike today, the majority of the biggest titles all received a demo version on the disc. If they were feeling stingy, you’d only get a rolling demo or trailer, but you’d also see some companies giving out really expansive playable sections for you to try out.I remember some demos with such clarity it borders on eidetic. I know the music and layout to the first few levels of Kula World (a puzzle game where you play as a beach ball collecting coins and fruit) almost off by heart, while I still know exactly how to run through the first part of Little Big Adventure while avoiding as much content as I could as fast as possible. These are two games I would not own until a couple of years ago, but which made such an impression on me that I sought out games similar to them when I finally had a bit more freedom financially in the Dreamcast/PS2/Gamecube era.
I could go on and list so many games that I loved through their demos alone, both well-known and more unknown, some of which I may have bought in the future but also some that I would never play again, all while leaving me with an experience to remember. Some of the more memorable include Kurushi, Overboard, Resident Evil 2, Tombi, Mr Domino, Devil Dice but that’s not a complete list in any way. There was something else about these demo discs that was really special and the main reason I still hold onto some to this day; Net Yaroze.Net Yaroze was the first real indie-push on console. These were black Playstations which not only looked cool but were also development kits; I remember seeing the adverts in the back of the magazines and really wanting one, though that never came to be, probably because a) they were about £500-£600 and b) I didn’t know squat about coding. Thankfully, some people did and ended up creating games, and these titles could be submitted to Sony for distribution as part of their monthly demo disc.
Some of these were just proof of concepts or classic arcade game clones, but there titles that shone through. The most memorable one for me was Terra Incognita, a 3D RPG game which was very short but had one of the most catchy theme songs I’d ever heard at that point, while Total Soccer was a semi-clone of Sensible World of Soccer but was incredibly playable, a game I think I may have played it more than actual fully fledged football games (Three Lions, I’m looking at you…). Some ropey, some polished, but all free waiting on demo discs either on their own or in compilations.I understand why demos are less prevalent these days (cost to produce, less people buying the game) and I completely understand why they’re no longer on discs given that the Internet exists, but I do sometimes feel a longing for days gone by where this was the way to discover PS1, PS2, PC, Gamecube et al. games. And while we must move forward I’ll always remember those days fondly, so I thank my aunt for her generosity – strange to think that a passion for gaming can be attributed to two small decisions by someone else.
Let me know your memories of demo discs, or what your favourite demos were in the comments below!